Michael Moorcock created a whole mess of heroic characters, the most indisputably famous being that moody albino, Elric of Melniboné. But there were also Corum and Michael Kane and Jerry Cornelius and a host of others. But above all of them, it was Dorian Hawkmoon von Köln whom I liked best. And it's not because he's more heroic or better or whatever. Maybe it boils down to something as simple as that Dorian Hawkmoon isn't as tragic or alienated a creature as the other Eternal Champions. Hawkmoon is just the easiest to like.
Hawkmoon's exploits are chronicled in The History of the Runestaff and the Chronicles of Castle Brass, seven books in total. The world he inhabits is a post-apocalyptic Earth set in the far flung future, sometime after the Tragic Millennium. In Hawkmoon's time, depraved sorcery and mad science are at work. Europe is brittle, fragmented into warring kingdoms. The detritus of England has evolved into the island kingdom of Granbretan. Called the Dark Empire, Granbretan, ruled by a foul immortal being, has set its eyes on global conquest. It's making it look easy.
In the tiny, faraway province of Kamarg, Count Brass doesn't concern himself much with the insatiable encroachments of the Dark Empire. That is, until he receives a visit from Baron Meliadus, a treacherous emissary from Granbretan. Seeking to worm into Count Brass's good graces and coveting his beautiful daughter Yisselda, the Baron oversteps himself and is unceremoniously ejected from Kamarg. The incensed Meliadus, skulking away, vows bloody vengeance. And he swears this oath on the Runestaff. O crapdiddle.
It must be understood that when one makes a vow on the Runestaff - that ancient artifact said to guard all the secrets of destiny - one then sets strange forces into motion. And so, in the course of time, the unwitting players of Meliadus' revenge play are swept away into a terrifying future, signified by blood and death and hellish war and by foulest black magic and twisted technologies. And the young Duke of Köln, Dorian Hawkmoon, bedeviled by a black jewel on his skull, and who once rebelled against the Dark Empire, will play a central role.
In the 1960s Michael Moorcock became the clear successor to E.R. Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. Moorcock is, honestly, somewhere near the top of my list as a master craftsman of sword and sorcery adventures. In the Runestaff novels, the Englishman's imagination is predictably outlandish and inventive, and his pacing is such on overdrive that you might not even notice that character development hardly ever darkens these pages. Crack these books open and feast your eyes on passages of pure escapism. Moorcock writes some wild images; the landscapes are peopled with marvelously exotic and freakish creatures; the evil empire, with its sinister science and sorcery, seems truly malevolent. And then there are the ghosts and the alternate dimensions. Hawkmoon ends up enduring some really harrowing stuff. Thru the course of four novels, he'll embark on one quest after another, seeking to unearth several peculiar talismans. The Red Amulet. The Sword of the Dawn. And, finally, the destiny-shaping Runestaff itself.
So, yeah, crack these books open and see how Hawkmoon's strange cloak of apathy is pierced. Then see Hawkmoon meet his boon companion, Oladahn the tiny giant. See him also cross paths with the enigmatic Warrior in Jet and Gold and the renegade Frenchman Huillam d'Averc, and also see him soar to the skies on the back of a flamingo (although, hmm, that last one does sound a bit foofoo). The Duke of Köln's fight against the Dark Empire is chronicled in THE JEWEL IN THE SKULL, THE MAD GOD'S AMULET, THE SWORD OF THE DAWN, and THE RUNESTAFF, and these are the four books which constitute The History of the Runestaff. They're absolute must-reads if you're a fan of sword & sorcery epics, although when I mention "epic," I don't mean to imply that these books run at 500 pages each. Back in the day, brevity was the habit and the writer was able to tell a rousing story before your page-flippin' fingers formed calluses. I pretty much hold Stephen King responsible for the likes of Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind.
But blood and thunder, I think, sum up the Hawkmoon chronicles. Actually sums up most of Michael Moorcock's works, come to think of it. The biggest difference is that Dorian Hawkmoon comes off as a likable and comparably uncomplicated guy, his baggage not as crippling as Moorcock's other heroes. Sometimes, the sheer angst gets to me. Really, would it hurt Elric or Corum to smile once in a while?