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In those days there were oceans of light and cities in the skies and wild flying beasts of bronze. There were herds of crimson cattle that roared and were taller than castles. There were shrill viridian things that haunted bleak rivers. It was a time f gods…
The Bull and the Spear is the first book in the second series of novels telling the story of Corum Jhaelen Irsei, last of the Vadhagh race, stranded in a world of men. The first series, The Books of Corum, finished with our hero happily living with the human woman Rhalina, with the vile gods that conspired against his race defeated, and Corum’s hatred for the mortals once manipulated by the deities, faded. But…
The opening quote hints at where Moorcock might take this series. The very same words open each of the books and Corum’s companion Jhary-a-Conel claims that their adventures are echoes of those lived by past selves, or that which is yet to happen. This is part and parcel when reading Moorcock’s fantasy novels, set in a multiverse where each of the protagonists are in fact different aspects of the same ‘eternal champion‘.
And so Corum eventually begins to tire of peace and after Rhalina dies of old age he becomes eager to return to the fight. While he does not age he is becoming a legend, dimly remembered by the descendants of his land’s inhabitants. The arrival of Jhary provides an opportunity for new adventures, and the Vadhagh prince is transported into the future where he is worshiped as a god, Cremm Croich, and called upon to defend the people of this future world from a new menace.
Moorcock uses humour and horror in equal doses in his fantasy epic, having some fun at Celtic myth’s expense. Corum’s future name is similar to that given to a pagan deity worshiped in pre-Christian Ireland, Crom Cruach, who received offers of human sacrifice. Having gone to such lengths to defeat the evil gods that bedeviled the Vadhagh people, here, Moorcock has maneuvered Corum into the same position. Even as an immortal hero he is wary of being worshiped, knowing all to well how easily that power might be abused.
All of this and Corum is expected to defeat eldritch armies of giant hounds, undead soldiers and the giant Cold Folk themselves, who can freeze whole armies with but a glance. His only hope of success lies with a magical spear, Bryionak, and the Black Bull of Crinanass. Trouble is, Corum has no idea where to find either! And for good measure, there’s also a bad tempered dwarf named Goffanon to contend with.
What Moorcock specialises in is quick and efficient plots underpinned by big ideas. Reading each episode of The Books of Corum, as well as the next three Further Books of Corum feels like sitting down to a decent, yet not too filling, meal. Somehow each thin volume has far more meat on the bone than those wrist-spraining fantasy epics that weigh down the shelves in Borders. Well recommended for lazy afternoon.