Most fantasy authors of long standing end up seeing their career boiled down to one thing. In the case of Michael Moorcock, it’s the eternal champion, the endlessly reincarnated warrior that is summoned to stand between Law and Chaos. Many of his characters were some variation on the champion but it is here in The Eternal Champion, the tale of John Daker and Erekosë, that we find one of the purest expressions of the idea.
We start with John Daker, normal modern human living somewhere in the Anglosphere in humdrum mundanity save for his troubling dreams. Someone is calling to a man named Erekosë. To him.
Eventually, he is called through. He is John Daker. He is Erekosë, the champion of humanity risen again to save them from the Eldren. And so the eternal champion goes to war. Which I think qualifies for the Wyrd & Wonder prompt of “step into another’s shoes” very well, although I can’t say I’d particularly want to be either man here.
Anyway, perhaps surprisingly given it’s nominatively a sword & sorcery book, we don’t see much of the actual fighting. Most of the book concentrates around the planning of the war, the personalities involved, and Daker/Erekosë’s response to everything he goes through. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is Moorcock, so if you’re expecting a bit dark and subversive (I think it is even now), you’re on the right track.
I recently stuck this book in my list of personal favourites because of how much the idea rattled through my head. It’s the 70s Prog Rock dark cosmic riff on King Arthur you always wanted. Everyone wants that, right? Reading it, I think perhaps the idea and memory of it is better than the experience. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, not by a long shot. It is rather compressed though, and there’s a sense of emotional distance despite the first person narration, like we are hearing John Daker narrate an experience he only partly understands and wishes to remember. Which is completely logical when you come down to it, maybe the exact feeling Moorcock was shooting for, but if so it is a case of sublime craft being used in pursuit of an idea that only partly works for me.
So it’s probably not appearing back on the list. But I don’t regret the read at all and I think many others will feel the same, even today. There is indeed something eternal about The Eternal Champion.