by Michael Moorcock
. * * 1/2
"Look here! When he wrote The Golden Barge, Moorcock
- M. John Harrison, from the preface to the 1979 DAW edition
, a deformed dwarf
ish fellow with red hair
, is sitting in his hovel by the river when he spots a magnificent
golden barge proceeding downriver. Tallow is convinced that on the
barge, he will discover why he is the way he is. Abandoning his mother,
he gets into his little sloop
, and begins an obsessive pursuit of the
barge. Along the way lie love
, and far too many people trying to to things to Tallow 'for
his own good'
By 1958, when Michael Moorcock was 17, he had already been editing
fanzines for two years. Although he completed The Golden Barge
back then, well before New Worlds ever appeared, he did not publish
his first novel until 1979, a time when he was trying to get away from
the 'fantastic romances' that had characterized his writing up to that
Moorcock has always written close to the archetypes, and the things
that drive Jephraim Tallow are the things that motivate us all in our own
pursuits. Even at this early stage, even under the influence of early
fantasy writer Mervyn Peake, we see the author's own style emerging. We are not led to cynically delight in Tallow's atrocities; we must simply accept them.
On the first page, I fell into the peculiar mood of horrid fascination
that I feel only when reading one of Moorcock's works.
Because of the work's high wince factor, you should only read The
Golden Barge if you are an avid Moorcock reader and wish to fill in
a complete picture of his writing. The Golden Barge contains
tantalizing glimpses of what is to come: Names and themes we will see later,
and in Jephraim Tallow, the precursor to the succession of antiheroes
and ambiheroes that we know as The Eternal Champion.
Will these glimpses lead you on your own quest down the river of Michael
Moorcock's work? Or do you fear finding yourself hopelessly
lost at sea, watching the golden barge disappear over the horizon, never
to be glimpsed again?
Will it destroy you?