Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Jewel in the Skull Link Roundup

This one’s come into some fairly fierce criticism. I’m surprised at it, but I’ll take Hawkmoon over just about any of today’s fantasy door-stopper bloat fests. And as far as gaming inspirations go, it’s the lesser lights that are liable to give you the most mileage. The implied setting of D&D really isn’t anything like Middle Earth. And why are these weird groups of people pillaging ruins wherever they can find them…? Science fantasy provides a far better explanation for why this would be happening than a great many of the more familiar works of fantasy fiction.

So here’s my take on my first exposure to Michael Moorcock’s work:

RETROSPECTIVE: The Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock

And here’s word from a range of other folks:

Grognardia — “The Tragic Millennium is one of those settings that, while far from ground-breaking, neveretheless achieves a certain power because of the way it appropriates familiar places and names to play with — and against — our expectations of them. The result is a world that’s at once recognizable and alien, which, to my mind, is exactly the right approach when dealing with swords-and-sorcery tales.”

Black Gate — “That’s a lot of prose in very little time. And that kind of ceaseless first-draft writing is almost inevitably not going to be elaborate, polished work. Reading the books, it seems as though Moorcock made up for that by freeing his imagination and following where it led — not in terms of plot or structure, but in terms of incidental detail, and of the colour of the decaying world through which Hawkmoon adventures. It also seems as though, in using the kind of intense schedule of early pulp writers, Moorcock rediscovered the virtues of good pulp writing: fast, direct, driving adventure, plot-oriented but lean, moving you relentlessly through the story.” — “I guess that might be part of why I like Hawkmoon more: the worldbuilding is more precise, and the villains are more of a problem. Conquering entire continents isn’t nearly as impressive as conquering this continent, where the story is actually happening.”

The Caffeinated Symposium — “The problems with the plot are not the actual contents but in how they are handled by Moorcock. Coupled with his lackluster prose (which I will address below), Moorcock’s storytelling is simply lacking. Other authors have written equally derivative works but did so with style and/or panache that Moorcock, as of 1967, did not seem to possess. Every opportunity he had to make the story more interesting he did not seize. As a result, the book reads like a dull attempt at parody. If parody it was, then Moorcock failed at this as well because there is no wit whatsoever in his writing. There are no moments where we realize that he’s presenting these events to us tongue-in-cheek. It simply plays out dully, uninspired.”

Steven Silver’s Reviews — “One of the strengths of the sword-and-sorcery novels Moorcock published in the 1960s, of which The Jewel in the Skull is an excellent example, is that he incorporated many ideas that just seemed really cool. The most obvious is the jewel in Hawkmoon’s forehead, but his vision of a masked-civilization spread throughout Europe is also of interest, as is the city of Hamadan and the strange post-apocalyptic creatures he briefly shows.”

Drunken Dragon Reviews — “I’m not going to say much about the imagination, because at the end of the day this is a pretty old book and the standards were different back then. It’s pretty much just a futuristic dystopia where the Earth’s somehow become a fantastical fuedal political set up with science becoming nigh on magical and all the familiar names reappear under bastardized circumstances [such as Great Britain being Granbretan.] Of course, this book ties heavily into Moorcock’s Eternal Champion mythos, and in a unique way; in this one we learn of the Runestaff, which it seems it essentially the elemental antithesis of the infamous Black Sword.”

SFFWorld — “The Jewel and the Skull was exactly what I was looking for: an exciting, whirlwind adventure where the hero’s heart sings as he charges into battle and nothing is more satisfying than the feel of his long sword cleaving his enemy in twain. I think it’s time I read some more Moorcock.”


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