This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
At the start of the 1980s, Michael Moorcock’s fortunes were looking down. Massive disruptions to his home life coincided with the setback of Byzantium Endures, the first of the Colonel Pyat books, being rejected by his publishers, who informed him that they really weren’t interested in any mainstream novels from him and perhaps would he like to knock off some of that heroic fantasy he does that sells so magnificently well.
Moorcock shrugged and went back to the drawing board, with the result that despite being written after Byzantium Endures, The War Hound and the World’s Pain actually got published first. It’s the first of a series of novels Moorcock has written about the von Bek family, who he decided to make an utterly central family to the multiverse whose scions popped up absolutely everywhere and who counted several incarnations of the Eternal Champion amongst their ranks.
Thanks to the regular processes of revision he inflicts on his works – truly, Moorcock is the literary George Lucas – Moorcock has retroactively inserted the von Bek name into a range of earlier stories and novels as part of the process of making them the core family of his fiction – including turning the protagonists of The Blood-Red Game and The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius into von Beks. I find this both a self-vandalism of Moorcock’s legacy and an utterly pointless exercise, so for the purposes of this review I will not be tackling any of those. (I already covered The Blood-Red Game in any case in an overview of Moorcock’s early standalone novels; as for The Pleasure Garden, it’s a brief and not very interesting short story which includes an alternate universe version of Hitler for cheap shock value, so I wouldn’t say it’s especially essential.)
Furthermore, I won’t be covering this time around any books Moorcock wrote after The War Hound in which a von Bek plays a prominent role but isn’t the main protagonist, or where the books in question are not part of the core von Bek series but are more properly considered parts of other series. For instance, a von Bek appears prominently in The Dragon In the Sword, but John Daker/Erekosë is clearly the protagonist of that one, and likewise whilst the von Beks play an important role in the Second Aether trilogy those books aren’t part of the core von Bek series.
Moorcock originally intended to produce a trilogy of major works of heroic fantasy featuring von Beks as protagonists – The War Hound and the World’s Pain, The City In the Autumn Stars, and Manfred; or the Gentleman Houri. Only two of these manifested (both of which are reviewed here); Manfred was supposed to be a direct sequel to The City In the Autumn Stars, making use of material which was cut from it (apparently about half the novel was cut back, which is quite alarming considering how amazingly long and overblown it is… but I’ll get to that later), but the material is now apparently lost and Moorcock doesn’t seriously expect to get around to tracking it down or reconstructing it in his lifetime. However, in between the two novels which did emerge there slipped out a little side dish in the form of The Brothel in Rosenstrasse, a historical novel with no supernatural, fantastic or SF elements which happened to feature a von Bek protagonist and had plentiful connections to the other two books, and which is usually considered to be, if not part of the main von Bek series, at least an interesting appendix to it, so I’ll be reviewing that too.
Continue reading “The History of the Von Beks”