Elric is also a kind of anti-Bilbo Baggins. Where Tolkien’s Hobbits were essentially a heroic Mumford and Sons fantasy, happily pulling on their vests as they made their way to Mordor, Elric was a psychedelic guitar solo in (almost) human form. He was tortured and perpetually distressed. And his adventures transported him through time and space as he fought not against the forces of evil but of chaos.
Moorcock never liked Tolkien very much and couldn’t adjust to what he saw as the Lord of the Rings Christian worldview. Foreshadowing the moral ambivalence of Game of Thrones, he rejected the idea of a sharp divide between the heroes and the villain.
Instead, the universe was, he said, locked in a perpetual struggle between chaos and law – between the instinct for destruction and the desire to impose order. And it is the conflict that drove his character as “Eternal Champion” – a figure that has recurred throughout his books in various incarnations, including Elric and also heroic figures such as Corum and Dorian Hawkmoon.
“Winnie-the-Pooh, masquerading as an epic,” is how Moorcock described The Lord of the Rings in a famous and notorious 1978 essay, Epic Pooh. His problem with Tolkien began with the author’s retroactive British character and his class obsession. Moorcock, born in London in 1939, opposed the “petty bourgeois” hobbits to the wicked “industrial worker orcs”.
“It’s the sentimentalized British character, the illusion of decency, all this nonsense of ‘no British boy would do that kind of thing’,” he wrote. “It was also the tone of the BBC when I was growing up. Hated it.”
He also compared Sauron and his armies to football hooligans. “If the Shire is a suburban garden, Sauron and his minions are that old bourgeois bugaboo, the Mob: stupid football fans throwing their beer bottles over the fence. “