Remember that old Dan Fogelberg song “Same Old Lang Syne”? When his album The Innocent Age came out in the early ‘80’s, I bought it immediately and must’ve listened to those lyrics thousands of times – “Met my lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling Christmas Eve. I stole behind her in the frozen foods. And I touched her on the sleeve. She didn’t recognize the face at first. But then her eyes flew open wide. She went to hug me and she spilled her purse. And we laughed until we cried…”
Well, I’ve been hearing “Same Old Lang Syne” a lot on the radio lately and those bittersweet lyrics about two former high school lovers fatefully meeting again got me to thinking about how I too have recently been reunited with an old high school love….
…and his name is Dorian Hawkmoon.
For me, certain books remind me of very specific moments in my life. Jon Armstrong’s Grey, for example, is forever connected with the birth of my first daughter. Ken Schole’s Canticle is the book I was reviewing when my second daughter was born. Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt takes me back to the months when my mother’s battle with cancer turned her into a skeletal husk, a demented shadow of the loving person she once was. And Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion novels – specifically his Elric saga and his History of the Runestaff novels featuring Dorian Hawkmoon – brings me back to the dark days of ninth grade, when a confluence of unfortunate events (my father losing his job, my parents’ already turbulent relationship imploding, my sister dropping out of school and running away, the onset of a plague of acne of Biblical proportions, a trio of sadistic bullies bent on my destruction, etc.) pushed me, a quiet introverted kid, to the brink of suicide. When I literally had no where to go and no one to turn to, and killing myself seemed inevitable, I could temporarily escape the madness of my existence through Michael Moorcock and his classic adventure fantasy novels.
Set in a realm where heroes really could save the day – and there was such things as hope and salvation – I would lock myself in my bedroom and journey to a fantastical realm filled with fearless warriors, beautiful maidens and nightmarish monstrosities: “The thing struck out with both taloned hands, its gibbering cry a mixture of hatred and terror. There was a metallic squeal as the talons scored gashes in the count’s armour, sending him staggering backward. The monster’s mouth opened and closed an inch from the count’s face, its huge black eyes seeming to consume him with their rage. He staggered back, taking his sword with him. It came free. He regained his footing and struck again….”
I am not exaggerating when I say that Moorcock’s novels featuring Elric of Melnibone and Dorian Hawkmoon von Koln played a significant role in saving my life. They were literary escapism – sanctuary – when I needed it most: and the theme of perseverance in the Runestaff novels inspired me to persist in my own wretched adolescent existence and work to find ways to not only improve my life but to make sure that the ones I loved would never experience the sense of hopelessness and loneliness that I had….
Needless to say, I felt like that surprised lover in the Dan Fogelberg song when I recently received a copy of Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon: The Jewel in the Skull – originally published in 1967 – in the mail. Tor Books is reissuing the first four Runestaff novels in 2010 – all unarguable adventure fantasy classics – and I couldn’t be happier. Reading these timeless novels today, as a middle-aged man with a wife and children of his own, will undoubtedly be a joyous (and surreal) experience for me – the last time I read The Jewel in the Skull, I was a suicidal kid whose life was unraveling before his eyes…
So, with a glorious new year upon us, here’s to remembering – and rereading – all of the significant books in our past: and discovering profoundly moving new ones in 2010... (Cue the Fogelberg song!)