Friday, October 24, 2008

So you want to rule the (Under) World?

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
-Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”

The devil’s been making appearances in books for a long, long time -- I.e., the Bible -- but I’m not sure anybody’s every nailed the character like Neil Gaiman does in the Sandman graphic novels.

One of the challenges of a comic book is making you scared for the main character. When’s the last time you were really scared for Wolverine? But when The Sandman, who is a powerful man after all, goes to Hell in “Season of Mists” it really is scary, because Gaiman’s Lucifer is so very bad.

But the book I really want to talk about here presents the other side of Lucifer altogether. What if he was good? What if he wanted to make the world a better place? Really. No tricks. He wants to help. Would you help Satan?

Our hero, Captain Von Bek, is a warrior, a real Medeival bad ass. They call him “Kreighund” or “The War Hound.” He’s no devil worshipper, but he becomes entangled with the Evil One. Whereupon Satan escorts Von Bek to Hell and explains his problem.

The Lord of Hell has been Lord of Hell for a long, long time, ever since he was thrown out of heaven. He had been an angel and now he’s a rather bored keeper of the flames of torment.

Satan: “I am weary of the Earth and still more weary of hell, captain. I yearn for my position in Heaven.”
Von Bek: “But if Your Majesty is truly repentant…”
Satan: “It must be proved. I must make amends.”

But how do you make amends to God, when he threw you out and has been ignoring you for millenia? You need to make a big gesture, right? And Satan has decided that his gesture will be finding the Cure for the World’s Pain. And, for reasons too complicated to go into now, he needs Captain Von Bek’s help to do it.

This book is “The War Hound and The World’s Pain,” by Michael Moorcock. It’s intellectually challenging sword and sorcery and the ending is stranger still and may require you to rethink your world view.

As for the author, Michael Moorcock, I can hardly recommend him highly enough. He has many tales of many different flavors, some of which interweave to create the story of the Eternal Champion. The Elric books are a great place to start if you want some really heaby duty sword and sorcery. But if you want to really blow your mind, try An Alien Heat, the first of an amazing series of books about the people who are alive at the End of Time.

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