The Swords Trilogy by Michael Moorcock (Berkley, 1971). Covers by David McCall Johnston.
Wow, I don’t think I could agree less with a column.
Michael Moorcock is one of the tower giants of sword & sorcery and New Wave SciFi; a member of early Conan fandom who by 16 was a published author and editor, and has spent 64 years writing a vast body of work. Most of this work chronicles snapshots of his Multiverse, and the struggles of the Eternal Champion, the tortured, ever-reincarnating hero of the Cosmic Balance in the struggle between Law and Chaos. And, of course, no aspect of that hero is more famous than Elric, Doomed Prince of Melnibone, wielder of the demonic, soul-stealing rune-sword, Stormbringer. No character has perhaps come to symbolize Sword & Sorcery more, other than Conan himself (*maybe* Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) than Elric.
Only, as Lin Carter wrote in Flashing Swords! #2:
In 1965 followed an Elric novel called Stormbringer, wherein Moorcock made the tactical error of killing off his hero and terminating the series by the simple method of blowing up the universe. Since then Mike has created many another fantasy hero, but he has recently confessed to me that he is tired of making up carbon copies of Elric: hence this story, and the good news that he is back at work, fitting new Elric tales in among the ones written almost a decade earlier…
And so, Moorcock began writing about other incarnations of the Eternal Champion (and retconning some of his earlier characters to become such). It’s quite a pantheon, but some characters are far better known than others. After our Albino Prince, the most famous must be Dorian Hawkmoon, Jerry/Jhary/jeremiah Cornelius, and Erekosë, who alone of the various incarnations, recalls his past lives, and his dark fate. It’s a mixed pantheon to be sure, with a wildly varying quality of work — I find The Jewel in the Skull, first of the Hawkmoon novels, to be one of the best novels Moorcock wrote, but still can’t get through the Jerry Cornelius tales.
But for me, none of the other incarnations quite work the way Corum Jhaelen Irsei, the Prince in the Scarlet Robe does.