John Daker, or Erekosë, is not one of British science fantasy grandmaster Michael Moorcock’s most famous characters. That honor goes to Elric of Melniboné. Nevertheless, John Daker has been Elric. He has also been Corum Jhaelen Irsei, Dorian Hawkmoon von Köln, Jerry Cornelius, Oswald Bastable, and hundreds of other heroes and heroines in countless conflicts — including Odysseus/Ulysses and Roland1. He is the one who remembers them all, though they don’t necessarily remember being him.
The Archetypal Hero and Weapon
He is an archetype, and his weapon is likewise an archetype. In every incarnation he wields an aspect of the Black Sword, a sentient weapon of pure chaos, whose most famous form is the soul-eating runeblade Stormbringer. In every struggle, he is a pawn of the Cosmic Balance compelled to fight against Law or Chaos, depending on which faction is most likely to shatter the balance at the time.
Though the Eternal Champion is Michael Moorcock’s creation, one can easily extend the archetype beyond his own works and find it in many other works of science fiction and fantasy.
Looking back, I first saw the archetype without realizing it in Final Fantasy IV, with Cecil Harvey seeking to atone for his war crimes and renounce the “dark sword”. Though Final Fantasy uses light and darkness as its opposing forces rather than law and chaos, each game in the franchise generally involves a group of heroes struggling to restore a balance. This is all but explicit in the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, especially in the Shadowbringers expansion, where the Warrior of Light must become a Warrior of Darkness to defend a world threatened not by rampant darkness, but by an overflowing light that never warms. It is only slightly less explicit in Final Fantasy XV, which needed only songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber to become Lucifer Christ Superstar.
Nor is Final Fantasy the only Moorcockean JRPG franchise. Mainline Shin Megami Tensei tops it by explicitly pitting the protagonist against Law and Chaos alike while giving the protagonist the option to take a stance of aggressive neutrality and tell both sides to go pound sand. Moreover, playing the “neutral route” generally leads to the best ending, though this isn’t necessarily the case in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, which gives the player the opportunity to challenge Lucifer and prove that they have the strength to succeed where he failed, overthrow God, and end the cycle of worlds dying and being reborn. The spin-off titles, especially Persona, are more subtle, but Persona 5 puts the player on the side of chaos opposing a corrupt and deranged agent of law, the God of Control: Ialdabaoth.
I also found Moorcock’s archetypes in C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine novels in the character of Morgaine Angharan, an atomic blonde out-of-context problem whose dragon-hilted crystal sword Changeling kills indiscriminately2. Again, the explicit opposition between law and chaos is absent, but Morgaine has her own mission: to close spacetime gates whose abuse by the qhal and a species predating them and humanity alike has already caused at least two reality dysfunctions. I daresay I could even argue that Bren Cameron in Cherryh’s Foreigner sequence is an aspect of the Eternal Champion, but his main weapon is his ability to think like his enemies, find common ground with them and the people he represents, and persuade them to pursue a more enlightened self-interest.
I suspect that Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is also an aspect of the Eternal Champion, though Stephen R. Donaldson might deny it, though his white gold ring is certainly an interesting manifestation of the Black Sword. One could even find Moorcock’s archetypes in Matthew Stover’s Acts of Caine sequence, though the last novel implies that Caine is not the Eternal Champion, but the Black Sword — or the Black Knife, since Caine insists that he hates swords.
However, I’ll be focusing on Moorcock’s novels featuring John Daker: The Eternal Champion, Phoenix in Obsidian (originally published as The Silver Warriors) and The Dragon in the Sword for this essay. When quoting from the text I’ll be using the Kindle editions published by Titan Books.
Who Is John Daker?
He’s a British man in 20th century London, with an unnamed wife and child that he claims to love. He’s an intellectual working what the late David Graeber would call a “bullshit job”, and dwells on morality and the futility of human existence as he lays awake at night waiting for sleep. He’s rather like Willard in Apocalypse Now: waiting in London rather than Saigon, what he wants is a mission. And, for his sins, he’s going to get one. It’s going to be a real choice mission, he’s going to get it good and hard, and when it’s over he’ll never want another. Unfortunately for him, he’s got a lot of suffering to do before he gets to go back home again.
The Eternal Champion (1970)
Phoenix In Obsidian (1970)
The Dragon in the Sword (1987)