The War Hound and the World's Pain

Michael Moorcock
The War Hound and the World's Pain Cover

The War Hound and the World's Pain


Captain Graf Ulrich von Bek is a scholarly German aristocrat of the 17th century whose military career has devolved into the role of mercenary in the Thirty Years War. Disgusted by his participation in the massacre and torching of the city of Magdeburg in 1631, and detecting the early signs of plague among the remnant of his forces, he strikes off on his own. He finds himself in a forest eeirly absent of all animal life. On a mountain in the forest he discovers an immaculately maintained castle, and spends some time there enjoying its well-stocked larders, wine cellar, and library. On the day he decides to leave he encounters an entourage of decomposing corpses leading a carriage that holds Sabrina, one of Moorcock's frequent "raven-haired beauties with snow white skin." She must be quite a looker, because von Beck asks few questions about the corpses that protect her. Von Bek and Sabrina return to the castle, which belongs to her master. They become lovers, and on the day he determines to depart, she insists he stay to meet her master. Her master is Lucifer.

This is a philosophical Lucifer, pained by the silence of a God whose will he can no longer clearly discern. He gives von Beck a tour of Hell, which is grimmer but not nearly so flashy as what you get in most depictions of eternal damnation. He also assures von Bek that he is among the damned, but offers him a possibility of salvation. Lucifer wants to solve the problem of humankind's suffering, and to do so he would send von Bek on a quest for the Holy Grail. Once von Bek gets Lucifer to throw Sabrina into the salvation bargain, he accepts the quest. His journey through both a war torn Europe and into the supernatural realms of the Middle Marches, make up the rest of the novel.

As with all of Moorcock's embodiments of the Eternal Champion, that being whose manifestations throughout the Multiverse comprises dozen's of Moorcock's novels, von Bek will do much searching of the soul he knows he has already lost. After accepting the commission he states

I had always claimed to welcome the truth; yet now, in common with most of us, I was resentful of the truth because it called upon me to take an unwelcome course of action. I longed for the grim innocence I had so recently lost.

His adventures for the bulk of the novel are not consistently up to the complex frame story Moorcock has created. His self-reflection grows darker.

It had been some years since I had lost my Faith, save in my own capacity to survive a world at War, but evidently in the back of my mind there had always been some sense that through God on might find salvation. Now, as I journeyed in quest of the Holy Grail...I not only questioned the possibility that salvation existed;i questioned whether God's salvation was worth the earning. Again I began to see the struggle between God and Lucifer as nother more that a squabble between petty princelings over who should possess power in a tiny, unimportant territory. The fate of the tenants of that territory did not much seem to matter to them; and even the rewards of those tenants' loyalty seemed thin enough to me...I had received positive proof of the existence of God and the Devil and my Faith in them was weaker now than it had ever been.

The resolution of the story comes as no real surprise and will seem perfectly reasonable to all but the most orthodox Christians, but those readers probably wouldn't make it to the end in any case.