In high school, my biggest hero was Elric of Melnibone. An introspective albino who traveled the world(s) and used his intelligence as much as his brawn, Elric was original in a way that Conan was not. I bought the Chaosium Elric! RPG (earlier and now known as Stormbringer) which still has the best rules of any role-playing game I’ve ever seen. To my now slight embarrassment, I even wrote my college entrance exam about the doomed albino.
Michael Moorcock, the creator of Elric and a figurative and literal rockstar, wrote about other Eternal Champions–warriors who were fated to be born again and again into a life of struggle. A lot of concepts that have since become standard (Chaos vs Law, the multiverse, etc) began with Moorcock.
My second favorite Champion was Dorian Hawkmoon. This hero was an all around good guy (a rarity from Moorcock) who lived in a proto-steampunk world. I spent long hours dreaming of the movie version, where his sardonic friend Huillam d’Averc was played by Val Kilmer.
There were other heroes too. The one I paid least attention to then is perhaps my favorite now.
I recently reread The Knight of Swords, which tells the story of Prince Corum. The current me, some twenty years later, thinks this book is utterly brilliant. An old people, like Tolkien’s elves, have stagnated culturally and allowed man to grow strong. Eventually, one of them sets out and finds that all of his people have been wiped out. He rushes back but finds his own castle recently burnt.
Corum loses an eye, a hand, and most damning of all gains something like humanity. It’s a great concept, the kind they don’t write anymore. But it’s the writing that really makes it stand out. The dialogue is exemplary, and each character is vividly drawn.
It’s a short book (Moorcock could purportedly write a book in 3 days) and this semi-forgotten gem is well worth your time.