Sunday, 30 September 2012

Hrolf's Peace And Doom

At last, we learn what has really happened in Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973):

"The Father of Victories must cast down whoever might bring a stop to war." (p. 260)

Hrolf made peace but too soon. That was why Odin opposed him. With the benefit of historical hindsight, Anderson (not the tenth century narrator) concludes:

"Long would the years and hundreds of years be until Denmark was whole again. Now watchfires burned anew to warn of foes on their way. Vikings, outlaws, wild men harried dwellers throughout the North...N othing but a tale was left of a day which had been." (p. 261)

- like Camelot and Ys. We know what happened in history. This is one tale of how it happened.

Back To The Saga

After a short passage of novelistic narration, the text of Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) returns to saga-style story-telling. The narrator, no longer omniscient, does not know how a character feels:

"It may be that she was hurt...Or maybe she was only shallow...She is dead these hundreds of years and cannot speak." (pp. 241-242)

A modern omniscient narrator does not occupy the same timeline as either the characters or the reader.

Sometimes, in Anderson's fantasies, characters spontaneously speak in verse - have even developed this ability as a social skill - but the text informs us that a "Bjarkamaal" (a "call-to-arms" verse, explained earlier) puts two and a half pages of blank verse into Hjalti's mouth (pp. 243-244; 254-255).

Skuld's dark human and trollish army surrounds Hrolf's seat of government exactly like the giants and the dead attacking Asgard at the Ragnarok. Hrolf responds:

" 'Let us strive for only one thing, that our fearlessness live on in memory - for hither indeed have the strongest and bravest warriors sought from everywhere about.' " (p. 245)

This is exactly like the end of Camelot. After a last drink together, now knowing that they will die, Hrolf's warriors strive to kill as many of the enemy as they can before they are overwhelmed, as in the climactic scene of Anderson's Time Patrol story, "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth." An enemy weakened by his victory is an enemy badly harmed. ("Too high had the cost been. Winning was ashen." (p. 256))

Hrolf's men, fighting murderers and outlaws, are militarily superior but simply outnumbered, cleaving through the middle of the enemy host but leaving its flanks unscathed. Through witchcraft, the dead continue to fight. Bjarki and the troll-bear, like Thor and Jormungand, kill each other.

"Nothing did he want but to fell as many as might be before he also went down." (p. 252)

Heroism indeed.

The Strands Come Together

Two of the magic swords mentioned in Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) are wielded in the book itself, by Hrolf and Bjarki. The others are Sighurd's and Tyrfing. Hrolf says:

" 'The sword Tyrfing goes about in the world, and each owner gets victory from it, but he becomes an evildoer and in the end the sword is his bane.' " (p. 223)

Thus, he summarizes Anderson's first fantasy novel, The Broken Sword.

At last, away from bewitchment and with the benefit of hindsight, Hrolf begins to recognize the yeoman Hrani:

" 'That could have been old Odin. Truly - only now do I know what I saw - he was a man with one eye.' " (p. 224)

Too late to regain Odin's good will, the Danes decide to avoid battle "...for Odin is the Father of Victories..." although Hrolf comments, " ' His own doom sets the life of every man, and not yonder spook.' " (p. 224)

So now, thanks to all their fighting, Denmark have seven years of peace. We would regard this as a positive outcome but to them it is also negative. At peace, they can no longer win wealth or fame in battle and Odin may now be against them. The Saga draws to its end. We may expect a last battle in which the heroes meet their doom.


When believers in an unchanging human nature ask me what moral progress mankind has made, I reply that the rule of law has replaced the rule of men. In Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), set during the European Dark Ages, warriors pledge loyalty to a king. Things go well if the king is a good one but not otherwise.

"The feuds from this day would grind on for years." (p. 219)

If your kinsman was killed, you accepted weregild or sought vengeance. In either case, this was primarily a private transaction, not an issue for public concern. In Anderson's short story, "The Man Who Came Early," it does not matter that a time traveler who cannot adjust to Viking society does not survive because he is a man of no account.

Feuds could last for generations. British courts must occasionally deal with families who still interact on this basis. Defense in court: "Yes, I smashed his window but it was because he damaged my car." This is legally and socially unacceptable and can result in members of a feuding family being ordered by the court to move to another town and not to return whence they came.

Now, we take it for granted that, whether a tramp is killed or the Prime Minister is assassinated, there will be a murder investigation. Almost certainly, more effort will be invested in the investigation in the latter case. Nevertheless, the last man to be hanged in Britain was executed for killing an anonymous tramp, someone who was of no account socially. Since then, we have abolished the death penalty. War in Europe is now unthinkable though, unfortunately, still not elsewhere.

We have made some progress.

In The Footsteps Of St Paul

From 17 November to 1 December, 2012, I will be on holiday in Malta and not using a computer. Anyone then viewing this blog will not find any new posts but I hope that past posts will still be read.

The blog addresses anyone already familiar with Poul Anderson's works and anyone else who might become interested in them. Anderson's complete works should be republished and could be adapted into other media.

I aim to show that this vast and varied body of work is worth reading and rereading. It comprehensively covers past, future and alternative histories in several genres and styles and at lengths varying from (many) single short stories to trilogies, tetralogies and multi-volume series. Anderson applied to his fiction an extensive knowledge of both mythology and science. His works address fundamental issues of life, humanity and society:

like James Blish, though with a much larger output, he is a significant successor to HG Wells, Olaf Stapledon and Robert Heinlein;

like his contemporary, JRR Tolkien, he is a significant successor to the Eddas, sagas and William Morris;

his A Midsummer Tempest, both a sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest and a companion volume to other Anderson fantasies, conceals blank verse dialogue and even a Shakespearean sonnet in its prose.

This combination of genres and skills is unique as is the coexistence of both quantity and quality in a single body of work. Both Wells and Heinlein declined whereas Anderson innovated and speculated anew at the very end of his career. He was agnostic but respected Christianity so perhaps my initial reference to St Paul's adventures was more relevant than I realised.

Narratives And Northern Lights

Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) refers to:

"...a vast, shuddering sheaf of northlights, from which rays of wan red and glacier green fanned out over half the sky." (p. 239)

- so it is appropriate to illustrate it with an image of them.
(Cross reference: it is said that the Lights can steal souls but a Neil Gaiman character, the Alderman, is old enough to know - how rarely that happens.)

Just after that:

"Once an owl went soundlessly by, and Hjalti thought of fieldmice huddled in fear of those men in fear of the Powers.
"He lifted his head. Not him!" (p. 239)

Here is an apt comparison of men fearing the Powers with mice fearing an owl - and Hjalti's heroic defiance.

Here also is novelistic narrative. No longer is a Danish woman addressing a tenth century English court. Instead, the omniscient author directly tells the reader what Hjalti thought and how he responded. We have at last got right inside a character's mind.

The novel began and will end with saga-style narrative:

"Here ends the saga of Hrolf Kraki and his warriors." (p. 261)


In Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), we see not only the adventures of war but also the benefits of peace, won by warfare:

years of happiness;
the welfare and safety of folk;
righteous laws and judgments;
good harvets;
burgeoning markets;
growth of towns;
sowing of new fields;
man dwelling at peace with his neighbor;
troopers attending the king but also looking after their own ships and farms;
Bjarki taking fine gifts to his parents in the Uplands;
Svipdag seeking furs in Finland;
Hjalti sailing to England;
warriors trading up Russian rivers, along the Rhine and among the Franks;
every night a feast in the king's hall;
boards buckling under meat;
horns always filled;
skalds chanting;
wanderers yarning;
Hrolf giving gifts;
weapon drill, care of steel, hunting, fishing, fowling, wrestling, horse and boat races, stallion fights, draughts, gambling, children.
The narrator tells us that in all this "...are no tales to tell - only, afterward, memories." (p. 235) Again, a comment made in a fantasy novel rings true in reality.

"There is nothing to tell about those seven years of peace, save that Denmark has never forgotten them." (p. 236)

I suggest that the summary of those years has told us a great deal!


In Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), Skuld, Hrolf Kraki's disaffected half-sister, mobilizes two forces against him:

(i) the socially and politically disaffected, "'...many who've no love for him, chieftains he's humbled, berserkers he's sent away, outlaws skulking hungry...' " and the people of other nations (p. 234);

(ii) " '...the Old Life...the brotherhood of Beast, Tree, and Waters...,' " threatened by man whose " ' will cover the world - never again will it know freedom or wild magics...' " (pp. 232-233).

Here, Anderson writes fantasy but with modern knowledge as when, in another series, a Witch-Queen of Ys seems to sense the interstellar spaces. In his A Midsummer Tempest, the Fair Folk of Oberon and Titania are driven back by a premature Industrial Revolution. Skuld in effect foresees that Revolution centuries earlier and makes a pact with a Power from the sea - Aegir? She sells him on the idea that, motivated by hatred of Hrolf, she will not replace one human king with another but will use people against civilization. The disaffected will not come into their own but, manipulated by her, will also lose what they want. This is indeed a conflict of Ragnarok-like proportions.

Strange Gods

In Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), the witch-king worshiped "...strange gods..." which were never "...of much use to him..." (pp. 228-229).

Hrolf stops offering to the gods for two reasons:

he had never liked hanging or drowning men and had offered only beasts (in Anderson's Time Patrol, Carl, mistaken for Woden, allows only fruit to be offered at his leman's burial mound but, in War Of The Gods, King Hadding hangs himself in offering to Odin);

in any case, Odin has become an enemy - the king and his men now trust in their own strength.

Abhoring human sacrifice and trusting one's own strength are secular virtues but secularism denies the gods' existence. By acknowledging their existence but regarding them as enemies, Hrolf remains within a Pagan world-view. Under his kingship:

"Everyone could do what he thought best." (p. 229)

Thus, pluralism, another secular virtue. The king and his men still think best to offer at graves and " the little beings which haunt house and home-acre..." but no longer to "...any Powers..." (p. 229).

The White Christ who troubles the old gods in other Anderson fantasies is not mentioned.

Trolls, Namings And Sayings

Later in Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), we are told something about unsavory witchcraft (See earlier post, "Witchcraft"):

" 'Night after night he was at work on his witching stool, with his kettles and runestaves and bones.' " (p. 206)

The witch king is said to worship a boar which, when it attacks, is described as a "...troll-boar..." (p. 209)

- so here is a second troll-beast. (See earlier post, "Beast.")

King Hrolf comes slightly more to the fore in Chapter VI (of VIII) and it is here that he gains his nickname "Kraki" so it as if his character is still forming before us. The bestowal of the name by which a hero will later be known is always a significant event.

Hrolf's mother, Yrsa, utters a memorable phrase:

" 'Like old times? No, dead years can no more be reborn than dead men.' " (p. 213)

Fantasy characters can comment on life in ways recognizable to the reader.

Hrolf says:

" 'Men seek fame that their memory may not die with them.' " (p. 217)

Men live for different purposes:

in this age, celebrity fame may be fleeting;
Christian contemporaries and successors of Dark Age Pagans lived for a reward in Heaven;
some people amass wealth to bequeath to their heirs;
Buddhists seek to end rebirth;
some, skeptical about a hereafter, study and meditate in order to realize whatever understanding and enlightenment are possible before death.

Anderson comments on his characters:

"To us, their behavior seems insanely egoistic; but to them, each was first a member of his family and only second - however greedy for wealth and fame - himself." (p. xx)

Among Pagans, Jews and Christians, family transmits tradition. A fellow University student commented that the transition from Judaism to Catholicism to Protestantism to secularism is a move away from the family towards the individual. I am happy to live at the secular end of that transition.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Odin In The Saga

I have been saying that Odin appears in two fantasies by Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword and War Of The Gods. Having read Hrolf Kraki's Saga only once many years ago, I had not remembered that Hrolf, while on a perilous journey, is advised three times by a tall, gray-bearded, spear-carrying, blue-cloaked yeoman hight Hrani wearing a broad-brimmed hat, who is old but wanders widely and laughs like a wolf. Two ravens are aloft and a wolf howls nearby.

Why do Hrolf and his warriors not recognise Hrani? Is it that the knowledge of Odin's appearance has been handed down to those who hear the stories but was not generally known at the time? Or does Odin cloud their minds? He does do this to some extent:

his house is not easy to see, standing in deep shadow like another darkness, and is of indeterminate size;
their experiences in the house are dreamlike;
they sense uncanniness;
Hrani is wise and a good story teller;
he regards Hrolf with " eye..." (p. 191);
they accept his unwelcome advice without question until afterwards.

Whatever the explanation, here is another appearance by Odin, adding a greater unity to Anderson's Dark Ages novels.


What is the "beast" killed by Bjarki on p. 177 of Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973)? Described as a "troll-being" and "monster," it attacks at night, killing cattle and any men who go against it, so that, to their relief, King Hrolf orders his warriors to stay indoors but Bjarki, armed with the magic sword Lovi, goes to face it.

It is featherless, huge, clawed, beaked, tailed and crested, hisses and has a rank smell. When it swoops, Bjarki has difficulty pulling his sword from its sheath and attributes this to "Witchcraft!" (p. 177) However, he hauls Lovi out and then easily kills the monster. We are to understand that the sword, when it can be used, always kills. However, any man other than Bjarki would have been flattened by the beast's impact on his shield.

Drinking the troll-being's blood and eating its heart bestows strength and courage on Bjarki's formerly weak and cowardly servant. No further explanation is given here but there is an attack involving witchcraft-controlled trolls later in the novel so there might be some additional elucidation then. We are to understand that elves ride elven horses so perhaps trolls are accompanied by trollish monsters?


Friday, 28 September 2012

An Ancient Triad

Still rereading Hrolf Kraki's Saga and looking a short way forward (or rather backwards) -

If I remember it correctly, the final battle is like a mini-Ragnarok. The Danes know that they can lose, especially when supernatural evil is deployed against them, but this is where they should be. Their highest loyalty is to King Hrolf and they should be with him when it counts, whatever the outcome. "For how can man die better..." etc.

After that, the question is what to reread next. Imaginatively, I am still in Poul Anderson's pasts, not back in his futures. Before Hrolf Kraki's Dark Ages was the Fall of the Roman Empire, a period that included the flooding of the city of Ys. Set earlier than Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys tetralogy are three novels by Poul Anderson:

Conan The Rebel, a heroic fantasy set in a prehistoric civilisation;
The Dancer From Atlantis, a science fiction (sf) novel about time travelers in Atlantis;
The Golden Slave, a historical novel set during the Roman Republic.

These works are unconnected, in no way a trilogy, but they do happen to be three novels set in ancient times and they also represent Anderson's three genres of fantasy, sf and historical fiction.

Whenever a new Doctor Who season starts, I tell people to read the real stuff: The Time Machine; The Time Patrol; The Time Traveler's Wife. The Dancer From Atlantis is also pertinent:

a man from the future, Sahir, in a malfunctioning space-time vehicle, the anakro;
a language teaching device;
time traveling companions accidentally collected from earlier periods, wanting to return home;
Doctor Who also had a story set in Atlantis.
(Also, see here.)

I expect to reread some of these works before returning to any of Anderson's futures.

What Is Distasteful?

The text of Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) is preceded, after the table of contents, by:

"The Doom of the Skjoldungs," an Introduction by Lin Carter;
"The Skjoldungs," a genealogy;
 "The History of Hrolf Kraki," a Foreword by Poul Anderson.

Anderson hopes that his readers "...will bear with...the midnight of the Dark Ages. Slaughter, slavery, robbery, rape, torture, heathen rites bloody or obscene..." (pp. xix-xx)

He rightly contrasts his reconstructed Saga with "...The Lord Of The Rings, work of a civilized, Christian author...," although, as he adds, Tolkien derived his Trilogy from similar sources. (p. xix)

Anderson does not really show us a lot of slaughter etc but one section that I did find distasteful was the kind of harm that it was imagined could be inflicted by magic. A very unpleasant imagination was at work there.

Anderson proves his case that, in the Dark Ages, the only way to have a period of peace was to have a strong king who began his reign by fighting some of his neighbors to establish which of them was in control. I agree with him that:

"...we today need a reminder that we must never take civilization for granted." (p. xx)

He also mentions "...what we today feel as a lack of psychological depth...," (p. xx) which corresponds to my discussion of the narrative techniques of sagas and novels. See here and here.

Novelistic Story Telling

Despite its story telling techniques derived from sagas, Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) sometimes reads like a novel. Chapter V, "The Tale Of Bjarki," Section 4, describes "...Bjarki's trek..." and almost gives us his point of view:

"He had pushed on hard in his eagerness, and at nightfall found himself on a lonely stretch of heathland, soaked through." (p. 168)

Remember this is being narrated not by the omniscient author who can display a character's inner thoughts and feelings directly to the reader but by a Danish woman to an English court centuries after the events described so we expect from her a more objective, external, factual account along the lines of the opening phrase:

"There was a man..." (p. 3)

Possibly, Bjarki told someone that he had been eager, then soaked. Possibly, this information was included in the oral tradition transmitted by the Danish woman Gunnvor to the court of King Aethelstan. But this amount of subjective experiential detail seems unlikely.

Anderson is writing a novel. Sometimes the framing device of the saga recedes further into the background and the modern author directly addresses his readers, although he nevertheless stops short of the kind of direct incursion into Bjarki's mind that would be involved in telling us, for example, that Bjarki wondered if he would receive hospitality, remembered having received it on similar occasions in the past etc.

Hrolf And His Warriors

Appropriately, Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) ends:

"Here ends the saga of Hrolf Kraki and his warriors." (p. 261)

- because the novel is not just about its title character. He is born at the mid-point of Chapter III, becomes King aged 16 in Chapter IV and dies in battle at the end of Chapter VII. Thus, he is King of Denmark, though even then not the central character of the novel, in just four of the eight chapters.

After the short explanatory Chapter I, "Of The Telling," each chapter is entitled "The Tale Of..." followed by a name or, in one case, a description. Chapter III is "...Of The Brothers." The names are Frodhi, Svipdag, Bjarki, Yrsa, Skuld and Vogg. The soap-operatic relationships between these characters define the episodic plot, reconstructed by Anderson from diverse sources:

Frodhi overthrew his brother Halfdan but was in turn overthrown by Halfdan's sons, Hroar and Helgi (the "Brothers"), who then ruled jointly;

when Helgi, then Hroar, had died, they were succeeded by Hroar's son, Hrorik, who however was overthrown in favour of Helgi's and Yrsa's son, Hrolf, whose warriors Svipdag and Bjarki married his daughters;

by witchcraft, Skuld, Helgi's daughter, enabled her husband to defeat Hrolf who, however, was immediately avenged by Vogg;

a further relationship is that Yrsa was Helgi's daughter although they had married and had a son before their close kinship was disclosed.

Thus, Helgi is kind of the unifying character:

Halfdan's son;
Hroar's brother;
Frodhi's nephew;
Yrsa's father;
for a time, Yrsa's husband;
Hrolf's father;
Skuld's father.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


Poul Anderson's earliest heroic fantasy, The Broken Sword, differs in several respects from his later War Of The Gods and Hrolf Kraki's Saga.

(i) Whereas they are faithful retellings of Norse stories about Odin's descendants, it is a fanciful sequel to Norse stories about a magical sword.

(ii) Whereas they are firmly grounded in Scandinavian and North European geography, much of its action occurs in the invisible and apparently even impalpable halls of English elves.

(iii) When creating a new narrative, Anderson's imagination is not confined to Norse mythology. Thus, in The Broken Sword, Irish, Greek and Chinese supernatural beings coexist with those of the Vikings.

(iv) Those are national mythologies but the new internationalism of the Roman Empire is supernaturally represented by the White Christ before whom the old gods retreat. Christianity, absent from War Of The Gods, affects Hrolf Kraki's Saga only in that the stories of Hrolf, Frodhi, Hroar, Helgi, Svipdag, Bjarki, Yrsa, Skuld and Vogg are recounted in an English Christian court several centuries later.

Thus, in different works, we appreciate both creative invention and imaginative reconstruction.

Story Telling Techniques

Saga story telling techniques continue throughout Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973). Not only does the novel end:

"Here ends the saga of Hrolf Kraki and his warriors." (p. 261)

but to emphasize the point, a Chapter ends:

"Here ends the tale of King Helgi." (p. 107)

When a passage begins not with the point of view of the yeoman Gunnar but with the bald factual statement:

"Not far off dwelt a yeoman called Gunnar." (p. 149)

- we know that this passage will not be about him. We are told that there was a man of a particular name as a way of introducing one of his offspring, in this case a daughter. (The book began thus.)

The phrase, "Among the heathen...," again reminds us that the narrator addresses not us but an English Christian court several centuries after the events described. (p. 142) We are told that, among the heathen, a woman's father, or her brother if the father is dead, decides on her first husband, though usually without going against her wishes, and she chooses second or later husbands.

Thus, Anderson fills in the social background not by having one of the characters reflect on it but by having his narrator explain it to her audience.

Two Masters Of All The Genres

Poul Anderson mastered historical fiction, science fiction (sf) and fantasy and even set one novel in each of these genres in the fourteenth century with a minor connection between the historical novel, Rogue Sword, and the sf novel, The High Crusade. (See an earlier post, "Finding an Unexpected Connection" by Sean M Brooks, Wednesday, 9 May, 2012.)

James Blish, with a much smaller output, not only mastered these three genres but also went one step further than Anderson or any other author by writing a three genre Trilogy, After Such Knowledge:

in Volume I, Doctor Mirabilis (a historical novel), Roger Bacon, the founder of scientific method, is suspected of witchcraft and has a drug-induced vision of Armageddon;

in Volume II, (a) Black Easter and (b) The Day After Judgement (contemporary fantasies), magicians release and cannot recall demons who then wage and win Armageddon;

in Volume III, A Case Of Conscience (futuristic sf), experiences on an extra-solar planet oblige a Jesuit biologist to ask heretical questions about the relative powers of God and Satan and to fear an imminent Armageddon.

The Trilogy is thematic, not linear, so it does not matter that Armageddon happens in the late twentieth century yet is still to happen in the mid-twenty first century - although this discrepancy might be resolved by the conclusion of The Day After Judgement, when Satan/God undoes (at least some of) the damage caused by the conflict in order to initiate a long development of mankind towards Godhood. This development could still be occurring in Volume III although, as was the case after the Armageddon in Volume II, the characters' mind-sets have not progressed yet.

The unifying theme of the Trilogy is the question whether the desire for secular knowledge is evil. Blish, like Anderson or any other scientifically trained hard sf writer, answered "No" but he managed to write a Trilogy about the question.

Anderson addressed a single theme in different genres when he presented the original of Odin in a historical novel, a time traveller mistaken for Odin in an sf story and Odin in three fantasy novels. However, this single theme does not make these works a single series. Instead, the contrasting treatments differentiate them as distinct works.

I was reminded of Black Easter, the definitive novel of demonic conjuration, when I read Anderson's account of Queen Skuld's ritual cursing in Hrolf Kraki's Saga. Pagan witchcraft was followed by Christian witchcraft which led, in Blish's fantasy, to Armageddon.


We are used to the idea that, when Europe became Christian, Paganism became witchcraft. Poul and Karen Anderson show this happening in their King of Ys tetralogy. However, by Poul Anderson's own account, for example in Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), Pagans had already feared witchcraft. There is mention of a king suspected of unwholesome practices and there are:

" '...uncanny beings...fens from which many a man or child has never come back...barrows where heatless fires and walking shapes are seen after dark...' " (p. 124)

Hrolf's sister's foster father tells Hrolf:

" 'Wise folk give such things wide berth. I fear Skuld does not...What frets me most is how she's taken to what looks like spellcraft.' " (pp. 124-125)

Later, a fisherman sees Queen Skuld on a headland at dusk:

"Wildly streamed her gown and unbound locks. She had raised a pole whereon was a horse's skull, the worst kind of ill-wishing, and pointed the empty eyes toward Zealand. That way too did she shake her fist and yell forth curses, while she wept for sheer wrath." (p. 144)

Thus, when Christian priests taught that witches could summon evil Powers, they did not contradict existing beliefs.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ravens III

Odin's symbol, the raven, appears on the banners and sails of his descendants, the Skjoldungs, in Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods and Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) and the title of Volume III of his Last Viking Trilogy is The Sign Of The Raven.

This is one of the few Anderson novels that I have not yet read. However, it is possible to know exactly where it fits in his works. Like the first and second volumes of the trilogy, it is historical fiction, not fantasy. Thus, there can be no gods, giants, elves, dwarves or magic that works. (Indeed, in what has already been read, a sea voyage to the North discovers not Jotunheim but icebergs and must turn back.)

Secondly, since the title character and the events of his life are historical, we already know exactly how the story must end for King Harald Hardrada of Norway at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in the North East of England on the 25th of September, 1066. We have the Norns' knowledge of what will be. But this inevitability and foreknowledge are appropriate.

Reading Anderson requires a dictionary although we can now easily google obscure phrases. This, without explanation:

"All men must dree their weirds." (p. 132)

We know "weird" by now but what is "dree"? It sounded familiar but I had to google it. All men must accept their fates. And that applies particularly in this case to Harald Hardrada, trying to conquer England and knowing already the possible outcomes.

Magic Swords

The sword Tyrfing connects Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword (New York, 1973) back to an Eddaic poem and a saga but also forwards to Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga which lists four "...magical swords...":

Sighurd's Gram;
"...Tyrfing the accursed...";
Skofnung, given to Hrolf by an elven woman;
Lovi, of which more will be told later in the Saga (p. 129).

Magic swords never rust and always bite although Excalibur is not listed here.

Poul and Karen Anderson wrote a King of Ys tetralogy;
The Broken Sword refers to Ys;
The Demon Of Scattery refers to The Broken Sword;
War Of The Gods, like The Broken Sword, features Odin;
Hrolf Kraki's Saga, like War Of The Gods, describes Odin's descendants;
Hrolf Kraki's Saga refers to the broken sword.

Thus, here are eight connected volumes: four by Anderson; four by the Andersons.


(i) In Poul Anderson's historical fiction, two men who lived about 100 BC come to be deified as Odin and Thor.

(ii) In his science fiction, a time traveler regularly visiting a Dark Age tribe is mistaken for Odin and has to play that role to the end.

(iii) In his heroic fantasy, Odin connives to get the Eddic sword Tyrfing reforged and also prevents a second War between Aesir and Vanir.

Thus, we encounter the original of Odin, a man mistaken for Odin and Odin. The god permeates three genres and four works.

In (i) the historical novel, The Golden Slave (New York, 1980), the central character, leading a slave mutiny, is helped by a large man with red hair and beard who grabs and kills with a hammer, then declares:

" 'They call me Tjorr...' " (p. 128)

I immediately thought, "OK. Where's Odin?" He had been with us from the beginning. The central character, introduced in the second sentence, is called "Eodan." Tjorr goes on to say something equally significant, although I did not realize this on first reading:

" 'I am of the Rukh-Ansa...' " (p. 128)

"Ansa" is another name for "Aesir." As Anderson writes in the Epilogue:

"It was told from olden days, and written in the books of Snorri Sturlason, that the Asa or Ansa folk fared from the land of Tanais to the North. They soon became overlords...who themselves came to be worshiped as gods after they died. The first Asa king was called Odin, and he was the chief of the gods." (pp. 281-282)

And the Author's Note at the beginning of the novel informs us that the "...tradition described in the epilogue may be found..." in the Heimskringla and Saxo Grammaticus. (p. 6)

Thus, Saxo, a source for Anderson's fantasies featuring Odin as a god, is cited here instead as a source for the idea that Odin was a man, later deified. We read in Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (see here) that there was a temple of the high gods at Upsala but, according to the tradition described in the epilogue, Upsala was first the center from which the human Ansa ruled.

In the novel, we see Eodan lead his men from Tanais. He has encountered Zoroastrianism and we are to understand that the good-evil conflict in that religion informs the gods-giants conflict in Norse religion. Of necessity, Eodan loses an eye during the novel. He says at the end:

" 'I gave it for wisdom.' " (p. 279) 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


In Poul Anderson's Hrolf Karki's Saga (New York, 1973):

"In the morning the holmgang took place." (p. 117)

So far, a straightforward narration although we need to know what a "holmgang" is but we might guess this from the context. A man called Svipdag has just challenged the king's berserkers to single combat one at a time.

The text continues:

"This is a usage among the heathen, when men wish to fight out a challenge." (p. 117)

This confirms that the holmgang, like a duel, is the formula for fighting a challenge. It also reminds us, after just over a hundred pages, that the reader is not being addressed by an omniscient narrator. Instead, a Danish woman is addressing an English Christian court several centuries after the events described. That is why she pauses to explain to her audience that the holmgang is a "...usage among the heathen...," where Anderson or his readers might have said "a Norse custom."

The holmgang practice is then described in detail to an audience unfamiliar with it:

a holm is a small island where the antagonists are isolated;
four willow wands mark a field;
an antagonist loses if he is driven beyond them;
the blows go by turns till first blood, yielding or death.

As noted of Saxo and Starkad in the previous post, readers of Anderson's sf have already encountered this term. In a story called "Holmgang," two space suited men agree to fight on an asteroid. Anderson has a unique ability to project the past into the future for story purposes as well as to speculate about possible futures differing qualitatively from previous history.

Saxo And Starkad

In Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, Starkad is an inhabited planet of the star Saxo. As sf fans, we are unconcerned about the origins of these names although we are very concerned about the fates of the two intelligent Starkadian species, land-dwellers and sea-dwellers, that have become pawns of the Terran Empire and the Merseian Rhoidunate, respectively.

However, names carry rich histories if we can see it. Saxo Grammaticus is one of Anderson's sources for his heroic fantasies and in one of those fantasies, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), who should appear but Starkadh:

of Jotun descent;
born six-handed;
Thor ripped off four;
Odin fostered him;
and said he should have three men's lifespans;
Thor said he must perform an unworthy deed in each;
Odin gave him the best of weapons;
Thor ordered that he would never own land;
Odin said he would always have money;
Thor that he would never have enough;
Odin that he would have victory in every battle;
Thor that he would always be wounded;
Odin made him first among skalds;
Thor made him immediately forget what he had uttered;
he fomented strife at the wedding of King Hroar's daughter. (pp. 110-111)

I neither knew that such a convoluted story existed in Norse mythology nor suspected that such a rich history lay behind the name of a planet in Ensign Flandry.


There are two different ways that Hamlet could have come into Poul Anderson's works.

(i) Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest is set in a timeline where Shakespeare was the Great Historian. Thus, in that timeline, the historical Lear, Caesar, Hamlet etc were exactly as presented in his plays. Lear knew that the world was round and there were clocks in Caesar's time so that their technological development started earlier than ours with their seventeenth century Puritans building steam trains and starting the Industrial Revolution two centuries early.

However, the novel, a sequel to A Midsummer Night's Dream and, more immediately, to The Tempest, is set in the seventeenth century and thus is much later than Hamlet. Anderson could have written prequels featuring the Shakespearean Hamlet etc. Also, it is a certainty that Prince Hamlet would have been a welcome guest in the Old Phoenix, Anderson's inn between the worlds.

(ii) Anderson's sources for his heroic fantasies about Hadding and Hrolf Kraki of Denmark included Saxo Grammaticus who is the earliest source for Hamlet. Thus, Anderson, working not from Shakespeare but from earlier sources, could have fitted a different version of Hamlet into his account of the Skjoldungs, Danish kings descended, it is thought, from Odin. The story would have to be a fantasy - I imagine that the ghost was in the earliest version.

Shakespeare's Hamlet represents a transitional period. On the one hand, Hamlet's father is spending time in a Christian Purgatory:

"Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are
Burnt and purged away." (1, 4, 12-13)

On the other hand, he urges the ancient Norse duty of revenge on Hamlet. Also the phrase "So have I heard, and do in part believe it..." (1, 1, 146) expresses a period transitional between Christianity and secularism. Anderson knew how to write fantasies in which the gods existed but were being driven back by the priests of the new god.

This could have been a fourth incursion of the issue of incest into Anderson's works because Hamlet regards his widowed mother's marriage to his uncle as incestuous. 


At least three times, the issue of incest arises in Poul Anderson's fantasies.

(i) A Mithraist becomes King of Ys and refuses to marry his daughter when the gods of the city mark her to replace a deceased Queen. The embittered daughter, a devotee of the Ysan gods, conspires with the king's enemy who destroys Ys, as its gods seem to want. Like other pantheons, they withdraw before the new god of the Roman Empire.

(ii) Skafloc Elven-Fosterling unknowingly marries his sister but his dead brothers unwillingly reveal their kinship when Skafloc recalls them seeking other information. Skafloc, raised by feckless elves, does not respect the incest tabu but his sister does and withdraws from him.

(iii) In Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), the Danish King Helgi and his wife learn, when they have had a son, that they are father and daughter. She points out that to stay together would bring bad luck on their country. They anticipate:

"Blighted fields, murrain on the stock, sickness sweeping through a starveling folk, Denmark naught but the haunt of ravens and wolves, cutthroats and madmen, until an outland ax hewed down the tree of the Skoldjungs..." (pp. 81-82)

Since the Saga is a fantasy, such an outcome is possible. Helgi and Yrsa do not stay together.

Frodi And Frodhi

According to Saxo Grammaticus, Hrolf Kraki's great-uncle Frodhi was Hadding's son Frodi whereas, according to Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga, the great-uncle Frodhi was a son of Frodhi the Peace-Good. Many generations of Skjoldungs preceded the Peace-Good because we are told that one on them long ago was Hermodh, ancestor of Grendel.

At some point, which I can't find right now, in Anderson's War Of The Gods, Hadding names his grandfather as Skjold. Does this mean that he is claiming to be that close in time to the Skjold who was a son of Odin and the founder of the dynasty? I think it is more likely that this is another case of two men with the same name but will see if I can delve deeper into the Skjoldung lineage.

Monday, 24 September 2012

How They Connect

In Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), of two brothers jointly ruling Denmark, Hroar is the king who is helped by the hero Beowulf whereas Helgi is both father and grandfather of the hero Hrolf Kraki. Thus, Halfdan, father of Hroar and Helgi, unites the stories of Beowulf and Hrolf in a way similar to that in which Abraham, as the father of both Ishmael and Isaac, unites the stories of Islam and Judaism.

The picture, taken from Wikipedia, shows Helgi and Yrsa who marry not knowing that they are father and daughter. Thus, the title character of the Saga is born perhaps sooner than expected in Chapter II which, according to the family tree in the beginning of the book, still deals with Skjoldungs two generations prior to Hrolf.

For me at least, the close connection with Beowulf came as a surprise as did something else. Of Helgi, we are told:

"Himself he poured water upon the boy and named him Hrolf." (p. 74)

I had not known that Pagan naming ceremonies involved pouring water on the baby. I do not think that modern Pagans do this but will ask.

An Unexpected Crossover

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, King Arthur Pendragon of Britain conquered Ireland. According to Irish mythology, the hero Fionn MacCuhaill defeated an invasion by Arthur, son of Britt. Thus, Arthur "crosses over" from British to Irish mythology, like Superman appearing in a Captain Marvel comic. Alan Moore colourfully explains the concept of comic book crossovers:

"For those more familiar with conventional literature, try to imagine Dr Frankenstein kidnapping one of the protagonists of Little Women for his medical experiments, only to find himself subject to the scrutiny of a team-up between Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot." (1)

Moore himself wrote a comic book script in which Jules Vernes' Nautilus fights HG Wells' Martians in the Thames.

Poul Anderson, faithfully following his sources for Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), presents us with a mythological crossover before we have realised that it is happening. When he has got us used to the idea that the brothers Hroar and Helgi jointly ruled as kings in Denmark, he tells us that Hroar erected a hall of which " said no goodlier home had been in the North since Odin dwelt on earth." (p. 64) Because of "...mighty antlers..." on its beam-ends, the hall was called Hart, which meant nothing to me when I read it. (p. 64)

Next, however, a monster hight Grendel terrorises the hall until stopped by "...Bjovulf of Gotaland, the man that in England they call Beowulf." (p. 65) Then we realise that, with a change of vowels, "Hart" becomes "Heorot." Google confirms that Hroogar (who must be Hroar) was lord in Heorot which means "Hall of the Hart." The google article even begins, "It has been suggested that Beowulf and Hrolf Kraki be merged into this article or section. Discuss."

Suddenly, Hrolf Kraki, of whom I had not heard except in this book by Anderson, assumes a greater significance. The story of Beowulf is summarized on pages 65 and 66 of the Saga.

(1) Moore Alan, Introduction IN Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Saga Of The Swamp Thing, New York, 1987, pp. v-ix AT p. vii.

Ravens II

When reading Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods, I noted that the sail of the Danish King Hadding's ship bore the emblem of a raven which is also the symbol of Odin. This is explained in Anderson's earlier work Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) where a later Danish king also has "...raven sail unfurled..." (p. 54) War... tells us that the Danish kings were Skjoldungs, but the Saga adds that their ancestor, Skjold, was believed to be a son of Odin.

War Of The Gods explains a phrase used in the Saga. The Danish kings' enemies have reason to fear not only "...a raven banner..." but also "...a host in the swine-array of battle..." (p. 62). The swine-array, taught by Gangleri/Odin to Hadding, is a wedge shaped formation so named because it rips through an unprepared host like a boar's tusks.

In Hrolf Kraki's Saga, Chapter II, "The Tale of Frodhi," the usurper Frodhi is overthrown by his nephews Hroar and Helgi. In Chapter III, "The Tale of the Brothers," Helgi, reigning jointly with his brother, begets Yrsa who, according to the family tree at the beginning of the book, will become the mother of the title character, Hrolf Kraki. Thus, although Hrolf is not yet on stage, Chapter II (of VIII) has brought him significantly closer. However, as Anderson says in the Foreword, the real hero of the saga is Skjold's line of descent, not any single Skjoldung.

Saga And War III

Both Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) and War Of The Gods by Poul Anderson retell ancient stories but the latter flows more smoothly as a novel which is why earlier I remembered it as "better written." In War..., a single narrative recounts the career of the Danish king Hadding from infancy to death. By contrast, the Saga, its story reconstructed from fragmentary manuscripts, is episodic, covering seven generations of the Danish dynasty with the title character not born till the sixth.

However, Anderson writes in the Foreword:

"The hero is no one of them, but rather the blood of Skjold the Sheaf-Child, which coursed through many different hearts." (p. xx)

(Hadding was an earlier Skjoldung.)

In Chapter II, "The Tale of Frodhi," the two young sons of a deposed king, who have been living as farm hands, implausibly get physically close enough to their usurping uncle to overthrow him. Their foster father and brother-in-law, who have sworn loyalty to the usurper, give the boys limited but sufficient help without breaking their oaths of loyalty as legalistically interpreted. As Anderson comments:

"Love, loyalty, honesty beyond the most niggling technicalities, were only for one's kindred..." (p. xix)

"...we today need a reminder that we must never take civilization for granted." (p. xx)

War... is sufficiently unified by its single central character whereas Anderson unifies the Saga by inventing a tenth century narrator in the court of a Christian king. The king's bishop patronizingly allows the recital of a heathen story because, by understanding heathens, Christians might bring them to the Faith. The narrator explains details like how halls were built in the Northlands.

Both the Saga and War... have mythological settings. The Saga summarizes the myth of how Odin's son, Skjold, and the goddess Gefion founded the kingdom whereas War... begins with the war between Aesir and Vanir. All Skjoldungs are descendants of Odin of the Aesir and Hadding is also an incarnation of Njord of the Vanir.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Saga And War II

In Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), when a king is killed in battle, the foster father of the king's two sons hides them with a wizard on an island. In Anderson's War Of The Gods, when a king is killed in battle, the foster father of the elder of the king's two sons hides them with a giant in the hills.

That is the sort of thing that happened in those days, apart from the giants. Kings were killed in battle and a young son of a slain king was immediately in danger. To be brought up in secret and to claim the kingdom on coming of age was part of the heroic legend.

The Saga has a narrator who, introduced in the very short, one and a half page, Chapter I, "Of The Telling," reminds us of her existence in the course of the text by addressing King Aethelstan's court, and thus also the reader, in the first person:

" '...long after the tale I will tell you...' " (p. 7)

" 'I have spoken of jarls. They are not the sames as English earls...' " (p. 11)

A dramatic or graphic adaptation would be able periodically to show us the story-teller addressing the court.

In Anderson's fantasies, we expect to find verse either alternating with the prose or concealed within it. On pages 8-11, the narrator recites a lay which is laid out on the page with a peculiar long gap between two of the words in the middle of each line. I do not know the reason for this except that it must reproduce the presentation of the verse in the original texts.

For concealed verse, we find this when the wizard addresses the king's sons:

" 'I heard them whisper in the dark, I hear them still in the gray. Rise up, Hroar and Helgi Halfdansson, and keep to my woods this day!' " (p. 20) 

Hrolf Kraki's Saga And War Of The Gods

(i) Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) summarises the origin of the Skjoldungs who figure in this book and in his War Of Gods.

(ii) Like War Of The Gods, the Saga presents, in an early Chapter, a political geography of Northern Europe of the time.

(iii) Of one Skjoldung king of Denmark, it is said:

"...that a maiden might carry a sackful of gold from end to end of his realm and be safe." (p. 7)

This claim was made of Cyrus the Great in Anderson's Time Patrol Series. The same claim, without the sack of gold, was made of King Hadding in War Of The Gods.

(iv) Hadding makes peace between Skjoldungs and Ynglings although the Saga tells us that between these dynasties there was "...scant love and much bloodshed." (p. 7)

I expect to find more cross-references but have only reread as far as page 7 of the Saga.

Literary Styles

Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword (London, 1977; original publication, 1954) begins and ends in the style of a saga:

"There was a man called Orm the Strong, a son of Ketil Asmundsson who was a yeoman in the north of Jutland." (p. 15)

"Here ends the sage of Skafloc Elven-Fosterling." (p. 208)

His Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) begins and ends in the same style:

"There was a man called Eyvind the Red, who dwelt in the Danelaw of England while Aethelstan was king. His father was Svein Kolbeinsson, who had come there from Denmark..." (p. 3)

"Here ends the saga of Hrolf Kraki and his warriors." (p. 261)

Chapter I of his War Of The Gods (New York, 1999) begins with the subject matter of an Edda:

"The gods themselves fought the first war that ever was." (p. 9)

However, its human action begins, in Chapter II, in the style of a novel:

"Up into the hills that rise north of the Scania lowlands came a small troop riding." (p. 15)

Let us compare the three texts so far. In The Broken Sword, Hrolf Kraki's Saga and War Of The Gods, Chapter I, a narrator directly addresses the reader and starts his story at the beginning. The gods are close to the beginning of all things and here they begin war, an important social institution for the Vikings. Neither Orm nor Eyvind will turn out to be our hero. Orm is Skafloc's father. Eyvind's Danish wife will recount Hrolf Kraki's Saga. These are the things that we need to be told first.

By contrast, War Of The Gods, like Paradise Lost after its opening invocation, "plunges into the midst of things" (in media res). We have yet to learn who the "...small troop..." are. We soon learn that this troop, en route to visit a giant, guards the two sons of a recently slain king. Thus, we learn what is going on while it is going on. Major events, including a battle, have already occurred but one of the characters soon recounts this to another and thus to the reader.

In accordance with the conventions of a novel, we expect the narrative, even if it is in the third person, to be presented from the point of view of a single one of its protagonists. The likeliest candidate is Braki Halldorsson, who fares at the head of the troop. Our expectation is only partly fulfilled. Certainly, we do not hear the voice of a distanced story-teller informing us equally about all of the characters and events. On the other hand, the point of view remains collective:

"...uneasiness was upon them." (p. 16)

"...Braki and his following...sat down, feeling bolder than before." (p. 19)

"Braki's followers loosened their grip on their weapons. Things were going as he had promised them." (p. 18)

Thus, when, after this third quotation, the text relates:

"Once this giant had murderously raided farms..." (p. 18)

it is telling us what Braki's followers knew and could reflect on as they relaxed while his earlier promise to them was fulfilled. This is different from a literary style in which the narrator or story-teller simply recounts the giant's deeds directly to the reader.

In War Of The Gods, the human story ends with the hero's followers finding his body. There is no conclusion in which we could be told about the succession or subsequent events. The novel as a whole ends in novelistic style with dialogue when Njord of the Vanir tells Odin of the Aesir:

" '...from this day to the last, we are brothers.' " (p. 298)


Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999) is a biographical novel in that it recounts a man's life from infancy to death. The framing sequence in its opening and closing Chapters, I and XXXV, summarises much of Norse mythology and reveals to Anderson's readers that the man Hadding whose life and death are recounted in Chapters II-XXXIV is an incarnation of the god, Njord. By sacrificing himself to Odin in Chapter XXXIV, Hadding has resolved a renewed conflict between two divine races, Odin's Aesir and Njord's Vanir. Now, they will face the end of all things together.

At the very end of the novel, Odin and Njord are about to walk up the rainbow to Asgard. Odin relates what a spaewife told him:

" 'When the new world arises from the sea and Baldr returns from the dead, you will be there to help build its peace.' " (p. 298)

A myth of universal peace following a cosmic dissolution - although Odin and Thor will not return. Myths recognise death and renewal but this myth also recognises that some deaths at least are permanent. When Fenris Wolf swallows Odin and a son of Odin avenges his father by placing a foot on the Wolf's lower jaw, seizing the upper jaw and tearing the Wolf apart, it is plausible that, in an earlier version of the myth, Odin re-emerged from the sundered Wolf but that is not in the myth that we inherit. Norse mythology also uniquely includes a failed Resurrection. The gods' attempt to rescue Baldr from Hel was unsuccessful.

Sheila and I visited a surprisingly accurate spaewife in Northern Ireland. She smiled knowingly and clearly "saw" what she said because she insisted on it even when we contradicted her. In each such case, events proved her right. One of her sisterhood told Odin about the Ragnarok.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

In The End

Alan Moore wrote:

"All of our best and oldest legends recognize that time passes and that people grow old and die. The legend of Robin Hood would not be complete without the final blind arrow shot to determine the site of his grave. The Norse legends would lose much of their power were it not for the knowledge of an eventual Ragnarok, as would the story of Davy Crockett without the existence of an Alamo." (1)

- and Beowolf, fifty years older, was fatally wounded when he killed a dragon.

A myth does not have the happy ending of a fairy tale or a romantic novel. Imaginative in content but realistic in meaning, it addresses both life and death. Poul Anderson shows well the passage of time when retelling the Norse myth of Hadding in War Of The Gods (New York, 1999):

nearing fifty, Hadding remains straight and broad-shouldered, retains most of his teeth and does not yet seem old although, of course, there are signs of age;

his queen dies in childbirth;

his children grow and have children;

his adult daughter plots against him - like the King of Ys' daughter in the Andersons' tetralogy;

after killing an enemy in single combat, he thinks, " 'Yes...I am old...I wanted one last victory that was wholly mine, as a man among men...' " (p. 258);

when he counsels that it is better to build and trade than to burn and take, men remark, " the wild young rover had become the mild old grandfather. But some said, 'It's as though he's bidding us farewell.' " (p. 275)

Maturity can bring wisdom. Hadding had fought to gain his kingdom, had fought to build a peaceful realm, had fought to maintain it... However, he counsels his warlike son that peace and work strengthen the Danes:

" '...I have striven to uphold the should turn to it before they turn to the sword...I'd be foolish to tell men they cannot fight abroad when they stand to gain thereby. But, Frodi, the king's care should always first and foremost be for the kingdom.'" (p. 263)

Life has been lived; lessons learned.

Hadding: I have done what I could. All things end.
Eirik: Memory dies not, the memory of what a man did in his life.

They "...speak of bygone times...all their years..." (p. 291)

(1) Moore, Alan, "The Mark of the Batman: An Introduction" IN Miller, Frank, The Dark Knight Returns, London, 1986.

Hrolf And Hadding

In Norse mythological literature:

King Hadding of Denmark had a son called Frodi;
Hrolf Kraki, the hero of a saga, had a great-uncle called Frodi;
Saxo Grammaticus identified the Frodis;
Poul Anderson thought that this identification was mistaken;
Anderson retold Hrolf Kraki's Saga in 1973;
twenty four years later, he retold the story of Hadding as War Of The Gods.

In terms of Anderson's development as a writer, War Of The Gods is clearly a much later work - and I think better written although I have yet to reread Hrolf Kraki's Saga. For the purpose of arranging Anderson's heroic fantasies into a sequential reading order, it makes sense, even if we do not accept the identification of the Frodis, to go with Saxo's chronology for Hrolf and Hadding and thus to place Saga before War.

Both Hrolf and Hadding are Skjoldungs so it makes sense to know which came first. I expect to know more after rereading both books.

Peace And War

 Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999) shows not only wars and happy endings, with the hero marrying the king's daughter whom he has rescued, but also what follows: long years of peace, idle warriors longing for a return to military campaigns and some marital conflict between hero and heroine.

Hadding leads a fleet that harries the Wends and returns with booty because:

"...he could not well keep strength in being if he never used it." (p. 229)

Eventually, Hadding's peace is broken. Anderson shows how an outlaw with a big enough following may challenge a king, law breaker potentially becoming law maker.

Anderson's readers become used to noting what he is doing with language, particularly in the rhythm. In an earlier book, much of the dialogue was blank verse sometimes ending with a rhyme despite being laid out as prose. When told that the outlaw Tosti is leading an invasion, Hadding comments:

" 'We have heard of him before...Soon the world will hear no more.' " (p. 238)

Readers expecting only prose might miss this rhyming couplet.

Golden Ages

"...the Great King had given so much law to his dominions that it was said a virgin with a sack of gold could walk unmolested across all Persia." (1)

"At last a maiden could walk alone, mile after mile, without fear." (2)

Poul Anderson knew that such Golden Ages did not exist.

"Manse Everard entered Pasargadae as if into a springtime of hope." (3)

- but the author immediately adds:

"Not that any actual era lends itself to such flowery metaphors." (3)

The first quotation is set in real history and includes the important qualification, " was said..." The second does not include such a qualification but is set in the mythical history of King Hadding of Denmark. In that history, after a climactic battle and its immediate aftermath, Anderson spends more than a page describing in detail fourteen years of peace:

"For season after season, their lands lay at peace. Spring came with a shout of wind and rush of rain, sunlight smote through..." (4)

- etc. I have already commended Anderson's ability to describe the weather and the seasons as experienced by populations living closer to them than we do and this passage in Chapter XXVI of War Of The Gods is particularly idyllic.

(1) Anderson, Poul, "Brave To Be A King" IN Anderson, The Time Patrol, New York, 1991, pp. 34-68 AT p. 40.
(2) Anderson, Poul, War Of The Gods, New York, 1999, p. 218.
(3) "Brave To Be A King", p. 41.
(4) War Of The Gods, p. 217.

Friday, 21 September 2012


In Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999), Gangleri (Odin) teaches King Hadding's men a new battle array:

"He spread them on the field as a great wedge. Hadding and Gunnar made the first row...Four men behind them made the second row, eight behind these the third, and thus until the clove into the disordered foe, scattering those it did not straightway overrun...the wedge of men lived on throughout Northern lands. It came to be known as the swine array, for it ripped through an unready host like the tusks of a wild boar." (pp. 194-198)

I have remembered and noted this detail only because it connected with something in my experience. Once, I saw British police suddenly forming themselves into a wedge and driving it through a mass picket line, thus dividing the pickets into two groups and pushing them apart and away from the picketed entrance. On another occasion, however, with a bigger crowd, the pressure of the crowd was so great that it pushed the wedge back and the police were forced to retreat. There is strength in tactics but also strength in numbers.

In a later battle, Hadding's chieftains formed "...the men into a wedge..." whereas "...the foe formed their straight ranks." (p. 210) The two big men in the front row smash with axes, the four men in the second row strike right, left and ahead and the weight behind presses them forward so that the swine array splits the enemy ranks. 


" ' a long, narrow island off the Baltic coast of Sweden...Old windmills everywhere, ancient barrows, snuggled villages, and at either tip a lighthouse overlooking a sea where sailboats bob along -' " (1)

"A narrow strait...Beyond it, low and ling-worn, stretched the long island called Oland." (2)

Time Patrol members visited Oland in 43 AD. King Hadding fought a battle opposite it a few centuries later. But these were in different timelines.

The Time Patrol series is science fiction and the history protected by the Patrol differs from ours only in that it includes Sherlock Holmes as a real person. War Of The Gods is heroic fantasy and its history differs from ours by including gods and giants as real beings. Imagine a world in which twenty first century history books about Denmark included the information that Hadding became king with help from a man called Gangleri now known to have been the god Odin and that Hadding killed a giant after Thor had refused to do so even when the local king had called on him with mighty offerings.

So these are different Olands. Nevertheless, the reader appreciates this faint echo of the Time Patrol in a very different part of the same author's imagination.

(1) Anderson, Poul, "Star of the Sea" IN Anderson, The Time Patrol, New York, 1991, pp. 291-398 AT p. 361.
(2) Anderson, Poul, War Of The Gods, New York, 1999, p. 210. 


Of course, in Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999), the hero Hadding kills the giant and wins the king's daughter but Anderson does not let this outcome seem to be a foregone conclusion. Events could have moved in several different directions between the slaying of the jotun and the betrothal.

For a kick-off, Hadding needs considerable time to recuperate from the wounds inflicted by his adversary. He is not a comic-book hero, to quote the narrator of Anderson's Operation Luna.

When Hadding's men arrive to carry him away, two ravens fly off. In other words, Odin has spied on the proceedings. Whether appropriately or coincidentally, a raven is the emblem on Hadding's banner and is woven on the colored sail of his ship. He ensures that it shows broadside on when he enters the harbor.

The archer god Ullr named on page 128 (I assume that "Ull the Hunter" and the Ullr the archer are the same deity) appears later. Visiting the underworld, Hadding sees a pantheon of seven big, handsome well-dressed men:

one holds a spear (Odin);
one grips a hammer (Thor);
one wears a sword but lacks a hand (Tyr);
one holds a sickle (Freyr?);
one has a bow and quiver (Ullr);
one clasps a harp (Bragi);
one is white and has a horn (Heimdall).

(Seven implements: four weapons; two tools; one musical instrument.)

I am not sure to what extent Anderson merely reproduces from his sources Hadding's strange experiences with an unknown beast, then later in the underworld? The latter include a bizarre vision of Resurrection. Please read it. I prefer not to summarize.

I think that, somewhere in Wagner, Siegfried addresses the Wanderer contemptuously as "...old gangrel..."? (Which fits with "Gangleri" meaning "Wanderer.")

As ever in Anderson's works, some passages stand out for beauty of language. For example:

"Overhead circled the gulls. The light burned gold on their lean white wings." (p. 91)

Boxed Sets

Five of what I call Poul Anderson's nine future histories could each be, and two have been, published as a single volume. Imagine a boxed set called "Five Future Histories," containing:

(i) Tales Of The Flying Mountains;
(ii) the Rustum History (nine stories);
(iii) the Directorate History (four stories);
(iv) Starfarers, with "The Horn of Time the Hunter" as an Epilogue;
(v) Genesis (a good title to end with).

I discussed these distinct histories in earlier posts. All five deal with interstellar exploration and colonization at sub-light speeds.

The remaining four future histories - the Maurai History, the Psychotechnic History, the Technic History and the Harvest of Stars Tetralogy - are multi-volume works and the Technic History is long enough to need two boxed sets. Thus, six sets would collect all of Anderson's future histories.

It is convenient to divide Anderson's massive output into discrete sections which could form the basis of a Complete Works Edition. Another six boxed sets could be:

(vi) the King of Ys Tetralogy (with Karen Anderson);
(vii) five Viking era novels;
(viii) the Last Viking Trilogy;
(ix) three novels set in the fourteenth century, The High Crusade to include its short sequel as an Epilogue;
(x) the Time Patrol Series;
(xi) the Old Phoenix Sequence.

Maybe three novels and one collection set earlier than the Ys Tetralogy would be an opening set and a few volumes set in various later periods would be a thirteenth. Non-series short stories would have to be collected, maybe in chronological order of publication, in as many volumes as necessary.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999) is a curious combination of historical fiction and heroic fantasy. Its central character, Hadding, must fight to gain and retain the kingship of Denmark. His military campaigns and dynastic conflicts are as we would expect to find them in any historical novel.

However, despite the novel's generally realistic setting, a few giants have immigrated from Jotunheim. (Not all jotuns are gigantic in stature but those that concern us here are.) The human characters accept as a given and take for granted that some genuine giants live nearby. It is possible, though inadvisable, to ride out into the wilderness to meet them. One chieftain may visit the giant Vagnhofdi with impunity because he and the giant have sworn peace with one another.

Further, the existence and proximity of such beings means that practical politics can assume also the existence of the gods. Vagnhofdi knows that, if he takes sides in any human conflict, then his adversaries will call on Thor against whom he has no defence. When Hadding hears that another jotun giant " '...hight Jarnskegg...' " is systematically attacking the subjects of a Norwegian king, he naturally asks:

" 'Has not the king called on the gods?' " (pp. 150-152)

This is a question not about religious observance but about a purely practical measure that the king could be taking, like requesting US or UN intervention in a civil war. The answer is that the king has called on the gods and that no wizard, spaewife or dream can reveal why Thor has not intervened. No one concludes that prayer does not work. It must be that there is some reason why the gods do not act.

Of course, Hadding sets off to deal with the problem. Since I have not yet reread beyond this point, any readers of this blog must either read the novel or wait for a later post to find out what happens next.


Here is a detail that I do not remember noticing before. In Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999), a character swears, "By Ull the Hunter..." (p. 128).

Summaries of Norse mythology inform us that there was an archer god called Ullr but that no stories about him survive. The Prose Edda describes him as son of Sif and stepson of Thor. He seems an ideal character to be adapted into a new series of stories.

There is another obscure archer god, the Etruscan Usil. Roy Thomas, creating Axis super villains for the DC Comics Young All-Stars, included Usil as representing Fascist Italy. Another source describes Usil as the Etruscan equivalent of Helios, the Greek god of the sun, and does not highlight his archery.

Superhero teams, kind of modern pantheons, include super-speedsters (equivalents of Mercury) and archers and even, of course, an updated Thor. Ullr - or Ull, assuming that this is the same guy, - seems a perfect character to adopt/adapt since he has little or no back story for any new version to contradict.

Meanwhile, Anderson's meticulous attention to detail is revealed yet again when, placing an oath in the mouth of a character, he revives this obscure divine name rather than just relying on the familiar Odin or Thor.


Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999) is set much more in the world of men than is his earlier Norse fantasy, The Broken Sword. The author summarizes the geography of Saxons, Jutland, Danes, the Baltic, Wends, Gardariki, Anglians, the Skagerrak, Zealand, Scania, Geats, Finns and the Swedish kingdom founded by Odin.

Mythological material is matter-of-factly incorporated into this realistic framework. A giant living in Midgard no longer fights men because they would call on Thor.

Anderson invents a story to explain both why Odin's brothers, Vili and Ve, fade from the story in the myths and why Odin swore blood brotherhood with Loki. But the invented story owes much to the myths. Loki buzzing someone as a fly rings a bell.

Anderson writes perhaps the most detailed account of the World Ash Tree, Yggdrasil, to be found anywhere in literature. The worlds are around its roots and its bole or high in its boughs. He describes its inhabitants as recounted in the Eddas and adds:

"...the tree lives, for it is life, and it shall abide when the world goes under." (p. 82)

(The new world after Ragnarok will be populated by descendants of a couple who hide in the Tree.)

Odin and Loki climb the Tree:

"...through shadowy, whispery caverns of leaf..." (p. 82)

I am fairly sure that that description is original with Anderson.

Yet again, Anderson's science fiction echoes his fantasy. In Harvest Of Stars, characters climb and contemplate among the branches of a tree grown huge in the low gravity of a space habitat.

In British children's fiction, Enid Blyton wrote a trilogy about a Magic Faraway Tree climbed by children who find a different world at the top each time. A typical Alan Moore job would be a sequel in which the children, grown up, revisit the Tree and interpret their earlier experiences there in adult terms.

Although the Faraway Tree is conceptually related to Yggdrasil, Anderson's treatment of the latter has greater imaginative power and literary merit. As in the sagas, the story of Odin's journey through Midgard, Ironwood, Niflheim, Muspellheim, Jotunheim and Yggdrasil is a "play within the play," in this case recounted by Hadding to his captors while getting them drunk so that he can escape and claim his kingdom. The mythical story of Odin plays its part in the human story of Hadding.

Hadding's hearers are fascinated by his account because Hadding, raised by giants, can recount stories from jotun sagas differing in detail both from what men know and from what the gods have disclosed. The jotuns are the oldest race, with lore that goes back to the beginning. If there were such a race, then their account would be valuable indeed.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Wanderer

In Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods, Hadding meets a man. The description of the man should tell us who he is: very tall, old, lean, wide-shouldered, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a long blue cloak that flaps in the wind, carrying a long spear, one-eyed. He has been a ferryman and presents himself as a soothsayer and healer. Two ravens fly past.

He now bears the name Gangleri. In other words, that is not his original name. It meant nothing to me but we are told that it means Wanderer. That means something. In Wagner's Ring, the chief god, answering the same description, is called Wotan in Valhalla and Wanderer when he does in fact wander through Midgard.

The change of name implies a difference in function or maybe the difference between a god (like Vishnu) and one of his avatars or incarnations (like Rama or Krishna). However, Odin does not incarnate. He simply descends bodily from Asgard to Midgard. Religious concepts had not yet become very elaborate.

Gangleri has presented himself as soothsayer and healer to a viking band. Given his appearance and apparent knowledge of the future, why do the vikings not recognise Odin? Can he cloud their minds to prevent recognition? His purpose is to persuade them to accept Hadding, not to draw undue attention to himself. The reader is in the privileged position of recognising the god at work.

The Graphic Poul Anderson II

There are two further stages in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilisation where it would make sense for a graphic adaptation to involve simultaneous serialisation of different sections of the History.

Maybe the first part of "The Adventures of Dominic Flandry," corresponding to the three "Young Flandry" novels, could be published in parallel with "League and Empire," the latter showing the Avalon colony and the early Empire. In this way, the reader of both series would simultaneously see both Flandry defending the Terran Empire and the events that had led to the founding and earlier history of that same Empire.

Even more appropriately, after "young Flandry" has defeated the McCormac Rebellion, "The Adventures..." would continue to depict his career while a parallel series entitled simply "The Terran Empire" would adapt the plots of the short story and the novel that are contemporaneous with Flandry but that do not feature him as a character.

In this way, the reader has the sense of learning about approximately simultaneous events in different parts of a single fictional universe. Such a universe could be indefinitely enlarged by employing additional script writers, pencilers, inkers, colourists, letterers and editors but that is not the present proposal. The idea would be merely to adapt Poul Anderson's existing works into this visual medium that differs alike from prose and film.

Both Isaac Asimov's Robots/Galactic Empire future history and the Man-Kzin Wars period of Larry Niven's Known Space future history have been expanded by the incorporation of newly written works by other authors, including in both cases Anderson, but I would expect merely a dilution of Anderson's Technic History if it were to be enlarged in this way. Certainly, I would continue to regard Anderson's works as complete in themselves and would not accept that any newly written sequels or continuations were legitimately parts of the same series.

In fact, I do not accept the validity even of Robert Heinlein's own later additions to his Future History.