Sunday, 30 September 2012

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.


S.M. Stirling said...

Yup, there's a contradiction at the heart of the old Scandinavian ideal of kingship. The king was supposed to be "land-father", someone who composed quarrels, presided at the 'thing' that made law and judged cases, punished bandits and evildoers, and kept the land at peace so that men could reap what they sowed.

He was the folk's link to the Gods of fertility and increase, too; his health was the land's health, and his sacrifices were made on behalf of the whole people.

But he was also Odin's man, warrior lord of his warrior hirdmen, the ring-giver who had to find them opportunities to win glory and booty and praise. If you got too peaceful and lost the respect of warriors, you were in trouble.

It's interesting that the proto-Germanic word that became "king" -- *kuningaz -- has strong sacral overtones. In Lithuanian, which borrowed it very early, it became 'kunigas', and it meant 'sacrificial priest' rather than political leader.

The original PIE term for 'king', from which 'raja' and 'rex' and Celtic 'rix' derive, meant 'he who makes straight the path', ie., 'lawgiver'. It's more explicitly political.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

And some Scandinavian kings tried to solve the problem of not losing the respect of their warriors by leading them in plundering raids on other peoples. Which caused its own problems, of course!

Far better for a king to be the land father and law giver, not a plundering war lord!