Monday, 1 October 2012

The Dancer From Atlantis

In writing these notes on Poul Anderson's works, I have gone straight from Hrolf Kraki's Saga to The Dancer From Atlantis (London, 1977). Thus, we have moved backwards in time by a couple of millennia but also forwards from mythologically based fiction (fantasy) to scientifically based fiction (sf) because the premise of Dancer is technological time travel, not supernatural magic.

In Dancer, only Chapter One and the concluding section of Chapter Twenty are set in the present at the time of writing, the late twentieth century; none in the future. Thus, Chapters Two to Nineteen and over half of Chapter Twenty are set in the past, nearly all of that in a single period. Anderson realises that period and its inhabitants. Thus, he writes historical fiction.

However, the viewpoint character and his three companions have been technologically transported from later periods. Thus, Anderson also writes science fiction. I think that the composite term, "historical science fiction," is applicable to Dancer and to several other works by Anderson.

As mentioned in the previous post, the formula of Dancer is that the hero:

(i) starts in the here and now;
(ii) is transported to another time;
(iii) has adventures then;
(iv) returns.

For the central character, Duncan Reid, (i) and (ii) occupy Chapter One. (iii) starts in Chapter Three. Chapter Two is more of (i) and (ii) but for his companions, the Russian Oleg, the Hun Uldin and a woman called Erissa. Of necessity, each is the viewpoint character for their (i) "here and now," but the point of view returns to Duncan from the beginning of Chapter Three.

Finally, we may note here that time travel paradox begins to operate at the end of Chapter Two. When "...the vortex..." takes Erissa, she is praying to " '...God Duncan...' " (p. 20). The past-ward moving space-time vehicle seizes the middle-aged Erissa only twenty four years after it stops so it stops during her earlier life and Duncan will meet the younger Erissa.


Mark @ The Hawaii Project said...

I just stumbled across an old copy of The Dancer from Atlantis in a used bookstore today. I am really excited to read it....the parallels to Mary Renault's The King Must Die are very intriguing...

Paul Shackley said...

Welcome to the blog and thank you for your comment.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Mark!

I too am very glad you found both a copy of Poul Anderson's THE DANCER FROM ATLANTIS and this blog. Alas, I've never read Renault's THE KING MUST DIE so I can't either agree or disagree about the possible parallels.

THE DANCER FROM ATLANTIS was the very first hardback Anderson book I purchased. I liked the story, and I've read the book at least twice, maybe three times.

I truly hope you leave more comments in this blog. And let us know what you think about both DANCER and and any others of Anderson's books you may read.