Monday, 24 December 2012


In Volume I of Poul Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy, a Classical scholar in Constantinople introduces a claimant to the Norwegian throne as the King of Hyperborea!

In the concluding Chapter of Volume II, that claimant, who has by now been King of Norway for many years, leads an Arctic expedition in search of Hyperborea, Jotunheim or whatever else is to be found to the North. A learned Saracen had told him that the world was round. He might:

sail over the top to Vinland or Cathay;
find Hyperborea, believed by the Greeks to be " '...a land of ageless springtime, beyond the north wind...' " (Anderson, The Road Of The Sea Horse, New York, 1980, p. 247);
find the Norse Giant Land, the World Serpent, Ydhun's apples, the well of youth or unicorns in fields where flowers are stars.

What they do find is cold, darkness, fog, icebergs and a whale until they turn back to be well rewarded by their King but with a story that will be recorded only in "...some monkish chronicle..." - and in a Poul Anderson novel (p. 253).

A Strong King Or A Strong Country?

While reading Volumes I and II of Poul Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy, I make a negative judgement about the title character, Harald Hardrada, who sees no difference between strengthening his country and strengthening himself. In order to prevent his own family from ever being killed by raiders or invaders, he himself raids and invades and that is morally wrong.

Yet he cannot rule without support. It is helpful to consider why some of his followers see him as a good ruler. One of them says that Harald:

built churches and a whole new town;
strengthened the country;
increased wealth, foreign trade and inner peace and safety;
is openhanded to friends;
sent four ships with low-priced meal to Iceland during a famine;
let Icelanders move to Norway;
did not hinder one Icelander who was en route to his enemy, Svein of Denmark;
later treated that Icelander well on his return.

This is an impressive list of good deeds. However, increasing the inner peace and safety of Norway simply does not undo the evil of killing and burning in Denmark.

Sunday, 23 December 2012


In Poul Anderson's The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980), Chapter XIII, How Gunnar Geiroddsson Fared to Nidharos, is a separate story starting in the saga style. Since the central character is to be Gunnar, we must first be given an objective account of Geirrodd, starting not with Geirrodd's point of view but simply with a reported fact:

"The man was called Geirrod." (p. 221)

Gunnar, not wanting to fish like his father, sets off on foot to offer his military service to the great King Harald Hardrada and is lucky enough, en route, to save the life of the King's leman's brother. Thus, he becomes one of the brother's men and thus, indirectly, serves the King.

Gunnar has not had much religious education. He speaks of " '...St Thor...' " and "...the wizards of Romaborg..." (pp. 228-229)

That new town that Harald had proposed a few Chapters back was built on the Oslofjord and came to be called Oslo.

After the different points of view of Chapters XII and XIII, the concluding Chapter XIV returns to the main narrative and describes Harald's Northern expedition which, because this novel is historical fiction, does not find Jotunheim, although that realm of the giants is visited in the same author's heroic fantasy, The Broken Sword.


In Poul Anderson's The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980), the pieces continue to fall into place:

there is a nova and an East-West split in Christendom;
the King of France is repulsed by the Duke of Normandy who, we know independently, will soon become the King of England;
Malcolm overthrows Macbeth;
Earl Harold Godwinsson reaves and burns on the Welsh marches (bad), refuses to accept England as a Papal fief (good) and drives back Norse Vikings secretly sent by Hardrada (good);
Edward the Atheling is succeeded by his son, Edgar (some of us might remember from Alice In Wonderland that Edgar Atheling will offer the Conqueror the English crown);
Hardrada, reappearing right at the end of the Chapter to receive his Vikings' report back, says that whoever holds England " '...might well hold the world later on.' " (p. 220)

A new world is being born and is even becoming recognisable.

Chapter XII ends in 1058; Chapter XIII, which also broadens the perspective by presenting an alternative narrative point of view, begins in 1061. Now there are only five years left.


In The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980), Poul Anderson must devote Chapter XII to an update on political events in England. It is 1051. There are only fifteen years left. There is already strong Norman influence in England. William the Bastard, later to be called the Conqueror, " ' invited hither.' " (p. 211)

Earl Godwin meets with his sons, including Harold. I deduce that the latter will become the King Harold of England who is to defeat Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge but immediately afterwards to be himself defeated by the Conqueror at Hastings. I could confirm or disconfirm this by googling but instead am letting the narrative unfold. Let us pretend that we do not already know the outcome.

When Harold spoke:

""The men yelled, through the long dim hall, till it rang in the rafters. These were warriors. Their breed had come here when Rome was dying, to hammer out a new realm; among their fathers were Danes whose dragons had borne steel and fire and freedom..." (p. 211)

We have seen Rome dying and Danes bearing steel in other works by Anderson. The title of the present work, The Last Viking Trilogy, if nothing else, informs us that we are approaching the end of that era of Danish violence and freedom. The world keeps turning...

Saturday, 22 December 2012


In Poul Anderson's The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980), King Harald Hardrada's friend and supporter, Ulf, is only nominally Christian:

he turns a blind eye to heathen practices among his people;
his understanding of the Fourth Gospel is " 'They tell me John the Holy wrote a saga about the Weird of the Gods...' " (p. 162);
he misses " '...old Thor, but St Olaf will do in his place...' " (p. 164);
he both offers candles and pays a witch when he is ill, thus possibly offending both powers;
he defends the old ways - odal property which must remain in the family, ancient laws, common men bearing weapons, women free to divorce whatever the Church says, close-knit families whose men will die to avenge their brothers;
he argues that, by centralising power and increasing taxes, Harald makes the North into another Constantinople.

Harald argues that the Northern countries must modernise or go under and Ulf reluctantly agrees. I would have preferred a stronger argument from Ulf for preserving the best of the old way of life.

Friday, 21 December 2012


(Pageviews are way down today - maybe because Christmas is approaching?)

I have been diverted from rereading Poul Anderson's fiction by reading David Attenborough's First Life. These diverse works are conceptually connected. Attenborough discusses the emergence of marine and terrestrial animals. Anderson, as a hard science fiction writer, knew that humanity is part of a long biological evolution and imagined similar evolutions occurring elsewhere.

I have had to abandon the preconceptions that animals evolved from plants and that they are necessarily conscious or even mobile. Apparently, it may not have mattered which end of an ancient worm ate and which excreted. Mouths and anuses had not yet been differentiated.

Life as we know it could easily not have happened. It is likely that the protein which enables cells to combine into multicellular organisms emerged by chance in just one cell. Applying Poul Anderson's imagination to this scenario, it is easy to speculate that Danellians or the Time Patrol were involved. Whenever a crucial event might not have happened, the questions arise: will some time traveller try to prevent it from happening? and: will the Patrol be on hand to ensure that it does happen on schedule?

Apart from the historical events on which Anderson focuses, there must have been many pre-human and even pre-biotic occurrences guarded by the Time Patrol. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012


In Poul Anderson's The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980),King Svein of Denmark captures some men of his enemy, King Harald of Norway. He orders them hanged, then thinks better of it:

"Someday, he thought with fear curdling his innards, he must also be called to judgment." (p. 123)

Some people argue for Christianity by claiming that only fear of divine judgement restrains people from evil acts. There are several flaws in this argument:

it would not prove Christianity to be true;
Christian belief does not prevent many evil acts and can even cause some;
morality is about doing what is right because it is right, not because of fear.

Christian apologists sometimes ask: where is morality based if not in their belief? I suggest that we help others either because they bear the same genes or because they might help us in return and that we experience this motivation as moral obligation, not as calculating self-interest. Further, as social animals, we have common interests transcending either self-interest or altruism.

Many people, including me, have problems with Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. I remember James Blish complaining that the characters claimed to have found the scientific basis of morality but did not say what that basis was. I suggest though that it is as outlined in the previous paragraph.

Meanwhile, Svein presents an interesting example of someone who was restrained by his belief.

Northern Empire

Having served in Constantinople, Harald Hardrada in Poul Anderson's The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980) imagines that he will be able to build an Empire of all the Northern countries including:

"...even this mysterious Vinland the Good, with its dark-skinned Skraelings and limitless forests." (pp. 86-87)

Thus, the title character of Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy, like the title character of the Andersons' The King of Ys Tetralogy (who is also the last of his line), envisages an American colony that really is way beyond what he will be able to achieve in his lifetime.

Harald asks too much of the Throndheim Thing. He wants taxes for:

another attack on Denmark;
a stone minster to Our Lady;
a new town.

If I were to address the Thing, I would argue that the attack and the minster are unnecessary and that the town is the sort of thing that we should pay for but the need for this particular town must be justified. The minster, if wanted, should be paid for not by taxes to the king but by voluntary contributions to the clergy.

After much opposition, he gets agreement to do what he wants but not enough taxes to pay for it without dipping into his hoard. He thinks that a country that stands by the old ways will become a backwater, then a province. But does a stronger, more modern state need aggressive warfare and an established Church?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Although Christian, not Pagan, King Harald Hardrada in Poul Anderson's The Road Of The Sea Horse (New York, 1980) sees nothing wrong with not only taking a leman but also proclaiming her a Queen alongside the wife whom he had married in a church.

We are used to the idea that such behaviour is immoral for Christians but none of Anderson's characters raises this as an issue and we are not told how the clergy respond. (I have just seen a TV programme about the notorious affairs of one or two Renaissance Popes.) Assuming that Anderson has got this detail right, it is another example of how traditions can change, and can certainly change their emphases, in the course of history. (The Wikipedia article on Harald says that a bigamous marriage would have been possible in Norway then but also denies that Harald had two Queens.)

Meanwhile, something else strange happens. Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga refers to Beowulf as a contemporary figure. Similarly in the present novel a character in conversation with Harald suddenly mentions familiar names, Macbeth, Duncan and Malcolm. Is this simply a cross-reference from an Anderson novel to a Shakespeare play? Well, no. Googling reveals that the historical originals of Macbeth etc did live at that time and that they even included the Thorfinn Sigurdharson who is Harald's informant. Another historical novel even has Thorfinn and Macbeth as respectively the birth and baptismal names of the same man! - although clearly Anderson regards them as different individuals.

In any case, my point is that we can always learn a lot of unexpected facts by reading Anderson.

"Old Time Is Still A-Flying"

" 'Do you remember the days of our youth, when we drank Miklagardh dry and set the world on its beam-ends?' " (Poul Anderson, The Road Of The Sea Horse, New York, 1980, p. 74)

Miklagardh is a Northern name for Constantinople. Regular readers remember the days when Harald and his friends were Varangian Guards in Constantinople because we read about them in the first volume of The Last Viking Trilogy.

Harald had two constant companions, Halldor and Ulf. Now Halldor, no longer a youth, wants to retire from royal military service in Norway and to buy a good farm in his native Iceland. Harald realises that he himself is thirty-three and that:

" ' does seem that time goes faster than it used to.' " (p. 75)

That is because each new year is a smaller proportion of the total to date. Harald thinks that:

"...if he must fight Svein for twenty years, he would." (p. 79)

He will not. He will die in battle eighteen years hence because of the kind of life that he has chosen. As his wife had said:

" '...what will you ever do, but kill men who've wrought you no harm, and burn homes you're too lazy and stupid to build...?' " (p. 66)

Time is going faster than he thinks. 


Magnus dies because a running hare throws his horse, either a chance event or an ill omen depending on how you look at it.

Now sole king in Norway, Harald is greeted for the first time as "...the great King Harald Hardrede." He comments:

" 'So that's what they're calling me!...Well, like most nicknames, it rings true.' " (Poul Anderson, The Road Of The Sea Horse, New York, 1980, p. 52.)

This has been an extended heroic "origin story." At last, Harald bears the full name and title by which he will be known to history and for the remainder of The Last Viking Trilogy.

He is a "hero" in two senses, the central character and brave in battle. As for any other heroic qualities, I do not think so. In fact, by modern standards, the bickering of the kings about position and precedence is childish and their wasting of lives on such issues is callous. At least in some ways, the world has progressed.

How King Magnus Went To His Weird

"In battle, he took the right wing with the Southern levies, Einar the Northerners on the left, while Magnus had the tip of the wedge: the "swine-fylking" which Odhinn himself had taught to men." (Poul Anderson, The Road Of The Sea Horse, New York, 1980, pp. 37-38)

Odin taught the wedge battle formation to men in Anderson's War Of The Gods. That was a book in which Odin was a real being. Here, we must regard him as a myth.

Here again, St Olaf does the next best thing. He cannot interact as a physical being but does appear to his son Magnus in a dream before a battle and offers a choice: follow me or become a great king but at the expense of committing a great sin. This is ominous since this second chapter of the novel is entitled How King Magnus Went To His Weird. Next day, Magnus spends a lot of time with a priest and I must finish rereading the chapter to learn how he meets his death.

Harald comments:

" 'Men get dreams and dreams and most of them mean naught.' " (p. 39)

Fortuitously, I have just reread Neil Gaiman's "August." There, no less an authority than Caesar Augustus, in whose reign the new God was born, informs us that:

"Many dreams come through the gates of ivory...and they lie. A few dreams come through the gates of horn, and they speak to us truly." (Neil Gaiman, Fables And Reflections, New York, p. 105)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Road Of The Sea Horse

The Last Viking, Volume II: The Road Of The Sea Horse by Poul Anderson begins with a seven page Foreword summarising earlier relevant events, including those already described in Volume I: The Golden Horn. The Foreword ends by stating that Harald and his co-ruler of Norway, Magnus,

"...had a claim on the throne of England." (p. 13)

That statement prefigures how Volume III must end.

Volumes I and II, and presumably also Volume III not yet in my possession, display distinctive cover illustrations presenting Harald as described in the text.

Anderson's rich vocabulary remains evident but in this volume some of it is explained. The familiar word "Viking":

" '...means a man of the vik, the inlet.' " (p. 18)

A farmer tells Harald, " '...this is odal land.' " (p. 19) However, he does immediately explain that:

" 'By law, it cannot be sold out of the family...' " (p. 19)

Sweden, still heathen, is haunted by elf, drow, were-bear and troll. Drow? Offerings are made to goblins and dead chiefs. Ghosts are heard in the wind and some men swear they see Odhinn leading the dead through the sky. In Anderson's fantasies, Odin interacts with Kings of Denmark like any other character in the narrative but here he is merely imagined.

Gaining And Sharing The Kingdom

Although Harald Hardrada ends the first volume of Poul Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy as a king of Norway, he has to share the kingdom with his kinsman, Magnus, so the scene is set for continued political conflict in Volume Two.

He has gained this partial kingship by deserting an ally and:

"...Harald steered for the nearest hamlet, cut down the folk on the beaches who tried to stop him, and plundered and burned." (The Golden Horn, New York, 1980, p. 261)

One of his men protests, " 'This is no way to fight...against women and harmless farmers.' " (p. 263)

- but Harald says that it is necessary. He refuses to farm as his father did. The father was right and Harald is wrong. But, in this series, Anderson is writing realistic historical fiction. Harald is not Conan, the wholly admirable hero of a heroic fantasy.

Addendum, 18/12/12: The blurb on my copies of The Last Viking misdescribes Harald as "...the real-life CONAN..."!

Synopsis II

In Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), Chapter XV, How Harald Came Home, Harald Hardrada, now thirty years of age, for the second time synopsises his life to date, this time more briefly:

"He had seen Olaf fall, he had housed in a forest hovel, he had fled out of the land, he had served foreign kings with homesickness black in his heart, he had left the only woman he loved because he was powerless to take her with him." (p. 260)

Now, to make up for all this, he must become king! And he will. This novel, the first volume of a trilogy, ends:

"Naught on earth would ever again take from him what he held dear, now that he was a king." (p. 284)

The only extension of the synopsis is the reference to the woman he loved and it was to her that he had summarised his life on the first occasion back on page 135. Housing in a forest hovel was that first time described as "...refuge in the wilderness..." In fact, it was only a few weeks of recuperation from battle wounds. Both synopses make it sound like a longer or more significant period of his life.

Harald has completed a full career, mainly as a Captain of the Varangian Guard, by the age of thirty and now has twenty one years and two volumes left for his second career as King of Norway.

Monday, 17 December 2012

St Olaf

In Poul Anderson's heroic and historical fantasies, warriors can both pray to Odin and also, occasionally, meet him. In Anderson's historical novel, The Golden Horn, Harald Hardrada both meets and, later, prays to St Olaf.

In other words, Harald's kinsman, King Olaf, dies in battle and, later, is canonised. Thus, Harald and his contemporaries cannot meet Olaf after they have started praying to him - unless, indeed, one of them reported a vision of the saint? Visions are reported in history. Therefore, a report of such a vision could be incorporated into a historical novel without thereby automatically transforming the novel into a historical fantasy.

But Harald, unlike the Emperor Constantine, does not have visions. At least, I do not think that he does, although I have yet to read the third volume of The Last Viking Trilogy of which The Golden Horn is Volume One.

I think - I will find this on rereading - that, somewhere in the second volume, a character says that he misses old Thor but St Olaf will do in his place. (He would not have done for me but that is another story.) This sounds a bit like "We miss Connery as Bond but the present guy will do in his place" or "We miss the original Superman but the current version is OK." It's show biz - kind of.

Harald And Maria

At the beginning of Chapter XIII of Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), Harald has left Constantinople and returned to Russia from where he intends to claim Norway. It is 1044 so he is now twenty nine. There are still twenty two years, and most of the Trilogy, left until Stamford Bridge...

When escaping arrest and imprisonment in Constantinople, he had had to leave behind, never to see again, his fiancee, Maria, because her parents and brothers would have been killed if it were known that she had fled with him. Instead, he will make a suitable marriage alliance back in the North.

Could he not have rescued Maria's entire family? In theory, yes, although this would have presented a more difficult practical problem. However, the main difficulty is that Anderson is writing historical fiction and King Harald Hardrada did not have a wife called Maria. Snorri Sturluson is the source for the story of Maria which may or may not be true but makes a powerful love story in Anderson's novel. Harald has started to escape with Maria but she persuades him that she must stay...

I cannot help thinking that they could have arranged to smuggle her whole family out later but that did not happen in history.

More Vocabulary

In Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), as in his Rogue Sword, we, or at least I, continue to encounter unfamiliar terms.

(i) The Byzantine Empire is divided into regions or districts called "themes." (p. 112) I know the word of course but not in this context and do not remember noticing it on first reading.

(ii) Harald gives a "calyx" as a present. (p. 132) The recipient describes the image of Aphrodite on the calyx but not the calyx.

(iii) Harald heard "...struggles of the guard and the tchukanisterion" (p. 173) - an Eastern Imperial term, obviously, but rather a long one.

(iv) Harald, imprisoned, "...thought of draugs and devils crawling from the earth." (p. 208) I have often thought of devils but never of draugs and my lap top does not recognize them either.

There may be more; I am still in mid-novel.

These words will be explained in dictionaries or on google and I leave it to the alert reader to track them down - unless, of course, you know already?


In Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), the account of the battle of Stiklastadh is on pages 29-47. Ten years and eighty eight pages later, Harald recounts his life from shortly before that battle to the present:

"...of his youth, Olaf the Stout and the battle of Stiklastadh; of his refuge in the wilderness, the ride across the Keel, the winter in heathen Sweden and the journey across the Baltic; of Jaroslav's folk; of warring in the marshes of Poland and on steppes where cornflowers blazed blue under an endless mournful wind; of the fleet that went down the Dnieper toward Miklagardh the Golden; of the years since, roving and lurching about the Midworld Sea, remembering while whetted metal sang how the young beech trees had laughed in a Northern springtime." (p.135)

This kind of synopsis comes well at the end of a novel. Dornford Yates' narrator often reviewed the high points in the last paragraph. This evocative paragraph in The Golden Horn confers a greater unity and continuity on Harald's life so far than maybe the preceding necessarily episodic chapters had done, particularly the phrase "...of the years since, roving..." It is only a few years but this phrase makes it seem longer. Chapter IV, How Three Made Merry, recounts a single memorable night that would have been one of many.

And the paragraph ends by informing us that Harald had always remembered where he came from.

A Literary Pagan

In Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), Harald's friend, Nicephorus Skleros, is what I call a literary Pagan. He quotes the Classics the way another Christian would quote the Bible:

" '...a country dweller who seldom left his Homer and Plutarch for the city.' " (p. 122);

he says that Harald smote the infidel " ' if Achilles had come back from Elysium...' " and quotes Homeric lines (pp. 122-123);

serves in a military campaign to see " '...where the Athenian expedition ended and where Archimedes wrought...' " and to understand war so that he might better understand the poets and historians (p. 123);

says that the Varangians are like the Achaeans returned and Harald a new Odysseus;

regrets that " '...the life of Hellas has run out in memories, old books and dusty dreams...' " (p. 124);

promises to read Aristotle to Harald, " '...clear cool reasoning...' " (p. 124);

values Hellenic thought, not mysticism;

admires an image of " 'Aphrodite risen new-born from the sea...' " (p. 132);

describes the Norse Harald as " '...heir to the throne of Hyperborea.' " (p. 133);

swears " 'By Zeus...' " and " ' Apollo...' " (pp. 134, 139);

shows Harald the Bellerophon statue of Perseus and his winged horse;

listens to Aeschylus' Agamemnon read by his daughter.

The Hebrew scriptures were "Moses and the prophets." The Greeks likewise recognized "Homer and the poets" as divinely inspired authorities on theology and morality. Nicephorus lives imaginatively in Greek literature, not in Christian scripture.

(A Neil Gaiman character, asked what he thinks about a hereafter, quotes Kipling: "They will come back..." If poets are authorities in such matters, then I am with Shakespeare: "Our little lives are rounded with a sleep.")

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Chapter VI

(The image shows the cover of another book that identifies Harald Hardrada as "The Last Viking.")

On page 125 of Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), Harald is "...nearing the ripe age of twenty five years..." so I had calculated his age correctly in a recent post.

On page 124, Harald speculates on the place of origin of the Aesir, until recently worshiped as gods. The human originals of these Norse deities are thought to have come from around the Black Sea area about the time of Christ. In particular, Harald notices that the place names "Asgorod" and "Azov" are similar to "Asgard."

And, indeed, in Anderson's The Golden Slave, a one-eyed man called "Eodan" and his companion, Tjorr, led people called the Rukh-Ansa north from near the Azov Sea just before the time of Christ. Here is another strong connection between two works by Anderson and a further reason to read his historical fictions in their historical order. Harald has now referred directly to Gunnhild and indirectly to Eodan, both of whom we have already met if we have read the novels chronologically.  

The Last Viking Continued

Poul Anderson's The Last Viking is a three-volume biographical novel. The title character, Harald's, age continues to mount. Known to the Byzantines as Captain Araltes, he fights for Constantinople for a year, spends three years leading the Varangians on military campaigns in Syria, then is two years in Sicily where he captures Saracen-held cities by ingenious ruses.

That brings his age to twenty four or slightly higher unless I have missed some time while he was in Constantinople, so he is nearing his half way point and is not yet King of Norway. I think that that happens at the end of this first Volume, The Golden Horn (New York, 1980). I have currently reread as far as Chapter VI, section 1, p. 121, the capture of the third Sicilian city.

The opening sentence of Chapter II seems on first reading to introduce a legendary element. After a defeat in battle:

"Rognavald Brusason left Harald with a poor hind he knew, deep in the forest." (p. 48)

We almost recognise this. Legendary heroes, their lives threatened in infancy, are brought up in humble circumstances until they are ready to come forward to claim their inheritance. But that is not what happens here. Harald, already fifteen, had fought in the battle and stays in the forest long enough only to recuperate from his wounds, then goes abroad to win fame and fortune before returning.

Nevertheless, that "...deep in the forest..." strikes a legendary note. Meanwhile, other events, like an eclipse, occur that weave their way into legendary reconstructions of then recent history:

"After a few years they believed that the sun had gone out at the moment of St. Olaf's death." (p. 24)

If this work were not biographical fiction but historical fantasy, then its plot would comprise legendary and mythical events. 

One Long Series

Yet again, Poul Anderson's historical novels present the appearance of a single long series spanning more than a millennium. The title character of The Last Viking (New York, 1980) refers to the title character of Mother Of Kings. Harald Hardrada:

"...remembered Gunnhild the witch, wife of Eirik Blood-ax." (pp. 86-87)

Harald compares Gunnhild to the Eastern Roman Empress, Zoe. We see the last days of the Western Empire in Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys and of the Eastern Empire in  Rogue Sword. The title character of The King Of Ys refers to Marius who defeats the barbarians in The Golden Slave.


The Golden Slave is one of three novels set BC,  
The King Of Ys is a Tetralogy,  
Mother Of Kings is one of five interconnected fantasy novels set in the Viking period,
The Last Viking is a Trilogy and 
Rogue Sword is one of three novels set in the fourteenth century,

these eighteen volumes present a panorama of the past comparable to the futuristic panorama presented in Anderson's History of Technic Civilisation.

There are differences. The Technic History, comprising more than one sub-series and many individual works, remains a single diverse science fiction series whereas the past "History" is not a single series and its constituent works are not even of a single genre. In fact, if, as I believe, Mother Of Kings, which I have yet to read, is a fantasy, then its Gunnhild cannot be exactly identical with the witch queen of that name referred to in a work of historical fiction.

Nevertheless, I think that a Complete Works of Poul Anderson could usefully present these works in their historical order. The reader would then see history develop and would appreciate the cross-references as they appear. Of course, the other way to present a Complete Works is to follow the author's development by arranging the works in order of publication but this approach, if taken to its logical conclusion, would split up the works that are meant to be read as series so that, for example, Ensign Flandry would be read after some later phases of Flandry's career.

I apologise to any regular readers of this blog who will certainly tire of this aspect of Anderson's works before I tire of writing about it.

Chapter II

By the end of Chapter II of Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), after three years in Russia, the now eighteen year old Harald has travelled to Constantinople and joined the Varangian (Northern barbarian) Guard.

We have by now seen Harald aged three, fifteen and eighteen and know from history that he will die at fifty one in 1066, the single most memorable date in British history, although Harald's last battle at Stamford Bridge (see image) is overshadowed by the more famous "Battle" that same year at the opposite end of England.

Earlier in the Chapter, newly arrived in Russia, Harald had presented the complicated family history to a younger relative. Of one king, he says:

"He planted Christendom firmly in the land, killing whoever would not be baptized." (p. 57)

- not only unfortunate but also unnecessary since Christianity was spreading and displacing Paganism for social and historical reasons in any case. But this single comment reminds us to what extent all the traditions change over the centuries. Killing those who refused conversion would, thankfully, now be unthinkable.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Prologue And Chapter I

I have made little progress with Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980) thanks to Christmas preparations and other reading. So far, this much is clear:

in the Prologue, the three year old Harald meets his half-brother, King Olaf;
in Chapter I, the fifteen year old Harald fights for Olaf at that king's last battle;
fifteen Chapters and two further Volumes later, the fifty one year old King Harald will fight his own last battle. 

Olaf, later canonised, has imposed Christianity on Norway, accepts military service only from baptised men - even turns away five hundred on that account - and is opposed by:

"...common folk who did not like being taxed and fined and herded into a church they hardly understood." (p. 38)

I agree with them. Even if I were a church-goer, I would oppose, and indeed would believe that I also was oppressed by, any law that made church attendance compulsory just as, although heterosexual, I would be oppressed by any criminalisation of homosexuality. My religious observance and sexual preference are my business only, not the state's.

Harald, a man of his time, sees things differently:

"...the regrowth of heathendom that he had seen during Olaf's exile had angered him - that men should do what their rightful lord had banned." (p. 34)

Two less serious observations:

does Harald's friend eat a meat sandwich?

"Rognvald Brusason was ripping flatbread and salt flesh with his teeth." (p. 32)

Anderson sometimes smuggles a scientific or even science fictional perspective into earlier periods:

"Harald Sighurdharson went to sleep with the feeling that this whole earth was a ship, plunging through a foam of stars to an unknown port." (p. 29)

It is, but how can Harald sense that?

The Golden Horn

When we have enjoyed one kind of work by Poul Anderson, it is good to move on to a similar one. That is why I have continued rereading his novels and stories set in various periods of the past, rather than returning to his futuristic fictions, for so long. I am now rereading The Golden Horn (New York, 1980) although as yet I have barely begun the Prologue.

The Foreword shows us the wealth of the author's sources and also that this text is more firmly embedded in the relevant literature than would usually be expected of an adventure novel published as a paperback:

"...all skaldic poetry translated in this book, including Harald's own, is authentic." (p. 11)

Anderson quotes some of the same sources as for his historical fantasies, eg, Saxo Grammaticus, but in the Trilogy of which The Golden Horn is Book 1, as in The Golden Slave and Rogue Sword, he presents straight historical fiction so:

"...Saxo's yarn of Harald's fight with a dragon is pretty clearly mythical, and therefore omitted..." (p. 12)

- whereas a fight with a dragon is included in Three Hearts And Three Lions because that novel is a heroic fantasy. As I have said before, Anderson was a master of all the genres. And The Golden Horn is good to read after completing Rogue Sword.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Historical Heroes

What are the fates of the heroes of Poul Anderson's historical fictions?

Eodan builds a kingdom and is remembered as a god;

Gratillonius protects his people after the withdrawal of Rome and is remembered as the legendary last king of Ys;

King Harald Hardrada dies at Stamford Bridge in 1066 and is fictionalised by Anderson as "the Last Viking";

Lucas the Greek fights, survives and thrives in a turbulent period.

We could add that Dominic Flandry prolongs the life of the Terran Empire and ends his career as a respected Imperial adviser but in this case not only the character but also the entire historical background is fictitious.

Of the past heroes, only Lucas is created entirely ex nihilo, neither based on nor derived from any already existing figure. He is a transitional and modern man becoming neither a king nor a legend but using his wits and aptitudes to survive and gain what he can in an increasingly competitive environment while the old institutions change and go under.

Addendum, 14/12/12: Manson Everard protects the course of history while remaining unknown to that history and we are not told how his career ends although he will be remembered with honour by his peers and superiors.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

What Else?

What else can I write about Lucas Greco, hero of Poul Anderson's Rogue Sword (New York, 1960)?

(i) He is nicknamed, or surnamed, "the Greek."
(ii) He has a knack for learning languages quickly so he is able to work as an interpreter.
(iii) He is a poet and we read one of his compositions (in other words, Anderson again writes verse as well as prose).
(iv) Combining linguistic and poetic skills, he has rendered the poem that we read in eight languages.
(v) In those days, poems praising beauty had practical seductive uses.
(vi) Although, as noted earlier, he is of indeterminate social status, he fights and wins so the author, at the end, bestows nobility upon him:

"He took her arm and they walked down toward their ship, the victorious knight and his lady." (p. 283) 

Wider Perspectives

Pulling back from a single volume by Poul Anderson presents an amazing perspective.

The single novel, Rogue Sword (New York, 1960), shows us imperial and military changes in the early fourteenth century.

" '...the Pope has summoned their Grand Master to reply to certain grave charges...' " (pp. 228-229)

That is the Grand Master of the Knights Templar but the reader might not realise that this is the prelude to the suppression of the Templars the following year. This Order, which had pioneered banking, was to be suppressed by a centralised state that wanted its wealth so these events were the modern age in the making.

Meanwhile, the rival military Order, the Hospitallers, plans to take possession of Rhodes, a step towards, centuries later, becoming the still extant Knights of Malta. At the same time, the once mighty Eastern Empire can no longer defend itself against rebelling mercenaries and its enemies include Muslims. This is either the end of civilisation or the beginning of a new one.

The novel shows us all this while, quite properly, remaining within the bounds of historical fiction. But also set in the fourteenth century are a historical fantasy novel showing us the end of Faerie and a science fiction novel showing us the beginning of interstellar contact. Receding away into earlier periods are several novels about Faerie, four other volumes of historical fiction, a tetralogy about the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, a time travel novel set in Atlantis and a heroic fantasy about a character not created by Anderson.

Moving the other way, into the future, we find many works featuring interstellar travel and several about the Fall of the Terran Empire. All these works cannot fit into a single timeline but we also find four volumes and some short stories acknowledging the existence of multiple timelines! Can we ask for more? (There is a more, one contemporary fantasy novel, three mystery novels and many contributions to other writers' science fiction series.)

Changing Times

Poul Anderson's Rogue Sword (New York, 1960) shows the fourteenth century as a time of change. Is every century?

Lucas, the hero of Rogue Sword, is a transitional figure and a modern man:

the illegitimate son of a Venetian father and a Cretan mother;
learned the handling of boats from his stepfather;
learned Greek and Latin from mother's uncle, a monk;
at eleven, thanks to his natural father's family, was apprenticed to a Venetian counting house;
learned half a dozen languages in the cosmopolitan Republic but left urgently because of an affair with his employer's wife;
became a knight's attendant;
travelled with a Venetian merchant to the Crimea, Bokhara and Samarkand;
was captured and imprisoned by the Genoese but escaped;
travelled with a Tartar merchant and spent time in Cathay;
homesick, returned to the West but no longer felt at home there;
familiar from childhood with Catholic-Orthodox conflict, was influenced by the Cathayan belief in many (or no) roads to God;
found no reasonable answer to the question of what God wanted of men;
valued Oriental hygiene and Cathayan police procedures that prevented the planting of evidence after an accusation had been made;
gains an ambiguous social standing -

" 'If you were clearly of gentle're no simple commoner who must be punished for assaulting a cavalier. Confound it, Lucas, you aren't anything! Neither in birth nor nation nor way of thinking. Does anyone alive understand you? Do you understand yourself?' " (p. 146)

Maybe he is an American?

How To End A Thriller

Sometimes, near the end of a thriller, the villain has the hero at gun point and could kill him but delays, giving the hero a chance to turn the tables. The classic example is Donovan Grant and James Bond in From Russia, With Love.

The conventions of this genre require that:

the hero's life is threatened;
nevertheless, he survives;
his survival is not too implausible.

At the end of Poul Anderson's Rogue Sword (New York, 1960), Gasparo, the villain, points a cocked crossbow at Lucas, the hero, and tells him to drop his sword, which Lucas does. So:

(i) Why does Gasparo not kill Lucas immediately?
(ii) How does Lucas survive?
(iii) Is his survival reasonably plausible?

(i) Gasparo does not shoot immediately because he wants to make Lucas hate him and die unshriven (a horrible inversion of Christian belief in damnation) so he starts to tell him how he will torture and kill Djansha, the heroine.

(ii) Djansha, who had been lying bound behind the standing Lucas,"...had cut her bonds with his sword while Gasparo's attention was diverted." (p. 279) She leaps up and throws the sword at Gasparo who shoots but misses...etc.

(iii) Verdict: Gasparo's motivation is horribly plausible; Djansha cutting her bonds with the sword less so.


Does Christianity prohibit slavery? Maybe not always. St Paul taught that both master and slave could be spiritually freed in Christ but did not oppose the continuation of the master-slave relationship as such. In fact, slaves should obey masters who should be kind to slaves. (Of course, it did not matter greatly if the Kingdom was imminent.)

A character in Poul Anderson's Rogue Sword set in 1306 mentions that the Church has forbidden Christians to enslave fellow Christians, thus motivating slave traders and owners to withhold Christian propaganda from their slaves - a strange inversion of the injunction to spread the Word to all creation.

It is possible to pursue a self-interested agenda within a framework of Christian belief. An Evangelical believes that he is saved whatever he does. A Catholic believes that, as long as he has confessed any mortal sins, he need only endure a temporary spell in Purgatory before, equally, being "saved." Both beliefs leave room for much self-interested behavior which, for Catholics in 1306, could include buying and selling foreign slaves.

Finishing Rogue Sword

OK: "Boniface" is a word applied to innkeepers and is derived from the name of a dramatic character of that profession, like calling a traitor a "Judas" etc.

Since Rogue Sword is the only Poul Anderson volume in my possession while spending four nights away from home, I will probably run out of new additions to make to this blog. Slightly longer term, I might acquire some (to me) new material that will have to be read for the first time, not just reread, before it can be commented on.

Setting Rogue Sword in 1306 was, for those who know the relevant history (I suppose not many of us), kind of like setting a twentieth century novel in 1913 or 1938: it is already known what will happen next. In this case, the Templars will be suppressed; the Hospitallers will take possession of Rhodes where they will rule for over two hundred years before, after another period of homelessness, being given Malta and becoming known as the Knights of Malta. Great events are about to occur.

In fact, just as the Western Roman Empire had fallen a thousand years earlier in Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys tetralogy, the Eastern remnant of the Empire is now in terminal decline.

Lucas, evading the Inquisition, is hidden, fed and helped to escape by a woman called "Xenia." Because the name is familiar, I googled it to check whether Anderson was cameoing an existing character. He wasn't but "Xenia" turns out to be a Greek word for hospitality.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Perspectives In Rogue Sword

I attach an image of "Le Gonfanon des Crusaders." (See earlier post, "Terminology.")

In Poul Anderson's Rogue Sword (New York, 1960), the introductory Author's Note states that the main source of information about the Grand Catalan Company is a chronicle by Company member, Ramon Muntaner.

Muntaner is a character in the novel so the novel's hero, Lucas, knows this Muntaner and even fights alongside him. A reader of historical fiction once told me that he disliked the incorporation of historical figures into such fictions. I cannot think why. Surely nothing is more satisfying than reading about a fictitious character's conversations and interactions with individuals who are known to have had a historical existence?

Anderson refers to Marco Polo twice, in the Time Patrol story, "The Only Game In Town," and in the historical novel, Rogue Sword, but I don't think he brings Polo on stage anywhere?

The first three pages of Chapter XI, like some passages in the Time Patrol story, "Star Of The Sea," simply inform us of historical facts, mainly who fought whom then and with what result. The combatants include Muntaner and this purely historical passage ends with a quotation from his chronicle:

"And I have told you this fine adventure in order that you should all understand that it was due to nothing but the power of God, and that this was not done through our worth but by the virtue and grace of God." (p. 160)

The very next paragraph begins:

"That was the only warlike action Lucas saw during this time." (p. 160)

- so we are back in the historical fiction. But fiction is about life. At the end, Lucas (and the author) reflects:

"If a man is fortunate, there are a few pure moments in his life. They do not last; the doubts and fears, guilt, loneliness, and all the grubby little weaknesses return; but he has had those moments and knows life is joyous." (p. 283)

I am preparing a talk on Zen meditation and this is one of the points that I want to make.

Still Reading Rogue Sword

I am not away from a computer this week after all but maybe with less time to spend on it. I attach an image of "heaumes," which was one of the unfamiliar terms mentioned in the previous post.

Often the context gives some idea of the meaning of a word but sometimes also we think we know what a term means until asked. When asked by a fellow pupil at school what "enigma" meant, I suggested "mystery" and was told that that would fit the context but I remained unsure. The dictionary said, "A mysterious person or thing," which is more specific.

Anderson has a knack of using some vocabulary that remains baffling - until it is checked in a dictionary. Here is some more in Rogue Sword (New York, 1960):

"...morion..." (p. 172);
"...shallop..." (p. 174);
"...periplus..." (p. 222)
"...palomer..." (p. 261).?

The aspects of Anderson's works that I have come to monitor while rereading are:

wealth of vocabulary, as above;
clever use of language, particularly the disguising of verse as prose;
the author's control and deployment of the narrative point of view;
his occasional humor;
references to the seasons as showing the passage of time and also as displaying the "pathetic fallacy," i.e., the literary conceit that natural conditions reflect human feelings (in fantasy, they can also reflect divine feelings);
mastery of, and sometimes merging of, different genres;
connections between his works whether or not they belong to the same trilogy, tetralogy, series or even genre;
comparisons with Wells, Heinlein, Niven, Blish and Gaiman;
Anderson's values, with which he rightly challenges his readers;
his treatment of issues concerning the longer term development of society and humanity;
facts learned by reading his historical fictions;
his ability to render his characters' pre-scientific world views.

That list is longer than I expected it would be when I started to write it.

There is an odd momentary lapse in control of point of view in Rogue Sword. Lucas' return to his master's house is described from his point of view. However, as he approaches the opening gate, we are told that:

"The gatekeeper's mouth fell wide at the sight of the men in armor and the black-robed Dominican friar who accompanied them." (pp. 200-201)

The gatekeeper sees these men approaching behind the viewpoint character so they are described to us before he turns around and sees them. But, immediately after that, the narrative returns to Lucas' single point of view.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


I have said before that reading Anderson requires a dictionary - sometimes more than others. During a battle in Rogue Sword (New York, 1960):

"...heaumes..." (p. 100);
"...gonfanon..." (p. 101);
" 'Desperta ferres!' " (p. 102);
"...poitrail..." (p. 102).

I think there were similar words earlier but I did not note them at the time. We miss new vocabulary as we continue reading through a passage instead of pausing to focus on an individual word.

" 'Desperta ferres!' " is immediately followed by "Wake the iron!" which turns out to be the English translation of the Latin. Not knowing this yet, I continued to read with incomprehension that the Almugavares, whose war shout was "Desperta ferres!," struck their spearheads against the stones, raising sparks. What stones? Were the enemy shielded with stones? Why blunt and damage spearheads by striking them on the ground - if that is what they were doing?

Anderson does not explain. Apparently, however, this group, the Almugavares, did shout that war cry to frighten the enemy and to invoke the military use of iron. Further, they did strike the stones underfoot in order to intimidate their enemies by raising sparks.

Like the wedge formation described in War Of The Gods, this is a detail of military history that I have learned by reading Anderson. I have yet to google the other odd words quoted above.

Addendum, 10/12/12:

"...mangonel..." (p. 115);
" '...pourpoint...' "(p. 116).


" '...QUEAN!' " (p. 72) (I thought this was a miss-spelling but I have googled it and it is a word.)
"...tasses..." (p. 76)
"...Turcopol..." (p. 76). ?

Further on:

"...leny...lugsail..." (p. 119); ?
"...boniface..." (p. 123)

Rogue Sword V

In Rogue Sword (New York, 1960), Poul Anderson imagines an interesting extension of Norse mythology into Christian cosmology. The simple, superstitious Pedro imagines that, if his side loses a battle:

" '...we'll be enrolled in good St George's host. I daresay fine booty can be had from a raid on Hell...seeing how many bishops and moneylenders dwell there.' " (p. 94)

But they don't take it with them, Pedro! Pagan chiefs were buried with personal possessions but not bishops. A raid on Hell sounds absurd but does happen in Anderson's fantasy, Operation Chaos. Both Anderson, in Operation..., and Neil Gaiman, in a Sandman story, followed Robert Heinlein's Magic Inc. By contrast, the blurb on an edition of James Blish's Black Easter described the demons as making a raid on the universe.

Pedro's theology continues. He knows that his side fights in God's cause because:

" 'Priest says so. Priest knows about these things. A mercy of Heaven, that common folk like me needn't bother our heads.' " (p. 94)

It does not occur to him that because, in this battle both sides are Christian, the enemy has priests as well.

Pedro suggests that Lucas thinks too much and Lucas agrees but the obvious rejoinder is that Pedro thinks too little or not at all. When he guffaws at an absurd joke, Lucas envies him his simplicity. I do not. Better to be Socrates unhappy than a pig ecstatic.

Rogue Sword IV

In Poul Anderson's Rogue Sword (New York, 1960), the chase sequence is followed by another Anderson interest, a summary of some quite complicated military history. An historically genuine but perhaps little known military outfit called the Grand Catalan Company has been employed by, but come into conflict with, the Eastern Empire and we are told many of the details, although we would need to study the text to retain them.

Lucas joins the Company but also refers to a more famous organization:

"Lucas reflected that anyone cast out of so notoriously lax, greedy, and violent a brotherhood as the Knights Templar must have been a bandit indeed." (pp. 82-83)

Yet the Catalan Company welcomes this "bandit" into a leading role.

Reading about the Templars, it becomes necessary to check dates. Rogue Sword, Chapter I, begins in April 1306. The Templars were suppressed, in France to start with, on Friday 13th October 1307, an event covered by Anderson's Time Patrol story, "Death And The Knight." (That story deals quite plausibly with the Templars, explaining their secret rituals without transforming them into anything absurd like a branch of the Patrol, yet still writes one Patrolman's intervention into recorded Templar history.)

Like the same author's The Golden Slave and The Last Viking Trilogy, Rogue Sword is pure historical fiction. These five volumes could be read by historical fiction fans without any reference to Anderson's other works but, reading Rogue Sword instead as part of its author's complete works, we notice its resonances with what I call his "historical science fiction":

Crusaders had sacked Constaninople - that happened in the time travel novel, There Will Be Time;
the Templars will be suppressed - that happens in the Time Patrol story, "Death And The Knight."

A (valid) cliche: the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Rogue Sword III

I will be away from a computer for most of this coming week.

Rogue Sword has got into a long chase sequence as our hero and his mistress run away from the forces of the state mobilised against them by the hero's old enemy, a merchant of Venice. I commented before that I thought chase sequences consumed too many pages in other works.

A hundred years previously, Crusaders had sacked Constantinople, an event described in Anderson's time travel novel, There Will Be Time.

The political geography of Rogue Sword includes exotic place names familiar from poems by James Elroy Flecker: Famagusta; Cyprus; Samarkand.

Anderson's title Fleet Of Stars is a quotation from a Flecker poem. Quotation from Flecker is another similarity between Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman.

Sorry, folks. Just a few random observations before departure tomorrow morning.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Rogue Sword II

In the Prologue of Rogue Sword (New York, 1960), Cretan-born Lucas, aged fifteen, leaves Venice for Constantinople. In Chapter I, aged twenty nine, he is in Constantinople for the second time after fourteen years in Cathay. The date is April, 1306.

In Cathay, he had learned some meditation techniques or martial arts from a Ch'an Buddhist monk and in Constantinople has befriended a Christian military monk of the Knights of St John. Unfortunately, on page 36 (which is as far as I have reread) Lucas and the Knight have got into a sword fight with the wronged merchant from whom Lucas had escaped in Venice. It is to be hoped that the novel will soon move beyond action fiction and sword fights but I might find out tomorrow.

Fourteen years in Cathay occur off-stage between the Prologue and Chapter I. Lucas remembers:

"...graceful red roofs, willows and arched bridges above garden ponds, a philosopher who had been his friend and many gentle beauties who had been his in violet nights when the cherry trees bloomed, and a certain mountain seen through clouds, and temple bells that rang in his dreams just at sunrise...what had driven him back to the filthy West?" (p. 30)

- but he realizes that he had returned  because "...he could not change himself into an Oriental." (p. 30)

Later in the novel, we realize that his time in China had broadened his perspective.

On page 36, the sword fight is interrupted by the unwelcome approach of the Varangian Guard. I have only just googled and learned that, despite serving in Constantinople, the Varangians were what we call "Vikings." This connects with Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy, Volumes I and II of which I will be able to reread after Rogue Sword.

Rogue Sword

My study of Poul Anderson's works of fiction set in the past will have to end with the historical novel Rogue Sword until I can acquire copies of The Sign Of The Raven and Mother Of Kings.

How many Anderson heroes do we first meet as they evade pursuit by diving into water? At least two. I think there may be one more?

The Winter Of The World, Chapter II, set during a future Ice Age, begins as Josserek Derrain bursts from his prison cabin, fights his way across the deck, dives overboard, remains underwater as long as possible and emerges under the dock of a harbor in a fictitious future city.

Rogue Sword, Prologue, set in the late thirteenth century, begins as Lucas springs through a window into a canal, remains underwater as long as possible and emerges under a house in Venice.

Of course, we must next be told who they are and what they are about but the narrative emphasis is clearly on action.

The Dominic Flandry story, "A Plague of Masters," could have commenced thus. Flandry does spring through a broken window and roll down a slanting roof into a canal on a colonized planet in the future but this time Anderson first describes the build up to Flandry's escape. And, of course, this is not the first Flandry story but a sequel to "A Message In Secret" which also was not the first.

Three different well realized imaginative settings: past Earth; future Earth; a future extra-solar colony. Anderson enjoyed action-adventure fiction and wrote it well but fortunately wrote a lot more than that.

The Tale Of Hauk II

For a safe trading voyage, Hauk offers to Thor, Aegir and St Michael - the thunder god, the sea giant and a warrior archangel, protectors from storms and pirates. Michael could be Tyr or Mars.

In fantasy, the dead can return either as ghosts or as zombies but Geirolf is a bit of both. It is definitely his body that leaves its grave and physically attacks folk at the full moon but he also has "Ghost-strength..." that turns swords aside (Anderson, Fantasy, New York, 1981, p. 37). Hauk must wrestle with this ghostly body and break its neck so that it is immobilized and can be burnt. Hauk is then called "...the Ghost Slayer." (p. 47)

But is he now under a doom or a weird? Before slumping and lying still, Geirolf  had "...traced a line through the air and a line growing beneath that." (p. 46)

Does that mean a horizontal line with a longer vertical line descending from its mid-point, a T shape, like a Cross without the shorter vertical line above the horizontal?

A character appropriately named Grim explains, "That's naught but the Hammer...He blessed you..." (pp. 46-47)

So all is well. However, a knowledgeable British Heathen told me he thought that the Sign of the Hammer was an upside down T, more like a reversed Cross.

Geirlof's ghost-strong body is described as a "...drow..." (p. 44) My Chambers Dictionary defines a drow as "a form of troll" and a troll as "in Scandinavian mythology, a goblin or supernatural dwarf (earlier giant)," from the Old Norse. That is somewhat confusing but why apply this term to what Geirolf has become?

This short story presents in twenty seven pages the kind of subject matter and narrative techniques to be found in Anderson's Viking novels.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Tale Of Hauk

After two Old Stone Age Stories, "The Forest" and "The Long Remembering," and one Roman Empire story, "The Peat Bog," we return, in "The Tale of Hauk," to the Viking period already familiar from several of Poul Anderson's novels. Like his Hrolf Kraki's Saga, this story begins in the Saga style. We do not enter the title character's or even any other character's point of view. Instead, we are given an objective account of our hero's father:

"A man called Geirolf  dwelt on the Great Fjord..." (Anderson, Fantasy, New York, 1981, p. 21).

And the first thing that we are told about Geirolf, father of Hauk Geirolfsson, is who his father was. In this milieu, we cannot know Hauk unless and until we know his antecedents.

Anderson's three, or more, main genres are displayed in these four stories:

"The Forest" is (pre)historical fiction;
"The Long Remembering" is science fiction;
"The Peat Bog" is historical fiction;
"The Tale of Hauk" will turn out, as I remember from an earlier reading, to be historical fantasy because it will assume that its characters are right to believe that there is a supernatural realm from which the dead can return to trouble the living.

I have reread to page 25 and am about to go out for the evening. Thank you to those who are responsible for 55 pageviews so far today.

Pagan Communion

I attended a Wiccan handfast where we sipped mead from a horn and shared freshly baked bread.

In Poul Anderson's "The Peat Bog," Philon, the narrator, kneels to receive bread and mixed milk and blood from a Jutish king. Kneeling, Philon knew that the king

"...was Fro (and Apollo of the Sun) and through him She entered me and I Her. Can the Orphic mysteries give more?" (Anderson, Homeward And Beyond, New York, 1976, p. 223)

Philon, a philosophical Greek skeptical of Roman identifications of their gods with others, does not hesitate to identify Fro with Apollo.

Yes, Philon is shocked that the king kills women as the king is shocked by Philon's homosexuality. Philon becomes reconciled to the facts, as he sees it, by reflecting on the Goddess' many aspects:

Aphrodite is the foam-born Virgin, the Mother of Eros, Our Lady of the Weddings, a slut mocked by Homer;
Artemis is the maiden huntress, the fecund Ephesian, Cybele who inspires madness, Hecate the terrible, Hera, Ceres, Athene, Persephone, Nerthus;
the Jutes still worship the Goddess whereas Greeks and Romans turn to Oriental gods or to no god...

Their successors became Christians or atheists.

Despite Philon's professed reconciliation, what looks as if it will be a promising alliance, in this case between Romans and Jutes, does not come to fruition because the differences are too great, as had happened between the People and the child-sacrificing Folk in "The Forest."

Gods And Forces II

We learn how Philon feels the Goddess. When invited to watch ritual sex:

"I myself had been gripped by Her, oh, if only there had been a girl for me!" (Anderson, Homeward And Beyond, New York, 1976, 203)

Coming into conflict with the Danes, some Jutes offer also to the main Danish gods, "...the warlike three called by the Romans Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury." (p. 205)

We know from other works Who these three are. Their names are rendered here as Tiwu, Thunarr and Wothen.

We have been told that only the king can see the image of the Goddess yet three women slaves who have been given a lot to drink are tied to the wagon and sent with him to wash the image. We can deduce what will happen to them if we do not remember it from Anderson's Time Patrol story, "Star of the Sea," although Philon does not understand yet.

I am still rereading "The Peat Bog." I suspect that, as in "The Forest," our hero will be horrified to learn of human sacrifice in this less advanced society.

Gods And Forces

Should we say "gods and forces" or "forces, sometimes personified"? In Poul Anderson's "The Peat Bog," the narrator's patron, Gnaeus Valerius Memmius, offers to Neptune and Mercury:

"...though I knew he believed in no gods - merely in that dance of blind atoms which Lucretius has written of - and acted pious lest he raise superstitious fears." (Anderson, Homeward And Beyond, New York, 1976, p. 195)

Lucretius denied not the gods' existence but their control of nature and intervention in human affairs. Composed of finer atoms than animals or human beings, they are sometimes perceived in dreams. Thus, they fit into his materialist philosophy but not as popularly conceived.

A single atom is not "blind," like an animal without eyes, but pre- or sub-organic. Animal, human and divine combinations of atoms see because their eyes register images transmitted by atoms of light.

The narrator, Philon, a Greek freedman, calls on Aphrodite. He thinks that Memmius:

"... is doubtless right about the absurdity of the myths, very possibly most of the world arises from a play of forces and nothing else; but She is. I have felt Her too often to imagine otherwise." (pp. 195-196)

Again, Anderson recognizes the strength of Pagan religious experience although he does not in this passage tell us how Philon has felt the Goddess.

The Peat Bog

Continuing to reread Poul Anderson's short stories set in the past, we pass from the prehistorical to the historical; from "The Forest" in the Old Stone Age to "The Peat Bog" during the Roman Empire in the first century AD.

From other Anderson works, we recognize:

place names, Colonia Agrippina, Frisia, Gesoriacum, the Suebian Sea;
the barbarian Longobards;
the Cimbrian horde that had almost overwhelmed Rome a century and a half before;
the Roman middle name Valerius;
the goddess Nerthus;
the Romans' "...naive identifications..." of their gods with other peoples' gods (p. 205);
dolmen and standing stones on the Armorican coast.

We also recognise the names of important Romans, "...divine Julius...," Claudius, Nero (Anderson, Homeward And Beyond, New York, 1976, p. 190). Marius is not mentioned by name but it was he who had defeated the Cimbri.

Again, Anderson shows us the passage of time by describing the seasons:

"...trees were ablaze with autumn, stubble fields golden..." (p. 190)

"Spring-time...sunlight and greenness..." (p. 194)

"The midsummer festival lifted hearts..." (p. 222)

"...summer waned, days shrank before nights, hasty clouds and spilling rains warned of oncoming winter." (p. 228)

"...we watched the autumnal equinox being celebrated in a tiny fisher settlement..." (p. 228)

"This was at the end of September." (p. 229) 

" was turning to the shortest of glimmers in the middle of night." (p. 234)

"A day in late November or early December..." (p. 236)

"Now Midwinter Day was so near..." (p. 240)

"The day after was Midwinter." (p. 241)

"...the winter turned hard, winds whistled down from the Pole Star..." (p. 242)

As in Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys Tetralogy, harsh weather expresses the will of a god.

Not for the first time in Anderson's fiction, a man passing himself off as a trader is really an intelligence agent.

Thus, what had seemed to be an independent short story with an unappealing title turns out on closer inspection to be integral to Anderson's historical fiction.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Two Old Stone Age Stories

HG Wells wrote two companion stories, "A Story Of The Stone Age" and "A Story Of The Days To Come." Poul Anderson, a Wellsian science fiction writer, wrote two Old Stone Age stories.

In "The Long Remembering," Cro-Magnons drive back Neanderthals. In "The Forest," the Forest, advancing north as the glaciers withdraw, drives before it the reindeer and the people who live on them. Thus, both stories describe major turning points.

In "The Forest," Thunder Horse, a hunter of the People, explores the advancing Forest, thinking that his people might move there to combine their skills with those of the Folk of the Forest whose numbers are mysteriously small. The Folk would welcome the People but Thunder Horse realizes that the People do not belong in the Forest whose Folk grovel before gods, even sacrificing their first born - which helps to explain their small numbers.

The People retreating before the encroaching Forest preserve their freedom at the expense of poverty on land bared by the glaciers. In his introduction, Anderson mentions innovations such as skis and dugout boats. The latter was conceptualized by Argnach-eskaladuan-torkluk "...while I, the I of my secret name, stood on a high mountain thinking strong thoughts," i.e., while he was abstracted, in "The Long Remembering" (Anderson, Homeward And Beyond, New York, 1976, p. 30). So "The Forest" should be read first.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Maybe I can explain some delay in rereading the next Poul Anderson story? Poul and Karen Anderson's character, Gaius Valerius Gratillonius, the last King of Ys, knows no Greek so cannot read Homer but loves Vergil's Aeneid. I also know no Greek but am trying to revive and improve my school Latin so that I can at least read the Aeneid. I spent time today struggling with Latin word order: "The robbers from the man from the forum coming money took."

The attached map shows the epic journey of Aeneas, ancestor of Romulus, from Troy to Italy via Carthage. Vergil presents a mythical account of the origin of the conflict between Rome and Carthage, a conflict that became important in Anderson's Time Patrol series. Ys was a colony of Carthage which was a colony of Tyre which in turn figures prominently both in the Bible and in The Time Patrol.

Anderson retold Norse sagas and both Andersons retold the legend of Ys. Homer and Vergil would also have been suitable subjects but no one can do everything and Anderson in fact did an amazing amount.