Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Cappen Varra

The second of Poul Anderson's Cappen Varra short stories, "The Gate of the Flying Knives," which I am reading in Anderson's collection, Fantasy (New York, 1981), was originally published in the anthology, Thieves' World (see first image), and is set in a city called Sanctuary. Since googling reveals the existence of a Thieves' World novel called Sanctuary (see second image), I deduce that the two Cappen Varra stories and their sequel, "Fairy Gold," are set in this shared universe of the "Thieves' World." Cappen remarks that "'...Shalpa, patron of thieves...has the most devotees of any.'" (p. 114) (If Shalpa is indeed the patron of thieves, then he is a Thieves' World counterpart of Hermes and St Dismas.)

Having read "Fairy Gold" first, not originally knowing the order of the stories, I was pleased, when I started to read the opening story, "The Valor of Cappen Varra," to recognize place names like "Norren" (p. 124). As in several much longer series, Anderson quickly establishes the sense of a familiar, consistent background for the activities of diverse characters like, in this case, Arvel Tarabine and Cappen Varra.

Cappen is a humorous villainous hero:

"Cappen said nothing. If she wanted to think that he had come especially to rescue her, he would not be so ungallant as to tell her otherwise." (p. 95)

"...of course, if she wanted to think he was being magnanimous, it could be useful later -" (p. 98)

I have commented more than once both on Anderson's rich vocabulary and on his "list descriptions" of busy, bustling street scenes. Here, vocabulary-wise, we have:

"'...a theomachy...'" (p. 124);
"'...her coadjutrix...'" (p. 125);
"'...your inamorata...'" (p. 125).

These are all easily googled.

I think that "'...a sikkintair...'" (p. 126) is a denizen of Thieves' World as hobbits and Balrogs are of Middle Earth and as Marshwiggles are of Narnia.

Here are some descriptive lists:

(i) "Merchants, artisans, porters, servants, slaves, wives, nomads, courtesans, entertainers, beggars, thieves, gamblers, magicians, acolytes, soldiers, and who knew what else..." (pp. 102-103);

(ii) - and, continuing the same sentence, "...mingled, chattered, chaffered, quarreled, plotted, sang, played games, drank, ate, and who knew what else." (p. 103);

(iii) - next sentence, "Horsemen, cameldrivers, wagoners pushed through..." (p. 103).

The description continues, though with less lists. Music, vendors, neighbors and devotees each get a sentence or a clause to themselves. But then the street scene closes with a list of smells:

(iv) "...of flesh, sweat, roast meat and nuts, aromatic drinks, leather, wool, dung, smoke, oils, cheap perfume." (p. 103)

We are told that, "Ordinarily, Cappen Varra enjoyed this shabby-colorful spectacle..." (p. 103), although today he is preoccupied.

As ever, Poul Anderson celebrates human activity and life.


Paul Shackley said...

I have received email notification of a comment by Cliff Dunn even though I am not finding such a comment here. In any case, thank you, Cliff.

grodog said...

You mentioned that there were four Cappen Varra stories, Paul, is this list accurate, and have you discovered any others since?:

- "The Valor of Cappen Varra" (1957) - short story - first published in Fantastic Universe Science Fiction magazine, and available for free for the Kindle from Amazon
- "The Gate of the Flying Knives" (in Thieves World #1)
- "Fairy Gold" (which apparently mentions CV but isn't about him per se), from his collection The Unicorn Trade
- "The Lady of the Winds" - from Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine anniversary issue (Oct/Nov 2001)