Sunday, 31 August 2014

Gods And Time

Recent posts have again highlighted Poul Anderson's diversity. In fact, not only did he create a better time travel series than Doctor Who, not only did he, like Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey, incorporate Norse mythology into modern fantasies but, furthermore, he also synthesized these two very dissimilar kinds of fiction.

Carl Farness of the Time Patrol researching the origins of certain mythological stories comes to be identified with Odin by fourth century Goths and realizes that it is his responsibility to enact a crucial story, Odin's betrayal of his followers, as described in the Volsungasaga. A later story, "Star Of The Sea," takes this idea even further.

Another time traveler will, first inadvertently, then deliberately, influence the development of mythology. Therefore, four passages in the story simply recount successive stages of the mythology. In these passages, the gods are real, as in a fantasy. The first such passage, which is also the opening passage of the story, presents the primordial pantheon, the Wanes or Vanir. The second mythological passage begins with the arrival from the East of the Anses or Aesir who war with the Wanes, as in Anderson's fantasy novel, War Of The Gods, but here is a different version of the Wanes from the ones in the opening passage because meanwhile the mythology has moved on.

By the fourth, and concluding, passage - a prayer, not a story - the gods have been succeeded by the Virgin Mary who, however, inherits the image of a star above the sea from a Northern goddess. Thus, "Star Of The Sea" is an ultimate synthesis of two kinds of fiction. In both, Anderson excels.

(The attached image shows Odin in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.)

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