Saturday, 31 October 2015

Hell, Voluspa And York

King Haakon asks:

"'How many will go to Hell who'd have been saved if they'd gotten the Word sooner?'"
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Three, Chapter VII, p. 214.

None, Haakon. If anyone is to be judged, then surely their circumstances should be taken into account especially if, as we are told, the Judge is also the Creator? And, whatever the verdict, how can finite offenses warrant infinite punishment? As a skeptical philosopher, I would be obliged to tell Haakon's missionaries that I preferred the local deities to the one that they were importing.

Haakon heeds wise advice. He considers extending the Yule celebration and linking it to Christ's birthday - which, of course, had been the solstice and Mithras' birthday. He has the good sense to "...listen and learn..." (p. 217) when a skald recites what we recognize as the Voluspa, newly arrived from Iceland:

"'...nine worlds
I knew in the tree...

"'Do you want to know more?'" (p. 218)

The foredoomed, undaunted gods, strong in their homeland, honored by Haakon's father, Harald Fairhair.

Chapter VIII begins:

"A wind from the north went astray in the twisting lanes of York..." (p. 219)

We are about to rejoin Haakon's enemy, Eirik Blood-ax, now King in York, but I am about to go to bed in Lancaster.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Ghosts And Gods

While exiled on the largest of the Orkney Islands, Gunnhild visits:


- five words with similar or related meanings. She wants to:

"...raise those ghosts, awaken those powers. But she was never left by herself with them."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Three, Chapter VI, p. 208.

- a wish for which she would be killed by Christians and even by some Odinists. Unable to work magic, she nevertheless feels cold with the "...awe of age and unknownness..." (ibid.)

"...awe of age..." is good. 

Dag the skald is also there, trying to compose a poem, another kind of power:

"Sometimes a poem was more than words." (p. 210)

Word comes that Eirik, campaigning in Northumbria, has been accepted as king in York and sends for his household. As a necessary part of the deal, he and most of his followers have been sprinkled by Christian priests.

"'Christ is strong...'" (ibid.)

From a pagan perspective, the god of a strong realm is a strong god. What other criterion is there?

Ragnhild, the daughter who wanted greatness, "...yelled her glee. She skipped about like a kid goat." (ibid.)

Well, that is how she has been brought up. I think that everyone, while maturing, should at least question their parents' values but how many can? I spent many years applying my intellect to rationalizing, instead of questioning, the beliefs in which I had been indoctrinated but fortunately also read and inquired more widely. Nowadays we have an unprecedented advantage. We are the heirs of all the traditions. Our rejection, if we reject it, of a particular world-view, can be based on knowledge instead of either ignorance or prejudice.

The First War And Later Events

"The gods themselves fought the first war that ever was."
-Poul Anderson, War of The Gods (New York, 1999), Chapter I, p. 9.`

There is a beginning.

"Saxo places Hadding three generations before Hrolf Kraki."
-War Of The Gods, Afterword, p. 301.

Thus, War Of The Gods, about Hadding, precedes Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga.

"Great and rich was the Thraandlaw, a home for heroes. Hither had come Hadding from the South, to fell a giant, and win a king's daughter. Hence had gone Bjarki to the South, he who became the right hand of Hrolf Kraki."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter XXII, p. 184.

Thus, Mother Of Kings, about Gunnhild, comes third.

"'It's said he fathered Gunnhild, the queen of King Eirik Blood-ax -'
"Skafloc gripped the tiller hard. 'The witch-queen?'
"Mananaan nodded. 'Yes...'"
-Poul Anderson & Mildred Downey Broxon, The Demon Of Scattery (New York, 1980), p. 193.

Skafloc and Mananaan converse in the untitled Prologue and Epilogue of The Demon Of Scattery during their voyage to Jotunheim described in The Broken Sword. Thus, The Broken Sword and The Demon Of Scattery are, chronologically, the fourth and fifth volumes of this sequence although everything in ...Scattery between Prologue and Epilogue is an extended flashback.

Mananaan's father, Lir, was a God of the City of Ys and Skafloc sees:

"...the drowned tower of Ys..."
-Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977), Chapter V, p. 31.

Thus, Poul and Karen Anderson's four-volume The King Of Ys precedes The Broken Sword and, indeed, since it features the decline of the Roman Empire, is set several centuries before Mother Of Kings and about a century before Hrolf Kraki's Saga.

The title character of Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy is Eirik Blood-Ax's father's great-great-grandson, Harald Hardrada, who refers somewhere in the Trilogy to Gunnhild and falls in battle in 1066.

Skafloc also saw:

"...the sea maidens tumbling in the sea and singing..." (ibid.)

Christian priests drive the last merpeople from Europe in the fourteenth century in Anderson's The Merman's Children.

One long literary sequence alternating between historical fiction, historical fantasy and heroic fantasy.

Light On Waves

I think that Poul Anderson wrote somewhere that it is a good idea to appeal to at least three senses in any descriptive passage? In any case, he always does it:

"Light flew like laughter over small waves, aglint and aglimmer in a hundred shifting hues, blue, green, tawny, foam-white. They murmured and chuckled as they played tag with the shadows of hurrying snowy clouds. Birds wheeled, soared, swooped, swam, swung again aloft, in their thousands, gull, guillemot, cormorant, puffin, razor-bill, curlew, kittiwake, skua, fulmar. Their cries brought alive a breeze in which something of summer's warmth lingered on into the fall."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Three, Chapter VI, p. 206.

The paragraph begins with light and ends with warmth. We must wait for the third sense but it comes. " laughter...," "...aglint and aglimmer...," "...soared, swooped, swam, swung...," "...again aloft...," "...something of summer..." and some of the birds' names are alliteration. There are three list-descriptions: colors; birds' movements; birds. The birds' cries provide sound but we have already had murmuring, chuckling waves.

We remember other descriptive passages featuring moving cloud shadows and there may be a further resonance. In Anderson's Time Patrol series, changeable wave patterns at sea are a metaphor for the quantum randomness that can change the course of temporal events. Here, we are in a single historical period but we might also remember the Patrol that guards history.


As conscious and intelligent organisms, we are here to learn. Are we? I do not believe that we were created to fulfill any purpose. However, now that consciousness and intelligence have evolved, it is natural to use them to learn. I regard knowledge not only as a means to practical ends like survival but also as an end in itself. It is good to know about the universe - I think, although I have met people who deny it.

So what do we learn? Two practical kinds of knowledge are:

(i) how to achieve existing ends more effectively;
(ii) the error of our ways.

Queen Gunnhild, wife of Eirik Blood-ax and the title character of Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings, learns nothing of (ii) and has only a limited ability to learn (i).

"She had better not get angry with him. The abidingly faithful could become few."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Three, Chapter III, p. 196.

The abidingly faithful become very few for rulers who are callous and overbearing. Eirik's opponent gains an enthusiastic following by promising justice and the restoration of ancient freedoms. Gunnhild's reflections continue:

"It was not enough to hope for victory. She must learn beforehand how to deal with the worst of outcomes, for her sons, her daughters, the blood that ran in them." (ibid.)

Gunnhild is a determined survivor (i). But she does not learn whether Eirik and she have conducted themselves in ways that put their children at risk (ii). Meanwhile, it is good to live in a period when ambitious politicians must campaign in elections, not divide the country between warring armies!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

"Spite Spat"

(Linking to earlier posts leads to rereading some of those earlier posts and possibly also to editing their spelling or punctuation as well as to adding a few more links. However, I am currently experiencing some technical difficulties with editing. Hopefully, these will be resolved. The blogs are always a work in progress. If you notice any textual infelicities, they may be ones that I either want to correct or would if I knew of them.)

Someone critiquing Isaac Asimov remarked that words can be like clear glass or stained glass, i.e., either we look through the words at their subject-matter or we appreciate the words themselves. Asimov's prose is clear glass. Poul Anderson's is both. I have referred to his many dramatic two-word sentences like "Rain roared." However, the most expressive of such mini-sentences has to be:

"Spite spat."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Three, Chapter III, p. 196.

Gunnhild unleashes venom against her enemy, Egil. Fortunately, although Gunnhild is the title character of the novel, many of its chapters focus instead on other, more sympathetic, characters like the Christian King Haakon. A long narrative presented entirely from Gunnhild's vengeful viewpoint would be both unpalatable and indigestible.

When the family goes unwillingly into exile, Gunnhild's seven-year-old daughter asks:

"'Mother, Mother! We're b-bound for greatness. Aren't we?'" (p. 200)

A young girl has been brought up not to appreciate life but to expect "greatness." Good work, Gunnhild.

Gods And Other Beings

"Whether in superstition or in metaphor, Cerialis replied, surprisingly quietly, 'That will depend on the goddess, won't it?'"
-Poul Anderson, "Star of the Sea," section 16, IN Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), pp. 467-640 AT p. 609.

We can still say such things metaphorically.

"'Well,' he said low, 'that lies with the gods, doesn't it? Or with the norns but no use in offering to them.'"
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Three, Chapter II, p. 193.

How many kinds of beings are superior to gods, mythologically speaking of course? Norns, Buddhas and Neil Gaiman's Endless. Also, the Hebrew god is supposed to be more powerful than any others, thus generating a syllogism:

gods are power;
other gods are powerless before the god of Abraham;
therefore, there are no other gods.

In some of Anderson's historical fictions, Christians have not yet reasoned from the second premise to the conclusion.

Danes settling in England take baptism because:

"Christendom was so vastly more wide and rich than anything left in the North." (Mother Of Kings, Book Two, Chapter XIV, p. 141)

These are cultural conversions. What are the grounds for spiritual conversions? For St Paul it was a blinding light and a voice, thus, I would say, a psychological crisis. For CS Lewis, it was philosophical arguments with which I disagree. For some, it is hearing Evangelical preaching although I find this completely irrational. I have considered evidence for the Resurrection here.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Battle For Norway

"By King Eirik's order, his skald Dag kept aside on horseback, trotting to and fro, overseeing the battle as best he was able. If he lived through it, his poems would tell the world how it went. Those inside saw only what was upon them. Otherwise, it was shapelessness, wrath, and death."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2002), Book Two, Chapter XXI, p. 181.

A war correspondent! (A participant in the Battle of Cable Street told me, "What did I see on the day? The backs of people's heads. How did I know that we had won? I read it in the newspaper the following day.")

Anderson presents a magnificent account of battle preparations. The levy gathers for days: on foot or on horse, carls, yeomen, hinds, landholders, with helmets, shields or leather coats, spears, axes, swords, bows or slings, jarls, lendmen, hersirs, guards, packhorses, wagons, tents, bags, blankets, fires, food. Meat sizzles. Sausages and fish fry. Horns blow. Ships are launched. Sails are unfurled. A fair wind blows. There are many two word sentences.

Back on land, at the end of the voyage, arrows, stones and spears fly. Armies clash. Dag watches. Olaf's standard goes down, comes up, goes down, stays down. Arinbjorn thrusts through and surrounds those who do not flee. Eirik bursts through and attacks from behind. The battle is won and Eirik begins to reunite Norway but his remaining opponents will appeal to England. Book Two ends.

A James Bond Novel?

Each new post might delve more deeply into a particular work by Poul Anderson, currently Mother Of Kings, or might instead veer in a different direction, as long as it is relevant - or sometimes irrelevant. Anderson contributed to many series created by other authors and also wrote an sf James Bond. (See comments.) Established authors have been writing James Bond novels. What might Anderson have done with Bond? Something high tech and sfnal while also recalling the War and the Cold War and revealing the hidden motivation behind SMERSH or SPECTRE?

This question is occasioned by just having seen the new Bond film, having not seen Bond for years. Of course, the films are different. This kind of prequel moves backwards but also sideways in time. We are supposed to be viewing earlier events but the action is still set in the present day! Blofeld has a Polish accent - correct - and we see him acquiring the facial scar that he had when we first saw him played by Donald Pleasance.

Of course, Anderson, if he had got involved, would have written a novel or a short story, not a film script.

A Nithing-Staff Is A Staff Of Scorn

This image, found on the Internet, depicts a scene described by Poul Anderson:

"When the wind came, [Egil] went onto a rock that jutted toward the mainland. In one hand he bore a tall, stout hazel staff he had cut. In the other was the head of a horse. Standing on the rock while the sea moaned below and a wrack of clouds blew out of a nearing rainstorm, he set the horsehead on the staff and lifted it upright. 'Here I raise a nithing-staff, and I turn its curse against King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild...'"
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter XX, p. 177.

The image also presents an alternative translation of the first line of the curse. Egil believes that this curse affects the local land-wights. He carves runes on the head. Gunnhild thinks that there will be two half-verses each taking thrice the number of all the runes won by Odin. She will respond with drum, song, dance, wilderness food and drink, power from the earth and the moon. Seid against runes. Primordial shamanism against Aryan sky gods.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Make Trade, Not War

(80th post for Oct. Poss last for month.)

"...Harald Fairhair had set his son Bjorn as shire-king."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter XV, p. 147.

Shire-king, not shire-reeve?

"That man seldom went to war; instead, he sent merchant ships far and wide, growing wealthy thereby. Thus he came to be called the Skipper or Chapman." (ibid.)

There is a sensible man. However, we learn that he is tight-fisted and surly. Knowing this, Eirik, visiting, sets out to provoke Bjorn, then attacks and kills him. Harald seems to accept that his sons by many women conduct themselves in this manner. War, not trade.

Bjorn's faults notwithstanding, I do not find Eirik's military action on this occasion acceptable. It earns him his nickname Blood-ax:

"Both he and Gunnhild rather liked it." (p. 151)

I am completely out of patience both with the Blood-ax and with his Witch-Queen wife.

Mother Of Kings: Families And Alliances

The lendman Ulf/Kveldulf
sons: Thorolf; Grim/Skallagrim

sons: Thorolf; Egil
daughters: Saeunn; Thorunn
foster brother: Thorir Hroaldsson
foster daughter: Aasgerd

The hersir Thorir Hroaldsson
sister and ward: Thora Orfrey-Sleeve
son: Arinbjorn
foster son: Eirik Haraldsson
foster brother: Skallagrim

Bjorn Brynjolfsson
father: the hersir Brynjolf
wife: Thora Orfrey-Sleeve
daughters: Aasgerd; another by a second wife

Thorolf Skallagrimsson
brother: Egil
wife: Aasgerd
daughter: Thordis

Egil Skallagrimsson
brother: Thorolf
wife: Aasgerd (after Thorolf's death)

Ozur Dapplebeard
wife: Kraka
leman: Seija
sons: Aalf; Eyvind
daughter: Gunnhild
son-in-law: Eirik Haraldsson

father: Thorgeir Thornfoot
wife: Bjorn Brynjolfsson's second daughter

Arinbjorn is Bjorn Brynjolfsson's first wife's brother's son, thus Bjorn's nephew-in-law.
Onund is Bjorn's second wife's daughter's husband, thus Bjorn's son-in-law.
Onund says:

"' Arinbjorn and I have the same ties to Bjorn Brynjolfsson.'" (Mother Of Kings, p. 145)

I wondered why he said that and have had to write this post to find out.

Imperfect Consistency

"Perfect consistency is possible only to God Himself, and a close study of scripture will show that He doesn't always make it."
-Poul Anderson, "Concerning Future Histories" IN Bulletin Of The Science Fiction Writers Of America, Volume 14, Number 3, Fall 1979, p. 13.

There are four possible responses to an inconsistency in a work of fiction, e.g., between installments of a series. The reader:

does not notice;
does not care;
rationalizes the inconsistency;
regards the inconsistency as an irredeemable error.

Only the fourth response is a problem. It is called an "aesthetic interference condition," according to one of my lecturers in Aesthetics. The inconsistency interferes with or prevents aesthetic appreciation or satisfaction. Many apparent inconsistencies can be rationalized by reflecting that often the successive installments of a future history are written from different points of view. Thus, one character thinks that the Merseians are mammals whereas another thinks that they are not, etc.

Inconsistencies are not a major problem in Poul Anderson's works. I am reflecting on them here because I have been considering the works of James Blish who wrote two linear future histories but also several branching futures. Although Robert Heinlein compiled his Time Chart in order to keep his Future History consistent, he later wrote, in that same SFWA Bulletin, that he wanted each story to be internally consistent but not necessarily the entire series, which helps to explain why the gravity control discovered in one story is absent in later stories, although this inconsistency can also be rationalized.

Addendum: For discussion of one apparent contradiction in Anderson's Flandry series, see here.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Mother Of Kings: Families And Alliances

The lendman Ulf/Kveldulf
sons: Thorolf: Grim/Skallagrim

sons: Thorolf, Egil
daughters: Saeunn; Thorunn
foster brother: Thorir Hroaldsson
foster daughter: Aasgerd

The hersir Thorir Hroaldsson
sister and ward: Thora Orfrey-Sleeve
son: Arinbjorn
foster son: Eirik Haraldsson
foster brother: Skallagrim

Bjorn Brynjolfsson
father: the hersir Brynjolf
wife: Thora Orfrey-Sleeve
daughter: Aasgerd

Thorolf Skallagrimsson
brother: Egil
wife: Aasgerd

Note, Monday 26 October: This list is incomplete and a work in progress. It will be extended but not tonight. Meanwhile, it is published, although as yet unfinished, in case blog readers can find any errors in it so far.

Addendum: See the completed list here.

Everything Is Connected

Unexpected connections are always satisfying. Reflecting on Heinlein's and Anderson's future histories (here) led to reflection on a very different future history model. See here.

Brian Aldiss refers to Cyrus the Great in his Introduction to the 1983 edition of James Blish's The Quincunx Of Time! Fans of Poul Anderson do not need to be reminded of Cyrus' importance either to the Time Patrol series or to history. It is a sign of the latter importance that Aldiss mentions Cyrus here:

"Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, restored the Hanging Gardens of Babylon..."
Brian Aldiss, "PEEP: An Introduction to THE QUINCUNX OF TIME" IN James Blish, The Quincunx Of Time (New York, 1983), pp. 6-10 AT p. 9.

In the Time Patrol universe, there is/was a timeline in which Patrolman Keith Denison played the role of Cyrus and therefore would have restored the Hanging Gardens. Thus, there is a connection between this Introduction and the second Time Patrol story - a remote connection but we perceive it.

Blish's diptych of Quincunx and Midsummer Century, like Anderson's Time Patrol series and other time travel works, is a major conceptual successor to Wells' The Time Machine:

Blish's characters discuss time as a fourth dimension;
his "world-line cruising" is pastward time travel;
his "time-projection" involves time-traveling consciousnesses, such as Wells discusses;
his far future perpetual summer recalls Wells'.

Complications: An Update

Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings is, rightly, a demanding text. The reader is expected to remember characters who were introduced in extremely condensed passages and who have been off-stage for several chapters. Many Norse names begin with "Thor-." Determined not to be defeated by such a dense novel, I will carefully reread earlier chapters and summarize the information in a later post, other activities permitting.

Meanwhile, SM Stirling's Draka Volume III, like earlier ordered books, is taking forever to arrive by post but will eventually be discussed here.

Brief update; breakfast beckons.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Road Reflections... II

See here.

Retcons (i)
Of course, some of those "earlier" stories may be written later:

Heinlein's "Requiem" described old Harriman dying on the Moon, then his "The Man Who Sold The Moon" described how Harriman had put mankind on the Moon;

Heinlein described the heroic death of Space Patrolman John Dahlquist after he had shown the Patrol honoring this hero;

James Blish wrote a novel about the young Adolph Haertel after he had described the older Haertel conferring with the pilot who had successfully test flown the Haertel overdrive;

Anderson wrote a series of stories about Dominic Flandry, then the "Young Flandry" trilogy about the start of Flandry's career;

the story introducing Adzel as a student on Earth was written after the "later" story about Adzel joining the trader team - in fact the introductory story expands on a short dialogue in the "later" story;

and there are other examples.

Retcons (ii)
Also, a later work can present new information about earlier events. The peak of the pyramid can shine a spotlight on its base. For example, Methuselah's Children reveals that:

the Howard Families, bred for longevity, had existed secretly since the late nineteenth century;
thus, they had existed throughout the entire Future History to date;
in fact, one of their number had lived since the early twentieth century;
Andrew Libby was a Howard.

The History would have been better constructed if the reader had been able to recognize an earlier spear-carrying character as an alias of Lazarus Long.

Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire reveals:

the existence of the Dakotian and Zacharian communities;
an old Merseian conspiracy involving Aycharaych, at last coming to fruition.

A future history is a work in progress. The author can always add and reassess. Larry Niven shows us that we really knew nothing about the Puppeteer Fleet of Worlds or the Ringworld.

Road Reflections On Features Of Future Histories

While driving, we can remember and reflect but not read - although, of course, someone with an audio-book can listen. However, my reflections of today have merely reproduced the contents of earlier posts about Robert Heinlein's Future History and Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

A Heinlein-model future history has a pyramidal structure, i.e., earlier installments generate a base of background information on which the author then constructs his later installments. Thus, Methusaleh's Children, the fourth volume of Heinlein's Future History, refers to quite a lot:

Pinero the Charlatan
Road Cities
DD Harriman
Luna City
the Venerians
"The Green Hills of Earth"
the Prophets
the revolutionary Cabal
the Covenant
Andrew Libby
the generation ship, the Vanguard

This novel is effectively the culmination of the History since the fifth and final volume, Orphans Of The Sky, recounting the fate of the lost Vanguard, is merely a coda.

In one story of Anderson's Technic History, Nicholas van Rijn forms his first trade pioneer crew, led by David Falkayn and including the Wodenite, Adzel. However, "before" this story, at least in terms of fictional chronology:

van Rijn had appeared in five stories and one novel;
Falkayn had appeared in two stories, first as an apprentice on Ivanhoe, then as a journeyman in van Rijn's company;
Adzel had appeared in one story;
one story recounted later events on Ivanhoe;
three stories had preceded any of these continuing characters.

Thus, the first trader team story was built on a base of thirteen earlier works. It in turn is followed by four works featuring the team and three set on a planet colonized by Falkayn. Both this planet and the flying species that jointly colonizes it with Falkayn's human beings were introduced in earlier stories. Thus, Anderson constructs a perfect pyramid.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Runes And Seid IV

(Tomorrow: long drive home; little or no posting.)

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter XII, pp. 135-136. 

See here.

Gunnhild's magic does affect the weather. Spying by far-sight on Eirik's enemies, she decides to "...blind them." (p. 135) Although she is not a Gan-Finn, she is "...halfway one with the world and its weather..." (ibid.) and therefore is able to flow into the air, shape herself into water and generate a fog impenetrable even by witch-sight. The warlocks, suspecting neither that their enemies are close nor that the fog is magical, wait for it to clear but are surrounded and burnt to death. The fog even conveniently lifts as Eirik and his men move closer to the warlocks' steading.

"Gunnhild said nothing about her part." (p. 136)

She reflects that skalds do not make poems about women's achievements, like birth or magic. Thus, the historical fiction is simply that Eirik slew these enemies with the help of a convenient fog. The fantasy element, although extremely interesting, is peripheral to the plot. Gunnhild does not directly encounter any supernatural beings although such meetings do occur in other works by Anderson where the gods even become viewpoint characters.

Aesir, Vanir And Others

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings, Book Two, Chapter XIV, pp. 141-142.


one-eyed Wanderer;
lord of war;
father of wizardry;
hanged on the world-tree for nine nights to gain the runes of power;
bore the mead of poetry into the world;
raised the dead to foretell;
went beyond death, into hell;
is always in and of the sky;
leads Aasgard's Ride, dead men on bone horses with fiery hounds on the night wind after a ghost quarry;
decides who should win or die in battle.


red-bearded slayer of trolls;
brings lightning, thunder and rain.

The Vanir of soil and sea are good to worship in childbirth or for a good harvest. In Finnmork, men, no less than gods, can steer the world and are needful for its life.


do not drink to the gods;
worship indoors;
believe that there is only one god who was born as a man, walked on earth, was killed and returned to Heaven; (Later: see Comments)
are ruled in worship from Romaborg through bishops who are like lendmen or jarls and might help kings to rule.


died not for knowledge or power but a wergild;
takes his followers to Heaven from where they return like elves or other Beings to help those who offer to them.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Norse Trade

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter XIII, pp. 137-138.

Norse traders sail:

west to Iceland;
east to Lake Ladoga;
south to the Moors -

- and take furs and amber by horse or river to:

the Holy Roman Empire;

Chapmen plunder if they can do so without risk. Thus, they remain Vikings. They also carry intelligence to Eirik and Gunnhild in Norway. This single paragraph about trade routes introduces the next stage of Gunnhild's conflict with her enemies.


See Kings.

The lady of a big household must:

manage the house on a daily basis;
account for all incomings and outgoings;
supervise the staff;
address their needs;
settle their squabbles;
ensure that guests are treated appropriately;
know everything that happens;
advise her husband;
lead skilled womanly work like weaving;
ensure that any trusty man left in charge does what she wants;
if a queen, supervise many households and the kingdom;
bear heirs;
ensure the primacy of her sons as against those of lemans;
use her influence to help some men despite rousing hatred in others;
learn from everything.

Yet another year turns as Gunnhild's life proceeds:

"Spring lost itself in summer, balefires blazed when the sun turned, the year waned toward fall, and again Gunnhild went heavy with child." (p. 137)

Runes And Seid III

To practice the sinister magic called "seid," Gunnhild needs privacy and secrecy. Servants must go elsewhere overnight. As soon as she is alone, the pathetic fallacy comes into effect:

"As evening closed in, she shuttered windows and bolted doors. The weather had changed. Wind whined; rain whispered. Lampflames wavered; smoke and smell eddied. Dusk deepened, and shadows stirred, misshapen as trolls."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter XII, p. 132.

(How many verbs follow the subject "Wind..." (and here) in Anderson's texts?) Seid is trollcraft and Gunnhild's preparations for seid are accompanied by troll-like shadows. In a locked room within the locked house, she wears only a necklace, secretly made and carefully concealed, woven from eagle feathers, wolf's teeth and wildcat's claws bought over the years from hunters who would remain silent, while dried mushrooms soak in a bowl. Knowing that seid is dangerous, she reflects:

"For Eirik and their blood, she went into childbed over and over, as he went into battle." (p. 133)

Warriors killed in battle go to Valhalla. Women killed by childbirth are welcomed by Veleda's goddess, Niaerdh, but that is in another history. Here, in any case, Gunnhild "...set forth on a way that might go down hell-road." (ibid.)

This "...hell..." is the Pagan underworld, not the Biblical Hell.

After eating the mushrooms, she preserves secrecy by avoiding the sound of a drum but instead claps while dancing around a lamp set on a tall stool, gazing at the flame until it becomes a gate. Then she kneels, sways and sings, waving two rune-carved deer bones. Here, the pathetic fallacy resumes, unless Gunnhild's magic does affect the weather:

"The rain strengthened. Its rushing filled her skull. The wind wailed. It lifted her..." (pp. 133-134)

Half of Gunnhild sings spells. Half flies through the flame into the sky. What she sees there is divided between Aesir and Vanir. Whereas the North Star is said to be the eye that Odin gave for wisdom:

"The moon belonged to older Powers, to earth and sea, begetting and bearing, wizards and witches." (p. 134)

The difference between the two practices is spelt out:

"Norsemen offered to the gods in hopes of winning their goodwill. Shamans sought oneness with the world in hopes that it would do their will." (ibid.)

Shamanism is more primitive. Its practitioners have not yet separated themselves from the world or imagined gods looking down into it. Poul Anderson takes us there.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Runes And Seid II

The Skern Runestone has a curse regarding a 'siþi' or 'seiðr worker'.
-copied from here.

It seems that the Christian contrast between wholesome priesthood and unwholesome witchcraft was prefigured in Northern European Paganism. Runes were from Odin whereas seid was trollcraft.

Gunnhild conceals the extent of her seid - forecastings, farseeings, ill- and well-wishings and cantrips - from her husband, Eirik, and his father, King Harald. The latter orders a seid wizard to stop selling forecastings, love potions, blights and blessings. Reminded that some of his own sons had a witch for a mother and that one of those sons, Rognvald Highbone, has become mighty in spellcraft and gained a following, Harald sends Eirik to kill Rognvald. Gunnhild will try to help Eirik with her seid and I will probably reread that chapter tomorrow.

The conflict between runes and seid might be a hangover from the war between Aesir and Vanir? See here.

"The hall stood bright with hangings, pillars carved to show the twelve highest gods."
-Mother Of Kings, Book Two, Chapter X, p. 123.

Which twelve were they?

Spring And Gunnhild

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter X.

This account of a seasonal change begins not with the sun or the wind but with human activities and a short list-description:

"Every year, late in spring there was a mighty offering at Gaula in Sygnafylki, for a good summer and harvest. Men flocked to it from widely about and stayed on for days, talking, drinking, sporting, dickering. Gunnhild thought something more might be done." (p. 122)

Gunnhild, having tried and failed to murder Egil, now incites her brothers to kill both Egil and his brother, Thorolf, even though Thorolf had rescued her from the Finns and had then become a friend. Gunnhild has sunk as low as she can get. Although she is the title character, it is fortunate that she is not always the viewpoint character. Indeed, much of the narration is impersonal. Too much narration from Gunnhild's vengeful point of view would make for very unpleasant reading.

One of her brothers manages to kill one of Thorolf's men and must be exiled by Eirik.

"She had egged him on to this, Gunnhild knew. But how could she know he would be such an utter fool about it?" (p. 128)

How could she know that her brother would commit murder foolishly? She has egged him on to murder. That is her responsibility.


Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter VII.

A king has to travel around within his realm:

to be seen widely;
to confer with local leaders;
to be well informed;
to subdue resistance;
to make judgments;
to lead offerings to local deities;
to bestow gifts;
to spread the cost of his household.

At the holy boulder in a shaw on the island of Atley, Eirik Blood-Ax beheads a fat cow in a seasonal rite, sprinkles the worshipers with blood and asks the local goddesses for help. Today, we visited a rebuilt Saxon Shrine where bread and wine represent flesh and blood, worshipers drink well water and are sprinkled with oil and the Mother of God is asked for help. Nowadays, the kingly and priestly roles have been separated.

Kings also behaved in ways that we would consider childish. As soon as King Harald of Norway grasps a sword sent by the English King Aethelstan, the latter's messenger immediately announces that acceptance of Aethelstan's sword has made Harald Aethelstan's vassal! But Harald had neither known of nor agreed to any such contract. Thus, he cannot be morally, legally or constitutionally bound by any vassalhood to Aethelstan. Nor could Aethelstan have meant " lay any real claim." (p. 119). Maybe it is a warning: stay away from England. Aethelstan's father had defeated the last Danish attack, subjugated the East Anglian Danes and gained kingship over Mercia and Essex and allegiance and tribute from the Welsh princes. Aethelstan had taken Northumbria and subjugated the Scottish kings. With such strength in England, any further invasions from Northern countries will be resisted.

Harald replies by sending his youngest son, Haakon, for Aethelstan to foster, thus notionally making Aethelstan lowlier than Harald. The Norse bringing the child Haakon, like the English delivering Aethelstan's sword, were prepared to fight if necessary. Imagine conducting diplomatic negotiations on that basis.

Southbound Wings

Although Poul Anderson often begins a chapter with a change of season, this one is hidden within a chapter:

"Summer drew to an end, the crops in, stubblefields and hay meadows brown, birch leaves yellowing, a nip in the winds, the sky full of southbound wings and wild cries."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book Two, Chapter VI, p. 105.

(I am having trouble finding a meaning for "stubblefields.")

This single-sentence description addresses three senses and names two colors. The following sentence informs us of human activities:

"Men readied ships." (ibid.)

Why does summer make them ready ships? On the previous page:

"The wedding called for a real feast, so it was set for fall after harvest..." (p. 104)

Thus, local great men prepare to travel to an important wedding. Some of those left behind travel instead to gather rents, round a ness and reach Atley island. (I am having trouble finding this island.)

"Thus Egil first met Eirik and Gunnhild." (p. 105)

Clearly a significant meeting coinciding with the important wedding but its significance remains to be revealed.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Future Slavery? II

See here.

It is good to discuss speculative fictions, historical texts and works of political theory together. All three kinds of writing address how society is and, whether explicitly or implicitly, how it might become. Tyranny on Earth coexisting with freedom in space is realized at the end of They Shall Have Stars by James Blish. If I were oppressed by the Bureaucratic State, then I would be glad to know that there was freedom elsewhere but would still want to overthrow the State!

A slave economy producing only for the consumption of the slave owners would be able to stagnate or even regress (owners have finite stomachs) whereas any economy that retains an external competitor must continue to expand. The USSR, like Stirling's Domination of the Draka, was engaged in strategic competition against the US and its allies, necessitating continual research and reinvestment in militarily applicable technology: atomics; rockets; computers; aircraft; hand weapons; surveillance; something destructive that no one else has ever thought of etc.

By contrast, the human beings who enslave an entire planetary population in Poul Anderson's The Peregine keep the location and even the existence of this planet secret from other space travelers. With no external enemies, they can afford to restrict technology in their planetary domain as long as they themselves retain sufficient coercive force to enable them to continue to extract immediately consumed wealth from the subjugated population.

Thus, there are different kinds even of slavery although that does not make any of them palatable.

A Substantial Text

"All of Gaul is quartered into three halves," according to a joke translation of a famous passage in Caesar's Gallic Wars. All of Poul Anderson's 611-page historical novel, Mother Of Kings, is quartered into six Books:

THE FINNS (Chapters I-XIX)

Thus, there are in total CXLV chapters unless I have miscounted. In Book One, Gunnhild, the title character of the novel, learns magic from Finnish wizards and marries Eirik, son of King Harald of Norway. Early in Book Two, she has borne a son, the first of her nine children. Harald's last child, Haakon, has also been born.

From these births, we expect great events to follow but we must read on to learn more and I am about to embark on a boat trip.

Future Slavery?

The Twentieth Century
Tony Cliff in State Capitalism In Russia (and see here) estimated the extent of slave labor in the Soviet Union and its contribution to the economy. Decades later, Alexander Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago.

An Alternative Twentieth Century
SM Stiring's Draka enslave the populations in the territories that they have conquered and intend to continue conquering.

Alternative Futures
In Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History, human beings enslave the population of an extrasolar planet.
In Anderson's Technic History, the Terran Empire reintroduces limited slavery for convicted criminals. (See here.)

No doubt, there are other examples.

In 1970s Britain, opponents of the National Front parodied it as "No Freedom, No Future, No Fun." We must ensure that our future is free.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A Bird Made Of Fog

Gunnhild, projecting her soul as a bird and calling her future husband to her, reproduces a magical achievement of one of the Nine Witch Queens of Ys. The sunken towers of Ys are seen in the first of Poul Anderson's five Viking Era novels and Gunnhild is referenced in one of its sequels.

The Witch Queens needed Gratillonius to challenge and kill their King and thus to take his place. Gunnhild needs Eirik's men to kill her two Finnish mentors and then to take her to Eirik.

Mother Of Kings, about Gunnhild, is a culmination of Anderson's historical novels containing elements of fantasy and a prequel to The Last Viking, the historical fiction trilogy in which an expedition in search of Jotunheim - visited in an earlier novel - finds only icebergs and whales.

Guests at Eirik's and Gunnhild's wedding consume:

fish cooked with garlic
wheat and rye bread
berries dried and stewed

It is quite a while since we have had a food list on the blog but this wedding is a suitable occasion. 

Futures And Pasts

A different future implies a different past. In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol history, the invention of time machines at a future date entails that there has already been considerable activity by time travelers in the past. Additionally, Sherlock Holmes, a fictional character in our timeline, is a historical figure in the Time Patrol timeline. Holmes' Adventures, narrated by Dr Watson but written by Conan Doyle in our timeline, are both written and narrated by Watson in the other timeline.

In terms of human activities, Anderson's History of Technic Civilization parts company with our history some time in the present century. However, in terms of other planetary evolutions and of Chereionite civilization, the two histories have differed for billions of years.

This means that everyone who is known to us as either a historical or a contemporary figure exists in two versions. One Alexander Solzhenitsyn existed in a timeline that would later include the Terran Empire and another Solzhenitsyn existed in our timeline that will include we do not know what.

Solzhenitsyn paints a favorable picture of an older fellow prisoner, a former Social Democrat who had known Lenin personally and who suffered imprisonment for his "...sixty-three years of honesty and doubts." (Chapter 5, p. 196) History is composed of such diverse individuals. Fiction must reflect this diversity and Anderson succeeds in his Technic History.

In Norwich

Visiting Norwich, we heard of Puritan iconoclastic vandalism in the Cathedral. For Poul Anderson's humorous treatment of the Puritans, see here. For the benefit of any blog readers interested in mysticism, may I add that we also visited a chapel built on the site of the cell of Dame Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write a book in English.

We are also close to Walsingham, where the Virgin Mary was seen. Poul and Karen Anderson have Gratillonius, the last King of Ys, addressing Mary in prayer shortly after his conversion from Mithraism to Roman Christianity. In Poul Anderson's "Star of the Sea," Mary incorporates symbols of star and sea previously associated with a goddess.

The theme of this post and of a previous one is that fiction and literature resonate as we tour historical sites.

Odin, Thor, Christ And The Sword


"...had learned how untrustworthy spellcraft was, how easily it could miscarry or turn on the one who wielded it."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book One, Chapter XV, p. 66.

Indeed. Conjured, uncontrolled demons are powerful images of economic crises, ecological catastrophes, military escalations or nuclear meltdowns. In James Blish's Black Easter, the most powerful black magician releases many major demons for a whole night to find out what they will do. He finds out. They wage and win Armageddon. The Frankenstein monster is the corresponding scientific myth.

Gunnhild's thought continues:

"Not for nothing did most Norsemen call rather on Thor than on uncanny Odin." (ibid.)

A skull-cracking hammer is powerful and also comprehensible whereas magic brought back from the other side of death is eerie and untrustworthy.

When Eirik's men approach Gunnhild:

"'We are in Finnmork, and a ghost has led us,' said Brand harshly.
"Halldor made the sign of the Cross. He had been baptized in England, together with fellow vikings who, cut off by a shire-levy, had thus saved their lives. Arni lowered at him and said, 'That god is a long way off.'
"You know I offer to Thor,' answered Halldor, 'but in this witch-land, what harm in calling on Christ as well?'
"Thorolf touched the sword hilt at his left shoulder. His voice clanged. 'I trust this the most. Trollcraft and priestcraft alike have never helped much against it.'" (pp. 73-74)

In Thorolf's experience, a man's sword is more reliable than either a distant god or a divine hammer.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Mother Of Kings, Book One, Chapter X

This chapter is a three-page condensed conversationless summary of two generations of a family history.

Ulf, a rich lendman (rank below jarl) in Sygnafylki, had two sons, Thorolf and Grim. Thorolf grew wealthy in viking and entered the service of King Harald Fairhair after the latter had conquered Sygnafylki. However, Thorolf's enemies slandered him to Harald so that the latter attacked and killed Thorolf and refused to pay wergild. Ulf and Grim fled to Iceland, although Ulf died en route. Grim became a leading man in Iceland where he built a farm called Borg, had two sons, Thorolf and Egil, and two daughters, Saeunn and Thorunn, and welcomed Bjorn from Sogn whom Harald had outlawed. (In Shetland, Bjorn had sheltered in a broch.)

Bjorn had fled from Norway because he had married Thora against the will of her brother and ward, the hersir Thorir Hroaldson. Grim, Thorir's foster brother, reconciled Thorir with Bjorn who returned home with Thora. Their daughter, Aasgerd, remained as a fosterling at Borg whereas Thorolf went to Norway. Bjorn and Thorolf, returning with a good haul from viking in the Baltic, visited Thorir Hroaldson at the same time as Eirik, son of King Harald. On Bjorn's advice, Thorir gained Eirik's friendship by giving him his small brightly painted longship. Harald, unreconciled with Ulf's family, nevertheless tolerated Thorolf for Eirik's sake.

Harald, weakening with age, increasingly delegated rule of the kingdom to Eirik. Thorolf rose high in Eirik's household guard and accompanied him on an expedition to Bjarmaland. This will somehow bear on the main narrative about Gunnhild.

Literary History

Several works by Poul Anderson including, most importantly, his Time Patrol series, refer to Sherlock Holmes. The Time Patrol series even incorporates Holmes as a character conversing with Manse Everard. It is therefore appropriate to report that we are staying at Cromer Country Club in Norfolk where we are told that:

"Allegedly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thought of the idea of The Hound Of The Baskervilles after hearing of the Black Shuck legend whilst playing golf at Royal Cromer (he was staying at the Royal Links Hotel, the Hotel once standing on the site of the Resort)."

("The Resort" means the Club.)

A year ago, some of us were on holiday in a city where Prince Rupert fought during the Civil War. The year before that, we visited two places of literary interest, one of them Andersonian. For further remarks on living with history, see here.

Today, a walk on the cliff reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane," although that is set in Sussex

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Gunnhild Embarks

"...whitecaps...leaped in foam where they struck the skerries and holms strewn widely about."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book One, Chapter IX, p. 44.

"'Fair weather and a following wind,' said Aalf..." (ibid.)

We notice yet another two-word sentence, "Clouds scudded." And a two-word phrase, "Timbers creaked..." What more do we need than a noun and a verb? Maybe two verbs?: "Gulls soared and dipped." Or a longer sentence?: "Cormorants bobbed on the waves or flapped blackly aloft."

"...they...rowed into a wick..." (a what?)

" eat with flatbread..." (p. 45)

"Aalf broached a firkin of ale..."

Camping on an island at night, Gunnhild looks at stars, constellations and the "...Winterway stretched like a frosty river..." and asks: "What might this hugeness know of gods, worlds, men, and their dooms?" (p. 45)

Is she glimpsing the cosmos transcending humanity?

"[The ship] heeled in waves that sunrise silvered and ran with a bone in her teeth."

I had no idea what this phrase meant, and have no memory of noticing it on the first reading, but googling provided a precise explanation.

Turning over the page, we find, at the beginning of Chapter X:

"Long before this, one Ulf, son of Bjalfi, dwelt in Sygnafylki in Norway..." (p. 48)

Thus, Anderson launches another narrative about another character in another place and time. Reading late at night, we realize that the book requires more attention than we can give it right now...

Sun, Storm, Snow And Streams

Many times in his historical novels, Poul Anderson begins a new chapter not with a character's thoughts, words or deeds but with the changing seasons because, in previous centuries, these changes determined human activities throughout the year. I think that the following is a particularly effective chapter opening:

"The sun swung onward, higher and higher into the new year. Livestock began to bring forth young. Storm-winds hurled flights of chilly rain. Snow melted patch by patch; streamlets gurgled; mud squelped underfoot. Men spoke of plowing and seeding..."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book One, Chapter IX, p. 42.

This paragraph continues about women, children, youths, maidens and oldsters. But named men, individuals, do not come on stage until the following paragraph. Thus, the chapter opens with sun, animals, wind, rain, snow, streams, mud and people in general before focusing on any particular people. Imagine the comparative poverty of a text that began with the two mens' conversation. And some readers probably skip past the natural descriptions to get to the plot. But please reread Anderson to appreciate his prose and always fresh observations of nature.


In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series, the Danellians are primarily concerned about the preservation of their timeline. Are they equally concerned about the moralities of the human beings who serve them in the Time Patrol? After all, they preserve a timeline inhabited by conquerors, mass murderers and torturers. Also, human moralities have varied enormously throughout history. Manse and Wanda, born just a couple of generations apart, have opposite attitudes to hunting animals. Might there be eras when the Patrol agents think nothing of murdering or torturing to achieve their ends? And would the Danellians object? A million years is a long time and a lot of social change.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote:

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
-Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (London, 1974), p. 168.

The following paragraphs are equally insightful and are not quoted here only because of their length. From my own experience, I agree with Solzhenitsyn. To answer his question: I am willing but unable to destroy that part of myself - but Zen is the practice of inner awareness, not violence.

The Service in James Blish's The Quincunx Of Time is described as an Event Police, not a Thought Police. The Service receives messages transmitted in the future and uses that information to cause future events. However, those who use the Dirac transmitter must never mention the date of anyone's death. The Event Police must not become an Assassins' Guild - but could the Time Patrol become that?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Runes And Seid

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book One, Chapters VI and VII.


Some words are familiar; others are not. All benefit from elucidation.

A stave can be a stanza or a runic symbol. Either fits on p. 31.

Gunnhild's father says that Odin brought runes "'...back from the far side of death...'" (p. 37) but that the magic called seid is unworthy whereas the Wikipedia article says that Freya of the Vanir taught seid to the Aesir, who include Odin.

Mother Of Kings begins to feel like an Encyclopedia. Anyone merely following the narrative misses many meanings but knows that this is a rich text. We have learned about Normandy and seid. There is no knowing what we will find next.

In the image, Odin rides Sleipnir, according to one interpretation, but what does he hold in his left hand?

Burning And Burial

(Tomorrow, Sunday, I will drive from the North West to the South East of England, not to return until the following Sunday. I will take my lap top and expect to have Internet access but you never know.)

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003).

"Kraka's death having been foreseen, the pyre was ready, the grave dug." (p. 25)

Pyre and grave? Is she to be burned or buried? Both, apparently. At the burial ground, beside "...the newest filled pit..." (ibid.), Gunnhild addresses:

"...her whose ashes lay here and who maybe listened." (p. 28)

The objects buried with Kraka's ashes include a distaff (p. 25). Afterwards, there is a three day "grave-ale" - not to be found easily by googling, but there was one in "The Sorrow Of Odin The Goth."

"...Einar cut the blood eagle on the back of his father's killer..." (p. 26) (The Wikipedia article describes the case to which Anderson alludes.)

"...Hrolf, outlawed from Norway, who gathered a ship-host of Norse and Danes, roved and reaved widely, and won from the French king lordship over that land into which Northern settlers poured until it was now known as Normandy." (ibid.)

Really? Hrolf was Gunnhild's uncle. And the Duke of Normandy will conquer England when Harald Hardrada fails.

The Finns pay scot to King Harald. If each chapter yields historical and linguistic information, then it will take a long time to read through Mother Of Kings.


Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Book One, Chapter IV.

Two antisocial brothers live apart. They kill a neighbor for no good reason and refuse to pay compensation so they are outlawed. This means not that some law enforcement agency will arrest them but that anyone can and should kill them. Hiding in the wilderness, they raid, steal and kill until they are driven into another area where they commit more murders but are still "'...too woodscrafty to chase down...'" (p. 17), although hunters continue to find traces of their presence.

A woman lives alone in a shieling. A watch is set so that, when the brothers are seen to enter the shieling, men can quickly be summoned to surround it. The woman is used as bait and it does not matter that she is being raped while the men assemble. The brothers are killed. Gunnhild, visiting the shieling, was nearly raped so that, for her, this was a formative experience.

We still have "outlaws," families that quarrel with their neighbors, take the law into their own hands and are banned by the court from visiting certain parts of town. If everyone were like that, then society would be impossible and humanity would not exist. We are grateful for the degree of civilization that we possess and hope that it will be enhanced, not destroy itself.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Reading History

Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series requires us to think about history. Only thus can we appreciate the significance of Cyrus, Scipio, Stane etc. Who was Stane? He was one whom the Patrol prevented from having any influence - but we must still understand the post-Roman British history that he tried to alter.

We might go on to read some history and, of course, we need not restrict our attention to the periods directly covered by Time Patrol stories. Manse Everard does not have any mission in Russia, 1917-1989. However, he does refer to it. More importantly, what happened in Russia resulted from the Great War which, as Anderson does tell us, ended an era that had started in 1815.

Thus, I feel that my current reading of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago is very much Patrol-related. And this is our history, not just Everard's. Meanwhile, Anderson's Mother Of Kings is still on the agenda.

History, Legend And Fiction

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003).

Gunnhild was probably a Danish princess, sister of Harald Bluetooth, politically married to Eirik Blood-Ax.There is no evidence that she was unusually ruthless or a witch. However, making an enemy of the great skald Egil probably contributed to her legend -

The daughter of a Norwegian chief, she learned magic from two Finns and became "...a sinister enchantress." (p. 593)

Anderson's novel is a synthesis, as historically accurate as possible apart from incorporating the legend. His treatment of Gunnhild is analogous to Shakespeare's of Macbeth.

Eirik's father was Harald Fairhair whose great-great-grandsons included Harold Hardrada, as Anderson notes at the end of his Afterword to Mother Of Kings. Thus, Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy about Hardrada is a perfect sequel to his five Viking era novels which culminate with Mother...


Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003).

In Book One, Poul Anderson shows us a girl becoming the woman who will be the title character of the novel.

The northern lights are caused by ghosts, gods or trolls. After watching them:

"Gunnhild lingered...She wanted to show the Beings who raved abroad that she was not afraid. She would not let herself be afraid." (p. 5)

Having seen that her father is inferior in power and status to the King's son, she thinks:

"No...she would not become anyone's underling, nor would she forever be a nobody." (p. 12)

Unlike her father and brothers, she takes the trouble to learn Finnish because it might be useful. She also learns some witchcraft:

"What further witchcraft she could learn ought to give strength - strength of her own, which she might or might not choose to add to the strength of some good man. Over and above that, though, she would seek strength wherever it was to be had..." (p. 24)

(A Dianic friend told me that "witch" means "woman in total control of herself.")

"She, Gunnhild, had today been among the weak. She would never again let that come about.
'I will never yield,' said Gunnhild into the wind. 'Through me, Mother, if none else, our blood shall flow greatly.'" (p. 28)

Her father says:

"'You are a girl yet, but a she-wolf's heart is in you.'" (p. 38)

"'...we'll see whether we can kill them,' said Gunnhild." (p. 76)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Words And Seasons

Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003).

sedges (p. 12);
stockfish (p. 12);
steading (p. 12);
crock (p. 12);
to handsel (p. 13);
balefire (p. 13);
darkling (p. 13); (+ see here)
aurochs (p. 13);
wadmal (p. 14);
casting runes (p. 14);
spaewives (p. 14);
Saami (p. 14);
the norns (p. 16);
swiving (p. 16);
hoarfrost (p. 16).

Book One, Chapter IV, begins with another seasonal change:

"Summer waned; days shortened; the first sallowness stole over birch leaves; often at sunrise hoarfrost glimmered on the ground. Fields lay harvested..." (p. 16)

As in previous works, Anderson presents lives lived directly with nature and its seasons. Thus, many chapters begin:

"Spring had come..." (p. 5);
"Summer waned..." (p. 16);
"The sun swung onward..." (p. 42);
"Endlessly wheeling through summer, the sun cast light..." (p. 51);
"Winter pressed inward..." (p. 59);
"Spring came slowly..." (p. 63);
"Sunlight from the east seeped through overcast..." (p. 65).

Fast-forwarding between chapters reproduces the experience of Wells' Time Traveler or Anderson's Jack Havig. Both see the sun speed across the sky.


Poul Anderson, Mother Of kings (New York, 2003).

I have assembled a few words words requiring either explanation or at least further elucidation:

knarr (p. 6);
narwhal (p. 7);
hersir (p. 8);
garth (p. 9);
wattle (p. 9);
night-gangers (?) (p. 9);
thralls (p. 9);
fjord (p. 9);
jarl (p. 10);
leman (p. 10);
strand-hewing (?) (p. 10);
halidom (p. 11);
crofters (p. 11);
skalds (p. 12).

That brings us to the end of Chapter II of XIX in Book One of Six.

Northern Lights And Gods

Other reading:

Caesar's aunt, Julia, was Marius' widow!;
Gulag recalls 1984 (disappearances) and Bond (SMERSH).

After its opening paragraph, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003) introduces the people in the hall and the relationships between them:

the lord of the hall, Ozur;
his wife, Kraka;
their son, Eyvind;
their daughter, Gunnhild;
Ozur's Finnish concubine, Seija;
his loyal man, Yngvar.

I deduce these relationships from what is said about the characters in the opening dialogue. If I have misread any of it, the truth will emerge.

The second page gives us another evocative two-word sentence, "Wind yelled." (p. 4) - and a dramatic, colorful account of the northern lights:

"The sky was a storm of northlights. They shuddered and billowed, huge frost-cold banners and sails, whiteness streaked with ice blue, flame red, cat's-eye green." (ibid.)

Movement, size, coldness, white, blue, red and green. Three witnesses give different explanations -

Seija: ghosts dance;
Gunnhild: the watchfires of the gods;
Yngvar: troll-fires.

Seija raises her arm, writhes her fingers and wails. Yngvar makes the sign of the Hammer. He also says that a falling star is where "'...Odin cast his spear.'" (p. 5) This is the Pagan experience of nature.

On p. 5, the season changes again, reminding us of similar passages in The King Of Ys and Time Patrol:

"Spring had come, sunshine that melted snow till streams brawled down mountainsides, hasty rains, skies full of homebound wanderbirds, suddenly greenness everywhere, blossoms, sweet breezes, the promise of long days, light nights, and midsummer, when for a while there would be no night at all. In clear weather the fjord glittered as if Ran's daughters had strewn silver dust." (p. 5)

We remember the Star of the Sea.

Historical And Contemporary

For practical purposes, we distinguish between the historical and the contemporary. If a fictional work is set in 1850, then its characters are involved in the historical processes of the nineteenth century although they lack their readers' knowledge of what comes next. In the same way, we now are involved in the historical processes of the twenty first century although we lack our descendants' knowledge of what comes next.

Poul Anderson addressed our role in history by writing historical fiction and future histories. By contemplating the entire range of his works, we can locate ourselves as midway between the Roman Empire and the Terran Empire - or other possible futures. Are interstellar empires impossible? Not when reading Anderson's account. But he describes other completely different kinds of futures as well.

Modern writers have an additional problem. Writing in 2015 but setting a novel just a few years ago, e.g., in 2010, the author must ensure that he does not refer to any information and communications technology that is in use now but was not then. Thus, the historical impinges ever more closely on the contemporary.

Wind Gusts And Snarls

Poul Anderson's historical novel, Mother Of Kings, was published at the very beginning of the twenty first century. Its opening paragraph -

"Wind snarled and skirled. Smoke from the longfire eddied bitter on its way upward, hazing lamps throughout the hall. Shadows flickered. They seemed to bring the carvings on pillars and wainscots to uneasy life. Nightfall came fast at the end of these shortening days. Soon there would be nothing but night."
-Poul Anderson, Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), p. 3.

- sets a familiar scene in a recognizable style: a lamp-lit hall, sounds, sights and seasonal change, impersonal description, alliteration and a two-word sentence. It also recalls the opening paragraph of "The Sorrow of Odin The Goth" -

"Wind gusted out of twilight as the door opened. Fires burning down the length of the hall flared in their trenches; flames wavered and streamed from stone lamps; smoke roiled bitter back from the roof-holes that should have let it out. The sudden brightness gleamed off spear-heads, axheads, swordguards, shield bosses, where weapons rested near the entry. Men, crowding the great room, grew still and watchful, as did the women who had been bringing them horns of ale. It was the gods carved on the pillars that seemed to move amidst unrestful shadows..."
-Poul Anderson, "The Sorrow Of Odin The Goth," 372 IN Time Patrol (New York, 2006), pp. 333-334.

The latter paragraph should be read in full although I have shortened it for quotation purposes. It is longer, describes not only a hall but also its occupants and includes both a short list-description and one item of vocabulary that I googled. I think that I know what such words mean but then find that I don't, exactly.

Meanwhile, a good start to Mother Of Kings.