Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A Certain Price

Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977).

Skafloc Elven Fosterling:

"...knew that, unless he paid a certain price which he would not, he must sometime die, his life the barest flicker in the long elf memories." (p. 87)

How long are those memories? Imric thinks:

" - it is not easy to keep thousands of years straight - " (p. 86)

He also claims to have watched England "...almost since the land was made..." (p. 20)

Another elf, Firespear, is "...still a youth of two centuries..." (p. 86)

In Poul Anderson's hard sf, human beings who gain indefinitely prolonged lifespans must find different ways to cope with the problem of memory accumulation.

But I mainly wanted to address something else. In the medieval beliefs on which Anderson based this fantasy:

human beings are physically mortal but with immortal souls;
Faerie beings are physically immortal but without souls.

Thus, two kinds of immortality. Faerie are "immortal" in the sense of immune to old age or disease although not to violence - so why do they risk death by fighting among themselves? And what is the "certain price" that Skafloc would have to pay to gain physical immortality? Presumably he would have to stop having a soul but how would he do that? Have we been told - but I have missed it? Are we going to be told? Or is the process of transition from humanity to elfhood part of medieval lore? I think it is supposed to work the other way, i.e., a Faerie who accepts baptism loses physical immortality but gains a soul? I also think that this happens in The Merman's Children, which I will reread.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

A very interesting blog piece, touching as you do on points I never stopped before in previous readings of THE BROKEN SWORD to think over.

I admit to thinking it difficult to believe Imric had observed England since almost the land was made. Are we truly to think he had lived MILLIONS of years?

I don't think it would be possible for anyone who had an immortal soul to "destroy" it. I think the price Skafloc would not pay for indefinite prolongation of his life was "selling" his soul to Satan.

It's obvious why "immortal" elves would risk their lives as we see them doing in THE BROKEN SWORD: plain old BOREDOM. The ennui caused by thousands of years of life living in a static society caused many elves to seek relief by fighting and intriguing against each other.

Yes, merpeople who accepted baptism in THE MERMAN'S CHILDREN were granted immortal souls.