Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Darker Elves And Stranger Beings

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

Pictish elves are descended from elves, trolls, stolen women and "...still older folk..." (p. 96) If such interbreeding is possible, how do the various breeds remain distinct? Their mixed ancestry makes these Pictish elves shorter, heavier and darker "...than true elves..." (p. 95) So they are not true elves? Anderson seems here to be invoking the Eddaic distinction between light and dark elves although the latter are thought to be dwarves.

There are other strange beings:

elves who are master smiths with some dwarf blood, many descended from Odin or Wayland, and fighting, like Thor, with hammers;

"green-haired, white-skinned sea folk..." (p. 96), who maintained a fog for dampness on land (are these also a kind of elves?);

"...a few rustic half-gods whom the Romans had brought and afterwards abandoned..." (ibid.);

"...shy, flitting forest elves..." (ibid.)

Whereas Poul Anderson retells the stories of Hadding and Hrolf Kraki, he writes a sequel to the story of Tryfing and, uniquely among his Viking books, makes the Norse supernatural beings coexist with every other national pantheon. Thus, The Broken Sword is more akin to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and American Gods than to Anderson's own War Of The Gods or Hrolf Kraki's Saga. Immigrants bring their gods with them but can then abandon them - so there can be both half-gods brought by the Romans and "American gods" brought from Eurasia.


  1. Paul:
    Somewhat at a tangent, Michael Scott Rohan wrote a fantasy trilogy which shares its collective name with one of PA's science fiction novels: *The Winter of the World*. Rohan's *Winter* is set in a PAST ice age, suggested to be the one that ended about 11,000 years ago. The duergar -- never explicitly identified as dwarves, but it's obvious -- are evidently Neanderthals.

    The one occurrence of elves -- *alfar* -- is a set of HUMANS being slowly mutated by a godlike forest Power, at a place named "Lys Arvalen" (Avalon?). Another Power roams about, a trickster nicknamed "Raven" because he's often accompanied by a pair of them, and boy does he give off the Odin-vibes, though with a touch more benevolence. There's also major use of Finnish and a few Slavic mythological names ... and an ancient city named Kerys -- or, a very few times, Ker Ys.

    What brought this to mind is that I recently discovered that Rohan later wrote three OTHER books set roughly a thousand years before the original trilogy. And I bought them, and ... well, I expect it'll be a couple of weeks before I can devote time to commenting here again. His writing is NOT the kind of literary popcorn that a reader goes through at high speed -- not with good comprehension, at any rate.

    1. David,
      Thank you. Such comparisons are always interesting.

    2. Hi, David!

      Compared to your very interesting about Michael S. Rohan's books, I only have a few trivial remarks of my own to make. THE WINTER OF THE WORLD is not the only Anderson book title I've seen other authors using. I know of at least one other writer who used A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS as a book title. I remember wondering if that was legal, of whether this other author was violating the copyright held by Poul Anderson for his own KNIGHT book.

      And, of course ROHAN is already familiar to me in two other contexts: the kingdom of Rohan that we see in JRR Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the ancient French aristocratic family of that name.


    3. Sean,
      "By a knight of ghosts and shadows
      "I summoned am to tourney
      "Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end:
      "Methinks it is no journey."
      is from'_Bedlam.

    4. Kaor, Paul!

      Yes, I remember you discussing this poem and me reading it. But I really did see another BOOK by a different author with the same title: A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS.

      Hmmm, are you saying that because "Tom O'Bedlam" is in the public domain it's permissible for more than one author to use the same title taken from it?


    5. Sean,
      I would have thought so.

    6. Kaor, Paul!

      I'm starting to think that is the case.


    7. Sean,
      A while back, I illustrated a post with the cover of the other A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS before I realized it wasn't Anderson's!