Sunday, 30 September 2012

Back To The Saga

After a short passage of novelistic narration, the text of Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) returns to saga-style story-telling. The narrator, no longer omniscient, does not know how a character feels:

"It may be that she was hurt...Or maybe she was only shallow...She is dead these hundreds of years and cannot speak." (pp. 241-242)

A modern omniscient narrator does not occupy the same timeline as either the characters or the reader.

Sometimes, in Anderson's fantasies, characters spontaneously speak in verse - have even developed this ability as a social skill - but the text informs us that a "Bjarkamaal" (a "call-to-arms" verse, explained earlier) puts two and a half pages of blank verse into Hjalti's mouth (pp. 243-244; 254-255).

Skuld's dark human and trollish army surrounds Hrolf's seat of government exactly like the giants and the dead attacking Asgard at the Ragnarok. Hrolf responds:

" 'Let us strive for only one thing, that our fearlessness live on in memory - for hither indeed have the strongest and bravest warriors sought from everywhere about.' " (p. 245)

This is exactly like the end of Camelot. After a last drink together, now knowing that they will die, Hrolf's warriors strive to kill as many of the enemy as they can before they are overwhelmed, as in the climactic scene of Anderson's Time Patrol story, "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth." An enemy weakened by his victory is an enemy badly harmed. ("Too high had the cost been. Winning was ashen." (p. 256))

Hrolf's men, fighting murderers and outlaws, are militarily superior but simply outnumbered, cleaving through the middle of the enemy host but leaving its flanks unscathed. Through witchcraft, the dead continue to fight. Bjarki and the troll-bear, like Thor and Jormungand, kill each other.

"Nothing did he want but to fell as many as might be before he also went down." (p. 252)

Heroism indeed.

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