Friday, 28 September 2012

Hrolf And His Warriors

Appropriately, Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) ends:

"Here ends the saga of Hrolf Kraki and his warriors." (p. 261)

- because the novel is not just about its title character. He is born at the mid-point of Chapter III, becomes King aged 16 in Chapter IV and dies in battle at the end of Chapter VII. Thus, he is King of Denmark, though even then not the central character of the novel, in just four of the eight chapters.

After the short explanatory Chapter I, "Of The Telling," each chapter is entitled "The Tale Of..." followed by a name or, in one case, a description. Chapter III is "...Of The Brothers." The names are Frodhi, Svipdag, Bjarki, Yrsa, Skuld and Vogg. The soap-operatic relationships between these characters define the episodic plot, reconstructed by Anderson from diverse sources:

Frodhi overthrew his brother Halfdan but was in turn overthrown by Halfdan's sons, Hroar and Helgi (the "Brothers"), who then ruled jointly;

when Helgi, then Hroar, had died, they were succeeded by Hroar's son, Hrorik, who however was overthrown in favour of Helgi's and Yrsa's son, Hrolf, whose warriors Svipdag and Bjarki married his daughters;

by witchcraft, Skuld, Helgi's daughter, enabled her husband to defeat Hrolf who, however, was immediately avenged by Vogg;

a further relationship is that Yrsa was Helgi's daughter although they had married and had a son before their close kinship was disclosed.

Thus, Helgi is kind of the unifying character:

Halfdan's son;
Hroar's brother;
Frodhi's nephew;
Yrsa's father;
for a time, Yrsa's husband;
Hrolf's father;
Skuld's father.

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