Thursday, 20 September 2012


Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999) is a curious combination of historical fiction and heroic fantasy. Its central character, Hadding, must fight to gain and retain the kingship of Denmark. His military campaigns and dynastic conflicts are as we would expect to find them in any historical novel.

However, despite the novel's generally realistic setting, a few giants have immigrated from Jotunheim. (Not all jotuns are gigantic in stature but those that concern us here are.) The human characters accept as a given and take for granted that some genuine giants live nearby. It is possible, though inadvisable, to ride out into the wilderness to meet them. One chieftain may visit the giant Vagnhofdi with impunity because he and the giant have sworn peace with one another.

Further, the existence and proximity of such beings means that practical politics can assume also the existence of the gods. Vagnhofdi knows that, if he takes sides in any human conflict, then his adversaries will call on Thor against whom he has no defence. When Hadding hears that another jotun giant " '...hight Jarnskegg...' " is systematically attacking the subjects of a Norwegian king, he naturally asks:

" 'Has not the king called on the gods?' " (pp. 150-152)

This is a question not about religious observance but about a purely practical measure that the king could be taking, like requesting US or UN intervention in a civil war. The answer is that the king has called on the gods and that no wizard, spaewife or dream can reveal why Thor has not intervened. No one concludes that prayer does not work. It must be that there is some reason why the gods do not act.

Of course, Hadding sets off to deal with the problem. Since I have not yet reread beyond this point, any readers of this blog must either read the novel or wait for a later post to find out what happens next.

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