Friday, 28 September 2012

Novelistic Story Telling

Despite its story telling techniques derived from sagas, Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) sometimes reads like a novel. Chapter V, "The Tale Of Bjarki," Section 4, describes "...Bjarki's trek..." and almost gives us his point of view:

"He had pushed on hard in his eagerness, and at nightfall found himself on a lonely stretch of heathland, soaked through." (p. 168)

Remember this is being narrated not by the omniscient author who can display a character's inner thoughts and feelings directly to the reader but by a Danish woman to an English court centuries after the events described so we expect from her a more objective, external, factual account along the lines of the opening phrase:

"There was a man..." (p. 3)

Possibly, Bjarki told someone that he had been eager, then soaked. Possibly, this information was included in the oral tradition transmitted by the Danish woman Gunnvor to the court of King Aethelstan. But this amount of subjective experiential detail seems unlikely.

Anderson is writing a novel. Sometimes the framing device of the saga recedes further into the background and the modern author directly addresses his readers, although he nevertheless stops short of the kind of direct incursion into Bjarki's mind that would be involved in telling us, for example, that Bjarki wondered if he would receive hospitality, remembered having received it on similar occasions in the past etc.

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