Monday, 24 September 2012

Saga And War III

Both Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973) and War Of The Gods by Poul Anderson retell ancient stories but the latter flows more smoothly as a novel which is why earlier I remembered it as "better written." In War..., a single narrative recounts the career of the Danish king Hadding from infancy to death. By contrast, the Saga, its story reconstructed from fragmentary manuscripts, is episodic, covering seven generations of the Danish dynasty with the title character not born till the sixth.

However, Anderson writes in the Foreword:

"The hero is no one of them, but rather the blood of Skjold the Sheaf-Child, which coursed through many different hearts." (p. xx)

(Hadding was an earlier Skjoldung.)

In Chapter II, "The Tale of Frodhi," the two young sons of a deposed king, who have been living as farm hands, implausibly get physically close enough to their usurping uncle to overthrow him. Their foster father and brother-in-law, who have sworn loyalty to the usurper, give the boys limited but sufficient help without breaking their oaths of loyalty as legalistically interpreted. As Anderson comments:

"Love, loyalty, honesty beyond the most niggling technicalities, were only for one's kindred..." (p. xix)

"...we today need a reminder that we must never take civilization for granted." (p. xx)

War... is sufficiently unified by its single central character whereas Anderson unifies the Saga by inventing a tenth century narrator in the court of a Christian king. The king's bishop patronizingly allows the recital of a heathen story because, by understanding heathens, Christians might bring them to the Faith. The narrator explains details like how halls were built in the Northlands.

Both the Saga and War... have mythological settings. The Saga summarizes the myth of how Odin's son, Skjold, and the goddess Gefion founded the kingdom whereas War... begins with the war between Aesir and Vanir. All Skjoldungs are descendants of Odin of the Aesir and Hadding is also an incarnation of Njord of the Vanir.

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