Monday, 5 September 2016

He Knew Himself

Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions, like his The Broken Sword, is not a mythological retelling but a sequel.

The ruined and abandoned church mentioned here is called St Grimmin's and is also where Holger's sword has been hidden. As soon as he reaches the church, the story is effectively over. The Wild Hunt backs off:

"Holger heard the mare cry out once, briefly and horribly, as the roaring overwhelmed her.
"And then it was gone. The wind was gone too. Silence shot up like a scream."
-Chapter Twenty-Four, p. 151.

After all that racket, sudden silence is as shocking as a scream. The old, lame Hell Horse lurks in the graveyard but leaves when Holger and his companions enter the church. Although the steeple has fallen, the roof is gone and the windows are empty, the crucifix is intact above the fallen chancel and Holger sees "...Christ's face against the stars." (p.152)

How significant are the stars in the works of Dante Alighieri, Poul Anderson and James Blish?

When Holger holds the sword Cortana, he knows himself:

Holger Danske;
Ogier le Danois;
a prince of Denmark;
given strength, luck and love by Faeries when in his cradle;
Charlemagne's finest knight;
defender of Christendie and mankind;
defeated, befriended and wandered far with Carahue of Mauretania;
when old, was taken to Avalon and rejuvenated by Morgan le Fay;
after a hundred years, returned to defend France and was carried away again;
either waits in timeless Avalon or sleeps beneath Kronborg Castle;
"...wakens in the hour of Denmark's need..." (p. 154).

After the Wild Hunt and the Hell Horse, there is yet one more enemy. The noise of an army, the earthquake hammering of hoofs, the sound of trumpets and the clangor or arms mark the riding forth on mankind of the host of Chaos. However, after Holger's self-recognition, only one more sentence is necessary to complete the narrative:

"He rode out on the wold, and it was as if dawn rode with him." (p.154)

There has been time for only brief farewells to Alianora and Carahue. If there is one disappointment, it has all been very abrupt.


David Birr said...

According to a source I read -- I think it was *Bullfinch's Mythology* -- six Faerie ladies visited infant Ogier/Holger. One declared that he would be the bravest warrior of his time. The second stated that he'd have plenty of opportunities to prove his courage. Calling that "a dangerous gift," the third wished for him that he would never be overcome by strength of arms. (Remember that Duke Alfric said, "Let us try if indeed you are invincible....")

The fourth promised he would have the gift of pleasing; that is, charm of personality. The fifth said that all these gifts could betray him (presumably by making him stuck-up), so her magic ensured he'd have the sensibility to respond to others' affection rather than selfishly taking it as his due.

The sixth was Morgan le Fay, who was apparently already smitten by what she envisioned he'd become when grown. "Charming creature, I claim you for my own...." She decreed that he couldn't die until after he'd visited her in Avalon.

Paul Shackley said...

And Anderson's narrative fulfills those wishes.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

Very interesting! I think I have a vague recollection of reading something like that about Ogier/Holger. And we see Holger described from the very beginning as friendly and good natured. And Morgan le Fay certainly took a very PERSONAL interest in Holger!