Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More Poul Anderson

I suppose most have heard that Gary Gygax died. He was co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve never played the game, and haven’t read anything by Gygax, but I know he had a big following and was a big popularizer of fantasy. Thus I raise a toast to him.

As for my post today, it’s more on Poul Anderson (1926-2001). I don’t want to bore folks but I wanted to mention some of his other books that I really enjoyed. I’m not discussing his Dominic Flandry series, which is exclusively SF, but I did very much enjoy that series. If you want to know more about it specifically, check here

The Broken Sword is probably the best book Anderson ever wrote. It’s a mixture of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery. The High Fantasy part comes because of its setting in the magic land of Faerie, and the fact that most of the major characters are elves and trolls. However, there is also a lot of the good bloody action that usually characterizes Sword & Sorcery more. The Broken Sword is the story of Skafloc, a human child stolen and raised by elves, and of Valgard, the half-elf/half-troll who replaces Skafloc as a changeling. It also involves Skafloc's sister, who unknowingly falls in love with Skafloc. It evokes the "otherworldliness" of Fairie very well, and there are some strong battle scenes. The prose is just beautiful. It shows some similarities to the work of both Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, but I suspect most of the similarities occur because all three writers drew on similar source material from Norse and British myths.

Hrolf Kraki's Saga: Despite the name, only a small part of this book is about Hrolf Kraki, and he only gets the name Kraki toward the end. This is a good book, though, quite similar stylistically to ¬The Broken Sword¬. It even includes another incest twist. "Kraki's Saga" is much more ambitious, however, which is good in some ways and not so good in others. I would classify it as Sword and Sorcery because it focuses primarily on human heroes, though there are various half-breeds and some other supernatural entities to be found here. The Broken Sword¬ is simpler and more emotionally touching. But Anderson really does not write bad books and I liked this one quite a bit, too. When Anderson describes the northern world he is just fantastic. There is also has a powerful and well-done climactic battle, a trademark of Anderson’s work.

Fantasy is an excellent collection of Anderson's short fiction, with a non-fiction essay or two thrown in as bonus. Among the strongest stories are "A Logical Conclusion," which is interplanetary adventure (read Sword & Planet) at its best, "Superstition," which is about a future governed by "scientific" magic and is one of the more memorable tales I've read, and "Interloper," about someone surprising who saves Earth. The last story is also notable in that it has a character named "Kane" in it. The book also contains the excellent, and somewhat famous, essay "On Thud and Blunder," which is a succinct lesson that any would-be fantasy writer ought to read. There is also Anderson's contribution to the "Longbore the Inexhaustible" genre of humorous fantasy. That story is called "The Barbarian," and features one "Cronkheit." I found it considerable funnier than most such tales, but still not that good in comparison to his serious work. This collection is apparently hard to find. My copy is Tor 1981.

The Queen of Air and Darkness collects more of Anderson’s stories. It is superb, and the title story is one of my all time favorite Anderson tales and has made my short list of the best all time SF/Fantasy stories ever. It is only partially an SF story, and far more fantasy, and is tremendous both in style and in content/plot. Of the other five stories in the book, only "The Faun" seems rather slight, though I did enjoy it. The rest of the stories are good, but not nearly as powerful as the title tale.

Two other good fantasy works by Anderson are The High Crusade, which is a humorous look at 14th century humans getting loose in the universe with a captured spaceship, and Three Hearts and Three Lions, which follows a modern (1950s) earthman who is cast onto a parallel Earth where fantasy and magic are real. I liked both books, but the latter is by far the better.


ivan said...

So glad you've never played Dungeons and Dragons.

I have met a couple of addicts, and for some reason, they go into weird scenes, retaining their character's number and traits.
...Usually rich jewellers with too much time on their hands.
Seems to leave a fallout or really
messed up women. De Debbil's out to get me kind of thing.
...Maybe I just live in a town of too many cults.
Passes the time if you're a journalist writing about these things.



One of those women was reading a lot of SF. Told me of a halph-mythical hybrid creature called a Snee, that kept ambushing astronauts. Favourite passtime of the space travellers was "killing a Snee"...You had to, or the Snee would eat you. I think Snees were an invention of Piers Anthony, but I'm not sure.
I read straight fiction.
I had nothing to say about Snees and Science Fiction, save that women who read a lot of SF tend to be great lovers.
Watch out. Snee's gonna come and getcha. :)

Lana Gramlich said...

Gygax died??? You'd have thought that at his level he could have made his saving throw...

Miladysa said...

I think you are right, I would like The Broken Sword and the tale is familiar ;-D

Your posts are really enjoyable and varied. Thank you :-D

Shauna Roberts said...

After reading today's blog, I realized that I have read Poul Anderson after all—his essay "On Thud and Blunder" and his book The High Crusade. Thanks for discussing some of his works.

Travis Cody said...

I have played D&D a few times. Sometimes I enjoyed it, but mostly I found it a little too complicated.

I have read a few works from Gygax from his Greyhawk series. I don't really remember's been years since I read them.

I may have to check out more of Anderson's work though.

Lisa said...

Even though I had never heard of Gygax, I sure lived through the influence his game had on our culture. When I was in the Air Force there was a whole subculture of D&D guys. I never saw them play and no matter how animated they got in trying to explain how it worked, I could never quite picture it. I always think of "The Lone Gunmen" from "The X-Files" when I think of D&D players. R.I.P. Mr. Gygax.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Thanks for visiting my Bolts of Silk blog. I think I'll have to get my partner to read your blog! I think you have a lot of authors in common!

Greg said...

I've never read anything by Anderson, but on the strength of your description I'm gonna pick up a copy of The Broken Sword. Sounds like a good book.

Tyhitia Green said...

I've never played D&D either, Charles. I also have never read anything by Anderson, but I have heard of him, and since you really seem to like him, I'll have to check him. :*)

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, I grew up too early for it, and also lived in a small town. It's always a danger when folks get too obsessed with something like that. Maybe the women who read SF are "imaginative" and that makes 'em good lovers.

Lana, I'm afraid I had to laugh at that one.

Miladysa, let me know what you think if you read it.

Shauna, I may post some more on him as well. He was really an early influence on my wish to write.

Travis, I thought the one book I looked at by Gygax read too much like a D & D game and didn't have the feel of a novel.

Lisa, I bypassed the Gygax fever too, but I know many people who were influenced by him.

Crafty Green Poet, thanks for returning the favor. I still have quite a bit more poetry to get through over there, but Billy's piece I really liked.

Greg Schwartz, I bet you'd like it, and it's not hard to find.

SQT said...

I put a post up at my blog about Gygax simply because I think he was such a big influence on all role playing games--including the current video generation.

Too bad Anderson isn't around to write anymore.

Monique said...

You know, when I read of his death in The Time, I genuinely thought that he was the creator of dungeons and dragons my daughters used to watch every Saturday morning on the telly in the late eighties/early nineties. That was a great fun cartoon.

Michelle's Spell said...

I raise a toast to that d and d dude as well -- God knows, we need all the distractions we can get. Never played the game, but hey, I have wasted hours on Ms. Pacman Atari back in the day which can't be too healthy.

Duke Scoob said...

Thanks for taking the time for that, Charles. It lets us know up front what to expect and if it is within our individual tastes.

Based on your description, I too think I may have read one of his books, but too long ago to recall details. That being said, I'd have to say I ditto what Greg said.

Lana...that was brilliant and made me 'lol' quite literally. :D

Charles Gramlich said...

SQT, yeah, Anderson is missed.

Michelle, yep, even if I didn't play D and D, I found other creative ways to waste time. And a lot of folks had a lot of fun through him.

Duke Scoob, yes, Lana's comment really turned things on their heads.