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.