This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chris Carlsen's 'Berserker' Trilogy

I love me a bit of sword and sorcery. These books, published in the late 70s, were really designed to cash in on the 'Conan' craze of book covers depicting mightily muscled warriors swinging improbably large axes against a backdrop of slaughter and nubile female forms. Although the Conan movie would not be released until 1982, Robert E. Howard's mighty Cimmerian was at the top of his game in the 70s with the popularity of the Frazetta-illustrated Lancer paperbacks and the Marvel comic book incarnation of the character.

As with any craze, there were a lot of crap imitations. And as always, there were a few gems too. The Berserker trilogy is one of them. Chris Carlsen was a pseudonym for Robert Holdstock whose reputation would later reach more lofty heights as the author of 'serious' fantasy like Mythago Wood and the excellent Merlin Codex. As with nearly all of Holdstock's work, the Berserker books depict a grim, gritty world full of bleak landscapes and earthy, dirty people. They are also brutally violent and contain more than a few scenes of rape.

Dealing with the theme of reincarnation, the books use an interesting timeframe. Rather than living one life after another as we might expect, the protagonist (Harald Swiftaxe, a Viking warrior cursed by Odin) finds each life taking place before the previous one. Put simply, the first book takes place during the Viking Age, the second several hundred years earlier in the world of Arthur and the Saxons, and the third even earlier during Roman Britain where a certain Boudicca is making a nuisance of herself.

I really love these books and intend to read them again soon. Holdstock... sorry, Carlsen, certainly knows his Norse and Celtic mythology and blends them well. The protagonist is an anti-hero to the full definition of the term. He is not a nice guy. But the world surrounding him isn't particularly nice either, which kind of makes his actions alright, I guess.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read these in right when they came out in 79. As I had already read everything I could find by REH and needed a fix! There not bad at all.