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.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

SAGA Entry 2: Poul Anderson

An American author of Scandinavian descent, Poul Anderson was a giant in the genre of 20th century science fiction. These two hugely influential sword and sorcery novels earned him a place in the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA).

The Broken Sword (1954) is a strangely paced tale that entwines fairy-tale style elves and trolls with historical Vikings and Anglo Saxons. Taking its cue from the Norse sagas, it tells of the son of Orm the Strong who is replaced in his crib by a changeling who grows up to be a doom-bringer to all his people. Orm's real son is raised by the elves as 'Skafloc'. There is also the matter of the titular broken sword - a theme present in the Norse sagas and also used by Tolkien (who's first volume in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was published the same year).

Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961) was based on Anderson's novella printed in Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1953. Starting in wartime Europe, Danish resistance fighter Holger Carlsen - in true Burroughsian fashion - is sent hurtling through space and time by an explosion and winds up in another world. This pseudo-medieval world is under siege by the evil of 'Faerie' and Carlsen (who now goes by 'Ogier the Dane') discovers that this is where he is most at home.

Both books are essential reading in the sword and sorcery genre, not least for their influence on other writers. Michael Moorcock has credited The Broken Sword as a major inspiration in writing his Elric tales and the alignment of creatures and characters into the groups of 'law' and 'chaos' as shown in Three Hearts and Three Lions was used in the game system of Dungeons and Dragons the following decade.

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