Friday, November 26, 2010

Appendix N: Poul Anderson's "The Broken Sword"

Published in 1954, the same year as Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring saw publication, it is tempting to compare Anderson's novel to the Ring Trilogy. Both works are influenced by Norse mythology, shades of the Poetic Edda are obvious in The Broken Sword; however, while Tolkien took Norse Mythology and molded it to fit his vision of Middleearth, Poul Anderson took a more literal approach with The Broken Sword. Perhaps a weakness of Sword is that it reads as if written by a writer trying too hard to emulate a story form he obviously holds in high regard.

There were moments while reading passages of the novel that I found myself doing an inward eye roll. That aside, it is a delightful read and is without a doubt a true classic of Sword and Sorcery literature. I am careful to not say Fantasy in the generic sense. While it is a novel that would fall under the large banner of Fantasy in the genre sense, I would consider it more in the vein of Sword and Sorcery. Not quite in the vein of the works of Robert E. Howard or Fritz Lieber, but more similar to that of Lord Dunsany or even William Morris.

I only make this distinction as Poul Anderson does not attempt to create his own world here; while Tolkien took his Norse influences and created his own world clearly outside of the boundaries of reality, Anderson's tale takes place in a fictionalized England during the period of Viking incursions. Populace superstitions of the realm of Faerie are real and can be sensed from time to time upon the margins of society. Anderson's Faerie realm is perhaps a dimension which shares our own. As are the realm of Jottenheim and the Norse Gods.

Anderson's elves are not Tolkien's elves. They are, in Dungeons & Dragons terminology, Chaotic. The affairs of mankind not only do not interest them, they are perhaps beneath them. Here is perhaps the first influence which can be seen upon the development of Dungeons & Dragons. Comparing this novel to Anderson's novel Three Hearts and Three Lions, in which a definite alignment system is developed by Anderson, the rudimentary beginnings of on alignment system may be viewed in The Broken Sword, although it is not clearly as drawn out. Perhaps also an early influence upon what would become the standard Troll in D&D is here as well:

...arms like tree boughs that hung to their knees...Their skin was green and cold and slippery...few of them had hair...eyes set far into bone-ridged sockets, were like skulls.
The realm of Fae as presented by Anderson in his novel is in tune with that of Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter or the many works of William Morris. In my own personal vision of Dungeons & Dragons, this vision of the realm of Faerie would have more heavily influenced the game.
I've read that Anderson was inspired by H. Rider Haggard's The Saga of Eric Brighteyes, but having not read it myself I can not speak to that. I have also read that the broken sword of Anderson's novel inspired Michael Moorecock to create Stormbringer the famous sword of his Elric stories. Having read those, I can see the influence.
My copy of The Broken Sword came from a local used book store. A quick search of Abe Books coughed up several copies ranging from .69 to 20 plus dollars. It should be noted that an earlier version of the novel appeared in 1954. The work was rediscovered by Lin Carter and printed as the twenty-fourth volume of his Ballentine Adult Fantasy Series in 1971. My copy is a fourth printing from Del Rey this is the same as the version printed by Lin Carter, but missing his introduction. Anderson says this:
...without changing the story, I did allow myself a number of textual emendations...I did not rewrite end to end...I have trimmed away a lot of adjectives and wordbrush, corrected certain errors and inconsistencies, and substituted one Person (in one brief though important scene) for another who didn't really belong there.
Also in Anderson's forward, he openly admits that this novel could not be written by the same author who would later write Three Hearts and Three Lions:
This young, in many ways naive lad who bore my name could, all unwittingly, give readers a wrong impression of my work and me.
As I stated earlier, this is not Poul Anderson's strongest work, but time spent reading it is time well spent for lovers of Fantasy and/or Dungeons & Dragons.
As a note for the purists out there, an edition by Gollancz was published in 2002 titled The Broken Sword (Fantasy Masterworks). I have not seen this edition, but from what I understand it is exactly as the story appeared in 1954 prior to the 1971 Ballentine edition. For myself, I enjoyed the novel enough that I am seeking out the Gollancz copy so I may compare the two; however, the Gollancz edition is no longer in print either. Amazon lists new copies from $48.67 and used versions (some in hardcover) from $5.62.
I encourage you buy local and buy often.

No comments:

Post a Comment