Sunday, December 5, 2010

Appendix N: Poul Anderson's "The High Crusade"

Having read "The Broken Sword" previous to this novel, I found it an odd juxtaposition to the former. First, the tone here is much lighter. Anderson does not attempt to take his story seriously, but at the same time, he is a serious enough writer that the reader is able to take the novel seriously. Secondly, while "The Broken Sword" fits nicely into the nitch of Sword & Sorcery, or possibly just Fantasy, "The High Crusade" fits imperfectly in both Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Originally serialized in Astounding Magazine in the year 1960, The High Crusade opens with a starship landing in England during the 14th Century. The English overtake the aliens, hi-jack it and end up light years away from home in a star-spanning empire ruled by the Wersgorix, a blue-faced alien race that rules several other races through having the most advanced technology.

The story that follows is that of Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville and his exploits in which, well, not wanting to give too much away, I'll say "God Favors the English". As mentioned earlier, the tone of Crusade is much lighter then that of The Broken Sword. There are many humorous moments in this short novel, along with short spats of high adventure. The narrator is one Brother Parvus a Franciscan Monk who explains his Christian name thusly:

"...I am of low size, and ill-favored, though fortunate to have the trust of children"

Brother Parvus gives a sometimes first hand account, and when necessary, recounts details he was not present to witness. As a narrator, he works wonderfully as I never found the story jarring. Along with humor and adventure is twisted in a tale of love lost, love betrayed, love regained, the classic "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back".

The edition I have was published by Baen publishing in 2010, as a 50th Anniversary edition. It includes an Introduction by Astrid Anderson Bear, the daughter of Poul Anderson and the wife of Greg Bear. There are also five Appreciations of the novel, one each from: Diana L. Paxson, Eric Flint, Greg Bear, David Drake and Robert Silverberg. Included after the novel proper is a short story written by Anderson and in the same universe as The High Crusade titled "Quest".

"Quest"first appeared in Ares in 1983. It is set, appropriately enough, 30 years after the events of The High Crusade and tells the short tale of Sir Eric in his quest for the Holy Grail. The high moment of this story for me was a "singing sword" (a technological construct of the famous relic) that has the wrong tape inserted into it before battle. As Sir Eric rushes to confront a dragon the sword sings:

Oh, give me a haunch of ruddy beef,

And nut-brown ale in my pot,

Then a lusty wench with a sturdy arse

To bounce upon my cot--

It is a short tale, but everybit as enjoyable as its predecessor.

I pondered upon why Gary Gygax included this novel in his Appendix N. There are two possibilites, the first is in Mr. Gygax's own words:

for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartly recommend the works of these fine authors to you.

That may be reason enough, for The High Crusade is without a doubt a story that can and most likely will be enjoyed by gamers of all different lots; however, what is the direct impact of this novel upon Dungeons & Dragons?

I thought long upon this, and remembered a section in the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide in which Gygax spoke of keeping campaigns fresh and alive. He spoke briefly of having realms similiar to the lost island of King Kong, and The Isle of Dread does that well, or perhaps realms similiar to Jack Vance's Dying Earth. He then presented alternative rules for converting AD&D characters to Boot Hill and Gamma World.

In my younger gaming days, this is something that me and my friends took literally. We had six-shooters, shot guns and mutants making frequent appearances in our games. With the acquistion of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, robots and ray-guns gained heavy circulation.

Perhaps Poul Anderson's The High Crusade served as Gary Gygax's inspiration for this simple idea. Eric Flint, in his Appreciation sites Anderson's tale as heavily influencing his own genre twisting tales. Even if it were only a subliminal influence on Gygax's idea, it serves as an excellent example of what Swords & Ray-Guns could be.

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