Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gemmell’s Legend remains a rousing call to arms

I love pre-battle speeches. Arnold’s “Than to hell with you!” prayer to Crom before the battle of the mounds, and Theoden’s exhortation to the Rohirrim just before their charge on the Pelennor Fields (“spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered!”), to name two, make me want to pick up spear and shield and wade into the fray (of course Kenneth Branagh’s Band of Brothers/St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V remains the best). Even though I’d never want to fight in a real shield wall, the power of these speeches admittedly give me second thoughts.

That’s probably why I loved reading David Gemmell’s Legend (1984) so much. Gemmell’s debut novel is more or less a buildup to (and execution of) a monumental battle scene, and its rousing, inspirational speeches don’t disappoint. In terms of the printed page Legend ranks right up alongside Steven Pressfield’s spectacular Gates of Fire for galvanizing battle-speeches.

Here’s one sample as delivered by Druss, the eponymous “legend” from whom the novel derives its name. Druss is an aging warrior and a veteran of innumerable battles who dusts off his axe Snaga and treks to the defense of the fortress Dros Delnoch, like an aging athlete coming out of retirement to prove he can still play. On the eve of the final battle, he rouses the outnumbered Drenai to stand with him, one last time:

“Some of you are probably thinking that you may panic and run. You won’t! Others are worried about dying. Some of you will. But all men die. No ever gets out of this life alive.

I fought at Skeln Pass when everyone said we were finished. They said the odds were too great, but I said be damned to them! For I am Druss, and I have never been beaten, not by Nadir, Sathuli, Ventrian, Vagrian, or Drenai.

By all the gods and demons of this world, I will tell you now—I do not intend to be beaten here, either!” Druss was bellowing at the top of his voice as he dragged Snaga into the air. The ax blade caught the sun and the chant began.

“Druss the Legend! Druss the Legend!”

If you like the above monologue, you’ll probably love Legend. If not, well, there’s always Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Black Gate website .


Trey said...

I agree on all points. Legend gets me too. It would make a great film.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Haha...Magic Kingdom for Sale! Oh, man, that had me laughing.

I often go back to books I enjoyed in my childhood/adolescence, and sometimes am surprised at how good they are, but more often am surprised at how poorly they are written. I looooved the "Myth" books by Robert Asprin, for example, but when trying to read them now...

Wickedmurph said...

I picked up the graphic novel of Legend recently - it was pretty good. I've always been fond of Druss - he's a mean old bastard, but he knows his business.
Although it doesn't have the pre-battle speeches, I found the death of Coltaine in The Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson to be as emotionally affecting as some of the pre-battle bits. "Spears shall be shaken" is still pretty much my favorite.

As far as Magic Kingdom goes, I liked some bits of that - the concept of the Paladin was something I found pretty interesting, for example.

Brian Murphy said...

Trey: I'd love to see a Legend film, too. Having watched the Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields sequences from The Lord of the Rings, I can't see why it couldn't be done (other than budget).

Eric: I couldn't resist, Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold is not one of my favorites. I reviewed the audio book for a couple years ago and it was all I could do to finish it. My review is here:

Wickedmurph: I have not read anything by Erikson yet--is his stuff any good? Any recommendations?

Wickedmurph said...

Erikson is a funny one for me in terms of recommendations. Personally, I think that Deadhouse Gates is the single best fantasy book ever written.

But. And boy is there a but.. the whole work is not super-accessible. Gardens of the Moon basically picks up at an arbitrary point in the overall chronology, and leaves it up to the reader to put in the time and effort to sort out WHAT. THE. FUCK. IS. GOING. ON.

All the stuff that is going on is super-cool, with interesting characters (who die a lot of the time - which is a plus for me - Njall's Saga is a favorite style of mine). But it's a hard go getting really into the series.

The payoff can be massive - it's a multi-layered, enormous work of fantasy - like 10 or 11 Lord of the Rings.

Imagine if the whole Silmarillion was written like Lord of the Rings, but the story picked up in the middle of the story of Beren and Luthien, and didn't really fill in the previous history part, except in flashbacks and stories from other characters.