Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 diaries and Haggard’s The Wanderer’s Necklace

Yes my work desk is a bar. First world problem.
It has been an interesting last couple weeks living in the shadow of COVID-19. My company gave us the order to start working from home on Friday March 13, and save for a brief run into the office to grab my computer monitor and a couple power cords I’ve complied with that order.

This is a picture of my home office. Not a bad place to work, save for the fact that my basement is unheated. It’s quite nice for three seasons and blessedly cool in the summer, but the winter can be a challenge. It’s a lot warmer down here than the typical New England winter clime but a fair bit colder than most folks set their thermostat. With a heavy flannel shirt and often a winter hat, I’m good. I’ll supplement with a space heater as needed.

The biggest challenge I have faced is the loss of gym access. I have been a regular with the weights for my entire adult life. The timing of COVID-19 couldn’t have been worse. Back in December long before I knew of the coming pandemic I made the commitment to finally buy a home gym—rack, barbell, bench, weights. My plan was to sell off a bunch of old toys on Ebay, which have been sitting in boxed storage for decades but had some value (as it turns out, about $1,600 all said and done). I was about 90% done selling everything off and getting set to place an order when the virus hit.
If you’ve tried ordering anything from Rogue Fitness you’ll understand my pain. They are completely overwhelmed with backlogged orders. I placed my order for gym equipment on Tuesday, March 17 and it hasn’t budged. I’m doing the best I can with bodyweight exercises but it just ain’t the same as heavy iron.

Happily I have been making good progress on an H. Rider Haggard novel, The Wanderer’s Necklace (1914). This one is a classic romance in the old, pre-corrupted sense of the word. Olaf is an eighth-century Northman who is betrayed by his beautiful bride-to-be Iduna the Fair, resulting in bloody conflict. Olaf revolts against the bloodthirsty Pagan gods of the North and flees to Byzantium, where he rises in the ranks of the Byzantine Empress Irene, becoming a general in personal bodyguard. More romance ensues.

Prior to his betrayal Olaf had robbed a tomb at Iduna’s request, taking from the well-preserved corpse a fabled necklace and heavy bronze sword. The necklace is a prize beyond measure but also has a rumored curse that it will bring woe to its wearer. Thus far it has brought considerable ruin to Olaf and his circle of acquaintances. We’ll see in the next 200 pages or so the full extent of its curse.
The opening 100 pages alone have made this novel worth reading. Haggard is a skilled writer and his work describing a polar bear hunt is extraordinarily taut and well-done, fraught with ominous signs of danger and an eventual whirlwind of violence. Olaf is a reasonably well-drawn character and the plot moves apace. As a fan of “The Northern Thing” I was disappointed when the action switched from Jutland to Byzantium, but so far this one is highly recommended.

Zebra sword-and-sorcery...
It’s fascinating to me that Zebra Books retroactively claimed The Wanderer’s Necklace as sword-and-sorcery. Certainly all of the hallmarks are there: The book has some light fantastic elements grounded in a setting that is firmly historical, Olaf is an outsider and a fierce warrior when roused, etc. Plenty of action and reasonable amounts of swordplay. Haggard frames the book with a reincarnation device, as the unnamed “editor” is modern writer recalling a previous life when he once was Olaf and lived a life of adventure. Any fan of S&S will enjoy this one, methinks.

Stay healthy all, and I hope you're enjoying some good
reading of your own.


mudpuddle said...

haggard was my favorite writer, some years back... i read most of his books and greatly enjoyed them... time for a reread, maybe... tx for reminding me...

Matthew said...

I have a copy of The Wanderer's Necklace that I haven't broken into.

Mostly, I've been REreading since I've spent so much time at home. Read The Dying Earth for the second or third time. Just started a reread of the Book of the New Sun.