Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Piecing together Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword

My review/revisit/recap of/love letter to Anderson's magnificent 1954 novel is up on the blog of Tales from the Magician's Skull. Check it out here.

I wrote this without re-reading the book, but writing it prompted me to pick up The Broken Sword once more and go to war against Trollheim. It's as good as I remembered; I don't feel betrayed by my considerable nostalgia.

TftMS has a 1,000 word cap which I sometimes stray over a little but is nevertheless challenging to write within. I allude to some things in my review that are deserving of a standalone essay. Like Skafloc/Valgard being two halves of a broken sword. Tyrfing feels to me like a symbol of unleashed weaponry best left on the scientists' notebook. I can't help but wonder if Anderson felt the shadow the mushroom cloud, writing as he did in 1953-54. "Yet this is the curse on it: that every time it is drawn it must drink blood, and in the end, somehow, it will be the bane of him who wields it."

We have a potential end to unending conflict in the teachings of the new White Christ. "Was the White Christ of whom she had told a little not right in saying that wrongs only led to more wrongs and thus at last to Ragnarok; that the time was overpast when pride and vengefulness give way to love and forgiveness, which were not unmanly but in truth the hardest things a man could undertake?"

Alas we have forgotten the lesson. No one turns the other cheek, but strikes back with harder force. And so it escalates.

I love this line too; we can meet Ragnarok with bravery at least:

"None can escape his weird; but none other can take from him the heart wherewith he meets it."


Dan said...

I have a much-loved copy of the 1971 Ballantine edition and consider The Broken Sword to be an all-time great. I would love to track down and read a copy of the 1954 original.

Jack said...

Good post - it inspired me to re-read it myself. Thanks from one of your new readers!

Brian Murphy said...

Dan: So would I... interestingly the Bronson Pinchot audiobook I have uses the 1954 original text. But I'd kill for a hardcover.

Thanks Jack! That means a lot. Curious how you found me here?

one of us! said...

Inspired by your post, I'm listening to the Bronson Pinchot audiobook and loving it! Unlike what I expected, it's less Sword & Sorcery than Pseudo-Saga (in my view), even tolkienesque in that regard. Closer to "Children of Húrin" than to Conan.

Brian Murphy said...

Hey One of Us!, glad I could steer you toward this awesome book.

The Broken Sword is less sword-and-sorcery then I've probably led you to believe. It blends Saga and even myth with its inclusion of gods of multiple pantheons. I kind of steer it back toward the S&S camp by pointing out that it centers on a single character, Skafloc, who is at times Conan-esque or at least described with some similar turns of phrase (yes, Valgard also has some POV chapters, but he is a dark side of Skafloc); the fact that Anderson was of the Amra crowd; and of course that The Broken Sword is pre-Tolkien or at least pre-LOTR Tolkien (published in '54, the same year as Fellowship, so LOTR influence is impossible). Anderson discovered REH in the late 40s and was influenced by that side of the house, in addition to some of the same sources Tolkien was (Saga, etc.)

In the end it doesn't really matter where Anderson fits, not nearly as much as he wrote an awesome story.

one of us! said...

"In the end it doesn't really matter where Anderson fits, not nearly as much as he wrote an awesome story."
Absolutely! Finished it yesterday. Awesome is the word.
Anyway, you make a very compelling argument about the links between S&S and the Icelandic sagas in "Flame and Crimson". I'd say the main difference maybe is that saga heroes tend to be tragic heroes and men of fate, whereas S&S protagonists, not so much.

Brian Murphy said...

Glad you liked it man. Recommend it to others and keep The Broken Sword alive!

I love the way fate is handled in Saga and the Northern tradition--incredibly complex (how much can it be altered, how does it intersect with free will). I agree it's not typically something you see in S&S but there are exceptions, for example Moorcock uses this in the Elric stories (I'm thinking of "Sailor on the Seas of Fate").