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'The Broken Sword', Poul Anderson



Depending on who you talk to, this is either one of the absolute greats of fantasy literature or "Never heard of it mate". It had the misfortune to come out in the same year as Lord of the Rings and seems to have been somewhat overshadowed.

I seem to remember writing the same thing about another book recently, but the similarities with Tolkien's work are once again with the story of Turin. Same influences from Finnish mythology apparently.

This time, the story concerns a war in Faerie between elves and trolls. The inhabitants of Danelaw-era England live their lives generally ignorant of all this, but some of them get drawn into the wider saga. And I use that word deliberately. I read a couple of the Icelandic sagas last year, and this has a very similar feel.

It's pretty grim. Proper dark fantasy and probably rather more influential than people realise. Michael Moorcock wrote this glowing review, in which he says it "knocks The Fellowship of the Ring into a cocked hat" and "to read it is to understand much of the origins of an alternate fantasy tradition exemplified by such writers as M John Harrison, Philip Pullman and China Miéville, who reject the comforts of the Lamb and Flag and determinedly stick closer to deeper mythic resonances."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/jan/25/featuresreviews.guardianreview18
I wouldn't go that far, but it is very good.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
lil_shepherd
May. 27th, 2010 07:25 am (UTC)
It's an interesting book, very much unlike most of Anderson's work. Yet when he does do fantasy he is generally surprisingly original. I personally prefer Three Hearts and Three Lions (Ogier the Dane, part of the Carolingian mythos) andinamac adores A Midsummer Tempest which is Shakespearean fantasy as history.

Moorcock's opinion, like his fantasy, fails to move me. (I may be prejudiced nowadays in that I found him a self-opinionated prat in person. On the other hand, that was also my impression of John Brunner, and I adore his work and respected his opinion.)

Something interesting about the Kalevala and SF - an American science fiction writer called Emil Petaja re-wrote the epic as science fiction, and that was how I first encountered it. Maybe memory makes them better than they were, but I must get them out of store and have another look.

Edited at 2010-05-27 07:26 am (UTC)
philmophlegm
May. 27th, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
I've never met Michael Moorcock* but he does come across in non-fiction writing as opinionated, to say the least. I've got Three Hearts and Three Lions in my to-read pile right now. Not really doing Shakespeare probably means that much of A Midsummer Tempest might be wasted on me. In that sub-genre, try (if you haven't) the World Fantasy Award winning 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (issue 19 of Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman'.



* Although his son Max is a friend-of-a-friend, and we've been to Wembley to see an NFL pre-season game together.
lil_shepherd
May. 27th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah.

Sandman got me back into comics when I picked up the collected edition of The Doll's House way back when. I must find our original Sandman comic collection which is, I think, back in store with most of the rest of the contemporary Vertigo ouvre.
bunn
May. 27th, 2010 09:45 am (UTC)
I don't know why, but this one didn't quite do it for me. Perhaps I just wasn't quite in the mood, but the characters seemed a bit sketchy somehow. Or maybe I just prefer happy-ever-afters.
philmophlegm
May. 27th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
It's certainly a grim tale. I like that to be honest.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )