Book: The Broken Sword - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: The Broken Sword
Monday, 11 July 2005 at 11:04 pm
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Author: Poul Anderson

Details: Originally published 1954; (c) 1971 Poul Anderson; Pub 1981 Del Rey; ISBN 0-345-29860-8

Verdict: The broken sword is pacy and the setting is cool, but it doesn't quite reach the mythic tone it seems to be aiming for.

Reasons for reading it: rysmiel enthused about it as being a progenitor to Gaiman, plus I needed something readable for the long train journey to Dundee.

How it came into my hands: Present from the ever-wonderful rysmiel

The broken sword is very nearly a tragedy in the classical sense, in that it's about a horrible and inevitable fate being played out. This makes for rather an odd plot, because you know that things can't possibly work out well. The language is very formal to convey the impression of myth, and sometimes does seem overly stilted or flowery, but not to the extent that the book is unreadable. And the storyline is locally exciting even while it's (literally) hopeless globally.

Although the characters are mythic archetypes as much as people, there is a level of emotional realism which makes the book work well as a whole. I definitely felt engaged with the real human consequences of people being fated to do horrible things to those they care for. Which of course doesn't make for comfortable reading, though I can admire the art. Valgard manages to be both extremely, even cartoonishly, evil but still somehow sympathetic, which is impressive. The moral background is skewed by the whole fatalistic aspect; yes, there are very clear good guys and bad guys, but both sides are so obviously going to end up miserable and / or dead that it doesn't work as the standard good versus evil structure.

What I most liked about tBS was the way it creates a background. The historical setting seems very solid even though obviously there's all kinds of religion and magic going on. There are lots of lovely incidental details that make the setting seem real, somehow. I also enjoyed the way it weaves together lots of different mythologies, primarily Norse, but mixed in with Christianity and what I think of as the basic fantasy mythos with elves, trolls, dwarves etc. There are some very cute ideas for how these different domains interact, too.

Thank you for bringing that to my attention, rysmiel.


Moooood: contentcontent
Tuuuuune: Foo Fighters: This is a call
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:July 21st, 2005 07:54 pm (UTC)
21 hours after journal entry, 03:54 pm (rysmiel's time)
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I twitch a little at the echoes of "tragedy in the classical sense" because the way in which that world's destiny and fate are so Northern Thing rather than Classical, at least for the principal characters who are so much of that origin. In general it's a very nice take on Northern Thing elves and dwarves and trolls, too, before they really became fantasy world furniture [ 1971 is when Anderson revised the text, the original publication was 1954 ], though I am told his Wotan is rather more a high Romantic/Goethean take on Wotan than anything period.

As I may well have said to you before, a lot of my love for this book comes from my sympathy with how well he catches the gods of Ireland and their remaining true to themselves particularly in the levels at which they refuse to get involved with the Northern Thing cosmology. Also, few things in literature have moved me like that poor faun.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:July 22nd, 2005 11:45 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:45 pm (livredor's time)
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I twitch a little at the echoes of "tragedy in the classical sense" because the way in which that world's destiny and fate are so Northern Thing rather than Classical
Yes. Goes to show I shouldn't ever dare to use imprecise language around you, my dear. *hug*

at least for the principal characters who are so much of that origin
I really do like the way the world has several mythoi which are all real! It does hark back to something else you said about the book in the context of local gods.

Northern Thing elves and dwarves and trolls, too, before they really became fantasy world furniture
Good point, I wasn't really thinking about the dating. Those kinds of magical creatures are so much the standard background for everything from D&D upwards. Though that sort of concept is not so far off the Romantic worldview, if I'm not mistaken.

[ 1971 is when Anderson revised the text, the original publication was 1954 ]
Good point, I should really fix that in my metadata, because it's more relevant than the copyright situation.

his Wotan is rather more a high Romantic/Goethean take on Wotan than anything period.
A lot of it does feel quite Romantic to me, though I'm by no means an expert on the movement.

how well he catches the gods of Ireland and their remaining true to themselves particularly in the levels at which they refuse to get involved with the Northern Thing cosmology
You hadn't said that to me, and it's not something I'd particularly noticed. Other than on the level of how cool it is that the book does not only different cosmologies but explores the interactions between them, which I keep saying I really like.

Also, few things in literature have moved me like that poor faun.
Yes, that is a very touching little cameo.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:November 21st, 2005 09:17 pm (UTC)
123 days after journal entry, 10:17 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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Oh, I've just noticed this. I must have skipped it at the time because I hadn't read the book (despite it having been on my to-read list for years).

I found the novel had a kind of raw feel to it. Anderson talks in the introduction about how it was an early work of his, and he wouldn't now write something that was as raw and violent and... did he say prolix? (I can't remember; I left my copy in Newcastle). OTOH, I'm not sure the style's inappropriate; it doesn't go as much into the characters' inner lives as does most modern fiction, but it does roughly match the style of the Vinland sagas, which are the only Norse sagas I ever have read myself.

I also also like the mixing of different theologies in it too, from the faun refugee from the theological fall of ancient Greece to the strange gods of China and Japan. The one downside to this book as I saw it was that the storyline was pretty predictable. rysmiel said the sense of everyone being doomed from the start went with the genre, and you seem to have picked up the same thing coming from the Classical angle, but this was not obvious to me, barbarous* cultural phoenician that I am.

* It's all Greek to me.
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