Poul Anderson's "Northern Cycle": Part One


We have not had a post dedicated to the late, great Poul Anderson on the DMR blog up 'til now. I missed his birthday in November and this situation simply cannot stand. Poul was a huge influence upon younger sword and sorcery authors such as Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner and Keith Taylor. His novel, The Broken Sword, stands as one of the finest examples of "Nordic fantasy" ever written.

In my view, most of Poul's historical fiction/fantasy can be grouped under a Viking/"Northern Thing" umbrella. All of it is worth reading. Much of it is "must read." The books can be looked upon as telling the history of the Scandinavian North from Roman times through the Renaissance. Poul was of Danish descent and actually lived in Denmark for a few years as a child.

Poul's The Golden Slave novel would be the first, history-wise. Poul wrote it in the 1950s--the same period as The Broken Sword--when epic historical novels full of blood and sex were selling like crazy. It follows the adventures of Eodan, a Cimbric warrior captured and enslaved by the Romans. He escapes and the rest of the book involves his quest to rescue his enslaved wife and the relentless pursuit by her former master, a Roman noble. Despite the cover, which really is only pertinent to the first third of the book, this is a rip-roaring adventure with a cool twist at the end. 

In The War of the Gods, Anderson retells the legend of Hadding, king of Denmark. Hadding is a very shadowy figure. If he existed at all, it might've been around 300 A.D. Poul brings the tale of Hadding back out of the shadows, filling out scant clues with his deep knowledge of the North. This is full-on Nordic fantasy, complete with gigantic jotuns and all. One of Anderson's last novels but chocked-full of mayhem and passion.


Chronologically, Hrolf Kraki's Saga would be next.* Hrolf is basically the Danish "King Arthur," complete with an unusual birth, a notable sword and a stalwart war-band. His father was brother to King Hrothgar in Beowulf. If Hrolf existed-I'd like to think he did--then the story takes place one generation after Beowulf. Poul, as he often does in tales of this type, doesn't try to set things in sixth century Denmark. Not exactly, anyway. He presents it as being told by a noblewoman of the Viking Age, complete with anachronisms. The tale is the thing. Hrolf Kraki's Saga is first-class "Viking" fantasy. Lusty, bloody and doom-ridden. My thanks go out to Keith Taylor for turning me on to this classic back in high school.

Well, that's all the time I have for this one. It will probably require two more segments to finish up. We'll see when I get to those.

*Anderson's "King of Ys" heroic fantasy tetralogy, which I consider to be somewhat connected to his "Northern Cycle," takes place in the late fourth century AD. Germanics of several types figure in it throughout.