Friday, September 17, 2010

Poul Anderson

Many years ago I attended a Science Fiction convention and was touring the art show. There were few people around as I stopped in front of a particular painting that caught my eye. Moments later, a man stood next to me telling me his opinion of the art work. I turned to give him my opinion and saw the name on his badge. It was the author Poul Anderson. We chatted a few minutes, then moved on our separate ways. Sadly, Mr. Anderson passed away last week, leaving two literary genres bereft of a talented, imaginative author. Though primarily a Science Fiction writer, Poul Anderson made several contributions to the Fantasy genre too. He created many vivid Fantasy worlds with memorable characters and themes.

Mr. Anderson used Norse mythology for some of his Fantasy books. It is prevalent in The Broken Sword. A human is taken by the elves and replaced by a changeling of half elven and half troll heritage. The human is brought up to handle iron which the elves can’t handle. His changeling counterpart longs to be human. Both are betrayed by their respective worlds that sets a battle in motion which will destroy worlds and the gods. Into this mix comes Scafloc, the hero with a sword that demands blood. This is a bloody story that reads like the old sagas. It is a classic, but reads fast and does have some minor flaws since this is one of the author’s earlier books.

Three Heart and Three Lions is another of Mr. Anderson’s stories with Norse elements. Holger Carlson is an engineer from our world. After a bullet grazes his skull, he wakes up in a Fantasy world where he is expected to be a hero of prophecy to stop the forces of Chaos. Holger is helped by a swan maiden and Hugi the dwarf. Holger must figure out what his part is in this this world of Charlemagne’s paladins. It is a light Fantasy with likable characters and the usual themes of honor that appear in many of this author’s works.

In A Midsummer’s Tempest, Mr. Anderson used Shakespearean and Arthurian elements. Shakespeare’s plays a re historical chronicles of fact in this Fantasy world. Railroads have been built two hundred years earlier than in our reality. Oberon and Titania of Fairy become involved in the war between the Royals and Roundheads to help the King. Along with the Fairy folk, denizens from Arthurian legend get involved too. This book is full of a lot of action and humor that readers can enjoy.

The Merman’s Children is a serious tale about the Merfolk and humanity. It revolves around the themes of Paganism, Christi anity, having a soul and the conflicts of these issues. Four children, half human and half Merfolk, must grapple with their heritage while searching for their Merman father. This is one of Mr. Anderson’s most poignant books. It is filled with descriptive images of life in the sea. Characters must answer the question: Is it worth giving up the sea in order to gain an immortal soul?

Poul Anderson is gone, but he left many entertaining good books for readers to enjoy. He wrote many adventure Fantasy stories with a strong sense of honor and compassion. His characters have many touches that make them human, memorable and likable. Readers have a lot to mourn in the loss of this talented author that wrote in two genres. For me, I will always remember a quiet gentleman that shared his opinions and conversation with me one afternoon at an SF convention art show.

NOTE: Many of these books are out of print, but should be available at used bookstores.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Meditations on Middle-Earth

J.R.R. Tolkien influenced many fantasy authors with his works. One book that explores this influence among writers is Meditations on Middle-Earth edited by Karen Haber. It contains essays written by various Fantasy authors about how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings affected and inspired them. The book is interesting not so much because it is about Tolkien, but that it provides insights on the various Fantasy authors and how their careers were shaped by Tolkien. Readers will discover several interesting essays in this book.

Fantasy author Raymond Feist would like to consider Tolkien the grandfather of the Fantasy genre. He feels that Tolkien helped create the publishing of Fantasy books with Lord of the Rings. The book influenced Feist as a reader and a writer. As a reader, he felt Tolkien appealed to him with its sense of adventure and a complex world. As a writer, Tolkien gave Mr. Feist a start with idea s that led to the creation of his Fantasy world of Midkemia. He feels Fantasy authors owe a debt of thanks to Tolkien for his grand creation.

Another author inspired by Middle-Earth is Charles de Lint. This author feels that Tolkien woke up his sense of wonder. What impressed him was the Story, with fleshed out characters and good themes. He believes few Fantasy books do that today. There needs to be a balance between imagination and reason as Tolkien believed. A Fantasy book needs a strong story and interesting characters to touch the hearts of readers. Mr. de Lint practices this in his writing.

Tolkien’s influence stretches to women authors too. Robin Hobb’s essay talks about growing up in Alaska and Lord of the Rings making a strong impression on her. As a writer, he raised the bar for her to make writing Fantasy a challenge for her. She learned that a Fantasy story can have depth. Ms. Hobb’s essay is interesting and thoughtful. It has wonderful insights on how Tolkien’s work sent a generation of writers on a quest.

One of the most interesting essays is by Orson Scott Card. In “How Tolkien Means,” he talks about how literary critics and scholars miss what most readers understand in Tolkien’s books. Tolkien felt that stories need to be experienced, not decoded. He wants readers to enjoy the story and not worry about symbols. Mr. Card goes on to elaborate on this point for the rest of the essay. This is a very interesting, thoughtful essay that Fantasy readers will enjoy.

In “The Myth-Maker,” Fantasy author Lisa Goldstein discusses why Lord of the Ringsis so powerful a work. She thinks it is because people have a need for myth. Tolkien fed that need with his poetic language and mythic rhythms. He provided an epic experience for readers at a time it was needed. Ms. Goldstein gives a clear, concise viewpoint on Tolkien’s works.

Meditations on Middle-Earth edited by Karen Haber is an interesting book of essays. Various Fantasy authors write about how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings changed their lives and influenced their writing. Fantasy grew as a genre thanks to Tolkien’s book. He speaks to something in every reader through story, language and mythic patterns. This is an informative companion piece that will enhance a reader’s understanding and enjoyment of Tolkien. Try it out.