Friday, 27 July 2012

The Queen Of Air And Darkness IV

I thought that the printer had omitted a space between sections five and six of "The Queen Of Air And Darkness," in The Queen Of Air And Darkness and other stories (London, 1977), but closer inspection reveals that section five describes an Outling approaching, eavesdropping on, then withdrawing from Barbo and Sherrinford so that this single section incorporates both points of view.

Mistherd, whom we have met, is accompanied by a nicor and a wraith. Wraiths can sense and send thoughts and cast illusions but this wraith reports that an invisible wall protects the car and Sherrinford's overheard conversation confirms that a generator that he keeps running protects "...against so-called telepathic influence..." (p. 26) The mystery is almost solved. Rolandic aborigines kidnap children and hold their allegiance with an illusion based on legends sensed in human minds. Sherrinford, having studied the record, theorizes that, between the departure of the last survey ship and the arrival of the first colonizing ship, the hidden natives had removed all evidence that their planet had been inhabited.

We learn more about Sherrinford who had lived in the "...densely populated, smoothly organized, boringly uniform..." city of Heorot on a planet called "Beowulf" which is surprisingly similar to Rustum in that it too has a "...lowland frontier..." and also has citizens, including Sherrinford, who "...lack the carbon dioxide tolerance level necessary to live healthily down there." (p. 29)

After eight stories about the colonization of a single extrasolar planet, Rustum, we now learn something about an interstellar civilization. Several colonies keep in laser contact. At least one of these, Beowulf, can mount an expedition around a number of planets, especially those, like Roland, that lack lasers. Sherrinford had joined an expedition and had decided to stay on Roland. He had previously told us that data had been received from Rustum. That alone suggests that the events of "The Queen Of Air And Darkness" occur long after those of the last Rustum story, which had mentioned radio contact with Earth but not laser contact with Beowulf or anywhere else. The Rustumites then had not even known whether there were other colonies.

On Beowulf, Sherrinford had been a police detective. His family had had a tradition of such work and had even:

"...claimed collateral descent from one of the first private inquiry agents on record, back on Earth before spaceflight." (p. 29)

Thus, this is at least the second Poul Anderson series in which Sherlock Holmes was a real person. Time Patrolmen can rub shoulders with Holmes but a Beowulfite can only claim descent. This explains something else. Sherrinford does not resemble Holmes accidentally but has modeled himself on him just as the Rolandic natives have modeled themselves on fairies. Sherrinford starts to speak about archetypes but breaks off. If there are telepathic natives, then he does not want to alert them that he is onto their game.

Mistherd, listening, has several more imaginative titles for his Queen:

"...the Fairest..." (p. 25);
"...she who reigned..." (pp. 25, 30);
 "...the Wonderful One..." (p. 26);
"The Garland Bearer..." (p. 29);
"...the Sister of Lyrth..." (p.29).

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