Sunday, 16 September 2012

Patrick And Hardrada

Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword (London, 1977) succeeds Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys tetralogy in two respects. It refers not only to Ys but also to Patrick who brought the White Christ to Ireland. The younger Patrick, under an earlier name, is a minor character in the tetralogy.

By inversion, The Broken Sword also anticipates Anderson's Last Viking trilogy. In that work, Harald Hardrada's men, sailing as far north as possible, find not the mythical realm of Jotunheim but increasing cold and icebergs and have to turn back. The trilogy is historical fiction, not fantasy.

By contrast, Skafloc, the hero of The Broken Sword, sails north towards Jotunheim in an earlier period when Faerie still interacted with Midgard. Skafloc and the Irish god, Mananaan Mac Lir, in Mananaan's boat:

"...sailed farther than mortal ship would have gone ere sighting land..." (p. 156)

Tolkien's Silmarillion presents the idea that sailors occasionally follow not the curve of the Earth but the older straight path to the True West. Skafloc and Mananaan sail a similar course but to the north.

Like Harald's men, they too enter colder waters but, for them, "...moon and stars were wheeling awry..." and:

"Skafloc thought this realm could not lie on earth at all, but in strange dimensions near the edge of everything, where creation plunged back into the Gap whence it had arisen. He had the notion that this was the Sea of Death on which he sailed, outward bound from the world of the living." (p. 156)

- an entire page of foul winds, snow, sleet, gales, icebergs, fogs, storms, waves, then at last land with mountains, glaciers, crags, ice-fields, screaming wind, ancient snow and cliffs of appropriate size for Giant Land, under which the god's boat crawls "Antlike...," cliffs so high that the wind above them "...might almost have been blowing between the stars." (p. 159)

This is as close to a space journey as could have been imagined in a period when the way to travel beyond Midgard was not to fly beyond the atmosphere but to sail beyond the horizon, beyond the sunset or, in CS Lewis' Dawn Treader, beyond the sunrise. Ships had not yet become spaceships.

Addendum, 13 Aug 2015: There is a third connection with Ys. Mananaan is the son of Lir, one of the Three of Ys.

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