Monday, 1 October 2012


"Who says this?" asked a guy at school. He was pointing at a short passage in a book by Poul Anderson. The passage read like dialogue but:

there were no inverted commas;
the passage was italicised;
it was not preceded or succeeded by, eg, "Everard said," or "said Everard."

I had already picked up that that was how Anderson wrote his characters' thoughts. For example, in The Guardians Of Time (New York, 1981), Everard is asked if he can help:

" 'I don't know," said Everard heavily. 'I'd like to. But I don't know if we can.'
"Because after all, my job is to condemn you and your entire world to death." (p. 213)

Everard speaks the three sentences that are inside inverted commas and thinks the italicised sentence. I assured the guy who was unfamiliar with this style that, by using italics, Anderson always makes clear the difference between private thought and public speech. But, of course, it had not been clear to him and, indeed, it was an idiosyncratic usage by Anderson.

Italicised thoughts do not always follow direct speech, as above. On p. 121, the omniscient narrator tells us in the past tense what, on a particular occasion, Everard was thinking about Harpagus and another Persian, then - new paragraph, change to italicised text - we are instead reading Everard's thoughts as he thinks them, thus in the present tense:

"Yet the memory of two men whom I killed is imprinted on my brain cells..." (p. 121)

Anderson's The Dancer From Atlantis (London, 1977) is narrated in the past tense and the third person and, apart from Chapter Two in which he does not appear, is all narrated as from Duncan Reid's point of view. However, after:

"Heavy though Reid's brain was, it lurched into motion." (p. 36)

- the text becomes Reid's present tense thoughts unitalicised:

"Where are we? When are we?" (p. 36)

He continues to speculate:

"My term paper...proved that travel into the past is impossible..." (pp. 36-37)


"...I should've increased my insurance coverage!
" 'Duncan.'
"Erissa had come back. Reid glanced at his wristwatch." (p. 39)

The initiation of dialogue by Erissa signals the return to third person and past tense. A fellow sf fan claimed never to notice details like point of view when enjoying a novel but noticing how the author presents his narrative can only enhance our appreciation of it.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I thought it made GOOD sense for Anderson to use italics to distinguish what a character thinks from what he says aloud. I had not known or realized that this habit of Anderson was something unusual.

Btw, I esp. like Frank Frazetta's cover painting for the original hard back edition of THE DANCER FROM ATLANTIS. It shows Erissa as she prepares to "dance" with a bull charging at her. Note as well the white streak in her hair, to show it was the older Erissa we see in most of the novel. A refreshing change from jacket paintings or book covers with next to zero relevance to the actual story.