Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Cappen Varra: Conclusion

The Vulgar Unicorn, in which Cappen drinks, makes it onto a cover.

Three more unfamiliar words on one page: "...morions..."; "...feres..."; "...helve." (Poul Anderson, Fantasy, New York, 1981, p. 135)

Do Cappen and Jamie have it too easy in "The Gate of the Flying Knives"? Cappen has been warned of dark forces and grave dangers. Despite this, he and Jamie, without encountering any resistance:

approach the temple of the chief local deity some of whose devotees have kidnapped the Imperial representative's wife and her amanuensis as part of their resistance to the imposition of the Imperial cult;
break into the temple;
creep up to its roof;
pass through the gate into a parallel universe.

Here they meet the token resistance of three guards whom they quickly kill. Then they:

enter a house where they encounter only a deacon who faints when threatened;
retrieve the kidnapped women from the house;
start back, with the women, to the gate.

The second interruption to this triumphal progress comes when the chief villain emerges from the house and whistles for one of the flying monsters called "sikkintairs." Jamie kills the villain with a single cast of his spear and the sikkintair after, admittedly, a not inconsiderable battle.

The third and last obstacle occurs when they reach the gate. More sikkintairs approach from further away and would pursue through the gate. Should the four make their stand here to protect their city from the sikkintairs? At this stage, Cappen's mental acuity helps. He discerns or intuits how to close, indeed even how to annihilate, the gate after they have returned through it. It is a large, vertically suspended scroll, into which people disappear or from which they emerge, so cut down the scroll, fold it, then twist it into a Mobius strip. Now that it has only one side, it cannot have two sides, one in each universe, so it is no longer a gate. Then they pass back down through and out of the temple without any further resistance. So has this all been a bit too easy?

Jamie the Red was reminding me of someone but, of course, there is Erik the Red in history and Taury the Red in Anderson's "Flight to Forever."

Although Cappen Varra stars in only two (later: three?) stories, we recognize him as an episodic hero whose series could have been extended to a hundred installments. In each episode, he would win the prize and the lady but would then slip quietly away only to turn up "[a]gain penniless, houseless, and ladyless..." but making "...a brave sight just the same..." (p. 102) at the beginning of the next story.

However, Poul Anderson never wrote to a single formula.

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