Wednesday, 26 March 2014
The Man Who Came Early
Anderson, Poul, "The Man Who Came Early" IN Knight, Damon, Ed. 100 Years of Science Fiction, Book One (London, 1972), pp. 185-212.
"The Man Who Came Early" reminds us of other historical fiction by Poul Anderson. Its second sentence refers to "...the king in Miklagard..." (p. 185) and to an "Eilif Eiriksson," who had served in the Varangian Guard.
Not only is the narration first person but it is addressed conversationally to a single auditor, a Christian priest. The speaker, having seen how the English and French prosper, concedes that "...the White Christ...must be a very powerful god, to ward so many realms..." (ibid.) and is attracted by the idea of receiving a white robe at baptism. Such a garment would mildew in Icelandic weather but he would sacrifice to the household elves...
Someone who thinks thus is prepared to change his deity within the Pagan world view but is not yet making the change to the Christian world view. How many of the first generation in Northern Europe did it that way? Christianity represented civilization, a higher culture and wider trade. There were pragmatic reasons for conversion. But subsequent generations grew up in a society that had collectively changed its world view from Pagan to Christian.
We now experience social change with, potentially, a more sympathetic understanding of earlier periods. I attended a handfast ceremony in which some people were surprised to hear a prayer to the Lord Jesus. However, the bride was Christian so it was appropriate that her deity was invoked. When a Pagan seasonal ritual was held in our kitchen, my daughter quietly informed the celebrant that she did not have any religious beliefs but was advised that belief or disbelief did not matter. (That is the Christian approach.) She found that she appreciated the ceremony.
I feel attuned to a world view in which it is acceptable to invoke local gods or not as we want and also to respect other people and their gods. Attending an anti-racist rally in Trafalgar Square, I again found my fellow demonstrators queuing to receive free vegetarian food from devotees of Krishna. And, if we learn meditation from Zen monks, then we offer incense to the Buddha who, in the mythology, was a "teacher of gods and men."