Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Faerie Alliances II

(This is the last post of June. July posts will not start until some time next week.)

See Faerie Alliances.

Although the Jotuns are akin to trolls, the trolls will not call on them any more than the elves will call on the Aesir because, if those two "'...contending Powers beyond the moon...'" (p. 92) were to enter Midgard, that would initiate "'...the last battle...'" (ibid.)

How are they beyond the moon? We think of interplanetary space. However, Asgard is high in the Tree - higher than the moon? - whereas Jotunheim is to the north - beyond the horizon, thus beyond the paths of sun and moon?

When Valgard asks:

"'How does this fit with what I was taught of...the new god?'" (ibid.)

- Illrede replies:

"'Best not to speak of mysteries we cannot understand.'" (ibid.)

I find that somewhat unsatisfactory. If a fantasy author mixes his mythologies, then he is at liberty to create a new framework to incorporate diverse pantheons.

Gods protect men from Faerie. The worst outcome, for Faerie, would be if men called together upon the new white god because that would be the end of Faerie. OK. Maybe that answers Anderson's own question at the end of his Foreword:

"As for what became of those who were still alive at the end of the book, and the sword, and Faerie itself - which obviously no longer exists on Earth - that is another tale, which may someday be told." (p. 12)

Is it entirely obvious? The Faerie kept themselves invisible. Despite his prolificity, Anderson did not return to this particular theme.

Look at the image in this earlier post. The historical Jesus was a Jew but unhistorical images of Christ have been developed in diverse Christian traditions and can be adapted elsewhere. Pictures of St Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland have been used to represent a Voodoo god of serpents. So is there some basis for the idea of a Pagan Christ, e.g., a nature deity resembling traditional images of Christ but removed from the context of the Gospel narratives and Christian doctrines?

Faerie Alliances

Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977).

This "Faerie" is not a single realm ruled by Auberon but several realms, including Alfheim and Trollheim. In their coming war against the elves, the trolls' allies will be:

most goblin tribes;
demons of Baikal;
Shen of Cathay;
Oni of Cipangu;
Moorish imps;
dwarf thralls -

- whereas the elves might be helped only by some goblins and dwarves and the Sidhe. However, trollish spies have ascertained that the Sidhe will fight only if they are attacked, which the trolls will not do this time.

As with the Merseians of the Roidhunate, accurate military intelligence would disclose that the trolls use each truce only to prepare for the next war "'...while the elves loafed and intrigued among themselves and took their pleasure.'" (p. 91) It would be necessary to act on such intelligenc, with a preemptive strike, permanently depriving the trolls of the ability to wage war. I do not like to talk about extermination. In the Technic History, the Merseians on Dennitza are proof that not all of their race serve the Roidhun.

A Transcosmic Demon

Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977).

The lord of evil addresses the witch as he addresses Steve Matuchek in Operation Chaos. See also here and here. He boasts to Matuchek that he is "...the end of every hope and every faith..." (see the third link above) and tells the witch that he is:

"'...the lord of evil, which is futility.'" (p. 90)

Thus, he is not obliged to hep her fulfill her purpose, in fact the opposite. She thought that she had summoned him and that they had made a bargain but "'...that was another...'" (Odin).

"'Mortals never sell me their souls. They give them away.'" (ibid.)

In James Blish's Black Easter/The Day After Judgment, only lesser demons are summoned and men lead themselves astray without needing the Antichrist. Mike Carey's Lucifer Morningstar denies that he misleads human beings (again, see the third link above). However, that is a different version of the character, Nietzschean but not actively malicious.

The Adversary who addresses Matuchek seems to be the same being that addresses the witch, operating between universes.

A Certain Price

Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977).

Skafloc Elven Fosterling:

"...knew that, unless he paid a certain price which he would not, he must sometime die, his life the barest flicker in the long elf memories." (p. 87)

How long are those memories? Imric thinks:

" - it is not easy to keep thousands of years straight - " (p. 86)

He also claims to have watched England "...almost since the land was made..." (p. 20)

Another elf, Firespear, is "...still a youth of two centuries..." (p. 86)

In Poul Anderson's hard sf, human beings who gain indefinitely prolonged lifespans must find different ways to cope with the problem of memory accumulation.

But I mainly wanted to address something else. In the medieval beliefs on which Anderson based this fantasy:

human beings are physically mortal but with immortal souls;
Faerie beings are physically immortal but without souls.

Thus, two kinds of immortality. Faerie are "immortal" in the sense of immune to old age or disease although not to violence - so why do they risk death by fighting among themselves? And what is the "certain price" that Skafloc would have to pay to gain physical immortality? Presumably he would have to stop having a soul but how would he do that? Have we been told - but I have missed it? Are we going to be told? Or is the process of transition from humanity to elfhood part of medieval lore? I think it is supposed to work the other way, i.e., a Faerie who accepts baptism loses physical immortality but gains a soul? I also think that this happens in The Merman's Children, which I will reread.

More On The Elves

Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977).

The elf-earl Imric reflects:

"...over unforced love, the gods themselves had no might." (p. 86)

This echoes Odin's earlier statement that the three Powers greater than the gods are the White Christ, Time and Love. I still think that that is a very mixed list.

The elves enslave "...dwarfs and goblins and even more eldritch folk..." (ibid.) We have seen that these include one Chinese Shen but what else? They hawk with wyverns, keep lions and panthers as pets and have elven varieties of horses and dogs. Elven horses are preternaturally fast. The elven touch is cool, not warm.

"...the castle...was also a barren tor..." (ibid.)

Not "looked like" but somehow "...was also..."?

It is full of "...eternal warm twilight..." (ibid.)

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, the realm of Auberon and Titania is the Land of Summer's Twilight.


Change involves endings. Speaking of the new war between trolls and elves, Tyr tells Skafloc:

the trolls have new allies (but he does not say who);

"More is at stake than elves or trolls know" (The Broken Sword, p. 84) (but he does not say what);

"The Norns spin many a thread to its end these days" (ibid.) (but he does not say whose).

Skafloc is not living in "the End Times," because there are no such "Times," but it seems that he is living in a time of endings.

Some of our contemporaries think that there must be conflict in the Middle East because that will initiate Armageddon which will have a good outcome for them. Meanwhile, Skafloc has been warned that, in his period, many lives or destinies will end. Tyr adds:

"'Therefore I, the war-wager, am on earth.'" (ibid.)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Fantastic Reflections

Are you impressed or inspired by the contents of this blog? I am and I'm writing it. However, remember that I am not creating these contents, merely quoting them from the works of Poul Anderson and comparable authors.

Friedrick Engels wrote:

"All religion, however, is nothing but the fantastic reflection in men’s minds of those external forces which control their daily life, a reflection in which the terrestrial forces assume the form of supernatural forces."
-copied from here.

I would say "Much religion...," not "All religion..." Another fantastic reflection is imaginative fiction. I have discussed certain works of fiction and have sometimes also referred to current affairs. Now let us see how the former reflect the latter:

in Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys, The Gods Themselves are troubled because the heavens have moved (see here) and the rulers of the city of Ys must prepare for the withdrawal of their Gods, which will mean the flooding of their city;

in Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, ravens hover, gods stoop, the world trembles and "'The gods themselves are troubled...'" (p. 84);

in James Blish's Black Easter/The Day After Judgment, magicians and demons must cope with the death of God;

in Mike Carey's Lucifer, angels and demons must cope with the departure of God.

The common themes here are change, uncertainty and power vacuums on a supernatural level. And that is precisely what many of us are currently experiencing on the terrestrial level:

the UK has voted to leave the EU but the vote was close and there is uncertainty about the consequences;
other countries may follow;
the British Prime Minister has resigned and must be replaced both as PM and as Party Leader;
the Leader of the Opposition has been no confidenced by his colleagues and will be challenged for the Leadership;
most members of his Shadow Cabinet have resigned and had to be replaced (one of the replacements is the young, recently elected, Member of Parliament for Lancaster whom I met inspecting flood damage in the City last year);
Scottish constituencies voted to remain in the EU and now want a second referendum on their independence from the UK.

As I said, change, uncertainty and power vacuums - even including the flooding of a city.


Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977).

"'None can escape his weird; but none other can take from him the heart wherewith he meets it.'" (p. 78)

Wisdom indeed.

Freda mourns but in beautiful language:

"' kin are dead...Broken is the tree whose branches sheltered the land, and wind blows cold across fields gone barren -'" (p. 79)

She then adds an acute observation on life - and death:

"'We all grow poorer when good folk go.'" (ibid.)

But we are enriched by memories.

She is concerned because:

"'The priest spoke about deaths unshriven -'" (ibid.)

- but Skafloc tells her to disregard this. One Christian tradition claims that those who have once been saved can never be lost whereas another tradition, represented by the priest, says that they can. Observing from outside Christianity, I merely note this disagreement.

Anderson shows insight into what we think immortal elves would be like:

"Always in the mirth of elf women was a hint of malicious mockery..." (ibid.)

"The cool, cunning elf women had many powers; but, perhaps because they always kept their own hearts locked away, they had never drawn his out of him." (p. 83)

- whereas a mortal woman laughs " a morning in blossom time..." (p. 79) and does get the human Skafloc's full attention.

Tyr tells Skafloc that the world:

"'...trembles to the hoofbeats of Time...The gods themselves are troubled.'" (p. 84) (see here)

- and human beings are certainly troubled now.

Supernatural Beings

Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977), p. 75, pp. 78-79.

Fleeing elves scatter booty to delay trollish pursuit as Hrolf Kraki did when pursued by King Adhils.

Goblins are:

"...a race half-way between elf and troll, green-skinned and squat but of not unpleasing aspect." (p. 78)

Did we know that or has Poul Anderson just made it up? Valgard the Changeling is the son of the elf Imric and his troll prisoner so is Valgard a goblin?

"...a yellow demon-shape..." (p. 78) is explained as:

"'One of the Cathayan Shen (see also here), whom [the elves] took captive in a raid. He is strong and makes a good slave.'" (p. 79)

The Shen, like a beam of light, can move only in straight lines so a dwarf runs ahead to hold a shield across corners for the Shen to rebound from. Thus, elves fight trolls and enslave Shen, goblins and dwarves.

Elves Versus Trolls

noun, Archaic.
a maiden.
-copied from here
Troll-king Illrede says:
"'Long is it since I held a human may in my arms -'"
-Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977), p. 64.
Not gifted as yet with witch-sight, the two women captives being given to Illrede cannot see him and think that his voice is an inexplicable echo. Again, the elves sound like part of the environment.
"...the crags and scaurs of the elf-hills..." (p. 65)
"...he swept his glaive..." (p. 68) 
Trolls guard the archway leading to Illrede's hall. There is too little room before the arch for the elves to engage properly with the trolls. However, the arch is high so Skafloc uses a spear to pole-vault over the troll guards, then attack them from behind. Their line breaks and the elves get through. This scene certainly deserves to be filmed.
"The elf archers loosed their ever, most arrows rattled harmlessly off rocks, or stuck in shields, and all were soon spent." (p. 73)
But I had the idea that elven arrows would always hit, like these magic swords that always kill?
"...dunting elf lurs..." (p. 73)  
"...hatred for everything elfly..." (p. 74)
The noun, "elf," has two adjectives, "elfin" and "elven," with different connotations. Anderson adds a third, "elfly," which I cannot find by googling. 
Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn.
-copied from here
Poul Anderson's prose opens "magic casements" on "fairy lands forlorn." Sometimes his casements are stained glass. Thus, we appreciate the colors and shapes in the glass as well as the "perilous seas" beyond them. 

The Wandering Wind

An elf woman's voice:

"...was like breeze and rippling water and small bells heard from afar." (The Broken Sword, p. 65)

All of these elves sound like distant parts of the environment just coming into focus. She sings, addressing the wind as "...old wanderer..." (p. 66) We have already seen that the wind has almost become one of Poul Anderson's characters. This phrase makes another connection:

"'Wodan-Mercury-Hermes is the Wanderer because he's the god of the wind.'" (Time Patrol, p. 390)

And, because the dead ride on the night wind, Wodan is:

"'...the conductor of the dead down to the Afterworld.'" (p. 391)

Addressing the wind appropriately as a wanderer makes it easy to understand how this natural phenomenon could have been personified as a figure like Wodan.

In The Hall Of The Mountain King, Whether On Earth Or On Merseia

The hall of troll-king Illrede:

in a mountain cave;
hewn out of rock;
stolen gems and tapestries on the walls;
expensive goblets and cloths on ebony and ivory tables;
fires burning down the length;
rich garments on troll lords and ladies;
elf, dwarf and goblin thralls carrying trenchers of human, Faerie and animal meat and cups of southern wine;
snarling music;
smoky air;
ruddy light;
guards, "...moveless as heathen idols...," (The Broken Sword, p. 64) with glinting spears;
gobbling, guzzling, quarrelling trolls;
a thunderous din;
quiet lords in carven seats;
Illrede, fat and wrinkled, with long green tendrils for a beard and wearing a gold crown.

Colorful, barbaric and vividly imagined. Since trolls are large, green, humanoid and hostile, comparisons with Poul Anderson's alien Merseians are inevitable. In the audience chamber of Castle Afon:

"The mask helmets on suits of armor grinned like demons. The pattern of faded tapestries and rustling battle banners held no human symbology. For this was Old Wilwidh, before the machine came to impose universal sameness. It was the well-spring of Merseia. You had to see a place like this if you would understand, in your bones, that Merseains would never be kin to you." (Young Flandry, p. 141)


Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (New York, 1973), p. 62.

Nearly as tall and nearly twice as wide as a man;
arms like branches of trees hanging to the knees;
short bowed legs;
clawed splay feet;
green, cold, slippery skin moving across stone-hard flesh;
most of them bald;
large round skull-like heads;
flat noses;
large mouths;
pointed ears;
whiteless black eyes set deep in bony sockets.

Trolls in fantasy. Martians and Merseians in sf.

Some Weird Teaching

A lot comes together maybe too quickly in Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword. Odin disguised as Satan lists three Powers greater than gods, demons, men or magic:

the White Christ;

A decidedly mixed bunch!

He adds that Time has many names, e.g.:

the Norns;
others beyond counting.

This notion of Time sounds like the Mithraic one. Odin mentioning Brahm is anachronistic. We can add the Buddhist "Dharma." I forgot to mention here that human beings have a unique and pivotal place in Buddhist cosmology because they alone can create new karma. Birth as a human being in a land where the Buddha Dharma is taught is highly advantageous. Empirically, I have to agree that human beings, unlike other Terrestrial species, are capable of reason, morality and meditation.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Erlkings And Grendel Monsters

Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977).

Imric's lord is the Erlking. The Wiki article informs us that this title is derived from "Elf-king." Alan Moore applies the title to the plant elementals in his Swamp Thing.

Anderson's Erlking's speech is " windsong..." (p. 34) All these beings sound as if they are nature regarded in a particular way.

Not only can Skafloc see the sunken city of Ys, he also fights and kills:

"Monsters of the blood of Grendel..." (p. 36)

Ys was flooded in Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys. Beowulf killed Grendel in Beowulf and in Hrolf Kraki's Saga. The latter was retold by Poul Anderson. Kraken and sea maidens are mentioned here as in other works by Anderson. Thus, we continue to have maximum continuity.See here.

Man, The Measure Of All Things

The dwarf Motsognir tells Skafloc Elven-Fosterling:

"'Let me tell you, boy, that you humans, weak and short-lived and unwitting, are nonetheless more strong than elves and trolls, aye, than giants and gods. And that you can touch cold iron is only one reason. Ho!'" (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 33)

How are we weak yet stronger? I think that the real reason is that it is we who imagine all the others. Later, Imric, earl of Britain's elves, tells his lord, the Erlking:

"'I need not remind you that humans can do much which is barred to elf, troll, goblin or the like. They may use every metal, they may touch holy water and walk on holy ground and speak the name of the new god - aye, the old gods themselves must flee some things which humans have the freedom of.'" (pp. 34-35)

In the fictional universe shared by Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and Mike Carey's Lucifer, it is changes in human beliefs that have made the new god increasingly stronger than the old gods. In The Broken Sword, Odin, devious devil that he is, shape-shifts to resemble Satan in order to mislead a witch. He tells her that the White Christ is more powerful than gods, demons or magic and adds:

"'Nor can you hope to understand how [Fate/Destiny/Wyrd etc] exists together with the freedom wherof I spoke, any more than you can understand how there are both old gods and new." (p. 38)

Freedom can coexist with determinism because it is merely absence of constraint, not a sort of conscious quantum event. Odin raises the question of old and new gods but does not answer it.

Human beings, much bigger than subatomic particles but much smaller than the cosmos, are uniquely, in our experience, self-conscious and able to gain some measure of knowledge and understanding of both microcosm and macrocosm. In some sense and with all due humility, we are the measure of all things. See here.

Out In The Weather

When Imric the elf-earl rides out at night:

"Presences moved in the night, but they were not men -" (The Broken Sword, p. 20)

We expect other supernatural beings but the presences turn out to be a wolf, a wildcat and small animals which:

"...were aware of the elf-earl's passage and shrank deeper into the gloom." (ibid.)

Animals would sense what most human beings would not.

In the elven castle, which looks like a tor, flutes have "...voices like mountain brooks..." (p. 21) and a troll-woman's voice is " a thunder..." (p. 22) Again, supernatural beings merge with natural phenomena. The troll is a prisoner and there are dwarf thralls. We can safely deduce that in this narrative every kind of mythological being exists.

"Mountainous in the east, with runes of lighting scribbled across, a storm stood on the horizon." (p. 23)

"" should be "lightning"?

We have become very familiar with wild winds in Anderson's works and, sure enough, in the next sentence:

"Wind hooted and howled." (ibid.)

Shortly after that, thunder is:

"...boom and bang of great wheels across the sky." (ibid.)

No sooner have we thought of Thor than:

"Imric urged his horse to yet wilder speed. He had no wish to meet Thor out here in the night." (ibid.)

Gods also exist and an elf fears a god as the animals feared the elf. After stealing a human child, Imric sees Odin leading the Wild Hunt. A bad sign...

Finally, at the beginning of Chapter IV, the stolen child, Skafloc, begins to grow up in Alfheim where elven lays are:

" sea and wind and soughing branches." (p. 26)

Other Beings
Skirnir, messenger of the Aesir, attends Skafloc's naming-feast.
Sprites, dimly seen, inhabit waterfalls.
Gnomes live under trees.
Goblins live in caves.
Skafloc meets an exiled faun.

In the south:

Pan is dead;
the priests of the new god cut down the sacred groves;
exorcisms have killed dryads;
temples are empty and crumbling;
nymphs and Olympians are no more.

One world culture is being imposed.

Meanwhile, Skafloc, bridging the realms of men and elves, also learns from foxes and otters which might be kin to elves.

Where Have All The Fairies Gone?

"In those days the Faerie folk still dwelt upon earth..."
-Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977), p. 21.

"As for what became of those who were still alive at the end of the book, and the sword, and Faerie itself - which obviously no longer exists on Earth - that is another tale, which may someday be told."
-Anderson, The Broken Sword, Foreword, p. 12.

Morpheus/Dream to his sister, Death:

"A delegation of Faerie came to me, last night. They are talking about abandoning this plane for ever."
-Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: The Doll's House (New York, 1995), p. 117.

Dream to Auberon:

"During your stay on this Earth the faerie have afforded me much diversion, and entertainment.
"Now you have left, for your own haunts."
-Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Dream Country (New York, 1991), p. 83.

So Anderson and Gaiman agree that the fairies have left Earth. Two works of fantasy confirm what we can verify from our own experience!

I will be in London and away from a computer from Thursday 30 June until Monday 4 July.


It is safe for Imric the elf-earl to steal the Dane-Chief Orm's son because the child has not yet been hallowed to any gods. Orm is a Christian, therefore his son is not protected by the Aesir. However, Orm is also an indifferent Christian, therefore the child has not yet been christened. Thus, as the witch advises Imric, "'...hallowed to no gods of any kind.'" (The Broken Sword, p. 20)

In The Broken Sword, as in Anderson's The Merman's Children and in Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys, there are various supernatural beings and forces and, among them, the Biblical God is acknowledged to be extremely powerful. It is like the difference between an ordinary country and a world super power.

The witch swears by Sathanas and says:

"'I do not fear gods or devils, elves or trolls of men.'" (The Broken Sword, p. 20)

Should that read "...or men"?

"Like a rush of wind and a blur of moonlight [Imric] was out of the woods and across the fields." (ibid.)

Here again, the elf is described as if he merges into or has emerged out of nature. Faerie holdings were as if they:

"...wavered halfway between the mortal world and another..." (p. 21)

The idea of something halfway between worlds maybe leads to the idea of a "Half-world."

"Imric rode toward Elfheugh, which he saw not as a tor but as a castle..." (ibid.)

And one name for a tor incorporates the word "castle." See the linked Wiki article. It is the human imagination that sees tors as elven castles and, if such castles did exist, then they would look most of the time like tors.

Far Away

The voice of Imric the elf-earl is:

" a wind blowing through trees far away." (The Broken Sword, p. 19)

He is speaking to the witch in her hovel but sounds far away. How evocative! I have commented on this passage before and have also referred to:

"The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!" (see here)

There is also a poem that invokes Oberon and refers to Robin Hood calling "...faint and far away..." (see here)

Poul Anderson's prose fiction fits in with these poems.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Broken Sword, Chapter II

Imric the elf-earl:

must stoop inside a human hovel;
has slanted eyes, blue without whites or discernible pupils;
is ever youthful;
has broad forehead, high cheekbones, narrow jaw, straight nose, long pointed ears, wide shoulders and fine silver-gold hair;
wears a horned helmet, a ringed byrnie and a great red cloak.

A century long war between elves and trolls should be the subject of a fantasy trilogy, I think. But this is how it is passed over in Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword: the human witch comments that the elves have not gone forth among men very often in recent lifetimes. Imric replies:

"'...we have been too busy in our war with the trolls...I am curious to find out what has happened in the last hundred years.'" (The Broken Sword, p. 19)

There is an elf-troll truce. How long will it last? The witch replies that the Danes have come but Imric points out that before them were the:

others -

- and the Danes will not be the last. He has "'...watched it almost since the land was made...'" and "' helps pass the time.'" (p. 20)

Imric describes our England. Does he already know about the Normans and later waves of immigrants? See here.

The Broken Sword, Chapter I


Four generations. We are concerned about Valgard but must first be informed about his antecedents. Asmund and Ketil are Jutlanders but Orm moves to the English Danelaw where Valgard is born.

The prudent Orm plans to build a church for atonement of his sins but also offers:

to Thor in midwinter;
to Frey for good harvests in spring;
to Odin and Aegir for luck at sea.

That covers everything: winter, spring, land, sea and the hereafter?

So far, we might have been reading historical fiction. However, Chapter II begins:

"Imric the elf-earl rode out by night to see what had happened in the lands of men." (p. 18)

We are reading heroic fantasy - although Anderson claims in his Foreword that the text rationalizes magic as mental control of external phenomena. That would make the novel sf. However, I think that the "heroic fantasy" label sticks.

Three Exclusive Societies

This is interesting because it is about Poul Anderson himself, not about his works. In the early 1970's, Anderson was a member of:

the Hyborian Legion, for fans of Robert E Howard's Conan series;

the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America, for the, at that time, eight writers of sword and sorcery fantasy, Anderson, Lin Carter, L Sprague de Camp. John Jakes, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton and Jack Vance;

the Society for Creative Anachronism, for participants in Medievalist costumery, combat, tournaments etc.

Anderson wrote a Conan novel and earned a knighthood in the SCA. On Earth Real, Americans have no titles of nobility but, on other Earths, they have Kingdoms and even, as we have seen, an Emperor.

Old Times

On the eve of their last battle, Hrolf Kraki's men "...talked of olden days..." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 245)

After the battle:

"Nothing but a tale was left of a day which had been.
"Here ends the saga of Hrolf Kraki and his warriors." (p. 261)

After the Roman Empire:

"...among the memories is that there was, for a while, a life not given over entirely to naked survival." (Time Patrol, p. 604)

"The Bronze Age, the new age was coming...
"In the end it would go down, before the cruel age of iron. Yet a thousand fortunate years were no small achievement; and the spirit they brought to birth would endure. Through every century to come, the forgotten truth that men had once known generations of gladness must abide and subtly work."
-Poul Anderson, The Corridors Of Time (Frogmore, St Albans, Herts, 1968), p. 204.

"'It was in Britain after the Romans were gone, at the court of a warlord...he staved off the English invaders. His name was Artorius.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Boat Of A Million Years (London, 1991), p. 229.

After the Terran Empire:

"...a man from Atheia, which was supposed to have retained or regained almost as many amenities as Old Earth knew in its glory..." (Flandry's Legacy, p. 665)

For the good times...

A Happy Ending Or A Good End

Fictional characters can either have a happy ending or make a good end but can hardly do both. For heroic characters, a good end means:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
  The Captain of the gate:
“To every man upon this earth
  Death cometh soon or late.       
And how can man die better
  Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
  And the temples of his gods
-copied from here.

Hrolf Kraki almost does manage to do both. His peaceful, prosperous reign of seven years would have been a happy ending if the narrative had ended then. But we know that a happy ending has to be followed by the character's death. The only question is how he will die. Hrolf, of course, makes a good end.

 A legend is complete when it incorporates death:

"All our best and oldest legends recognize that time passes and that people grow old and die. The legend of Robin Hood would not be complete without the final blind arrow shot to determine the site of his grave. The Norse Legends would lose much of their power were it not for the knowledge of an eventual Ragnarok, as would the story of Davy Crockett without the existence of an Alamo...
"With Dark Knight, time has come to the Batman and the capstone that makes legends what they are has finally been fitted."
-Alan Moore, "The Mark of the Batman: An Introduction" IN Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, The Dark Knight Returns (London, 1986), pp. iv-vii AT p. vii.

A Ragnarok-like "last battle" awaits Hrolf.

Let us pause to list our names to conjure with:

Lord Macaulay
Poul Anderson
Alan Moore
Frank Miller

Hrolf Kraki
Robin Hood
the Norse gods
Davy Crockett
the Batman

Another quiz question: where does Anderson mention Crockett?

The Status Of The Gods

"Hrolf answered: 'His own doom sets the life of every man, not yonder spook.'" (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 224)

By "yonder spook," he means Odin. Hrolf has no images of gods in his hall. (p. 171) The Norns determine the lives of gods and men. The Aesir cannot prevent Ragnarok when the old gods will die. I believe that gods are personifications, not persons. However, even if they were the latter, they would not be the ultimate reality. In Buddhist teaching, they also are on the Wheel. The Buddha is a teacher of gods and men. In Japan, local gods are honored on one altar and Buddhas on another. This strikes me as appropriate.

A Few Words

"King Hrolf led a way straight south over the Fyris Wolds." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 217)

("Fyris" and "Wolds" are different links.)

"...this summer grazing for livestock; mast for swine." (p. 218)

"...a heavy ring of gold...belled." (p. 218)

I found the word "duff" somewhere in this section but now cannot re-find it. In the context, it clearly means decomposing organic matter in a forest. (It is on p. 222)

"'...if I had my besom here!'" (p. 220)

"...this was the greatest halidom in Svithjod." (p. 220)

In this context, "halidom" means a relic, not a place.

When Hrolf saw the belling ring on the ground:

"He took one from his arm, cast it down to the other, and told his warriors: 'This will I leave off, to pick up gold though it lie on the road. And let none of you dare do so either; for it was thrown here to hinder our faring.'" (p. 218)

I find these remarks confusing. Maybe a line of text is missing.

Blood On An Altar

"'...once in this land, when Domald Visbursson was king, the harvests failed. To make the gods friendly again, the Swedes offered many oxen; but next year was worse. Then they gave men; but still the hunger deepened. In the third year they slew King Domald and sprinkled the altar with his blood. There followed good seasons and peace."
-Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), p. 215.

Skeptics say that the harvests would have improved anyway. But, for the purposes of fiction, we accept this fantasy about the gods. They were satisfied neither by oxen nor by men but by the king. This reminded me of another deity who was satisfied neither by animals nor by good deeds but by the death of his son whose blood, as wine, is on many altars this Sunday morning.

When rereading a Poul Anderson text, it is impossible to predict which details will be worthy of blogging. Recently, we have had Vogg and now Domald.

I have just finished reading A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine for at least the third time. (it was also very well televized.) I highly recommend it. It has twists, surprises and a neat resolution. Without giving too much away, there is death, blood and new life.


See Animals And Plants.

There is also a "...troll-boar..." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 209) although I could not find an image of one. King Adhils gives little to the high gods but worships this boar and sends it against Hrolf Kraki and his men. Its humped and shaggy shape fills the door of the hall. It has sword-like tusks and a rank swine-smell, makes thunderous grunts and is immune to Bjarki's magic sword, Lovi, but is killed by Hrolf's hound, Gram.

However, the rest of Hrolf's conflict with his treacherous stepfather, Adhils, will have to wait.

Saturday, 25 June 2016


When Vogg names Hrolf Kraki, Hrolf rewards Vogg with two gold arm rings. Vogg responds by promising to avenge Hrolf. His promise proves prophetic.

In Norse mythology, Vali avenges Baldr and Vidar avenges Odin.

In Alan Moore's and David Lloyd's V For Vendetta:

the vendetta-waging title character is code-named V;
the title of every installment begins with "V";
(so what is the last installment? Clue: Norse mythology);
"the way, the truth and the life" is quoted in French, thus "la voie, la verite, la vie."

So there is something about the letter "V."

Interweaving Strands or Everything Comes Together

Poul Anderson, Hrolf Karki's Saga (New York, 1973).

The title tells us that Hrolf will acquire the name "Kraki." (p. iii)
The contents page tells us to expect a character called Vogg. (p. vii)
Part II tells us that "...a kraki..." is "...a fir trunk whose stubbed-off limbs made a kind of ladder." (p. 17)

On pp. 206-207, Yrsa introduces a servant called Vogg to King Hrolf.
On p. 207, Vogg compares the thin Hrolf to a kraki and the King's men accept this humorous nickname for their lord. Hrolf comments:

"'You've given me a name which may well stick to me.'" (p. 207)

This completes the origin story of Hrolf Kraki. We began to wonder about this a week ago. See here.

"We'd Ridden Out Of Time"

Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), Part VI, section II, pp. 189-194.

Is Hrolf Kraki's Saga Anderson's richest text?

Hrolf and his men are overnight guests of Hrani, whom we recognize as Odin. When they are snow-bound for a day:

"The men sat and listened to Hrani spin such wonderful tales that the day seemed very short - 'as if somehow we'd ridden out of time,' Svipdag mumbled to his brothers." (p. 193)

This passage is multiply evocative. Poul Anderson is Hrani spinning wonderful tales. The idea of riding out of time evokes both the Time Patrol and the Old Phoenix.

Time Patrol Specialist Carl Farness resembles and is identified with Wodan and rides through time:

"I didn't change clothes till my vehicle had brought me across space-time...
"...I left [my spear] strapped to the side of the machine. I wouldn't be going anyplace on that except back to the milieu where such weapons belonged." (Time Patrol, p. 341)

Wodan rides through time with his spear strapped to his timecycle! Telling stories outside of time is what happens in Anderson's Old Phoenix Inn and in Neil Gaiman's Inn of the Worlds' End.

Addendum: "Tales Carl also had of men, women, and their deeds - " (Time Patrol, p. 364)

Yule Eve In Leidhra

Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), p. 187.

much else


An even longer list than usual and worth recording.

Hrolf's Heroes

"'...[Hrolf's] name will be unforgotten while the world stands.'" (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 136)

Will it? People then thought that their kind of society would endure until the world's end. Thus, skalds would continue to recite lays in kings' halls. They do not. However:

novels and films are based on ancient legends;
manuscripts are preserved in libraries;
all information has been digitized.

Thus, scholars and antiquarians will retain access to ancient stories which can always be revived in new popular forms.

A powerful effect is generated when independently famous heroes are brought together into a single team. Hrolf, Bjarki and Svipdag:

"...held long talks about how to widen and strengthen the kingdom and what might be done for its welfare." (p. 180)

Bjarki's Wiki article calls him Bodvar Bjarki but Poul Anderson explains this on p. 183, as also the term, "Bjarkamaal." Anderson lists Hrolf's heroes:

Hjalti the High-Minded (the transformed Hott)
Hromund the Hard
Hrolf the Swift-Coming
Haaki the Bold
Hvatt the High-Born
Agnar and the other berserkers

I might get round to googling these names.

Under Hrolf's peace, farmers, fishermen, merchants and settlers thrive. Trade is in goods, arts, crafts, skills, news, sagas, staves and songs:

" lift the soul out of the narrow paddocks of home." (p. 185)

Hrolf's reign recalls those of Grallon and Hadding. War is followed by peace, not by more war. Years ago, episodes of a British children's TV series ended with a theme song:

"Life and love and happiness
"Are well worth fighting for.
"They're well worth fighting for!"

This was a blatant rationalization of a series that was all about sword fights, not about life, love or happiness. However, Anderson shows us how a strengthened realm could then become a peaceful realm. Hrolf owns land and ships and need not lay heavy scot. He also gets his unruly men to practice games and crafts. This recalls van Rijn on Diomedes. See here.

Animals And Plants

Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973).

If there are intelligent supernatural beings, are there also animals and plants? Is the "Half-world" a world?

The Stone Age

There were mammoths, bears and cave men but also dragons, centaurs, elves and even "half-world...plants..." (p. 126). Dead half-world organisms dissolve in sunlight and natural chemistry and therefore leave no fossils. This difference caused human fear or abhorrence so that Stone Age art shows little or nothing of the half-world. Some shamans contacted it but warlocks and witches mainly tried to control the elements.
-copied from here.

"White too were [the elves'] horses, slim and wind-swift, bounding from worldedge to worldedge in a few heartbeats."
-Poul Anderson, War Of The Gods (New York, 1999), p. 35.

In Hrolf Kraki...:

"'...a great and horrible beast...a winged and flying thing...'
"...a leathery rustle and a rushing as of mighty winds...
"...a featherless thing of huge sickling wings, cruel claws and beak, tail like a rushing rudder, scaly crest above snaky eyes...
"The monster hissed...
"The troll-being...
"A rank smell...
"The heavy body...
"...grinning sharp-toothed jaws...
"...its cold blood..." (pp. 176-177)

Bjarki not only kills the troll-being but makes the weakling and coward Hott drink its blood and eat its heart. The effect is remarkable:

"'Why, the world is beautiful.'
"'I feel if I'd wakened from death.'" (p. 178)

Addendum: See also Alfheim.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Bjarki II

Sorry. I had to interrupt blogging to watch TV coverage of the consequences of our referendum result.

As Bjarki approached King Hrolf's court:

"The rain was past, the sky dazzling, sunlight asparkle on puddles in the brown earth and on wet boughs where a few leaves still flamed. Starlings flocked, robins hopped in fields, curlews whistled merrily through a cool damp breeze." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 169)

dazzling sky
sparkling sunlight
brown earth
flaming leaves
flocking starlings
hopping robins

merry whistling

Physical sensations
the pressure of a breeze

Pathetic Fallacy
Nature welcomes Bjarki to King Hrolf's court.

Bjarki tells a groom to curry his horse well. Wikipedia tells us here that on arrival Bjarki, like Beowulf, kills a beast that has terrorized the hall for a while. I could not remember from previous reading of the Saga and thought that Anderson might have left out this story because of its similarity to the Beowulf-Grendel fight that we have already had. However, here it is on p. 175: "The beast."

The Best Warriors

Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973).

"'...with King Hrolf in Denmark and his warriors...I've heard said for sooth that thither are flocking the best fighters in the Northlands.'" (pp. 135-136)

"' out King Hrolf of Denmark. The best warriors fare to him...'" (p. 166)

What better way to show this than to tell the stories of two such warriors before they join Hrolf. We have already summarized "The Tale Of Svipdag." Now Bjarki:

avenges his father;
receives the magic sword, Lovi (p. 164);
rules as a king;
abdicates after three years;
seeks Hrolf.

To paraphrase Milton: better to serve King Hrolf than to be a king elsewhere.

And it seems that Bjarki and Beowulf may originally have been the same guy. See here.

The High King Bjovulf

Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), p. 161.

"'On the shores of Lake Vener dwell the West Gotar, who pay scot to the High King Bjovulf.'"

"'...they do say Bjovulf is a good overlord.'"

"When Bjovulf later fell in strife against a dragon, trouble broke forth among the Gotar."

Do we realize what is happening here? We have read of Bjovulf earlier in the Saga. He:

killed the monster Grendel that had terrorized the hall of Hrolf's uncle, Hroar;

killed Grendel's mother who "...came in vengeance..." (p. 65);

swam in his byrnie to the Gota ships after their king had fallen in battle (p. 75);

refused the kingship but guided the kingdom;

however, later did become king;

with Hroar's help, established Adhils as king in Svithjodh -

- and now has died fighting a dragon.

Anderson's text:

summarizes Bjovulf's/Beowulf's exploits as recounted in Beowulf;
tells us of additional events that happened between Grendel's mother and the dragon.

Thus, an effective crossover and parallel text.

Seven Generations

Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973).

Since Frodhi the Peace-Good was the grandfather of that Frodhi who was an uncle of Helgi who was both grandfather and father of Hrolf who is the father-in-law of Svipdag and Bjarki, we are talking about seven generations here.

The narrative is extremely condensed. Beginning on p. 5, it reaches the Peace-Good's grandsons on p. 11. When, at the end of Part IV, section I, Hrolf becomes the Danish King, section II changes scene:

"West of the lowlands which Uppsala overlooks, the mountains of Svithjodh rise high, steep, and thickly wooded..." (p. 113)

We must now be told about the antecedents of Svipdag. Chapter V, section I, begins with another change of scene:

"West of the Westmen in Svithjodh, the mountains of the Keel rise ever higher and steeper..." (p. 145)

- and section II:

"Not far off dwelt a yeoman called Gunnar." (p. 149)

It is now Bjarki's antecedents that are being explained although he is not due to be born until section III begins on p. 157.

The dense text and scene changes make it very easy to break of from reading periodically but it is all the more rewarding to persevere and then to view the entire panorama of the legendary past. Hrolf, gathering all the great warriors into his hall, is a Northern counterpart of Arthur Pendragon.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Half-World

Bjarki has become a were-bear:

"Half outside the world of men, he was half into the Half-World." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, pp. 152-153)

But what is the Half-World? Poul Anderson also uses the phrase in Operation Luna - and maybe in other texts? I googled, expecting that I would find a Wiki article explaining that "Half-World" means the supernatural but I didn't. Is Anderson's use of this phrase peculiar to him?

It suggests a realm of entities with questionable ontological status, maybe an imperfect copy of the real world? Do elves exist only as we collectively imagine them? Only when seen? Or only at night? Have they faded away, thus explaining why they are no longer seen? Can they be conjured back into a quasi-existence by some arcane means? Why am I speculating about this at this time of night?


Poul Anderson, Hrolf Karki's Saga (New York, 1973).

The Skjoldung Kings of Denmark are descended from Odin.

The Yngling Kings of Sweden are descended from Frey.

The Kings in the Keel mountains of Upland Norway are descended from Thor.

In the Keel, when the old king Hring's young son, Bjorn, refuses the clandestine advances of his father's new young wife, Hvit, she transforms him into a were-bear which kills the king's herds until it is hunted down and killed. However, Bjorn's lover, Bera, bears his three sons, Frodhi, Thori and Bjarki. I have condensed this account as far as I could. At last we have found our way to the title character of Part V, The Tale Of Bjarki. How Bjarki becomes Hrolf's son-in-law will have to wait till a later post.

Meanwhile, when Bera lived with Bjorn in the wilderness, she might have encountered:

a niss;
a nicor;
a dwarf;
a troll;
the Asgard's Ride;
the elves.

The elves are described on p. 153, tall, grave and Tolkienesque.


"...the Dane-King gathered a host and fared off to Langeland. Thence they overran Turo [?] and afterward the whole southern half of Fyn...

"The old king at Odense, who had broken free from Leidhra [?], was dead...his son...could raise more men near home that Hrolf could ferry across the Belt...

"...he and his sons got their boat ashore on the lonely strand along Hindsholm.

"...he sought Odin's Lake...

"...east toward Zealand." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, pp. 140-144)

Two further points:

(i) Skuld points "...a horse's skull, the worst kind of ill-wishing..." (p. 144) towards Zealand. Such a curse was also made in Mother Of Kings.

(ii) I pointed out that Skuld personifies or embodies the sea in that her eyes change color like sea-waves but I missed that "...she flowed rather than walked." (p. 125)


Poul Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga is an eminently rich text with skilfully interwoven narratives focusing on different characters. After the Tales of Frodhi, The Brothers and Svipdag, come the Tales of Bjarki, Yrsa, Skuld and Vogg.

Since we are currently rereading the Tale of Svipdag, we know that:

Frodhi was the uncle of the Brothers, Hroar and Helgi;
Helgi was the father by different mothers of Yrsa, Hrolf and Skuld;
Yrsa is not only Hrolf's half-sister but also his mother;
Svipdag, favored by Yrsa while he served her current husband, now serves Hrolf -

- but we have yet to be introduced to either Bjarki or Vogg.

This time, I might retain more of the story, having studied it this closely.

Addendum: I spoke too soon. The genealogy on p. xv already tells us that both Svipdag and Bjarki are sons-in-law of Hrolf. Thus, only Vogg still remains to be accounted for.



"...set up his swine-array..." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 131), taught by Odin to Hadding (see here);

laid down "...caltrops in the long grass." (ibid.);

said "'All men must dree their weirds.'" (p. 132);

saw his men slain in windrows and lost an eye in battle;

with help from his brothers, defeated the exiled berserkers who had led vikings against Svithjodh;

withdrew from the service of Adhils when he realized that the latter wanted him killed;

thus also did the right thing by Queen Yrsa who had endangered herself by supporting him;

went instead to serve the Danish King Hrolf.

At last we understand how Svipdag becomes part of Hrolf Kraki's Saga - and that is as far as I can take the story tonight.

Sagas And Poul Anderson

ER Eddison influenced James Blish's After Such Knowledge Trilogy. See here. He also wrote:

"The Icelandic sagas...have another quality which they share only with a few of the great literary masterpieces of the world: the quality of vivid, unstaled and undauntable life."
-quoted in Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), p. i.

I have argued that "Anderson celebrates life." See here.

From Eddison's statement that the sagas share the quality of vivid life only with a few great literary masterpieces and from my argument that Anderson celebrates life, it follows that Anderson's works are among those few great literary masterpieces! Of course, I do not need to deduce a conclusion from premises written by Eddison and myself. I experience the greatness of Anderson's literary achievements by rereading and appreciating his works - and it is appropriate that those works include the retelling of Hrolf Kraki's Saga.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


Before a bauta stone, Skuld's elven mother gives Hrolf the sword Skofnung.

(Bauta stones commemorate the dead or the absent living. For the second purpose, they are appropriate to Poul Anderson's Starfarers:

When we see a name on an ancient monument, we know that the named person is dead but, when Kith traders see the names Jean Kilbirnie and Timothy Cleland on Monument Stone in the Kith village on the planet Harbor in the system of Tau Ceti, they know that Jean and Tim, unaged, are on a ten thousand year round trip, still alive but as inaccessible as if they were dead.
- copied from here.)

Svipdag, swearing brotherhood, calls to witness:

"...Frey of the earth, Njord of the sea, and Thor of the heavens." (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 131)

So far, we have seen references to Aegir of the Sea but Njord is more appropriate since he is a god. This reminds us of other divine triads -

Jupiter, sky
Neptune, sea
Pluto, underworld

Taranis, sky
Belisama, earth
Lir, sea

Skuld And Dahut

Skuld and Dahut are opposites. Dahut wound up in the sea whereas Skuld was born there. She remembers:

a huge green coolness;
flitting shapes;
tides pulsing like music;
plucked strings;
shivering silver pipes -

- or sea birds or a dream.

Because of her earliest experiences, her dreams are unlike anyone else's. Imagine having early memories that you had never learned words for.

Skuld and Dahut are in some ways similar. Skuld tries to destroy her brother, King Hrolf, as Dahut tries to destroy her father, King Gratillonius. Both express the revenge of personified natural forces against the encroachments of civilization. The Gods of Ys tolerated a city as long as they retained the power to destroy it. With rising sea levels, maybe they will destroy London and New York?

Like Sea-Waves

Supernatural beings are personifications of natural forces. When a god speaks, it sounds as if the wind does. See here, here and especially here. Or when the wind blows, it sounds as if a god speaks?

Hrolf Kraki's half-sister, Skuld, was born undersea to an elven woman descended from Ran. So Skuld is partly a personification of the sea? And, sure enough:

"...mostly one saw the eyes, large and long-lashed, a changeable green which could shift from almost blue to almost golden, like sea-waves." (Hrolf Kraki, pp. 125-126)

Not just blue eyes but eyes changeable in color like the waves of the sea. What could be more appropriate? Skuld's body expresses the medium from and within which she was born. But, probably at this point in the text, we hasten past the descriptive passage because we are keen to read the dialogue between King Hrolf and Skuld and to learn how he will tackle the tricky question of her alleged witchcraft - which also fits with her having an elven mother. Every word matters here, not just those inside inverted commas.

Addendum: In fact, see also here.

Bright Firelight

I have quoted many passages describing natural beauty in Poul Anderson's works. People in past ages not only lived directly with nature but also made for themselves a comfortable indoor environment when it was necessary to shelter against winter nights:

"By bright firelight, in a room warm and full of the smells of woodsmoke, roast meat, rushes on the floor, where flames crackled and talk and laughter rang...'" (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 125)

Firelight has replaced sunlight. Here we have:

pleasant smells;
sounds of crackling, talk and laughter;
by implication also, the taste of roast meat.

Thus, four (or five) senses in less than a single sentence.


In this post, I discuss a religious issue, then show how this issue, like many others, manifests in works by Poul Anderson.

Christians distinguish between wholesome religious practices and unwholesome witchcraft. Of course, they disagree as to what is wholesome. Someone on the Protestant side of the argument coined the term "priestcraft." To an Evangelical, Zen meditation is unwholesome because it is not focused on Christ whereas some Christians might instead regard Zen as the Logos, which enlightens everyone, manifesting in human minds and drawing them nearer to the Truth.

(What constitutes "respect for the Lord" is entirely a matter of which tradition we practice in. Someone familiar only with Pure Land Buddhism was shocked on entering our zendo to see people sitting for meditation with their backs to the Buddha.)

Although Christians anathematize all pagan practices, pagans themselves apparently distinguished between the wholesome and the unwholesome. See seid, Ahdils and Skuld.

Hrolf's half-sister, Skuld, named after a Norn by her elven mother who was descended from the sea giantess, Ran, frequents:

"'...barrows where heatless fires and walking shapes are seen after dark...'" (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 124)

- and where:

"'...hoof-beats and hound-howlings go through the night air.'" (ibid.)


makes passes;
kills birds before dolmens;
runs into the woods unafraid of wolves, outlaws or trolls;
has signs carved on her shoulder blade.

Eerie and troubling for her foster-parents.

I suppose that gods and trolls were approximate equivalents of God and the Devil. Those who sought power not from gods or God but from trolls or the Devil were regarded as unwholesome - and destined to fight against Asgard at the Ragnarok or against Heaven at Armageddon.