Monday, March 9, 2020

Reading: The Broken Sword

I'm currently listening to the audiobook The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson. This is a book I never had when I was young, nor even heard of, though I did have a couple of Anderson's books on my shelf. As with my consumption of music, I was absolutely random in my reading. I found things by accident and read them if the mood struck me (thank goodness for that accidental discovery of Tanith Lee!).

This is a good read so far. It's incredibly similar to Tanith Lee's Flat Earth series. But since this book came out in 1954 and Night's Master was 1978 it is clearly the case that Lee was inspired by Anderson. Both are telling what are essentially "dark" fairy tales (Lee is quite a bit darker, of course).

I'm amazed how much of D&D's approach to elves and dwarves came from this book. Right down to the way elves "learn slower" than humans, which is mirrored in D&D's XP tables being different for elves. (Kids, I'm talking about old D&D, in case you're confused. No boomer jokes please.)

I'm about 75% of the way through it. It's exciting, fast-paced, and full of blood and guts and sexual innuendo. It is not a subtle book. I like it.

As an aside, I enjoy the way Anderson plays with the Norse and Celtic stuff and has the Christian stuff layered on top as the "new thing". He definitely mentions Christ as a power that overpowers the ancient gods, though very little is actually spoken about it so far. He's not beating me over the head with it and there's nothing preachy about it that I can detect. It just feels like fun fantasy worldbuilding to me.

I'm aware that Poul Anderson was generally a libertarian, in terms of political philosophy, and that he did permeate a lot of his writing with political ideas. I don't have a problem with that since I think it would be quite impossible to avoid putting your politics into any creative work you do. There's no such thing as fun without politics, people. Get over that myth right away. Regarding the meat of his politics, I probably disagree on much of it not most of it. I'm quite sure I do. But it doesn't detract from reading this book for what it is and genuinely enjoying the hell out of it.


  1. Damn good book. If you still like it when you’re done, check out Hrolf Kraki’s Saga. Not quite as elf-y (and Anderson’s depiction of elves is the best, IMO), but still a good read.

    1. I really enjoyed it. The writing is excellent. Anderson really paints a vista. I kept thinking this would be a SUPER book to adapt to a Pixar-style animated movie, complete with blood and carnage.

      Of course it's a fairy tale kind of thing. So the characters don't behave in a way that makes much sense. The main character seemed to ignore all advice and was operating on simple drives. But that's typical of fairy tales and legends and I thought it worked nicely here.

      But mostly I was just mesmerized by the world building.