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PLACES OF POWER

All of you reading these lines should be familiar with the notion of “place of power”. If you are not, I suggest you get a copy of PHASES OF GRAVITY, drop everything else and read it. You won’t be sorry. And, as a coda, go to WORLDS ENOUGH & TIME and read Dan’s introduction, especially the part about the village of Hana.

Each of us, I think, has such a place in his or her own heart. Several, if we are lucky. Mine tend to be in cold climes.

A few years ago, my lady friend and I spent a short month in Iceland, touring the place with a local guide–a Frenchman who had fallen in love with the land and decided to become an Icelander–and another Frenchman, a science writer who publishes a yearly guide to stargazing. Iceland, you see, is a chunk out of an alien planet. Parts of it look like the Moon–and American astronauts did some training there during the 60s–other look like Mars, minus the color red. And the whole looks breathtakingly beautiful.

    

Greenland has the same alien quality.

Words fail me when I try to convey the beauty of the place, especially if I try to do it in English. So, a few pictures, taken by my lady friend Fabienne Rose, and used with permission.

We met a lot of people there, mostly Danish, but also a Frenchwoman, a few British people, and a couple of elderly but spry American travelers, so I urge you to go there–it ain’t easy, and it ain’t cheap, but you won’t be sorry.

Now, I seem unable to take a vacation without bringing along at least some work to do. Besides my translation jobs–including OLYMPOS, but more about that later–I’ve signed a contract to write a book about one of my favorite science fiction writers, the late Poul Anderson (1926-2001).

Anderson was of Danish descent, and he wrote a few fantasy novels that are essentially retellings of Scandinavian sagas. I brought some of these with me as a prelude to my writing: HROLF’S KRAKI SAGA, THE LAST VIKING and WAR OF THE GODS. I was so enthralled that, on the way back to France, I took advantage of a stopover in Copenhagen to visit the wonderful Nationalmuseet. There, I did buy more books, the ones that inspired Anderson: Saxo Grammaticus' HISTORY OF THE DANES (a.k.a. Gesta Danorum) and Snorri Sturluson’s KING HARALD’S SAGA (an excerpt from his Heimskringla), which I’m now reading, getting a new perspective on Anderson’s oeuvre.

Why am I telling you this? you may ask.

Simple. Poul Anderson’s aim, when he wrote these novels, was to dialogue with the ancient epics of his culture, to adapt them for a contemporary audience, but also to reaffirm the values they expressed. A modest writer–he once wrote that his books had to compete with the reader’s beer money–he had no pretension to universality , but he held some firm beliefs which he hammered again and again in his novels and stories. One of these can be found over and over in the old sagas: a man’s life is brief, and he must live it fully, so that his memory may endure.

I find strong echoes of this in ILIUM/OLYMPOS, and, since most of you people who access this site are hungry for good reading, I want to recommend Poul Anderson’s books to you.

I don’t think he is one of Dan’s influences. But Dan makes no mystery of his admiration for Jack Vance –go and read his essay “Jack Vance: Dragon Master”, if you can locate it (it was published in JACK VANCE: CRITICAL APPRECIATIONS AND A BIBLIOGRAPHY, edited by A.E. Cunningham for The British Library)–but Vance and Anderson were close friends, so I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here.

Now, in the tradition of previous installments of this column, comes:

Climbing Olympos, Part Four

My colleague Peter Robert , whom I mentioned last time, has found out more quotes in the book. Here they are:

Page 219
Three hidden quotes from THE TEMPEST:
“…too delicate to act her earthly and abhorred demands” (act 1, scene 2).
“A villain I do not love to look on” (ibid.).
“… filthy-mantled pool…” (act 6, scene 1).

Page 231
Odysseus’ prayer (“I sing the glorious power…”) is adapted from Homer’s HYMN TO MINERVA, as translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Page 280
The Euryalus/Epeus bout comes from the ILIAD, book 23.

Page 281
“… I’m not half-bad…” This quote refers to the ODYSSEY, book 8.

Page 283
“Dear to us ever is the banquet…” This comes from the ODYSSEY, book 8.

Page 294ff
Priam’s monologue refers to the ILIAD, book 22.

Page 295
This catalog of warriors refers to the ILIAD, book 2–the famous “catalog of ships” scene.

Page 303
Zeus as quoted by Helen: this refers to the ILIAD, book 15.

Many thanks, Peter, and have heart. I’ve barely started the translation into French, and I’m having a ball.

Best,

Postscript

It would be criminal not to mention book references.

Poul Anderson
HROLF KRAKI’S SAGA, Ballantine, 1973 (out of print).
THE LAST VIKING, Zebra Books, 1980 (three volumes: THE GOLDEN HORN, THE ROAD OF THE SEA HORSE, THE SIGN OF THE RAVEN, out of print).
WAR OF THE GODS, Tor, 1997 (still available in paperback).

Snorri Sturluson
KING HARALD’S SAGA, translated with an introduction by Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Palsson, Penguin Classics, 1966 (18th printing).

Saxo Grammaticus
THE HISTORY OF THE DANES (Books I-IX), translated by Peter Fisher, with an introduction by Hilda Ellis Davidson, D.S. Brewer, 2002.

  


  

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