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Thor Broke The Sword Tyrfing To Save The Roots Of Yggdrasil, The Tree That Binds Earth, Heaven And Hell Now The Elves Need The Weapon For Their War Against The Trolls Only Scafloc, A Human Kidnapped And Raised By Elves, Can Hope To Persuade Bolverk The Ice Giant To Make Tyrfing Whole Again But Scafloc Must Also Confront His Shadow Self, Valgard, The Changeling In His Place Among Men There are hundreds of good fantasy books, several that can be considered classics Only a few can be compared in any fashion to the The Lord of the Rings For me, this is one of them It may not be as grand or as ambitious as LOTR, but The Broken Sword is recognized, by several in the know, as an unheralded classic by Poul Anderson, a major fantasy science fiction master, and this book, a personal favorite of mine.The Broken Sword was first published in 1954, the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring Both, Anderson and Tolkien, borrowed heavily from the same Nordic sagas, even so much as borrowing a few characters and several names from those sagas Both of these books came out the same year, 1954 Though minor, Dyrin and Dvalin in Tolkien s world, Durin and Dvalin are two important figures in dwarven history and make an appearance here But, this isn t a story focused on dwarves It s about elves Elves and trolls And it s a winner Told in a prose style that falls somewhere between high fantasy and one of the easier to read translations of Beowulf, it s tone feelslike The Silmarillion, and remarkably like The Children of Hurin,than it does The Lord of the Rings or Anderson s own follow up, Three Hearts and Three Lions I have read The Broken Sword many times and collected several of the beautifully illustrated cover editions I ll be holding onto til death do us part Here s a back cover description.His father was Imric the Elf Earl.His mother was a captive princess of the Trolls.But Valgard the Changeling was raised as the son of Orm in the Lands of Men.His mortal foster parents never knew that their real son, Skafloc, had been stolen at birth to be reared to manhood in the twilight fields of Faeriethey never knew that the curse that had brought them Valgard had evenheinous magic to wreak.But when Valgard learned the truth of his heritage, his vengeance knew no bounds And so it was that he set forth to destroy his double unaware that the gods had other plans for an Elfin mortal and a changeling born to kill Tell me that doesn t sound cool I don t want to spoil the story for you so I will say nothingregarding it.Suffice to say it is written by a master, involving elves, trolls, dwarves and magic swords in a world you will love For those interested in what books it has influenced, I will tell you this Many.It is a predecessor of sorts to the eternal champion novels by Michael Moorcock, most obviously his Elric and Corum series, of which he has said so himself and also stated he prefers The Broken Sword over The Lord of the Rings It is a major influence on the incomparable Earthsea saga by Ursula K Le Guin It is also noticeable as the foundation to the world created by Gene Wolfe for his wonderful The Wizard Knight duology in both prose and structure Less so, but still recognizable, as a world building influence to Lynn Flewelling s magnetic Tamir Trilogy that begins with The Bone Doll s Twin, on into the Nightrunner series that starts with Luck in the Shadows Even the aesthetics of Terry Brooks Shannara series, most notably from First King of Shannara to The Wishsong of Shannara doesn t escape notice Yeah EVERYTHING, basically SO, GO READ IT Why is this book notpopular Written four years after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and published the same year as Tolkien s The Fellowship of the Ring, Poul Anderson s The Broken Sword is a fantasy masterpiece Combining Norse myth and legend, English and World myth, with historical fact and setting, this tells a legendary tale economically and with a fable like tone Adventurous and entertaining as well, the only reason I can think that it has been less successful than its English cousins is that where Lewis and Tolkien created fantasies rich in detail but were clearly especially Lewis a Christian allegory, Anderson s book ispurely mythic and leansheavily on the animistic perspective and stands outside the Christian house looking in Is this book too pagan to be marketable Anderson tells of an epic battle between elves and trolls, with the Aesir and Frost giants looking on, and of a tragic hero caught on the chessboard in between If you like a good fantasy and if you are interested in a blend of history and myth, and any reader who enjoyed Neil Gaiman s American Gods, should love this book A very good read, and should be on a short list of greatest mythic fantasy books of all time. THIS JUST IN In a stunning development certain to send shockwaves through the world of Fantasy Literature, The Lord of the Rings, long considered by many to be the Greatest Epic Fantasy of all time, has been bitch slapped and bitch smote by Poul Anderson s 1954 dark fantasy epic, The Broken Sword Anderson s story is now loudly demanding at least a share of the top honors Such recognition would be welcome and long overdue according to fantasy icon Michael Moorcock who believes that Anderson s taleknocks Fellowship of the Rings into a cocked hatLinguists are currently hard at work translating what the hell Moorcock s statement means, but it does appear to be high praise for Anderson s novel More on this as it develops Here is a breakdown of this criminally overshadowed epic fantasy tale provided to us by some FANTAnerd who reads way too many books about elves and wizards When looking at Lord of the Rings and The Broken Sword, one can t help but notice a number of similarities between the two epics Both Tolkien and Anderson drew on well known myth sources from places like England, Scandinavia and Ireland as a primary backdrop for their stories Both have elves, dwarves, trolls and other non human races that pre date man and whose societies are in decline and have seen their best days Both have powerful magical objects that eventually doom the wielder i.e., the one ring and the titular broken sword Finally, both incorporate epic, melodramatic poetry into the narrative.However, this is where the two books FOREVER part company Tolkien skips off and builds a light, kiddie friendly playground around a bunch of tree hugging runts with hairy feet Anderson hacks and machetes a path much truer to the source material from which it is drawn and creates a dark, savage world where rape, murder and atrocities are a way of life and humans are used as pawns by immoral or at least amoral gods who orchestrate events for their own hidden purposes While Tolkien paved the way for commercially popular successors like Robert Jordan, David Eddings and Terry Brooks, the influence of Anderson s tale can be seen running through the veins of the darker, noirish, fantasy tradition exemplified by writers like Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman and Joe Abercrombie.For my money, this latter group is the farinteresting and worthwhile side of the fantasy genre and where I prefer to spend most of my time PLOT SUMMARY BACKGROUNDThe world created by Anderson is sublime and is easily one of the richest, most concentrated fantasy worlds I have ever come across Taking place primarily in viking controlled influenced England around 1000 1100 A.D., Anderson draws from multiple traditions to create a mesmerizing blend of Norse English Irish mythology with the added aspect of the steady creep of the Christian tradition as an invading force that is slowly eroding the powers of the old gods For example, as the story begins, the spread of Christianity referred to as White Christ has so diminished the power of the realms of Faery e.g., elves, trolls, sprites, sidhe, goblins, etc that only humans gifted with witchsight can even perceive them The way this is portrayed in the narrative is terrific In addition to the peoples of Faery, the other major group of players in Anderson s epic are the Norse gods i.e., Aesir and their eternal nemesis the Frost Giants i.e., Jotunn These Norse gods remind one of the old, ancient tales and they are anything but Hollywood I hesitate to call them evil, but they are certainly the supreme manipulators of the story and most of the narrative threads are set in motion as a result of their clever maneuvers The story begins with a viking named Orm stealing coastal land from an Englishman and slaughtering the man s entire family, except for an aging grandmother who manages to escape and who is also a witchDOH The witch plots revenge on Orm and sets in motion a plan the culminates in Imrac, an elf earl, stealing Orm s newborn son to be fostered with the elves In the baby s place, Imrac leaves a changeling he created by raping a captured troll princess I told you this wasn t Disney The elves name the human baby Scafloc and Orm and his wife name the changeling Valgard The fostering of a human child by the elves is cause for a massive celebration in the realm of Faery At the celebration, a messenger from the Norse gods presents a present to Imrac to be given to Scafloc when he becomes an adult It is a massive iron sword, broken in two The messenger explains that only the creator of the swords, the frost giant Bolverk, can make it whole but it will serve Scafloc well Iron is the one substance no creature of Faery can touch and so the sword is wrapped and hidden deep in the castle behind magic spells Wellthat s about all of the set up I want to give as so much of the wonder of the story is all of the maneuvering among the various factions Scafloc grows to be mighty warrior and wielder of elf magic Valgard also grow to be a mighty warrior, but one with a violent temper and the very image of a Viking berserker Both Valgard and Scafloc become pivotal pawns in a complex, massive epic orchestrated by the gods and involving all out and I mean ALL OUT war between the Elves and their allies and the trolls and their allies Much of the book is taken up with the massive war between the elves and trolls and it is as good as it gets The battle scenes in this book, in my opinion, absolutely put Tolkien to shame and are epic, violent and loaded with the melodramatic prose so reminiscent of the ancient heroic sagas Swords flew in a blur that spouted blood The shock and crash of metal drowned wind and sea The elves stood in a ring, and around that circle was another of corpses Tall and terrible, his fair locks flying in the gale and his eyes ablaze with blue hell flames, Scafloc loomed over the struggle Never did his sword rest, and he ducked the clumsy troll thrusts and swipes with a flickering grace from which his own glaive darted like a snake s tooth The trolls began to fall away from him, and his band cleared the bows Now forward , he yelled The elves advanced sternward behind a curtain of flashing steel Mightily did the trolls fight Elves sank with crushed skulls or cloven bellies or transfixed hearts But the trolls went back and back, only their trampled dead holding fastI can not express how much this book resonated with me This is a standard bearer of epic fantasy and I can t believe it isn t held in the same esteem as LOTR.Now, I know it may seem that I am dumping a bit on old J.R.R., and I want to be clear that this is not my intention well, except for the tree hugging runts comment I really do love Lord of the Rings and think it deserves its legion of followers However, I do think think this book is superior in almost every area and I enjoyed it farthan I ever enjoyed Tolkien If you prefer Moorcock, Mieville and Abercrombie to Jordan, Eddings and Brooks, than I think you may find yourself agreeing with me Regardless, you should definitely check it out 6.0 stars HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION P.S I listened to the audio version of this book as read by Bronson Pinchot and it was INCREDIBLE and enhanced the reading experience substantially. Every young medium, if it wishes to be taken seriously as an art form, must find a way to present mature stories Movies began to take themselves seriously in the thirties, comic books began their struggle to elevate themselves in the late seventies, and videogames have been trying to achieve greater depth for the past few years.Yet, like any rise from adolescence to adulthood, this reaching for maturity is always an awkward period It is marked by overcompensation, by the striking of certain poses which are meant to seem mature, but which only make immaturity stand outWhether for child or art form, the signs of adolescence are the same and obsession with darkness and death, violence, sexuality, swear words, and amorality If these were truly the signs of a mature work, then my most mature creation would be the back cover of my eighth grade notebook, resplendent as it was with with daggers, bloody eyes, fantasy babes, skulls, monsters, and anarchy symbols.We recognize that these are the signs of a naive child playing with the idea of being an adult, and yet these are the same things fans and creators of emerging art often point to as proof of their grim, gritty, amoral maturity It s this obsession with an appearance of maturity which lacks all mature substance that I blame for the fact that today, sixty years later, I am not aware of any modern epic fantasies which can boast the tragedy, heartache, and moral conflicts of The Broken Sword Certainly there are many truly adult fantasies out there, but they lie in subgenres other than The Epic Urban Fantasy, New Weird, Historical Fantasy.Once again, as with everything good or bad about the modern state of epic fantasy, it is the result of Tolkien s influence There are many readers and even some authors of fantasy today who think that the genre began with Tolkien Trying to understand fantasy solely through Tolkien and the authors he influenced is like trying to ride a horse with only one leg.Much has been made of the fact that The Broken Sword was released the same year as The Lord of the Rings, and it s true that the similarities between the two books do not end there both have distant, tall elves, deep delving dwarves, a broken sword which must be reforged, an epic war between armies of light and darkness, a central character who is trapped between that conflict, and an interweaving of the Christian and Mythical Pagan worldviews.Comparing the two works, it becomes increasingly clear how little of Tolkien s world was original and how the original aspects tended to be the weakest If Tolkien s work represents an incomplete attempt to recreate Milton s Adam in Frodo and save the heroic Satan in the guise of Aragorn, Anderson s interplay is less daring, butsuccessful Taking a cue from Dunsany, he depicts a world where the old and new forms are at odds Through humanity, they come into conflict, but it is not possible for the utterly aloof Christian god to touch or be touched by the intensely personal, meddling heathen powers.While I found Dunsany s portrayal of that stark separation intriguing and mystical, it is less satisfying in Anderson s work Like Kipling, he shows us a world where gods and faiths intermingle, the old dying slowly in the face of the new, but Anderson never addresses why the new faith has this power I do not ask that he lay out the cosmology, but I would have appreciatedillustrations of the relationship which might have pointed at the intriguing depth Dunsany and Kipling portrayed.In a curious turn, Anderson returned to this book fifteen years later, making changes throughout to the tone and word use, but also altering a few scenes to change the portrayal of the Pagan Christian conflict I read the original version, which haspowerful language and an unusual theological implication which, had it been explored, might have made this book very conceptually interesting.Another problem in this book was Anderson s portrayal of women, though it was nowhere near as bad as one gets from modern epic fantasies His women have character, wills, and power They kill, they wear armor, they defy and manipulate men Anderson clearly draws the women of his tragic epic from the tragedies of the Greeks and Shakespeare Yet they tend still to be emotionally reliant on men, and are often lead to act out of their desires for and relationships with those men More than that, every woman seems to be described at least once as wearing some clinging, form fitting thing which makes evident her curves, revealing that it s important for an author to describe what is relevant to the story, not merely what his own eye habitually lingers on.Strong women are not the only things Anderson takes from the great tragedies his central story is a remarkably deep and sympathetic exploration of personal tragedy, full of purpose and pathos The deaths, trials, betrayals and self doubts are not thrown into the story haphazardly to feed a chaotic plot, like Martin s, they are vital and personal, each one built precisely to reveal some new aspect of a character s inner turmoil.Despite being laid out like a classical tragedy, so that the downfall is evident from the beginning, looming over us, I never felt that this knowledge hurt the reader s expectation, because Anderson was a good enough writer to make sure that it wasn t about what external events happened to the characters, but what their internal reactions would be There is no mystery about what event will tear apart Skafloc and Freda s love, what is vital to us is how it will impact them It just goes to show that cheap thrills and plot twists are nothing compared to a good character.Though Skafloc and Freda s struggles are poignant so as we near the conclusion for much of the story, Skafloc s antagonistic counterpart Valgard presents arare picture that of the unsure, self searching man who finds himself again and again on the side of darkness, without knowing what has brought him there is it fate his own true nature mere bad luck Like Tolkien s Gollum or Eddison s Lord Gro, I often feel drawn to these figures of personal crisis who demonstrate the vagueness of the line that separates heroism and villainy.Unfortunately, I was disappointed not to see Valgard s story grow as things progressed When he first asked himself whether he were truly born evil a changeling child or had some control over his fate, I eagerly anticipated his attempts to prove the fact, one way or the other Yet, perhaps realistically, he ultimately found himself spitted on the question, unable in the end to test it I wish that, even if Anderson chose not to explore the full range of this question, he might have had Valgard confront it in different ways, instead of returning always to the same view and phrasing In the end, it was Skafloc who explored the fuller range of moral values in his quest to determine what truly separated a sword wielding hero from a power hungry killer.Though this book is largely unknown to any outside of devoted fantasy fans, it is notable for being one of the books which inspired Michael Moorcock, especially in his Elric series, through which many of its tropes have trickled into modern fantasy In Moorcock s opinion, it was this book, and not Tolkien s, which should have become the epic fantasy classic It certainly would have sent the genre off in a different direction Perhaps now, instead of a mirthless grasp at maturity, we might have recognized that since epic fantasy has already had great tragic depictions, modern authors are entirely free to write new and interesting stories free of the hollow pretensions that come with the label of serious author.Epic Fantasy is not, like some others, a young genre, finding itself, but a very old one that has lost its way I can only hope that soon, we ll start to see the other side of this mid life crisis, and that books like The Broken Sword may be written again.My List of Suggested Fantasy Books