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.
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.
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,
Climbing Olympos, Part Four
My colleague Peter Robert , whom I mentioned
last time, has found out more quotes in the book. Here they
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
Odysseus’ prayer (“I sing the glorious power…”)
is adapted from Homer’s HYMN TO MINERVA,
as translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The Euryalus/Epeus bout comes from the ILIAD, book 23.
“… I’m not half-bad…” This quote
refers to the ODYSSEY, book 8.
“Dear to us ever is the banquet…” This comes
from the ODYSSEY, book 8.
Priam’s monologue refers to the ILIAD, book 22.
This catalog of warriors refers to the ILIAD, book 2–the
famous “catalog of ships” scene.
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.
It would be criminal not to mention book references.
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
WAR OF THE GODS, Tor, 1997 (still available in paperback).
KING HARALD’S SAGA, translated with an introduction
by Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Palsson,
Penguin Classics, 1966 (18th printing).
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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