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Anderson’s Faerie Tale: The Broken Sword

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews the pioneering fantasy novel by Poul Anderson

In 1954, a bold and exciting new work of fantasy fiction was published, influenced by Norse myth and describing a heroic quest, containing elves, giants, magic swords, enchantment, an epic battle, and plenty of singing. The novel was called The Broken Sword by the Scandinavian-American author Poul Anderson: a book which has been eclipsed by the more famous novel which appeared that year, The Lord of the Rings (or at least began to appear that year: The Fellowship of the Ring was published in 1954). And yet for many, including the giant of modern fantasy, Michael Moorcock, The Broken Sword is superior to Tolkien’s novel: in an illuminating article about Anderson’s novel, Moorcock writes that The Broken Sword ‘seems to echo the existential mood of the west after the second world war’. Instead of Tolkien’s black-and-white vision of heroes and villains, Anderson is all noir. Scandi-noir, we might now say. Read the rest of this entry


Fantasy Book Review: Leigh Brackett’s Sea-Kings of Mars

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the rich and rewarding planetary romances of a forgotten pulp writer

What happens if you cross the Martian adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs with the pulp fantasy of Robert E. Howard? You get the planetary fantasies of Leigh Brackett, the underrated writer of ‘science fantasy’ who penned a number of hugely entertaining short stories and novellas set on Venus and Mars. Leigh Brackett hasn’t quite been forgotten, at least by those (including the fantasy and SF author Michael Moorcock) who have championed her work and, in the case of Moorcock among others, been inspired by her: Moorcock himself wrote a trilogy of Martian novels, Kane of Old Mars, which were influenced by Burroughs but also, I suspect, by Brackett. (Leigh Brackett also inspired, and later collaborated with, a young Ray Bradbury: one of their co-authored stories, ‘Lorelei of the Red Mist’, is included in the edition I mention and review below.) But nor has she ever quite got her due. Like another queen of the golden age of pulp fantasy, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett has been allowed to fall out of print. Much of Brackett’s best writing goes unacknowledged: she also worked with Jules Furthman and William Faulkner on the critically acclaimed screenplay for the 1946 film version of Raymond Chandler’s novel, The Big Sleep, one of the classics of the noir genre. Read the rest of this entry

Michael Moorcock’s Dorian Hawkmoon: Fast-Paced Fantasy

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits the deftly plotted fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock

It’s not as well-known as it should be that C. S. Lewis nominated his fellow Inkling, J. R. R. Tolkien, for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1961, the Chronicles of Narnia author put forward the author of The Lord of the Rings, and his one-time Oxford colleague, for the award. Although the two writers did not see eye to eye when it came to each other’s work, Lewis thought highly enough of Tolkien’s fiction to recommend him for this prestigious honour. However, the Nobel Prize committee rejected the nomination, stating that Tolkien’s work ‘has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.’

Tens of millions of readers would disagree, but I’ve always found it difficult to enjoy The Lord of the Rings as pure storytelling. As an epic in the tradition of the Nordic and Icelandic sagas it is vast and well-realised, and the world-building – especially when it comes to Tolkien’s métier, languages and philology – is often wonderfully detailed and believable. But the Read the rest of this entry