Hey, internet peoples. This will be my fourth and final D&D-related review, and it’s a goody.

Again, no real possibility for updates, so let’s get right to it. Today, I’m going to tell you guys about Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions.

Blurb, from Amazon:

A World War II resistance fighter, transported to a medieval realm of magic and myth, undertakes a perilous quest in this classic fantasy adventure.
Holger Carlsen is a rational man of science. A Danish engineer working with the Resistance to defeat the Nazis, he’s wounded during an engagement with the enemy and awakens in an unfamiliar parallel universe where the forces of Law are locked in eternal combat with the forces of Chaos. Against a medieval backdrop, brave knights must take up arms against magical creatures of myth and faerie, battling dragons, trolls, werewolves, and giants.
Though Holger has no recollection of this world, he discovers he’s already well-known throughout the lands, a hero revered as a Champion of Law. He finds weaponry and armor awaiting him—precisely fitted to his form—and a shield with three hearts and three lions emblazoned upon it. As he journeys through a realm filled with wonders in search of the key to his past, Holger will call upon the scientific knowledge of his home dimension—the destinies of both worlds hanging in the balance.
Before Thomas Covenant, Roger Zelazny’s Amber, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the great Poul Anderson introduced readers to the Middle World and the legendary hero Ogier the Dane. Inventive and exciting, _Three Hearts and Three Lions_is a foray into fantasy that employs touches of science fiction from an award-winning master of the speculative.

Now, this is a bit of a re-discovered classic. And I do mean classic – the book was originally published as a novella in 1953, then expanded into a novel in 1961.

At this point, you might be going, “but Apep, how can this have anything to do with Dungeons & Dragons, when the earliest versions of that game didn’t come out until the mid-1970s? And to that I answer, “have you ever looked at the ‘recommended reading’ list at the back of any of the D&D books?”

That’s right – this is one of the many books that inspired Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson as they developed their game. It also probably influenced the work of Michael Moorecock, another source for Gygax and Arneson, so in a way, Anderson’s impact was doubled.

What kind of influence am I talking about? Well, here’s a few off the top of my head: the role of paladins as something more than mere knights (heck, you could even attribute the decision to call them paladins in the first place to this book); that trolls are monsters that regenerate unless burnt, rather than turning to stone in sunlight; and the original alignment system, which had “Law” at one end, and “Chaos” at the other, rather than “Good” or “Evil”.

So what exactly is the deal with Three Hearts and Three Lions, and why should you read it?

Well, first of all, this is one of those early works of the Fantasy genre. Anderson, though not exactly a contemporary of Tolkien, pulled from some of the same sources as Tolkien in his own fantasy works. But Anderson, unlike Tolkien, didn’t have a background in linguistics – instead, he got his degree in physics, and clearly had some expertise in history, as he was one of the founders of the Society for Creative Anachronism. And it’s this knowledge that differentiates Anderson’s work from being yet another Tolkien wannabe.

As you can tell from the blurb, this book comes from that old tradition of the genre, where someone from the real, modern world gets transported to a fantastic world, if only so there can be a reason to justify all the inevitable info-dumping. In this case, our fish-out-of-water is Holger Carlsen, an American-trained engineer who returns to his native Denmark to fight the Nazis in World War II. During the middle of a fight, he’s knocked out, and wakes up in a strange forest. He soon finds a horse, bearing a suit of armor and a shield with a strange coat of arms – three hearts and three lions. Holger dons the armor, mounts the horse, and sets off to figure out what’s happened to him, and things get a bit crazy from there.

What I especially love about this book, though, is how Anderson doesn’t just rely on saying “it’s magic” to explain certain things. Remember, Holger is an engineer, so he’s not stupid.

For example, after keeping an ogre up all night so it gets turned to stone by the sun (even Anderson couldn’t resist that trope), one of Holger’s companions warns him against taking the ogre’s gold, saying that it’s, “cursed.” Holger, being a man of science, doesn’t believe it, but then thinks about it from a scientific perspective – all that carbon in the ogre just suddenly turned into silicon. That kind of thing has some effects. Effects like a sudden burst of radiation. So, Holger concludes that the “curse” is that the gold is now radioactive, and agrees to not loot the body.

There’s another incident like this as well. Over the course of his adventures, Holger comes into possession of a knife that burns, which he determines is made of magnesium rather than iron. This comes in handy later, when he’s trapped underwater and has to drive back his captor.

It’s little bits like that that I especially appreciate. The world Holger has been transported to might not work exactly like ours, but the rules haven’t been entirely tossed out the window.

But the best part of all this is that it’s now back in print. When I first got this book, it was only available in audio, which is fine, but there was at least one moment where I literally had no idea what a certain character was saying (the character was a dwarf, who spoke in the now-stereotypical Scottish accent, which wasn’t helped by it being laid over a Scandinavian accent).

So that’s it. That’s all my reviews for the month. If all goes well, I should be starting up the sporking of City of Glass soon, so look for that some time in the near future.

Tagged as: , ,

Comment

  1. Juracan on 2 December 2017, 21:38 said:

    Man I wish I had time to read all these cool books, but right now finals season is upon me and that’s cramping my reading time quite a bit.

    But I have been trying to get more into old-school fantasy books, so I’ve picked up a lot more books that are not so well-known now but were influential in their own way. The whole ‘explain the magic with science’ thing also reminds me of Flight of Dragons, which is one of my favorite animated movies of all time. So I think I might try to keep my eye out for this one.

  2. Apep on 3 December 2017, 11:40 said:

    But I have been trying to get more into old-school fantasy books, so I’ve picked up a lot more books that are not so well-known now but were influential in their own way.

    Same here. I’ve got copies of Vance’s Dying Earth series (which is where the D&D magic system came from, and the name Vecna), Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, and a couple Moorecock books. And then there’s all the history books I’ve picked up.

  3. Juracan on 4 December 2017, 17:47 said:

    Gene Wolfe is an author I mean to get more into—I picked up his Soldier trilogy and greatly enjoyed it, so I figured I might as well pick up the rest, ya know?