Sunday, September 22, 2019

Eric Brighteyes: Granddaddy of Sword and Sorcery

Monroe St. Press' latest paperback release, Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard, is among Haggard's less famous but still influential adventure stories.  

While Haggard is best known for his stories set in contemporary or ancient Africa (King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain, She), Eric Brighteyes, published in 1890, was set in medieval Iceland and written in a style resembling that of the Viking/Norse sagas. 

The first modern English translations of the original sagas had appeared in print in the 1860s. Icelandic scholar Eirikur Magnusson of Cambridge University taught the Old Norse language to William Morris and collaborated with him on translating several classic sagas, including The Story of Grettir the Strong (1869) and Volsungasaga (1870).  Magnusson and Morris also worked on a six-volume collection of translated sagas published between 1891 and 1905. 

Haggard traveled to Iceland in 1888 and wrote Eric Brighteyes shortly after his return. He also composed an in-depth introduction outlining the history and purpose of the sagas, and how they blended history and fiction: 

From generation to generation skalds (storytellers) wandered through the winter snows, much as Homer may have wandered in his day across the Grecian vales and mountains, to find a welcome at every stead, because of the old-time story they had to tell. Here, night after night, they would sit in the ingle and while away the weariness of the dayless dark with histories of the times when men carried their lives in their hands.... To alter the tale was one of the greatest of crimes: the skald must repeat it as it came to him; but by degrees undoubtedly the sagas did suffer alteration. The facts remained the same indeed, but around them gathered a mist of miraculous occurrences and legends.

He dedicated the book to Empress Frederick of Germany (Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa), eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and widow of Emperor (Kaiser) Frederick III. Frederick had just been diagnosed with throat cancer when his father, Wilhelm I, died in March 1888, and he was ill for most of his 99-day reign. The Empress had told Haggard that her husband "found pleasure in the reading of my stories". Knowing that his writings had brought "an hour's forgetfulness of sorrow and pain" to the dying Emperor was, Haggard wrote, a knowledge "far dearer than any praise". 

Those who read and were influenced by Eric Brighteyes included J.R.R. Tolkien, who cited it as an inspiration for The Lord of the Rings, and Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. It contains numerous plot and character elements that became common in 20th- and 21st-century sword and sorcery, including inter-family and inter-tribal warfare and supernatural influences wielded by a priest, sorceress or similar figure.  It even includes a "red wedding" similar to that portrayed in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, which formed the basis for the TV series Game of Thrones

The Monroe St. Press edition of Eric Brighteyes also includes numerous vintage illustrations drawn by Lancelot Speed. 

No comments:

Post a Comment