Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Poul Anderson
Publication Date 1998
Format Leather-bound (215 x 140 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 191
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 9
No. of Reviews 14
Frontispiece/Illustrator Bob Eggleton
Original Details
Original Publisher Fantasy House, Inc.
Original Publication Year 1961
Transported into a magical alternate world of dragons, witches, and fairy-folk, skeptical engineer Holger Carlsen finds himself at the center of a looming conflict in which he is inexplicably a key figure.
THE SUBJECT IS FANTASY. Fantasy, like the daydream, allows the imagination to explore without restraints. While traditional fiction limits itself to the world of experience and historical fiction to our experience of the past, and even science fiction submits its speculations to the censorship of the possible, fantasy acknowledges no restrictions, and the fantasy reader will accept any premise if"it is "the "open sesame" to a fascinating world. Fall down a rabbit hole, open a door in a wardrobe, get hit on the head by a crowbar or be struck by lightning, or recite a magical verse - all these are doorways to adventure and, like any doorway less important than the rooms they reveal.

Yet even fantasy falls into patterns, and Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions builds a new structure on blueprints first drawn by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp for their Incomplete/Complete Enchanter series. These Harold Shea stories began in 1940 in Unknown with "The Roaring Trumpet" and "The Mathematics of Magic" and continued with The Castle of Iron, "The Wall of Serpents," "The Green Magician," and others. But Pratt and de Camp themselves had predecessors. De Camp himself was one, with his 1939 Unknown novel Lest Darkness Fall, and that novel. followed Mark Twain's 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and dozens of imitators. Though each of these involves a person or persons translated to a past or mythical world, who find a place in it, and sometimes change it dramatically, each differs from the others in significant ways.

Sometimes the translation into the other world is by accident, occasionally by design, but each novel includes the discovery of the nature of that world, and the challenge of surviving in it and then coping with it. In A Connecticut Yankee..., for instance, Hank Morgan is hit on the head by a crowbar and wakes up in King Arthur's time; in Lest Darkness Fall, Martin Padway is struck by lightning and wakes up in 6th century Rome. But Twain's 6th century Britain is mythological and de Camp's Italy is historically accurate; Twain's Connecticut Yankee attempts to create the Industrial Revolution a millennium early, and Padway tries to forestall the coming Dark Ages. In a sense, Lest Darkness Fall is a critique of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

The Harold Shea series, on the other hand, represented something more innovative. First of all, Shea and his professor reach the fantasy world by means of a formula, and the fantasy worlds they enter are alternate realities in which established mythologies are real - Norse mythology, for one, and then the world of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen followed by Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. In those worlds magic actually works according to hard-and-fast rules, like science, and contemporary minds are able to analyze their mathematical structure and make them work even better.

Anderson takes these models and uses them for his own, more serious purposes; his novel, while adventurous and even comic, focuses more on the nature of heroism than did Twain, de Camp, and Pratt. Like both Morgan and Padway, Holger Carlsen is knocked unconscious. He has returned to Denmark in 1941 to join the anti-Nazi resistance. In a desperate hand-to-hand battle with Nazis, Carlsen gets shot. When he awakes, like Harold Shea he finds himself in a fantasy world where magic works. A shield, a suit of armor, arid a horse are waiting for Carlson, and on the shield is the design of three hearts and three lions.

Fantasy is always a battle between good and evil, between order and chaos, and as Carlsen gathers allies and discovers enemies he learns that a battle is in preparation. Humans are on the side of Law and the Faerie Folk, who are gathering an army to attack, are on the side of Chaos.

Thus begins an epic adventure that David Pringle lists among his Hundred Best Novels of Modern Fantasy. Three Hearts and Three Lions would have enjoyed an honored place in the pages of John Campbell's short-lived and long-lamented fantasy magazine Unknown. First published in 1939 and killed in 1943 by the wartime paper shortage, Unknown (which later expanded its title to Unknown Worlds) published "rationalized fantasy" in which the supernatural was bound by laws like those by which science operates in the natural world. It created a renaissance in fantasy similar to the Golden Age that Campbell inaugurated when he became editor of AStounding Stories in 1937. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy comments that Unknown "published more quality fiction per issue than any other magazine." Alas for Anderson, like Miniver Cheevy, he was born too late for his work to find a place in fantasy's greatest magazine but just right to catch the e~d of the Golden Age of science fiction. Anderson was born in 1926 in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and earned a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Minnesota, where he met a man who would become another famous science-fiction writer, Gordon Dickson, also a 1948 graduate. Anderson beat Dickson into print, in part because Dickson pursued a graduate degree in creative writing for a couple of years. They collaborated on Dickson's first published SF story in 1950 and later on a series of stories and a novel about mischievous aliens known as Hokas, Earthman's Burden (1957), Star Prince Charlie (1975), and Hoka! (1983).

Meanwhile Anderson got his first story published in Astounding in 1947 and published 16 stories, mostly in Astounding, through 1950. His first novel, Vault of the Ages (for juveniles), was published in 1952. His second and third, Brain Wave and The Broken Sword, a seminal science-fiction novel and a significant fantasy novel, were both published in 1954. Since then he has published at least one novel a year, and sometimes two or three, most of them science fiction; he also has published many stories and collected them into several dozen volumes; and he has written a half-dozen mysteries. His work in science fiction has earned him almost a dozen Hugo and Nebula Awards, a British fantasy award, and a Tolkien Memorial Award. He was guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and president' of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1972-73.

His fantasy may have seemed more like a vacation from science fiction, but it has been important in its own right as well as extending the tradition of rationalized fantasy inaugurated in Unknown. His fantasy also is tinged with a "Nordic-twilight hue" that "permeates much of Anderson's fiction," according to The Encyclopedia of Fantasy which describes his preoccupation, in W. H. Auden's words, as "the northern thing." The northern thing is a focus on the Scandinavian myths with their (perhaps sunlight-deprived) melancholy that is relieved in Anderson's work by SF's technological optimism.

The Broken Sword, which David Pringle also ranks among his "Hundred Best Novels," tells the story of changeling half-brothers, one human-born, one elf-born, who grow up to take different sides in a violent war between elves and trolls. "Despite its general neglect [it remained out of print for a dozen and a half years] it has become an influential work," Pringle wrote, "thanks to the enthusiasm of Michael Moorcock and a few other latter-day practitioners of Sword andSorcery ." Pringle concludes that "Poul Anderson. . . remains true to the essential spirit of those Old Norse sagas which have inspired his remarkable novel."

Another fantasy novel, Operation Chaos (1971), originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1956 and 1959, is a more light-hearted approach to the war between Law and Chaos. Hrolf Kraki's Saga (1973) deals more directly with Icelandic myth in the reworking of Norse saga. A Midsummer Tempest is set in an alternate world in which Shakespeare's plays are based on fact, particularly A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The Mermen's Children (1979), another collection of previously published stories, deals with Christianity's triumph over Faerie.

Anderson's The Devil's Game (1980) is more of a horror story about a pact with the devil set in the framework of a thriller. More recently he has written, with his wife Karen, a series of novels based on Celtic fantasy beginning with The King of Ys:Roma Mater in 1986 and continuing with The King of Ys: Gallicenae (1987), The King of Ys: Dahut (1988), and The King of Ys: The Dog and the Wolf (1988). In those novels the city of Ys is a Graeco- Punic outpost in Brittany that has an influence on late-Roman politics, according to The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. The Encyclopedia concludes its summation of Anderson's influence on fantasy with the comment that "Most of his fantasies have been cast as requiems, though sometimes disguised as romps; and perhaps [Anderson]. now feels that the Northern way of life they mourn has - as he has told us more than once - indeed passed away."

But in the passing they have left behind the sagas and Anderson's recollections of them in his contemporary fantasies, and particularly in one of the classics of modern fantasy, Three Hearts and Three Lions.