Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
There’s a certain irony that a novel whose primary theme is based around a Danish engineer being taken out of his own time and thrust into a fantasy world feels so out of place for when it was written.
Anderson’s seminal fantasy work, Three Hearts and Three Lions, was first written as a serialised novella in the 50s, an era of classical science-fiction fantasy the most pervasive of which has to be Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The contrast between the books is stark. Whereas Tolkien’s epic feels formal and serious, Anderson’s is simply (to use a Fifties’ expression) a 'blast'.
The premise of the book seems clichéd now—an engineer, fighting in the resistance against the Nazis, is transported to another world. This realm is a pseudo-medieval place with features of European folklore and Arthurian legend. It is clear he is known in this world, but his own recollection is patchy and largely dormant. Gradually he recalls his own history and involvement with Morgan le Fay, and recognises a quest that awaits him.
It’s tricky reading the above and thinking this will offer anything new to the modern fantasy reader. It won’t. It will, however, give you a sense of where our wondrous genre came from. The story is naturally episodic, each chapter feeling like part of an ongoing TV series, and the hero, Holger’s, journey throws him into a series of encounters with giants, cannibals, faeries, witches and trolls. Throughout the quest all his modern sensibilities attempt to rationalise the world
(and you can tell Anderson’s SF influences here). This is both overt, such as when he uses thermodynamic principles to defeat a dragon, and covert, where his very twentieth century (OK, very 1950s) opinion on women influence the quest.
There are some stereotypes and clichés within the book—the depiction of the women slavering after Holger is pure male fantasy - but they augment rather than detract. Its humour and style are so far removed from LOTR that you can hardly believe they were written at the same time. Anderson’s prose is wonderful - it is energetic and fast, with his descriptions of the world superbly done. The Holy Knight that Holger becomes was a major influence on the Paladin class in the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, as were many of the monsters in the novel (notably the troll).
Any grumbles? The story is very linear in its execution, but given it was a serialised novella in its inception that’s not surprising. The dialect that Anderson uses for the dwarf Hugi, and the swan-may, Alianora, grates a touch, coming over as a sort of crap Glaswegian style. I did start to warm to it in the end, although it would have been more readable written without it.
In summary, this is a classic of the genre by an excellent writer, with major influences for the half a century since it was created. It would be a great book to shove under the noses of those who think fantasy is all Tolkien-derivatives. It was a book out of its time in many ways.
I’d give it 9.5/10 - nearly perfect!
This Three Hearts and Three Lions book review was written by Ross Kitson
All reviews for: Fantasy Masterworks
Have you read Three Hearts and Three Lions?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
Three Hearts and Three Lions reader reviews
9.5/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
When Colin and Susan are pursued by eerie creatures across Alderley Edge, they are saved by the Wizard. He takes them into the caves of Fundindelve, where he watches over t...
The Dark is Rising Sequence
On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew children discover an ancient map in the attic of the house that they are staying in. They know immediately that it is special. It is ...
His name is West. Her name is Cally. They speak different languages and come from different countries thousands of miles apart, but they do not know that. What they do know...
The Abhorsen Chronicles
Who will guard the living when the dead arise? Sabriel is sent as a child across the Wall to the safety of a school in Ancelstierre. Away from magic; away from the Dead. Af...
The Chrestomanci Series
Diana Wynne Jones
Orphans Eric Chant (nicknamed Cat) and his sister Gwendolen, a gifted witch, are whisked away to live in a castle with Chrestromanci, a much-revered man of magic, wealth an...
It has lain lost and forgotten for fifteen hundred years in the ancient heartland of England – a scrap of glass and metal melded by fierce fire. It is the lost core o...
Charlie Keeper has been forced from her home by a bloodthirsty and terrifying stranger. But in escaping she discovers her house holds the gateway to the Realm of Bellania -...
The Tragedy Paper
Every year at an exclusive private boarding school in New York state, the graduating students uphold an old tradition – they must swear an oath of secrecy and leave b...
The Very Best of Charles de Lint
Charles de Lint
Charles de Lint, a fantasy author who has left the same mark on the genre of myth and legend much as the likes of Sir Thomas Malory, Christian Anderson, Grimm, who has foun...
The Testament of Tall Eagle
John R Fultz
A young warrior's vision-quest unveils an alien city full of magic and mystery. As a tribal rift threatens to destroy Tall Eagle's people, night-crawling devils sta...
Out of Oz
The marvellous land of Oz is knotted with social unrest: The Emerald City is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, Glinda is under house arrest, and the Cowardly Lion is on...
Alif the Unseen
G Willow Wilson
He calls himself Alif - few people know his real name - a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and modern worlds. When Alif meets the aristocr...
After an inexplicable catastrophe on Earth, John Bridgeman is left to scrap out a solitary existence, surrounded by bodies and haunted by the girlfriend he cannot allow to ...
R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass - remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone - are wonders ...
A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Best of 2016
A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through......
It is for the entities known as Sleepwalkers to cross the doors between dreams, and hunt the nightmares that haunt sleeping minds. Theirs is a world of impossible vistas, wher...
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Events are coming to a climax in the Banished Lands, as the war reaches new heights. King Nathair has taken control of the fortress at Drassil and three of the Seven Treasures are in his possession. And together with Calidus and his ally Queen Rhin, Nathair will do anything to obtain the remaining Treasures. With all seven under his command, he ...
For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the four...
The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures...
The Creeping Shadow
Lucy has left Lockwood & Co. A freelance operative, she is hiring herself out to other agencies – agencies that might value her ever-improving skills. But now Loc...
The Burning Page
When it's your job to save the day - where do you start? Librarian spy Irene has standards to maintain, especially while on probation. And absconding from a mission via...
The Banished Lands are torn by war as the army of High King Nathair sweeps the realm challenging all who oppose his holy crusade. Allied with the manipulative Queen Rhin of...