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From the April, 2004 issue of Touchstone


Fantastic Saga by Dale Nelson

Fantastic Saga

Blood and Judgment
by Lars Walker
Baen Books, 2003
(310 pages; $6.99, paperback)

reviewed by Dale Nelson

Sixty-odd years ago, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt wrote several lighthearted stories about the adventures of Harold Shea in various alternative universes in which the events of Norse mythology, or Spenser’s Faerie Queene, or the Kalevala, or Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso were in keeping with the laws of nature. Lars Walker has updated this genre in Blood and Judgment, pitching high-school English teacher Will Sverdrup of Epsom, Minnesota, and his fellow amateur thespians into a universe (or two) in which the ur-Hamlet saga of Amlodd, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet—or Thomas Kyd’s!—supply the templates.

Sverdrup’s friends are alarmed when they realize that the aristocratic consciousness suddenly inhabiting Will’s body is Amlodd’s—and that a school bully who’d fallen in with them (quite literally) is a troll. A red-eyed spirit in a clerical collar elucidates things a bit, for reasons of his own. As the story continues, the characters’ weaknesses and sins—fears, lusts, resentments—precipitate increasing disorder. The novel becomes much darker than any of the Harold Shea stories, and much more meaningful—for example, in the treatment of the theme of honor and shame.

Blood and Judgment refers to the Old Ones: mysterious beings who appear in Walker’s previous novels, The Year of the Warrior and Wolf Time. Year is a first installment of what Walker intends as an ongoing chronicle of Erling Skjalgsson, a Viking warrior of 1,000 years ago, written by an unheroic Irishman, Aillil. It is refreshing to read popular fantasy built on a foundation of solid historical research and love of the medieval Icelandic sagas. Wolf Time is a very-near-future thriller with exciting undertones of C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength and even a suggestion of some of Owen Barfield’s speculations about the development of consciousness.

Walker is an Evangelical Christian and a Lutheran in the pietist tradition. In fact, his day job is with the Association of Free Lutheran Churches in Minneapolis. However, he has said, “I never believed that God gave me whatever gifts I may have in order to entertain fellow Christians. I want to confront the world with the claims of Jesus Christ.”

The degree to which he is able to do this, in books published by one of America’s most prominent science fiction houses, is amazing. At the end of the novel, Walker extends a warm but veiled invitation to readers offended by Blood and Judgment to remain friends: to non-Christians who may have their backs up about a character’s conversion—and perhaps to Christians who have been uneasy about the language and behavior of some of the characters. This reader looks forward to more fiction from Walker’s pen.  

Dale Nelson is Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at Mayville State University in Mayville, North Dakota.

“Fantastic Saga” first appeared in the April 2004 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

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