Poul Anderson

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
/wiki/Poul Andersoncreator
Information icon4.svg This page needs visual enhancement.
You can help All The Tropes by finding a high-quality image or video to illustrate the topic of this page.


Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was an American SF and fantasy writer, who was also involved in the founding of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Apart from JRR Tolkien, probably the writer most involved in doing the research when it came to fantasy. One of the sources for Dungeons & Dragons.

The Other Wiki lists recurring themes in his work as (among others) "larger-than-life characters who succeed gleefully or fail heroically," the folly of underestimating "primitive" cultures, and "tragic conflict...with no villains at all." His most famous essay is "On Thud and Blunder," where he takes potshots at those who Did Not Do the Research in regards to fantasy, and is the Trope Namer for Thud and Blunder.

Works written by Poul Anderson include:

Poul Anderson provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lots.
  • Blithe Spirit: Caitlín Mulryan, the eponymous character of The Avatar.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: After Doomsday
  • Combat Pragmatist: Poul Anderson is fond of these characters. In his Wing Alek series of short stories the main character is forbidden from ever using killing to win a conflict (luckily the villains don't know that) so he uses underhanded methods to get the villains to defeat themselves.
  • Crapsack World: Fairly normal for his Viking stories.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Seen in his viking stories where the vikings act like vikings,meaning they are predatory, bloodthirsty, vengeance obsessed, and oh yes, peculiarly racist against Finns. Also seen in Technic History which has glimpses of slavery, human sacrifice, feuding, and what not, either as part of the plot or mentioned as a cultural background to a given people.
  • The Fair Folk: Appear in many Anderson stories, often with some kind of twist. Examples include The Queen of Air and Darkness.
  • Feudal Future: In Corridors of Time, the hero realizes that the futuristic society that recruited him to fight a Dystopia is rather dystopian itself when he is dropped in it and learns that the queen has high tech medical treatment while the poor woman he meets looks ancient at forty because of her lack of it.
    • Technic History has this during the days of The Empire. In the days of the Poliosotechnic League there are implications of it like a trusted employee having a contract that is more like a feudal one then like a mutually dispensable contract with a twentieth century corporation. At the least Falkayn once calls Van Rjn his "liege".
  • First Contact: The novelette The Enemy Stars deals with an accidental First Contact between a human and the aliens that save his life, and the sequel The Ways of Love deals with how humans handle the first alien beings on Earth (not well, in some cases).
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Averted in the short story The Food of the Gods. A being or concept needs some initial worship to achieve Godhood, but after that are relatively self-sustaining. (If a bit hungry . . . )
  • Grey and Gray Morality
  • Horny Vikings: Averted. His vikings do not wear horns. Though they are not uncommonly horny in the other sense.
  • Hope Is Scary: In After Doomsday, an alien does not understand this.
  • Humanoid Aliens
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: A Boat of Million Years has fertile immortals. Unfortunately, the children are mortal.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: The Old Phoenix Tavern, which appears in several works.
  • King in the Mountain: In Orion Shall Rise, the line "Orion shall rise" is used by many citizens of a subjugated land. This trope is invoked to explain their superstition.
  • Lady Land: An all-female Lost Colony is discovered in the novel Virgin Planet.
  • The Leader: After Doomsday
  • Lonely Together: In "Losers' Night", the Old Phoenix, the Inn Between the Worlds, has a night where all the guests are failures. Unusually for the inn, this night allows people to magically understand each other -- so they can commiserate.
  • Master of Your Domain: A lot of his books e.g. Boat of A Million Years
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Devil's Game
  • My Grandson, Myself: In The Boat of a Million Years several characters do this.
  • Norse Mythology: Several of Anderson's novels (e.g. War of the Gods, Hrolf Kraki's Saga) are adaptations of old Norse sagas, while several others are loosely based on them (such as The Broken Sword).
  • Privateer: The Star Fox
  • Purple Prose: Not always and not so purple it can't be understood. But often enough. Well used too.
  • Rated M For Manly: Writes about Vikings, Roman Soldiers, Dark Age Warriors, Space Heroes and on and on. As well as being an upstanding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Actually Anderson is both romanticist and enlightened. He loves powerful descriptions of scenery and culture, and glamorizes obscure peoples. At the same time he has no resentment of such enlightenment concepts as science, technology, or commerce except insofar as their excess causes harm.
    • While he is famous and justly for the moral of "never underestimate primitives" he has no truck with the Noble Savage myth. His low tech peoples are just as brutal and treacherous as his high tech ones, just as honorable and often just as clever.
  • Room 101: The story "Sam Hall" opens with the protagonist's nephew being arrested and sent to a Room 101; the protagonist must hide that they were related.
  • Scenery Porn: Just read some of his descriptions.
  • Sherlock Scan: In "Queen of Air and Darkness."
  • Shrouded in Myth: In Virgin Planet, a planet of women, isolated by accident, has legends of these marvelous beings, men. A real, flesh-and-blood man appears, and they initially conclude he's not marvelous enough and must be an alien.
  • Space Cossacks: Most notably the Nomads of Star Ways who team up with an agent of the Space Police to investigate rumors of a potentially hostile alien civilization.
  • Space Opera
  • Space Police: The Coordination Service or "Cordies" in Star Ways.
  • Space Elves: Appear in Star Ways and Sarragosso of Lost Starships as beings rather like Fair Folk.
  • Starfish Aliens: In Starfarers, one of the sentient species is an intelligent layer of star. Not the whole star, just part of its skin.
  • Time Travel: Lots of uses, beside the "Time Patrol" series
  • Trapped in the Past: In the short story "The Man Who Came Early", an American soldier stationed in Iceland is sent back to the Viking Era after being hit by lightning.
  • Twice-Told Tale: "Goat Song"
  • Worldbuilding: He is famous for this.
  • World of Badass: Also fairly normal for Viking stories.
  • Worthy Opponent: Often writes about tragic fictional conflicts that would require superhuman wisdom to stop if they really took place(just like many real conflicts). Even when one side is clearly presented unsympathetically it will tend to have a few decent people fighting for it and often some attractive cultural traits.
  • You Are in Command Now: After Doomsday