December 11th, 2013


Book review, Styrbiorn the Strong

I finished Styrbiorn the Strong tonight. It is a good story, well told. It is not gorgeous and highly wrought, like Eddison's other works -- The Worm Ouroboros or the Zimiamvian trilogy -- but it is solid and satisfying. I wonder why it was out of print for so long.

For when I first became aware of the book upon finishing The Worm, I began looking for it, but it was already long out of print. It is only now, forty-some years farther along, that somebody has finally reprinted it. Which amazes me, given the lust for fantasy and historical novels that has raged over the last generation of writing and reading. Styrbiorn is much better done that many a new-minted paperback which is quickly read and as quickly forgotten. Well, at least it is mine now.

Eddison wrote the story because there existed no complete tale of Styrbiorn's life and deeds in the extant saga literature, only echoes and references. Yet it is one of the great tales of the North. I met the story in Frans Gunnar Bengsston's novel of the Viking age, The Long Ships (which was made into a nice, though rather cheesy, adventure movie starring Richard Widmark in 1964). Styrbiorn is only a passing character in The Long Ships -- Orm and Toke meet him at the Danish King Harald's yule feast -- but he stands out, and his fate at the Battle of Fyrisvellir is like the passing of the old pagan age.

E.R. Eddison declines to show Styrbiorn's death; instead, he shows his uncle, King Eric, returning to Upsala victorious but bereft -- and Odin receiving the slain in Valhalla. So, we know he is dead, but we only remember him living and fighting. And though he is not what we would call a nice man, we admire him like a force of nature.