Poul Anderson’s Magnificent “A Midsummer Tempest.”

1974’s A Midsummer Tempest exhibits an artist working at the height of his powers. It is a work that defies clear categorization. Poul Anderson has created something utterly indiosyncratic that nonetheless depends entirely upon prior works.

The tale occurs near the culmination of the English Civil War. So, it is historical fiction then, right? Not so fast. The world of AMT is one in which the plays of William Shakespeare are accurate histories. All of them. (As are one or two other works of fiction, apparently. Watch for cameos.) As if that was not enough, it is also a world in which the Industrial Revolution has begun early. Anderson thus cleverly constructs a backdrop of Progress versus Poetry, Science versus Romance.

Against this background, Prince Rupert of the Rhine — with the aid of Oberon and Titania — quests to recover Prospero’s broken staff and sunken grimoire in order to prevent the defeat of Charles I.

While fun and involving, the plot is secondary to the telling. The language is deliberately florid, the dialogue flows in near seamless Iambic Pentameter. It is pure artistry.

If you read my post on Anderson’s short story collection Fantasy, you might recall the story House Rule. The Old Phoenix makes a reappearance in AMT. Anderson indulges himself (in a fashion similar to Robert Heinlein and Stephen King) by using the transdimensional tavern to allow some of his characters from other books to meet each other. It is charming and fun, though in other hands it could be an eye-rolling conceit. (The Old Phoenix shows up again in the Epilogue. Watch for more cameos. See how many you can recognize.)

Will Fairweather is a standout character, written (or so I assume) as an homage to Shakespearean earthy characters such as Dogberry. Anderson has tremendous fun with Fairweather’s sexual puns and innuendos, his dialogue written in dialect.

Contrary to the blurb on the back cover, AMT is not Sword and Sorcery. It isn’t a breakneck page turner, not action heavy. That isn’t to say it is either bloodless or dull. There is plenty of adventure, combat, escapes, and thrills. But it is a book to be savored, not rushed through. The depth, layers of meaning, and beautiful descriptive passages should be lingered over. If, like me, you appreciate John Myers Myers’ Silverlock and E.R.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, AMT will occupy a cherished spot on your shelves.

Perhaps a bit of counterprogramming is called for in the commercial portion of today’s post. If you are in the mood for something rather more gritty and grounded in your fantasy, after the gorgeous flight of fancy of AMT, pick up a copy of my Thick As Thieves, my S&S homage to Elmore Leonard’s crime novels.



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