The Sword of Me

I can’t now remember why Robin and I decided to run an egosearch on Google Images. I think it might have been something to do with a discussion on the relative popularity of our names. In any case, Robin doesn’t seem to have very much of a net presence. A search on his name reveals primarily photos of a woman (apparently a US television chef) followed by a bearded man whose middle name is Robin.

A picture of me is among the top hits for my name. There’s a different one further down, along with a bunch of other people who share at least part of my name.

Scroll down far enough, however, and you come across this:

I had to find out more about a book called The Sword of Rhiannon. The blurb looked as if it might even be a decent story, Amazon was selling it for a few quid, and my birthday was coming up…

We were expecting a fun little retro-future adventure: a book written in 1949, time-travel from modern colonial desert Mars back to the days when it was lush and verdant and peopled with humanoid races. And indeed this it was. What we weren’t expecting was to find the source of some of the greatest influences on our own culture and upbringing.

Leigh Brackett, the author of this short novel, apparently wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back. It may not have looked much like the final version (she died and it was substantially revised by others), but regardless, George Lucas was definitely a fan of her work. Han Solo clearly owes a debt to Matthew Carse, the protagonist of this novel. And there’s more than a trace of Ywaine in Princess Leia (though Leia, being a creation of the 70s rather than the 40s, is actually capable and intelligent as well as proud and fearless).

The writing style reminded me of nothing so much as Ursula Le Guin. Brackett isn’t interested in character development in the way that Le Guin is, at least not here: the book is pure plot, in the manner of a fairy tale. But she has a very lyrical turn of phrase and an eye for sudden beauty in her descriptions.

Raymond Feist had obviously read it as well, before writing the Riftwar saga. The Riftwar has a city – a port – called Krondor; Brackett’s Mars has one called Khondor. Time travel to the distant past – check. Evil snake people – check. Evil snake people following an evil god from the even more distant past – check. Long sea voyages – check. Possession by an entity that may or may not be bent on destroying the world – check. Dearth of female characters – check, though that’s probably not Brackett’s fault.

It’s amazing that we should have come across, quite by chance, in this early sci-fi novel, so much of the basis for our own cultural development. Feist and Le Guin have both had a huge influence on fantasy literature and roleplaying, and anyone reading this knows all about the cultural impact of Star Wars already.

And to think, if the publishers hadn’t changed the title, we’d never have found it. After all, what motivation would we have to read a story called The Sea-Kings of Mars?

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