THE HIGH CRUSADE
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
It has been about seven years since the last edition of Poul Anderson's novel The High Crusade was in print, and now Baen Books has elected to reprint the novel in honor of its fiftieth anniversary. The novel is prefaced with several introductions by a variety of authors, ranging from Anderson's close friend, Diana Paxson, to more recent author Eric Flint. In addition to Anderson's classic novel and the numerous laudatory introductions, this volume also includes Anderson's short story "Quest," originally published in Ares Magazine in 1983 to coincide with the publication in a boardgame version of the novel in the sixteenth issue of the magazine.
The High Crusade is the story of a band of English villagers led by Sir Roger de Tourneville. As his men are training to battle the French during the Hundred Years' War, their small Lincolnshire village is visited by a spaceship. Rather than cower in fear, the Englishman attack the Wersgor, eventually killing all save one and taking their spaceship to use against the French and Saracens. However, Branithar, the surviving Wersgor causes them to fly to the Wersgorix colony world of Tharixan, expecting his race to be able to destroy the technologically inferior Englishmen.
The majority of the novel deals with Sir Roger learning to deal, frequently in an underhanded way, with the Wersgorix and their subjugated races as he sets about building his own intergalactic empire. At the same time, he must deal with a minor rebellion in his own ranks as Sir Owain, one of his knights, tries to return to Earth. Depicted as the hero throughout the novel, Sir Roger is also shown as being ruthless in his attempts to gain the upperhand, whether dealing with his own subjects or his enemies.
The High Crusade is an excellent adventure story, placing the heroic (human) characters against overwhelming odds in an hostile universe. While the novel doesn't necessarily hold up to close rational scrutiny, Anderson's tale is told in an engaging manner that allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in his universe and suspend their disbelief as much as any Hollywood blockbuster in which the hero overcomes overpowering forces. His aliens are intriguing, not least because of the orthographical games Anderson has engaged in.
While The High Crusade was told from the point of view of Friar Parvus, "Quest" is from the pen of Sir Thomas Hameward, which allowed Anderson to play with a different writing style. This story has the descendents of the original crusaders searching the galaxy for the Holy Grail. While the idea that the Grail may have been removed from Earth seems silly, a fact mentioned in the story, Anderson applies the Medieval mindset to formulate a reasonable excuse for the Grail's interstellar placement, and the story, while short and a little abrupt, makes a nice coda to The High Crusade.
Anderson's story of a group of Medieval knights let loose on the galaxy and demonstrating their innate superiority is a throwback to an earlier style of writing with different concerns and sensibilities than our society fifty years later, yet reading it, the novel still has an enjoyability and a freshness which makes it enjoyable. The addition of "Quest," a little known story (although it was reprinted in the 2002 Anderson collection Going for Infinity) will give reader who are already familiar with The High Crusade a new story and, perhaps, a different view of that familiar tale.
|The High Crusade|
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