Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions was originally serialized in 1953 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction–eight years later a revised and expanded version of the tale would see print in hardcover from Doubleday, followed by an Avon paperback in 1962. It has remained sporadically in print ever since, largely overshadowed by Anderson’s more famous science fiction works.
Although Anderson was best known during the first half of his writing career as a science fiction author, Three Hearts and Three Lions and his following fantasy work The Broken Sword (1954) had a strong impact on knowledgeable fans and fellow writers, perhaps most clearly with Michael Moorcock’s adoption and reinterpretation of the cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos in the Elric of Melniboné stories, which began appearing in 1961.
It’s interesting to speculate how much of himself Anderson put into Holger Carlsen, the hero of Three Hearts and Three Lions–they are both Danish-Americans, trained in science and engineering, and apparently wholly rational and pragmatic. Holger rises to adventure though, rediscovering and embracing his true identity as Ogier the Dane, paladin of Charlemagne and one the great heroes of medieval European literature. In a similar vein, perhaps Anderson’s romantic side led him to become a founding member of both the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Swordsmen and Sorceror’s Guild of America.
Throughout its publishing history Three Hearts and Three Lions never had an iconic cover, and the Appendix N-era 1978 Berkley Medallion paperback is no exception, featuring a serviceable cover by Wayne Barlowe, who would later become more well-known for his anatomically realistic depictions of fantastic creatures and truly alien life:
That Three Hearts and Three Lions is one of the most significant influences on early Dungeons & Dragons is undeniable. For example, Gary Gygax specifically cites the book in the listing for the “True Troll” in the “Fantasy Supplement” to Chainmail (1971), although a full description of the Andersonian troll (and the nixie) would have to wait for the original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) box set. The original 1974 rules would also feature the most famous borrowing from Three Hearts and Three Lions, the Law vs. Chaos alignment system, although perhaps filtered through Michael Moorcock’s interpretation in the Elric books.
Certain Lawful fighters could elect to achieve Holger Carlsen-esque paladin status with the publication of the first D&D supplement, Greyhawk (1975). Paladins would evolve into their quintessential D&D form as a fighter sub-class in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1978)
The troll and the nixie would receive much more detailed write-ups in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977), with the Swanmay finally making her first D&D appearance in the Monster Manual II (1983). A close reading of Three Hearts and Three Lions and the various early Dungeons & Dragons would undoubtedly reveal more direct influences on the game as we know it today.
Update 10/08/2017: Holger Carlsen and Hugi the Dwarf were written up for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in Dragon magazine #49 (1981) by TSR stalwart Roger E. Moore. Hugi was depicted as an AD&D gnome fighter though–evidently the AD&D dwarf was seen as sufficiently Tolkienian by then as to be a poor model for poor Hugi.
Three Hearts and Three Lions (Kindle ebook)
A Midsummer Tempest (Kindle ebook) – Holger Carlsen makes a cameo in Poul Anderson’s 1974 fantasy set in a 17th century England where all of Shakespeare’s characters are real.
Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson’s Worlds (trade paperback/Kindle ebook) is a Poul Anderson tribute anthology featuring original stories set in Anderson’s many fictional worlds, including one each from Harry Turtledove and Tad Williams in the universe of Three Hearts and Three Lions.
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