A good case in point is Poul Anderson's "The Tale of Hauk," a short story based on Scandinavian legend. The titular hero, Hauk Geirolfsson, is a "chapman" -- a trader -- who has traveled far and wide beyond the northern lands of his birth. Hauk is often gone for years, visiting places and seeing things of which his people have never dreamed. Despite this, his father does not think especially well of him, seeing trading as no profession for a Norseman. At one point, a female friend of Hauk asks him about his manner of life.
"So you grow mighty as a chapman, Hauk," Alfhild teased. "Have you never gone in viking ... only once, only to please your father?"Anderson thus makes it clear that, while Hauk is unlike others of his people, he is still a stout warrior and a brave one, too, having faced more than bandits in the course of his many travels. Geirolf, his father, is now an old man who can no longer go viking, as he once did. Embittered, angry, and fearing "straw-death" -- death in his bed rather than in battle -- he has taken to insulting and challenging all whom he meets, in hopes of rousing them to strike and kill him. He does this repeatedly to Hauk, but his son ignores his affronts.
"No," he answered gravely. " I fail to see what manliness lies in falling on those too weak to defend themselves. We traders must be stronger and more war-skilled than any who seek to plunder us." A thick branch of driftwood, bleached and hardened, lay nearby. Hauk picked it up and snapped it between his hands. Two other men would have had trouble doing that. It gladdened him to see Alfhild glow at the sight. "Nobody has tried us twice," he said.
While away on yet another journey, Hauk's father dies in his bed. Because of his manner of death, Geirolf cannot be buried in his ship, but is instead placed in an ordinary earthen grave. This does not sit well with his spirit, which rises as a "drow" and begins to wreak havoc on his people. When Hauk returns, his family and friends turn to him, assuming that, in his travels, he might have learned of a means to deal with such a threat. "I am no wizard," he replies. "If the gods themselves would not lay this ghost what can I do?" The remainder of the story deals with that question and how Hauk decides to answer it.
Poul Anderson is one of my favorite authors, so my judgment when it comes to his work is likely impaired. Nonetheless, I don't think I exaggerate when I say that "The Tale of Hauk" is one of his best short works of fantasy, not so much for its story -- though its story is quite compelling -- but for its use of language. Among Anderson's many interests was what English might sound like bereft of its non-Germanic word borrowings, culminating in his 1989 essay on atomic theory called "Uncleftish Beholding." "The Tale of Hauk," though from an earlier date, was written in a similar vein and, rather than being whimsical, the style suits it perfectly, making it at once easily readable but also evocative of another time and place. As Offutt says in his own introduction to the piece:
If the language of this story isn't the way scholars think the tales of Scandinavia should be translated -- they're wrong. If you don't promptly fall in love with the language -- you're wrong.That may be a bit strong of a sentiment, though only a bit. For myself, I adore the way Anderson tells this tale; his use of largely "Anglo-Saxon" words lends it a unique sound and rhythm that, along with its story of filial piety and a society in transition, makes it well worth a read.