Three Hearts and Three Lions

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Three Hearts and Three Lions
Cover of the first edition
Author Poul Anderson
Cover artist Edward Gorey
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fantasy novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 191 pp

Three Hearts and Three Lions is a 1961 fantasy novel by Poul Anderson, expanded from a 1953 novella by Anderson which appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction.


Holger Carlsen is an American-trained Danish engineer who joins the Danish Resistance to the Nazis. At the shore near Elsinore he is among the group of resistance fighters trying to cover the escape to Sweden of an important scientist (evidently, the nuclear physicist Niels Bohr). With a German force closing in, Carlsen is shot - and suddenly finds himself carried to a parallel universe, a world where Northern European legend concerning Charlemagne ("The Matter of France") is real. This world is divided between the forces of Chaos inhabiting "Middle World" (which includes Faerie) and forces of Law based in the human world, which is in turn divided between the Holy Roman Empire and the Saracens. He finds the equipment and horse of a medieval knight waiting for him. The shield is emblazoned with three hearts and three lions. He finds the clothes and armour fit him perfectly, and he knows how to use the weapons and ride the horse as well as speak fluently the local language, a very archaic form of French.

Seeking to return to his own world, Holger is joined by Alianora, a swan maiden, and Hugi, a dwarf. They are induced to follow the seemingly attractive elvish Duke Alfric of Faerie, who in fact plots to imprison Holger in Elf Hill where time runs differently. Holger learns that Morgan Le Fay, his lover in a forgotten past life, is his ultimate adversary. They escape and, after encountering a dragon, a giant, and a werewolf, reach the town of Tarnberg, where they are joined by a mysterious Saracen called Carahue, who has been searching for Holger. Based on the advice of the wizard, Martinus Trismegistus, they set out to recover the sword, Cortana. The sword is in a ruined church, guarded by a nixie, cannibal hillmen, and - the most dangerous of all - a troll. Once the sword is recovered, Holger discovers he is the legendary Ogier the Dane, a champion of Law. He vanquishes the forces of Chaos and is transported back to his own world, right back to the battle in Elsinore - and with a burst of superhuman strength, vanquishes the Nazi troops and enables Bohr to escape and play his part in the Manhattan Project; thus, in two worlds Holger/Ogier has fulfilled his destiny of fighting evil forces and preserving Denmark and France. But, the mysterious force which moved him from one world to another has no reason to return him to the other world, where he has fallen in love with Alianora. He wishes to be reunited with her, though he knows his efforts will be long and difficult, and desperately seeking clues in old books of magic. His enduring affinity with the Medieval world in which he met her is expressed by a decision to convert to Catholicism.


The novel is a pastiche of interwoven stories. It draws on the corpus of Northern European legends, including Ogier the Dane, the Matter of France, Arthurian romance, Oberon (Duke Alfric in the novel), Germanic mythology, and traditional magic. It uses related literary sources such as Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Robert Burns's Tam o' Shanter, and Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. It also shows influence of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit with references to Mirkwood and wargs. It has some similarity to C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The dividing line between the Empire in the West and threatening Faerie to the East seems to mirror the Cold War dividing line between the West and East Blocs, running through the real Europe at the time of writing.[citation needed]

Other works[edit]

Holger later appears as a minor character in Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, where he is seen in a mysterious "Inn Between the Worlds" - having managed at last to leave the modern 20th Century and wander the various alternate timelines, but still far from locating the one he wants.

In addition, he appears (with many other classic SF characters) in the tournament at the end of Heinlein's The Number of the Beast.

In 2014 Harry Turtledove wrote, as his contribution to Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson's Worlds, edited by Greg Bear and Gardner Dozois,[1] a short story entitled "The Man who Came Late". The story takes place thirty years after the events of Three Hearts and Three Lions. Holger Carlsen finally succeeds in returning to the world of the Carolingian cycle and meeting up with his love Alianora. However, she did not know if he would ever return and so married and had children, thus Holger became the "The Man who Came Late". The title is derived from an unrelated Anderson story, "The Man Who Came Early".


The novel influenced the role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, especially the original alignment system, which grouped all characters and creatures into "Law" and "Chaos". The game drew on the novel's depiction of the troll, which regenerated when wounded, the swanmay, and the nixie. The novel also inspired the paladin character class.[2]

The novel was also an influence on Michael Moorcock's creation of Elric of Melniboné and the Eternal Champion.


The 1953 novella is a Retro-Hugo nominee.[3]


  1. ^ Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson's Worlds, [1]
  2. ^ DeVarque, Aardy R. "Literary Sources of D&D". Archived from the original on 20 July 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  3. ^ "NESFA 1953 Retro-Hugo Recommendations". New England Science Fiction Association, Inc. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 


  • Tymn, Marshall B.; Kenneth J. Zahorski; Robert H. Boyer (1979). Fantasy Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide. New York: R.R. Bowker Co. p. 45. ISBN 0-8352-1431-1. 

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