In the Pulp Revival, we talk about regressing further, to draw upon the forms and stories of the past to write new stories. "The Saga of Adalwolf" takes this idea, but goes further back than the pulps and penny dreadfuls of the late 1800s and early 1900s to the Nordic tales of a millennium and more in the past. Alone of the stories in Thune's Vision, "Adalwolf" takes place our past among the Scandinavian peoples, referencing Norse myth and ritual. Norse sagas often center around feuds, like Adalwolf's feud with Faramund. And, like Beowulf, the most recognized of sagas to the English reader, Adalwolf's feats on the battlefield lead to commanding warriors and kingship. And pride causes both Beowulf and Adalwolf to fall from their heights.
For "Adalwolf" is also a tragedy. In many forms of tragedy, the hero starts in a low station, is raised to the heights of society through individual acts of valor and prowess, and is brought low again because his personality faults drive him to make bad decisions. The All-Father's spear gives Adalwolf the renown needed to amass a warband to defeat Faramund. But after Faramund is killed, his treasures and halls seized, and his wife now Adalwolf's mistress, Adalwolf keeps the spear instead of returning it. Pride in his feats fans ambition, and Adalwolf seeks kingship over all who share his language. Once his people are united, he would conquer to the south, where disciplined fighting men in tercios (or maybe even legions) guard the riches of the southern peoples. Meanwhile, the old hurt of his ex-wife abandoning him prevents him from marrying his mistress as he should. Both pride and hurt spur him into making poor choices that remove the gods' blessings and eventually drive Adalwolf to his death on the field of battle. Yet he still remains a sympathetic figure, as we see how he is manipulated into every poor decision, whether by the machinations of rivals, ambitions, or hurts. Those wanting to find catharsis at the end of this tale, as in the best tragedies, can do so. Others may find moral instruction. Either way, the traditions of the tragedy are also ancient, stretching back beyond the oral stories that became the Illiad.
Which leads to the most important question: is "Adalwolf" an enjoyable read? Yes, yes, emphatically, yes. It is a roaring yet cautionary tale, full of action and moral question for the reader to enjoy. At the same time, "Adalwolf" like all of Schuyler Hernstrom's stories in Thune's Vision, shows that there can be some real literary meat to sword and sorcery, actual form and craft in story, not just the sentence tricks many writers use to sound literary. I heartily recommend Thune's Vision to both readers wanting a fun read and writers who want to learn their craft.