261. Andre Nortonʼs Sword Trilogy

This post and yesterday’s are about the Sword Trilogy, Andre Norton’s first multi-book story. You can read the posts in either order.

Some of Andre Nortonʼs earliest work came during and just after World War II, and today is called the Sword Trilogy. I reviewed the last and best of the three books yesterday. A few are available today in paperback reprints, but the original hardbacks mostly ended up in libraries and command high prices today. Fortunately, all three are available as e-books, if you can tolerate a boat load of typos.

The Sword is Drawn came first in 1944, and was one of Norton’s earliest books; the fifth, if bibliographies can be trusted. My library rescue copy was printed by Oxford University Press, London, 1946, presumably under wartime austerities. It is a slender, ragged volume that needs to be read with a delicate touch.

In a forward to the book, Norton praises the World Friends’ Club for their work in establishing “pen friend” relations between youths of various countries before 1939, and adds:

Now again letters are finding their way by sea and air all round the world. It is possible that in these friendships lies the hope of lasting peace and the vision of a new world.

The four sections of the novel are set off by letters from the young protagonist Lorens van Norries to his American friend Lawrence Kane. Lorens is the grandson of Joris van Norries, head of the House of Norries, renowned jewelers and bankers, but he has been raised as an outcast. In the opening paragraphs, Lorens visits his grandfather’s deathbed and finds that he has been raised away from the family for a reason. His grandfather has foreseen the coming of the Nazis and now entrusts Lorens with the location of the family treasure which he is to dedicate to regaining the Netherland’s freedom. Unfortunately, the Nazi’s are not fooled, and Lorens has to run for his life. He is transported to England by Dutch smugglers, turned underground fighters.

Lorens ends up in Java, still a Dutch possession with a House of Norries presence, and there the war catches up to him again as the Japanese invade. He fights his way through the jungle and ends up fleeing by air toward Australia, where his plane is shot down and he is crippled. Heroes who are physically or emotionally crippled, and fight through anyway seems to be a Norton specialty.

Healed, but unable to fight in the traditional manner, Lorens has an interlude in America where he enlists an underground organization to transport him back into occupied Holland. There he recovers the treasure entrusted to him and uses it to advance the Allied cause.

The Sword is Drawn is a disjointed book, a round-the-world stumble back to where it started. This may be a problem for some readers; I find it a strength, as it mimics the chaos of war. The Sword is Drawn is a moody book, informed by the vision of a people who have been ground down and are still fighting back.

And then the war was over. The second book of the Sword Trilogy, Sword in Sheath,  came out in 1949 and has a mood in stark contrast to the first. Lawrence Kane – sometimes called Kane, sometimes Dutch, but never Larry – and Sam Marusaki, are back from service in WWII which included OSS work. They are called in unofficially, ostensibly to find a missing airman but actually to look for Naziʼs who had gone to earth in the East Indies after the war. Kane is the pen-pal to whom Lorens van Norreys sent all those letters and, sure enough, van Norreys shows up by chapter three, where he and Kane meet face-to-face for the first time. At this meeting we find out that, after the close of the first book, van Norreys spent the remainder of the war in the Dutch underground.

Every verbal exchange between Kane and Sam is couched in light banter, which somehow, unbelievably, still sounds like Norton. Lorens, Kane, and Sam set out on a Dutch tramp steamer to explore the area around the Celebes, where they fall in with Abdul Hakroun, a pirate who is willing to fight Nazis if there is a profit in it for him. Several mysteries entangle them until they find a lost civilization, a missing treasure, and a stranded Nazi sub. All this sounds very predictable for an espionage novel, but Norton’s touch saves it. Still, it is the weakest of the three books.


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