So I just finished reading Poul Anserson‘s Three Hearts and Three Lions, which has the unique distinction of being the first book listed in the (in)famous Appendix N of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. The book was clearly an influence on the good Mr. Gygax and company, though its prominent place in the alphabetized list is probably due to the author’s last name as much as anything else 🙂
The book itself is interesting enough, though I found myself somewhat disappointed with what seemed like a rushed ending right at the moment things were about to get truly epic. The characters are generally solid and there’s plenty of set pieces that feel rather like encounters in an RPG. Some of these are even handled with cleverness rather than steel (imagine that!).
As far as its influence on D&D goes, Three Hearts and Three Lions is likely the source for the whole Law vs. Chaos alignment thing*, big-nosed, regenerating trolls†, several Paladin-y things, and perhaps a few other concepts.
I don’t know if I’d call it an absolute must read, but if you’re looking for some enjoyable heroic fantasy that draws on the Carolingian cycle and features what might be the earliest heavily-accented Dwarf (and some nasty human-hating elves, too) in our geeky literary history, then you could do much worse than giving Three Hearts and Three Lions a bit of your time.
*Of course, Moorcock’s works also focused heavily on this concept, and probably drew from Three Hearts as well. Anderson’s book does pre-date the melancholy albino’s first appearance by a few years, after all.
†And it’s a much scarier troll than any D&D troll has ever felt like to me. Maybe that’s because we all know you just need to hit the damned things with fire. Man, I hate playing with people who break character to bust out their encyclopedic knowledge of the Monster Manual (and similar works), don’t you? I mean, can we have some effing immersion occasionally, please?