Thorgal volume 2: The Three Elders of Aran/The Black Galley

By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)

ISBN: 978-1-905460-31-1

One of the best and most celebrated adventure series of all time, Thorgal achieves the seemingly impossible by being able to both please critics and sell in vast quantities. The prototypical Game of Thrones debuted in iconic weekly Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later.

A far-reaching and expansive generational saga, it has won a monolithic international following in fourteen languages and dozens of countries, generating numerous spin-off series and thus naturally offers a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, the series offers the best of all weird worlds with an ostensibly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, horrendous monsters, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz Rosiński (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on.

Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who has collaborated on a further five collections to date.

By the time Van Hamme departed the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan but also other indomitable family members through a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with all eventually winning their own sub-section series of solo albums.

In 1985 American publisher Donning released a superb series of oversized hardcover book translations but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

The original French series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life but here, following the childhood exploits seen in volume 1, the saga opens in the full bloom of young manhood for this second translated collection, comprising third and fourth albums (Les Trois Vieillards du pays d’Aran and La Galère Noire from 1981 and 1982 respectively) in one double-sized barbarian bonanza.

Thorgal Aegirsson was recovered as a baby from a ferocious storm and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know that the fortunate foundling had survived a stellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens. Growing to manhood, the stranger was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne.

As a boy Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as ‘The Three Elders of Aran’ opens, the now adult couple are travelling together through lush unexplored country, having recently eloped to escape her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

They are startled by the sudden appearance of a strange little man named Jadawin who welcomes them to the beautiful land of Aran and invites them to a feast. The land might be glorious but the village is a pitiful hovel inhabited by people on the edge of extinction.

The lordly “Benevolent Ones” who extended the invitation dwell in the colossal Castle of the Bottomless Lake, but even before the couple can boat across Aaricia solves a tantalising Gordian puzzle and wins a glorious necklace.

That show of keen wit electrifies the populace who declare her their Chosen Queen and brutally mob Thorgal when he objects…

As the horrified Aaricia is bundled off the castle, her husband’s presumed corpse is dumped in the forest but later that night a lone warrior swims the uncrossable moat and scales the impenetrable keep to take back his true love.

Sneaking into the main hall Thorgal overhears Jadawin discussing the new queen with a trio of elderly sages. Now that they have a queen again the triumvirate are planning to invite princely suitors to compete for her and rule of Aran…

The lone invader has his own plans but when he finds Aaricia, she doesn’t recognise her man and calls her guards in genuine panic. Baffled, Thorgal barely escapes with his life and has no choice but to devise a plan B…

Some time later, ten princes arrive in Aran determined to win the beautiful queen (and her staggeringly valuable dowry) and are promptly presented with mystic challenges which soon winnow the field to brutish Karshan of Urizen, sly Volsung of Nichor and a masked bravo who turns out to be Thorgal…

The Elders seem rather unconcerned about the deception and allow all the finalists to continue. Before long the competitors have fetched up on Whirlpool Island where seductive sorceress the Key Guardian assesses their worth and warns Thorgal that all is not as it seems…

The final feat finds the questers tested with doom and monumental wealth, but as Thorgal travels to another time and place through a fantastical realm he at last discerns the truth about The Benevolent Ones and changes the rules to rescue his beloved and bring down a true kingdom of the damned…  

‘The Black Galley’ – opening sally in an epic continued tale known by fans as the Brek Zarith Saga – starts some time later with Thorgal and Aaricia enjoying the hard but gratifying life of simple peasants in a village of serfs. Thorgal is happy to be an industrious farm-worker, with solid dependable friends and a wife only weeks away from giving him his first child.

The idyllic life is far from perfect however since the headman’s teenage daughter Shaniah has developed an unhealthy fixation with the glamorous Viking and is determined to take him away from Aaricia…

When the girl acts up after a harvest feast the hero tries one last time to reason with her but their heated conference is interrupted by a man in manacles who steals Thorgal’s horse. Later, when knights of Shardar the Powerful, King of Brek Zarith come looking for an escaped prisoner, spurned, petulant Shaniah accuses Thorgal of aiding the fugitive…

Ignoring all his protests the warriors, led by seasoned veteran Jarl Ewing drag the vigorously resisting Viking to their distant galley and a painful interview with decadently effete Prince Veronar

The promised inquisition results in Thorgal utterly humiliating the prince and killing the spiteful scion’s favourite murder-pet before boldly escaping. All too soon however the Jarl recaptures the Viking he has grown to admire and it takes all his energies to foil Veronar’s attempts to take bloody vengeance.

Unable to give any information on the whereabouts of fugitive rebel Galathorn, Thorgal is sentenced to join the other captives at the oars where his indomitable spirit makes even more enemies amongst the slave-masters and new friends of his fellow slaves…

Sometime later Ewing tries to recruit the Viking to his cause – taking the throne from Shardar – but the wily prince overhears and sentences both warriors to a painful death… As the sentence is being carried out the tribute-filled Black Galley is discovered by a small fleet of Viking drakkars (raiding ships) which give frantic chase. In the chaos Thorgal escapes and frees the oar slaves before dealing with Veronar…

The raiders are old friends. Thorgal is immediately recognised by hulking Jorund the Bull who embraces his lost comrade and informs him that as new king – since Gandalf has died – his banishment is ended and he is welcome to return home with the Northern Vikings.

Thorgal regretfully refuses. All he wants is to be with Aaricia and his coming child, spending peaceful days as a farmer.

Sadly when he reaches the village all that remains is ash, corpses and Jarl Ewing. The traitor had hired mercenaries and awaited Thorgal’s return, intending to use Aaricia as a hostage to ensure her husband’s cooperation. She chose death and drowned herself, refusing to be weapon aimed at her man’s heart…

The debacle sparked a disaster as the mercenaries went wild and pillaged the hamlet and now, the two warriors must end their ill-fated association with yet one more death…

It’s certainly no spoiler to remind you that Aaricia and Thorgal’s story doesn’t end here and that this is but one moment in the magnificently illustrated, astoundingly addictive and completely compelling epic.

The enchantingly wondrous world of Thorgal is every fantasy fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure. How can you possibly resist?

Original editions © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1981-1982 Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard). English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.