Wolfe - The Knight

December 30, 2004

Gene Wolfe
The Knight

Gene Wolfe is at his best, IMO, when he is writing from the perspective of a confused but observant narrator. His best work, or at least the one I like the best, is his Soldier of the Mist, a novel written in the form of a papyrus scroll marked "read me each day," and owned by a soldier in classical Greece who has recieved a head wound that prevents him from transferring information from short-term to long-term memory. Each day, all he knows is what he learned that day and what he wrote in the scroll. In addition, perhaps because of the head energy, he sees and talks with the gods and heros of ancient Greece - getting wrestling advice from Hercules, and so on. It is a great book, in part because the format means that Wolf can simply leave gaps in his story for the periods when Lazlo forgets to read and write his little scroll.

The Knight is somewhat similar, in that it is the narrative of a flawed narrator. Like Jack Vance's Lyonesse it is powerful, in the simple yet strong mode of a classic folk tale. The very simplicity of the narrator becomes a powerful narrative tool. In this case the conceit is that a boy - teenager? his mental age seems to change from chapter to chapter - wanders from our world into Alfheim and from thence into the middle world. He falls in love with an elf queen, who ages his body but leaves him a kid in a man's shape. He then goes through a series of picaresque adventures.

At times this really read like a toddler story akin to If you Give a Pig a Pancake for about the only consistent trait our hero has is that he is constantly getting distracted from his previous goal. Serving a king, hunting a villain, saving a princess, rescuing a sword, and so on and so on. Wolfe seems to be suggesting that life is a series of decisions we make as we go along, and that we have to choose between our vague general goals, our committments of the moment, and our desire to seize opportunity when it goes by. Still, I felt upset about all the people who depended on our hero and who he abandoned to go haring off after his next picaresque adventure. He is meant to be a kid in an adult body, and so he is.

There is a second volume to this, The Wizard, sitting on my in-shelf. More later.

Note, I read this in December, wrote the commentary in January, and backdated so that the annual book numbers would add up.

Posted by Red Ted at December 30, 2004 09:50 PM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?