The Knight

January 31st, 2005
This entry is part of 2 in the series The Wizard Knight

There is a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso in which he says “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I don’t know if he ever really said that, but it certainly matches to what I know of the man, his ego, and his master works. In The Knight, Gene Wolfe plays with our conceptions of both the genre of Epic Fantasy, and what it means to be mature as a human being; but I’d say a big part of this book is playing with language, and phrasing the deeds and desires of adults through the voice of a child. That’s the real trick of this story, that it is the story of a boy, not a man, “just a little kid” as he thinks to himself over and over again. This American pre-teen, orphaned but with an older brother to care for him, wandered into the wilderness one day on a hike and found himself in another world, with his memories all muddled about who he was and where he came from. He was told the name he should use was “Able of the High Heart,” and thus far in the story we have learned no other. He finds himself a new guardian in this strange place, and adapts to a primitive new world, hunting and gathering to survive, and learning of its magical and mythic nature and bestiary. One day, however, he finds himself ensnared by a Faery Queen, who seduces him…yes, seduces this young boy in a quite literal way. This is made slightly less creepy by the fact that she uses her powers to transform his body into that of a grown man…an immensely grown man, in fact, of great strength and powerful build, but his mind is not likewise transformed. The pleasures she shows him (and perhaps his own natural inclinations) cause Able to fall deeply into an obsessive love for the Queen, and his desire to impress her, be worthy of her, and be with her physically motivates almost his every action in this story. Able goes on to have many adventures as he learns (along with us) more about this world, and Wolfe’s text rolls ever onward in page after symbolically laden page of prose. This is many-layered stuff, but written with strict perfection in a style that is entirely unique in my experience. Able has the body of a man, and the desires of a man, and the capabilities of a superhero…but his mind was forced to jump a big step, and he was never educated in the written language of our world past an elementary (literally) level. The way he phrases and describes events is far more direct and plain than anyone who passed through the angst of adolescence and was exposed to the graceful and subtle written word of the adult world would ever write. Likewise, his actions are not always likeable…he is sometimes inconsiderate of others, and often a bully, as those who come into easy strength unworked for often are. He lacks some of the empathy that comes with maturity and wisdom, and is impetuous and naive. With this mechanism, Wolfe, famed for his subtle fiction, recreates in prose what Picasso achieved with paint…he writes like a child, and it is our good fortune to see this mastery of the art he has chosen. I look forward to the second book of this duology, The Wizard, but as first books go, this is one I recommend.

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2 Responses to “The Knight”

  1. veggiesteph says:

    I read The Talisman earlier this year and I felt the same way about Stephen King. It’s got to be hard to strip away all of the "adult" in you to write and effectively portray the mind and speech of a kid.

  2. Skwid says:

    I really wish I could get into King more, but there’s something about his style that’s never quite gelled for me. One of these days I’ll give the Dark Tower a try, though.

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