(urth) Honor

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Mon Nov 28 00:51:22 PST 2005

Chris quoted me and wrote:
>>The captain had two choices -- submit or fight. He had been forced to
>>submit, on pain of death, the first time. He was within his rights, as
>>ship's captain, to execute Able for his crimes -- and Able's actions
>>criminal -- after fate allowed him to regain command of his ship.
>Actually, I don't know about this. The captain would be considered one of
>the merchant class, miles below any type of aristocracy. I suspect that in
>the medieval order of things even the lowest, landless knight would
>the captain little more than a skilled peasant, even on his own ship. The
>captain would be within his rights to execute the members of his crew, but
>then they're even lower on the social scale.
>But that raises the question of whether Able would count as a legitimate
>knight in that society, even though Disiri did knight him. Knights from
>other countries still count as knights even when they're not on ground
>by their own sovreign, but this situation is less clear.

The captain did not believe that Able was a knight, and said so. (K, 109)
Able retorted, "You'd be smart to act as if you had [heard of him]." That is
a not very subtle threat. The captain was not impressed, and made his own
terms: "Otherwise, I'd teach you, Sir Able of the Shy Fart, how the
authority of a captain is to be obeyed."

The captain had no reason to believe that Able was a knight; he sported none
of a knight's trappings. Able's ego, at that point, took center stage. From
this point on, the dispute was not about the conditions of passage to
Forcetti. The captain had wounded Able's fragile, boyish ego. He had the
temerity to answer threat with insult, something Able's pride couldn't
handle. Earlier that same day, Pouk had asked. "You a fightin' man, sir? You
look it."
    '"I'm a knight,' I said; I always said that, because I knew I could
never get people to believe me unless I believed it myself. 'I'm Sir Able of
the High Heart.'" (102)

Able was a knight at this point only in his own mind, and by the whim of the
dubious authority of a lesser being. Hardly anyone he met in the first book
believed he was a knight. His lack of knowledge of things knightly led him
from one difficulty to another. His ignorance almost got Pouk killed. He was
willing to sacrifice almost anything or anyone to have his way, and what he
wanted most, after Disiri, was to be a knight.

Right after boarding the docked ship, Able started feeling seasick. He
thought he was going to puke and was afraid that people would see and make
fun of him. He couldn't bear the thought, so was prepared to salvage his ego
by turning on his new-found friend, who had been nothing but obsequiously
helpful. "I knew I might throw up any minute, and I swore that I would make
Pouk clean it up if I did." "And kill him if he would not do it." (K, 107)
That's raw, unvarnished ego, to even consider killing a man because *he*
might not want to clean up *your* puke. That was Able's mindset when he saw
the captain, minutes later.

When Able later spoke of the sea battle with the Osterlings to Garsecg, the
latter said:
"When a knight is on a ship, that ship flies his pennant from its foremast.
Did yours do that?"
    I shook my  head. "I don't have one, and I didn't know about it anyway.
Maybe that's why the captain didn't think I was a real knight."
    "In most cases, the Osterlings will not attack such a ship." (K, 163)

Clearly, had the captain believed Able to actually be a knight, he might
have saved face with the crew by acknowledging the fact. The loss of his
cabin could be written off as the deference due a knight by a sea captain,
if such deference was in fact the social norm. Further, the whole damn
battle with the Osterlings would probably never have happened had Able been
a real knight, complete with pennant. Even without the pennant, had the
captain believed Able to be a real knight, an impromptu one could have been
contrived from cloth to keep away the Osterlings. That didn't happen because
the captain didn't have any reason to believe Able was a knight. Even though
Able was ignorant about pennant flying, you can bet the captain wasn't. He
had nothing to lose by taking on a civil paying passenger, particularly a
knight, and an advantage to be gained in the form of cheap insurance against
an attack. Provided Able was a knight.

Able's behavior made any such accommodation impossible. The captain just
wasn't the sort of man to cower in the face of bullying, and Able wasn't
grown up enough to do anything but throw his weight around.

As for the charge of theft; so far as I am aware, Able's valuables never
left the captain's cabin after he put them there himself -- at least not
until Kerl disposed of them much later. Their fight wasn't about money.

I won't attempt to defend the captain's desire to kill Able, either at sea
or in port.

>He was bullied and humiliated, which makes it within his rights as a man to
>steal and attempt to murder? Sorry, there isn't much about the captain's
>attempted payback that is at all manly, or within his rights as far as I am

I feel the same way about Able's repeated attempts to force others to
massage his ego. At least he had the excuse of being immature in KNIGHT.
It's harder to excuse his behavior in WIZARD. Was he not morally responsible
for the death of the gaoler in the dungeon? Sure, it was Org who actually
killed and ate him, but he could have stopped him by calling out. He chose
not to. (W, 401) Of course, since he was a god, this could be written off as
divine whim.

I don't think anyone has tried to argue that Able didn't behave like a lout,
particularly in KNIGHT. I have acknowledged that Wolfe chose to portray him
that way deliberately. And I think we all agree that Wolfe intended he be
seen as a Hero. As others have pointed out, real knights in regimented
feudal societies weren't necessarily nice guys, certainly not the beloved
figures of Arthurian romance. But Able's story is not really about knights,
it's about Heroes. And, as Wolfe *always* does when he retells some story,
he mixes things all up and turns them inside out. Adding Norse mythology and
the realm of fairy to the mixture further muddles the picture.

It's natural for people on this list, almost by definition, to be favorably
inclined toward Wolfe's fiction. It's understandable that there wasn't a lot
of discussion here when KNIGHT came out; we had only half the story, and it
was anything but straightforward. But it's been about a year since WIZARD
was released, and there *still* hasn't been a lot of discussion about TWK.
Why not? There was plenty of discussion as each volume of LONG SUN and SHORT
SUN came out. What's different about TWK? Is it that people don't like it?
Don't understand it?

I wish some of those people who wrote those wonderful blurbs on the covers
would write some down-to-earth articles explaining exactly what they found
"important and wonderful" about TWK.


More information about the Urth mailing list