(urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight

Brent Dyer brentdyer at sbcglobal.net
Tue Sep 18 17:16:38 PDT 2007

Stephen wrote:


But I think that the specific meanings of those words that is implied not only by their being used together, but also by the implication that today's world is not one in which they "actually mean something" -- in other words, the meanings specified by an idea that it is the specific meanings of the words that is absent in today's world but present in the society portrayed in the Wizard Knight -- I think that those specific meanings of those three words add up to a specific set of ideas -- an idealized version of a medieval knightly ideal -- which is basically the same set of ideas that Hemingway's quote was pointing to. 

And I certainly will maintain that, in today's world, that idea -- the one pointed to by both Hemingway's sentence (negatively) and Wolfe's sentence from the Gaiman interview (positively), and which I argue is pointed to in Wolfe's Wizard Knight -- I think that that idea is, in fact, quite troubling and dangerous. Which, again, is not to say that there aren't other types of honor, courage and fidelity which remain perfectly valid, indeed crucial, values. 


First, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to being mostly ignorant about Hemingway and his work because I find him to be personally distasteful and his writing to be mind-numbingly boring.  Others (many others, actually) certainly disagree with me, and, given his pretty well-established place in literature, I cannot be too derisive of their opinions. In other words, I can't discount the possibility that my problem with Hemingway is the result of my own flaws and not his.

Having said all that, I can't help but think that Stephen is overreading the quote from a Farewell to Arms:

" Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were 
obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the names of roads, 
the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates."

It seems to me that Hemingway is not saying that the words "glory, honor, courage, or hallow" are inherently obscene.  Rather, he seems to be saying that, in the context of WWI which was--in many ways--a rather nihilistic conflict, the use of those words to justify the fighting and destruction was obscene when considered next to the the things and people that were destroyed or damaged by the violence that they precipitated.

I'm not sure Stephen is suggesting by saying that Wolfe's use of "honor, courage, and fidelity" in the Gaiman interview is "dangerous."  Are we to, instead, prefer a world that favors pettiness, cowardice, and betrayal?  That seems dangerous.

Before I get accused of being a "conservative," let me assure everyone that I am a moderate with liberal leanings.  That does not mean, however, that I can't agree with Wolfe's principles on some of these things.  What Wolfe seems to be doing in the Gaiman interview is bemoaning that perversion of those words in modern parlance.

How many times were the words "honor" and "courage" used to justify the invasion of Iraq?  Quite a lot.  How much did starting that war actually have to do with either of those things?  In my opinion, they weren't even considerations for the Bush administration--they were just once-powerful, noble words that have been turned into props and propaganda for the brand of American political opportunism that, unfortunately and sadly, seems to be practiced equally by both liberals and conservatives.

There is nothing wrong with true honor, courage and fidelity.  The real problem is with the people who have soiled those words with greed, deception, and hatred.

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