(urth) Long Review Essay --Able's character

Bob Miller bob_bageera at hotmail.com
Thu Sep 20 05:59:35 PDT 2007

But I think my biggest complaint -- my biggest stumbling block -- was
a pair of intertwined issues: the character of Abel, and the ethics
(even, politics) of the book.

First off, I found Abel frequently insufferable. Pompous,
self-righteous, frequently a bully, he also came off as a Mary Sue
(at least in one sense of that polyvalent term of fan critique): not
only was he the most courageous and noble person about, but he also
had the writer stacking the deck for him at every turn. He had more
magical allies, artifacts, assistants, companions, than you could
shake a stick at: an invisible ogre doing his bidding! A sky-wolf who
happened to be totally loyal! Elves (called Aelf) who were his slaves
(yes, not always reliable, but often enough). A magic sword, the
blessing and friendship of Odin, various other magic devices he got
at the end (the helmet, another sword). Heck, he even becomes a god
halfway through the work! Talk about favoritism!*

This sort of stacking the deck is hard enough to take when the writer
has some self-consciousness about what he's doing, but I didn't see
any sign that Wolfe did. He simply loved his creation, and showered
him with so many cheats and advantages that any honor he might have
accrued felt like a cheat.

There are three things that I thank the group for forcing me to think of.

Even in the 14th century, the lack of knightly virtue was descried by no 
less than Chaucer himself.  The Knight's battles and self represented an 
earlier, more ideal time.  So, the knightly ideal was on a pedestal, a 
standard toward which to aspire.

Able started off pretty poor asd an excuse for a human, yes.  It was the 
narrator's "voice?" and the lack of justification of his actions that kept 
the reading road smooth for me.  From the word go I felt the narrator's 
voice promised growth.  And that is what I liked so much about Abel.  He was 
wrong.  And he grew.  From the trust  and chance given by the Valfather he 
became more than he was--bullying brawler on one hand and sex slave to a 
creature of moss and twigs on the other.

And by his stepping  up to the plate, his refusal to walk off toward the end 
of the Wizard and go to Aelfrice with Disiri leaving everyone and thing 
else, Wolfe has him give us the best portayal of courage and knightly 
virtues I can imagine.  No one other than Able and Disiri knew he had been 
tempted. Thoght I would not say that Michael or the Valfather had not 
predicted it.  Not to mention we get the smooth non-Irish cream of Wolfe's 

I thought the slow pace and acceleration was deliberate, and very 
reminiscent of the cavalry charge in Olivier's Henry V.  Slow and 
accelerating and faster until they were at a full gallop.  Perhaps Wolfe did 
somewhat commit what the great Algis Budrys called the sin of taking his 
audience for granted?  The unevenness I acknowledge as well.  I like it, I'm 
not a puzzle solver and these intervals give my rear brain time to catch up 
and help me unnertand what I read an hour or six ago.

I love this book.  Able had so many gifts, and still he had to have outside 
help for his real accomplisment--saving humanity.  He had no hope of winning 
against the Black Caan until Lothur "brought" the hundreds and food with 
Smiler and Able accepted his impending severing from Disiri to save those he 
would willingly have slain himself at the beginning of The Knight.

Thank you for making me think

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