(urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight

Michael Straight mfstraight at gmail.com
Thu Sep 20 09:21:59 PDT 2007

On 9/19/07, thalassocrat at nym.hush.com <thalassocrat at nym.hush.com> wrote:

> >But in Wizard Knight (and many other of Wolfe's books) the
> >protagonist
> >is stronger than most of his foes and the drama comes from the
> >moral
> >dilemnas of how to wisely and honorably use that strength.
> ... which is probably one of the reasons why the stories sometimes
> might not seem to work so well as adventure stories.

Yes.  Exactly.  Wolfe is not writing adventure stories.  He's using
the trappings of adventure stories to do other things.

Ever since Severian, Wolfe has almost rigorously skipped over every
scene that would be the awesome action sequence in a standard
adventure story.

> the heroes usually have the deck massively stacked in
> their favor. (IMO, Wolfe even verges on self-parody with stacking
> the deck for Able.)

Standard fantasy is almost like a video game.  The hero spends 6 books
powering up and everything is carefully balanced so he's always just
barely powerful enough to defeat his enemies.  Then when he's got all
the power-ups, he takes on the final boss and the story ends.

In Wizard Knight, Wolfe says, "You want a hero with cool power-ups?
Great. You name it, this guy's got it.  But now what?  The story's
just beginning."

(In one of the more popular recent fantasy computer games, Oblivion,
the balancing seemed so ridiculous--no matter where you go, how much
magic you have, how powerful you are or are not, the monsters are
always just powerful enough to give you a challenge--that fans
released a patch rewriting the game so that it was possible for a
Level 70 character to run into minor monsters that are appropriately
beneath the notice of such a demigod.  So even the computer gamers
yearn for something like what Wolfe is doing.)

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