(urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight

Matthew Groves matthewalangroves at gmail.com
Wed Sep 19 10:15:14 PDT 2007

Thanks, Stephen, for a thoughtful and honest post.  I too welcome this
sort of post, whether I agree or not, and I would like to see more of
this kind of thing on the list.

I actually rejected The Knight in much stronger (and much simpler)
terms the first time I read it.  For some reason I didn't have the
same viscerally negative reaction to Able's behavior.  I guess I felt
that the indistinctness of Able's memory of his pre-Mythgarthr self
absolved him from the concerns of modern morality.

My own reaction was that Wolfe 1) completely failed to adequately
portray the voice of the modern American teenager, and 2) had
succumbed to that most regrettable peccadillo of fantasy fiction:
adolescent wish-fulfillment.  "How about I write a book about Conan,
but he hangs out with Arthurian knights and Norse gods, and fights
dragons and giants, and he has sexy elf slaves, and a magic bow,
sword, helmet, cat, dog, and horse."  I have only recently decided to
take up Wizard Knight again, and I am really enjoying it at the level
of the writing (as I always enjoy Wolfe), but I can't say that I've
conclusively resolved any of the issues I had the first time.

Stephen Frug <sfrug at post.harvard.edu> wrote:
> I think Wolfe's writing of Abel's voice was profoundly uneven.

As I said, I had the same reaction the first time I read it, but upon
second reading, I don't know.  It is so *blatantly* uneven and
inconsistent.  Surely anyone ought to know that no modern American
teenager speaks like Abel.  Either Wolfe is trying to say something
about the stability of Abel's identity, or we have lost Wolfe to the
ravages of senile dementia.

I think it may be that Abel was a teenager in the 40s like Wolfe, and
that he grew up to live as an adult in the 21st century with Macs and
everything (like Wolfe), before coming to Mythgarthr.

I don't have a very good argument that it is not merely a failure on
Wolfe's part; my main argument is the patently inane and rightly
dismissed, "It's Wolfe."  But Able is so unconvincing as a modern
American teenager, and Wolfe so flagrantly indulges Able in every
possible magical friend, pet, adversary, and artifact, that it cries
out for interpretation.  I'm not saying I have an interpretation that
resolves these problematic aspects, and honestly if it were anyone but
Wolfe I wouldn't waste my time.

I didn't read the whole interview with Gaiman, but I note in the
excerpt you quoted that Wolfe doesn't explicitly argue that "a country
where honor, courage, and fidelity actually mean something" would be
some kind of Utopia.  He does certainly imply that it would be better
than things are now, and on that point I cannot disagree.  Have you
been out there recently?  Talked to people?  There's an insipid
lowliness, a selfish meanness, and an absolving anonymity that pervade
so much of our interactions and discourse at all levels.  I think
*these* obscenities are some of the things Wolfe is taking a stand on
in WK.

Also, I think the world he proposes as an alternative to the modern
view has less to do with actual historical medieval conditions and
more to do with the imagined world of sword and sorcery and (his
version of) *its* values.

Matt G.

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