(urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight

Adam Stephanides adamsteph at earthlink.net
Fri Sep 21 11:40:15 PDT 2007

Hello again, everyone. I haven't posted for a long time, for various reasons, but when I saw that this was a thread about Able's thuggishness, I couldn't resist. It's nice to see that even a couple of people remember my long-ago rant favorably.

Stephen Frug wrote:

>Thus it's not answer to say that "perhaps something more complex is 
>going on", or "Wolfe's narrators are sometimes unreliable": I think 
>that you have to actually *argue* that in *this* case this is true 
>*in ways relevant to my critiques*.  Either make the case here, or 
>present a link to another case.

>I think this is true in all of the aspects of this argument.... but 
>most especially in terms of a sentiment like "If you found the ethics 
>to be problematic then perhaps the situations were intended to cause 
>the reader to reflect on those problems.", where I not only made a 
>textual case, but also pointed towards a lot of extra-textual 
>evidence about Wolfe's views and intents.

I agree completely. And for what it's worth, I recall nothing in The Knight, or the portion of The Wizard that I read, to suggest that Wolfe finds Able's behavior towards his inferiors in The Knight objectionable.

I'd add a couple of things. First, while clearly we shouldn't automatically assume that Wolfe approves of his protagonists' behavior, nor should we assume that just because Wolfe shows a protagonist doing something we find immoral, he is being ironic.

Secondly, I wonder whether the "consensus" view of Wolfe places too much emphasis on the unreliability of Wolfe's narrators. In Peace and Fifth Head of Cerberus, Wolfe employs flagrantly unreliable narrators; and there's a natural tendency to read his later novels in light of this. But looking at the later novels without preconceptions, I've never seen a convincing case for any of their narrators being unreliable to the extent that his/her words can't be trusted. (Silkhorn is unreliable regarding his own identity, but on no other point.) But the subject of the differences between the two early novels and the later ones deserves a post of its own.

The idea of Able as a Mary-Sue (the technical term for a male specimen is Gary-Stu) hadn't occurred to me, but it makes sense. It had crossed my mind that Able may have been wish-fulfillment on Wolfe's part. The short story "Golden City Far," which was first published around the same time as The Knight iirc, is even more obviously wish-fulfillment, to the point that I found it embarrassing. And there's no hint of parodic intent in that story, so I doubt that Able's Gary-Stu qualities are parodic.


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