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Friday, May 11, 2007

The Knight, by Gene Wolfe

I have read Gene Wolfe's The Knight. (New York: Tom Doherty, 2004).

Wolfe is one of the most important authors of fantastic fiction. If I had to place his work into a category of such fiction, I guess it would be "sword and sorcery" fantasy, but that's like saying that Michael Jordan played basketball. Wolfe's fiction is not run of the mill work. It is well written, imaginative, unique, and complex. He is good with imaginary settings -- you think you are in the world he has made while you are reading. Some people think he has put puzzles into his work for the reader to solve.

Wolfe's work is influenced by his Catholic faith. His best known works are the four novels of The Earth of the New Sun, which are The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch. I have had the privilege of reading these books more than once, and, God willing, will someday read them all again. The setting is an earth far in the future. There are aspects of this earth that seem medieval, such as the use of swords, but there are also aspects that imply that humans have spread to other worlds. Two of the hints of Wolfe's faith are the Conciliator (who does not appear in the books -- Christ is referred to as the mediator between God and man) and the consumption of the flesh of those recently dead as a way of communicating with them. (Which is not to equate cannibalism with worship!) Perhaps I should post further about these books at a later date.

What about The Knight? As usual, I will try not to give away the plot, but just concentrate on some features that interest me. One such is that the book is set in a world with seven levels: Elysion, Kleos, Skai, Mythgarten, Aelfrice, Muspel and Niflheim. I recognize some of these from Norse mythology. There are some other connections to those stories in the book. I would guess that some of the other names might be from other mythology. Aelf is a variant spelling of Elf, and Skai of Sky. There are connections between these worlds, and connections between our world, and this one. The world is complex, and Wolfe has provided an eight page listing of names from the book, with a few lines of information about each one. The book is rather long -- 527 pages.

The protagonist is Able, of the High Heart, as he is called in the world connecting to ours, and there is quite a bit of emphasis on the honorable, unselfish life of a knight. Able attaches himself (or the reverse) to a number of people in the book, mainly of good peasant stock, and it is interesting to see how a character or two that seem minor when introduced come back into prominence before the end.

Able buries a minor character, and places a cross on the grave (p. 77). Christian symbolism for sure. There is reference to the Most High God (p. 81). For most readers, this wouldn't make Wolfe's work Christian fiction, but it is surely influenced by Christian ideas and symbolism. He's a great writer, if you are able (sorry) to read fantastic literature.

I am looking forward to reading the sequel, The Wizard.

Thanks for reading.


Elliot said...

I also seem to remember the Archangel Michael making a brief appearance in The Knight... The Christian symbolism is more pronounced in The Wizard.

Also, just a note, but the Conciliator does appear in The Urth of the New Sun.

Elliot said...

PS: I guess I should expand that to say that The Conciliator is not in fact Jesus Christ, but the parallels to the Gospels in "Urth" are very strong. A Christ-figure, rather than the real thing.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Elliot!