Curse you, Gene Wolfe!!
I know, I know, I should have expected it. But I must have read somewhere that The Knight and The Wizard, Wolfe’s recent duology, were his take on straightforward genre fantasy. That led me to expect that they might be just a little, y’know, straightforward.
But these is Gene Wolfe we’re talking about here. So we get Fairyland, dream logic, sudden shifts in scene and plot that feel like they might be anchored in some allegorical significance that you’re just not catching but maybe is just an illusion anyway. I admit, I had hoped that what I’d find in The Knight was Wolfe, a real master of language, telling a straight story. But having made my peace that this was something else, if I have any complaint, it’s that all the wackiness isn’t that far afield from Book of the New Sun.
First person narrator with unclear background, possibly unreliable: check.
Knack for acquiring items of particular power as he bumbles along: check.
Keeps meeting the same people over and over again who are somehow drawn to him: check.
Big, bulbous mystical entity that lives beneath the water: check.
If the form is familiar, the subject matter’s pretty different, though—we have a boy who gets sucked into a surreal fantasy world, in which an Aelfmaiden turns his body into that of a muscular young man. But his mind remains the same, and so Sir Able of the High Heart, as he is known there, literally has the mind of a boy—and he’s our narrator. The dream logic aspect is strong, too—whatever errand Able is on at the moment, it is inevitably sidetracked by something else before it can reach a conclusion. He is diverted and whisked away time and again, and if the novel ends up in a place that somewhat makes sense, given where it began, it sure ain’t because of any sort of logical chain of events.
So whether this whole thing is just an extended riff on wish fulfillment or something else entirely, I’ll wait ‘till I’m through The Wizard to decide. In the meantime, it’s Wolfe, so it’s worth the ride for the language alone. There’s something refreshing about the clear, plainspoken dialogue of the people of Mythgarthr and the adjoining realms of Wolfe’s invention. Enough to make me tolerate the mind games—for a few more hundred pages, at least.