The Wizard Knight Redux

My experiment in immediate rereading ended today, after more than a few interruptions, though no other actual novels got in the way. I read Gene Wolfe’s The Knight and The Wizard a second time right after the first. And, in retrospect, I’m glad I did, though it should be said that Wolfe is one of the very few writers about whom this might hold true. Had I reread the books at a later date, instead of when they were as fresh as possible, I probably would have missed just how intricately Wolfe weaves his plot, how extensively he foreshadows his future developments, and how my utterly invalid my initial impression of “dream logic” was. All in all, I was struck by how obvious plot points, hints, themes, and other elements seemed on the immediate reread, when none of them had seemed obvious at first.

(spoilers to follow)

The thing is, it’s all right there if you pay attention. Even the fact that Able dwelt among the Aelf and was groomed in order to deliver a message to King Arnthor is discoverable in the first few chapters—and actually seems rather obvious if you’d just read everything like I had. With that in mind, the right-angle plot turn when the Jotunland situation is resolved and Able goes to Thortower is much more understandable, though it’s still a sudden shift. There’s basically enough plot in The Wizard to fill two books, so The Wizard Knight could easily have been a trilogy. Though I appreciate the elegance of having just two: one book for before his time in Skai, and one for after. Still, the rushed pace of the last few chapters, and the unconscionable way that Mani disappears from the story, remain the two biggest flaws of the overall work.

On a reread, the fact that Sir Garvaon killed King Gilling is painfully obvious.

On a reread, Able healing Berthold at the end brought tears to my eyes.

Wolfe’s doing interesting things with the whole concept of knighthood here. He’s not treating it as an outdated artifact or a genre trope, but at the same time he’s not sugar-coating it either. But there’s a definite sense that, at least in this world he’s created, being a knight (for real, by one’s actions, not just by being named one) is, in itself, ennobling. The squires who become knights in the course of the book—Toug, Svon, Wistan—all start off, to one degree or another, as jerks and bullies. Svon, especially, is easy to write off in the early stages of The Knight as a villain or at least a churl. But he comes around, they all do—they become great. And Able himself fits this description—though he is always well thought of by others because of his appearance and strength, we get to see his vindictive, childish (literally!) side quite often, though less and less so as he grows as a knight. Idnn undergoes a similar transformation when she becomes a queen—but there, as with the guys, you get the sense that it was something in her all along the blossoms, not that the post itself does anything inherently.

Anyway, after the reread, my earlier judgment holds up: I prefer The Wizard Knight to The Book of the New Sun, those being the only Wolfe works I’ve read. I’ve no doubt that New Sun is cleverer (though I still need to reread it to appreciate it fully), but TWK is much more emotionally engaging by a mile.

Next stop: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Looking forward to it.