(Tor, $25.95, 430 pages, hardcover; published in January 2004.)
Gene Wolfe's The Knight, book one of his diptych, The Wizard Knight, recalls filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Volume 1, also half of an epic story. Their similar lack of a conclusion offers an almost welcome pause to savour and ponder the relentless excitement, the density of intriguing ideas, and the bold storytelling.
Both creators mine the dreams of childhood, mythologizing them with verve and audacity. But in lieu of Tarantino's effervescent concoction of samurai assassins, gangland culture, and 1970s exploitation films, Wolfe delivers a strange and melancholy brew of Norse mythology, Arthurian legend, Captain Marvel, and The Wizard of Oz.
In The Knight, a lonely American boy wanders from his family cottage and into a magical universe of giants, shapeshifters, and talking animals. Like L. Frank Baum's Dorothy, he yearns for home but is enchanted by this weird new land.
And like Wolfe's own Latro (from Latro in the Mist), his memories have been tampered with by godlike beings. Echoing Billy Batson's meeting with the wizard Shazam, who gave the boy the power to become Captain Marvel, Wolfe's young teen encounters the seductive Aelf queen Disiri, who endows him with the body of an adult knight, Sir Able of the High Heart. Subsequently, through a series of bizarre adventures, Able discovers the hero within himself.
Wolfe's erudite and playful use of language accentuates the tender eroticism that suffuses this often heartbreaking and always profoundly mysterious saga.
As is typical in Wolfe's fiction, The Knight suggests questions but eschews answers. In this first person narrative, composed in the form of a lengthy letter to the protagonist's long-lost brother, readers are left swimming in a fragrant ocean of subtle allusions, unreliable narratives, and tantalizing clues. Wolfe invites readers to apply their imaginations to his complex canvas.
Ineffable wonders and riches abound within these pages.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 28 February 2004, 19 June 2004