Gene Wolfe


The Wizard

Book 2 of ‘The Wizard Knight’


After ecstatically singing the praises of the preceding ‘The Knight’, I’m inconsistently less enthusiastic about Part 2. Some of this is down to differing expectations: I had no/low hopes for the former but enjoyed it so much I had very high hopes for the latter.


‘The Wizard’ is not so much a separate book as the second half of the same one – something Wolfe intended. However, given the sheer number of pages it seemed fair enough to split the read. Moreover I was delighted with the way that Wolfe had evoked a legendary romantic knight in Book 1, and had hoped for an equally surprising achievement in creating a fabulous mythical wizard in Book 2. Now don’t get me wrong: Wolfe is, as ever, clever and original in presenting a different perspective on Sir Able as a wizard – doubtless with his familiar interaction with various gods, Aelf and higher and lower worlds he would be perceived as such. The notion of a wizard actually being a minor deity (cf. Gandalf) is interesting, as are the strong Christlike parallels of limitations on power and miraculous healing. But Able as Wizard was nothing on Able as Knight.


There were still some impressive passages, but I was feeling a bit of hero fatigue, particularly in the first third to half of ‘The Wizard’. I get that Wolfe was showing how Able had inspired others to become like him: part of his nobility is that he is not jealous of other knights, and consciously leaves them to some battles he could fight better himself to give them a chance to prove themselves and gain greater glory. Again the Christian echoes along the lines of, “You shall do these and greater things.” This is particularly powerful in the reformation of his former squire Svon‘s nature, and demonstrates a far greater spiritual victory than a mere martial one. Wolfe has admirably run with the Crusade ideal of an almost priestly order of fighters, with Able’s high moral code integral to his identity rather than a mere religious faćade. But as a reader too many of the knights became almost indistinguishable in their motivations, words and deeds. Toug becomes ‘Young Able’ – deliberately, sure, but less enjoyably.


In one sense it’s odd to complain about getting more of the same of a book I relished. But I suppose much of what I loved about ‘The Knight’ was the novelty of Wolfe’s creation. He realises his ideas capably in ‘The Wizard’, but they’re at best developments and more often continuations of ideas we’re now familiar with. It’s a terrible thing to become bored with giants – something that didn’t happen in Book 1.  


Some different ideas develop later in the book, particularly around Arnthor, with Able facing the dilemma of serving an unjust king. And this is Wolfe, and there are a dozen other potent and enigmatic themes running around (such as Able’s helmet letting him discern the essence of anyone he looks at yet, for example, he continues to revere Disiri). Maybe I should have left the break longer, I don’t know, but the second book just didn’t engage me nearly as much as the first. Book 1 had some confusing passages, sure, but I was arrested by more of the episodes.


August 2007