Meekness: the Hardest Part of Chivalry

I was happy to have the pleasure of reading Howard Pyle’s Otto of the Silver Hand (Pyle’s first work of fiction) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sir Nigel during the same time.  Doyle wrote Sir Nigel to be the prequel to his The White Company.  The White Company held as great a readership as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes until the Second World War, yet it still retains enough popularity to have been published continually since 1891.  That book’s superiority over Sir Nigel is plain from the former’s variety of action, variety of characters, and better weaving of religion within the martial code of chivalry.  Pyle’s novel, Otto of the Silver Hand, also better excels at weaving together the religious origins of chivalry into the knight’s code.


The reason behind this lies in the manner of the protagonists: Otto and Allen Edricson are both cloister bred, while Nigel Loring, whom we see as a squire in Sir Nigel, was raised within a knightly household and taught to value the manly virtues more than the decent–the loud virtues more than the quiet.  It is like comparing Robert E. Lee to Nathan Bedford Forrest.  Both were valiant men, but the heavily Christian upbringing of Lee better tempered his irascible nature than the more worldly education of Forrest tempered the Wizard of the Saddle’s hot blood.  And so, his peers called Lee “the marble man” for his peaceable and orderly character, while Forrest struggled to control his temper almost until the very end.  Even so, Nigel Loring takes about as long as Forrest to fully assimilate the gentle virtues, while Allen Edricson and Otto start from the decent and work to the manly–although, Allen is described by his friend Hordle John as already having a stalwart heart despite his meek exterior.

Continue reading


Review of The White Company

Many people neglect Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s military and medieval fiction.  Prior to this, I have reviewed The Adventures of Gerard, which follows the sometimes grave and sometimes comedic adventures of a French dragoon during the Napoleonic Wars.  Now, I turn my attention to Doyle’s romance of the Hundred Years’ War: The White Company.  One senses that Doyle immersed himself in the period, both its history and its literature.  (In the preface to Sir Nigel, the prequel to this book, he lists some excellent resources on the medieval age.)  As far as this medievalist can tell, Doyle makes no factual errors on the equipment, weapons, clothing, economy, or habits of the people.


One does wonder whether he lets some of his ideas about the French Revolution get mixed into his description of the impoverished people of France and their wealthy overlords.  However, there can be no doubt that interminable war had reduced the people of France to a sorry state, even if not entirely reminiscent of late 18th century France.  One finds the character of the longbow men well delineated.  The chivalric attitudes of the nobles drop easily from the mouths of the characters, just as they would have from the knights of old.  At the same time, their chivalry adjusts to the real world situations in which they find themselves.

Continue reading

French Detective Stories

While in the library, I discovered an anthology titled Great French Detective Stories.  Being curious, I picked up the work to be delighted by the quality of the stories.  Though one, “The Mystery of the Four Husbands” by Gaeton Leroux, struck me as more of a horror story, which evinces the influence Edgar Allen Poe, especially through his Inspector Dupin.  (Soon, I’ll have to read these works of Poe.)

One of the best mustaches I've ever seen.

One of the best mustaches I’ve ever seen.

This series of works held several surprises for me.  In particular, I was surprised to see that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle borrowed the scenario in Emile Gaboriau’s “The Little Old Man of Batignolles” for his A Study in Scarlet.  Not only did he borrow the scenario, but the inspector’s friend and assistant in the mystery is also a doctor!  But, I will say that Doyle writes a much more complicated mystery, and so, it may be considered a good theft.

I can't help but imagine that this would be a riveting story if done well.

I can’t help but imagine that this would be a riveting story if done well.

Other than Emile Gaboriau, I find Maurice Leblanc also fascinating to read.  I ought to be familiar with this author through anime: the eponymous hero of Lupin III is the grandson of Arsène Lupin, a thief who’s Leblanc’s most famous hero.  Arsène Lupin displays a remarkable degree of energy and cleverness in the short story I read, which involves him duping the police into helping him regain the money stolen from him which he himself had stolen!  Leblanc also seems to have written stories surrounding a detective hero named Jim Barrett.  This detective is brilliant, but has a caustically sarcastic personality.  He’s made my list as my least favorite detective in literature from one short story!

Maigret seems to have loved smoking his pipe much more than Sherlock Holmes from the story I read: he smoked three before the morning was over!

Maigret seems to have loved smoking his pipe much more than Sherlock Holmes from the story I read: he smoked three before the morning was over!

Another author who’s peaked my interest and whose volumes may easily be obtained in English is Georges Simenon.  In the library, I must have seen at least 15 volumes of his detective novels!  Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Maigret happens to be married and very well adjusted.  He enjoys a loving relationship with his wife and is quietly observant and tactful.  (Gaboriau’s detective, M. Méchinet, happens also to be married and consults his wife on cases.)  His character only came across as slightly interesting in the short story; but, since Maigret just retired, he followed the leads of a current inspector for the most part, and Simenon, as one who preferred the medium of novels, probably writes better stories when allowed to write at length.

You know that you've written an awesome fictional character if someone decides to build a statue of him!

You know that you’ve written an awesome fictional character if someone decides to build a statue of him!

That sums up what I have read so far.  I am almost reluctant to read further in the anthology lest my backlog of interesting authors to read increases.  One almost hopes that there are libraries in heaven so that one can have enough time!


Arthur Conan Doyle’s Swashbuckler

A friend of mine in college told me that Sherlock Holmes was not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s favorite series for which to write.  He wrote Sherlock Holmes in order to pay the bills.  Doyle got so tired of writing Sherlock Holmes that he attempted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, but the heartbroken British public urged him to bring Holmes back!  According to my friend, Doyle wished to write stories of chivalry and adventure, like The White Company.

LIBRIVOXTheWhiteCompany500Now, I want to read the above work, but The Adventures of Gerard found its way onto my reading list first.  I listened to these exciting adventures on audiobook–again through Librivox.  The reader did an excellent job in capturing the character.  My only complaint concerns his mispronunciation of corps.  He pronounced corps the same way as corpse!  Now, before this plague of people who mispronounce corps goes any further (our president is also guilty), let it be known that corps is pronounced the same way as core.  One hopes that peer pressure and mockery would be enough to smash this phonetic heresy!  Deus vult!

adventures-of-gerard-newnes-1903At any rate, our titular hero narrates his adventures to some drinking buddies in his old age.  (Or perhaps he narrates them to the entire tavern.  The quality of the stories surely beats the quality of any alcoholic beverage–which is saying something.)  He served with Napoleon from Saragossa to Russia to Venice and lastly to Napoleon’s ultimate defeat at Waterloo.  The adventures always display a wonderful variety and Gerard is a likable gallant.  His self-esteem might appear insufferable to some if it were not for the many humiliations he endures at the hands of his foes and his ability to walk the talk.  Some of his greatest weaknesses are his lack of cunning, fondness for young ladies, and hilarious provincialism.  His time as a paroled officer in England contains some of the most amusing of his adventures.  For example, his ignorance of British games induces him to think that the object of croquet is to peg the opposing player with a wooden ball as the opponent attempts to ward it off with his mallet!

The Charging Chasseur by Theodore Gericault

The Charging Chasseur by Theodore Gericault

Yet, the bulk of his adventures diverge from usual chivalric stories in showing the dark side of human nature.  For example, one of his comrades ends up being crucified against the wall of a room!  His captors left him there for days suffering from hunger and thirst with a bottle of wine placed on a table in front of him!  From this bottle, his captors would occasionally drink in front of the poor sufferer!  Gerard may be a knight, but his gallantry shines in a very dark world indeed!


I cannot imagine Gerard as anything less than a knight.  He is not rash but at the same time shows no hesitation in accepting the most dangerous assignments which  the French army bestows on him.  Despite the above mentioned humiliations, he always maintains his self-respect.  He also protects any women in his presence from coming to any harm despite the consequences to himself–as is adequately illustrated in the adventure “How Brigadier Gerard Lost his Ear.”  To further highlight his image as a gallant swashbuckler, I might add that he hails from Gascony–the same province as D’Artagnan.

Did anyone else know that D'Artagnan has two famous statues?  Here's the one in Maastricht, Netherlands.

Did anyone else know that D’Artagnan has two famous statues? Here’s the one in Maastricht, Netherlands.

So, The Adventures of Gerard stands as a great book for light reading.  The obstacles placed before Gerard as well as the alternations between humorous scenes and those of the darkness of human nature keep the reader turning pages.  Of course, these adventures don’t reach the same level as Sherlock Holmes, but they still provide a great deal of entertainment and let one learn a different facet of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

A Curious Criticism

In my friend’s article on Tolkien, he adduced a rather curious point against Lord of the Rings: hardly any of the protagonists died.  At first blush, this struck me as a fine absurdity!  Annoyed by a dearth of death!  Fie!  One ought to be more prone to criticize a work because too many of the characters die, as we see in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.  Or are we to consider killing off beloved characters a virtue?  (Perhaps, if the story goes on for far too long, as in Sherlock Holmes, but we know how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s attempt to kill off Sherlock Holmes ended!)  Yet, below J D Thomp’s article, a commentator expressed aggreeance with his criticism!  This forces me to give the idea serious consideration.


There used to be an excellent WWII show called Combat!, where the writers would throw darts at a board with the characters’ pictures to see which character should die in a particular episode.  The fact that one’s favorite character could die at any moment created a great sense of realism in that show; however, a similar callousness seems inappropriate in an epic fantasy or, rather, this epic fantasy.  A writer must pick what truths he wishes to examine in a book, and the mortality rate on a medieval battlefield or on a desperate journey does not concern Tolkien.  But, I will say that casualties among well armored persons, as our heroes were during the major battles of the work, were indeed very low in the Middle Ages.  Otherwise, I expect that Medieval noblemen would have had the same attitude to war as Hemingway and the other Lost Generation writers.

You can bet they're all having the time of their lives!

You can bet they’re all having the time of their lives!

In a prior post, I mentioned how themes of mercy, providence, and sin abound in Lord of the Rings.  It does not make Providence look very provident if Gimli (when cut off at Helm’s Deep), Pippin (in fighting the Black Rider), Gandalf (in Moria), Sam (Mordor), and Frodo (Mordor) all end up dead by the end of the book, does it?  (Of course, if one wishes to examine the problem of evil, so many deaths is quite appropriate.)  There were ample opportunities for all of these characters to die!  As for the Deus Ex Machina rescue of Sam and Frodo, that fits in with the above three themes.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.”  As Frodo spared Gollum’s life despite Sam’s urging to kill him, it is no wonder that Frodo should be providently rescued.  If the ring represents sin, salvation is naturally found when sin is destroyed–and the advent of salvation is as marvelous as it is unexpected!


I should adduce one more thing for consideration.  I have written the first draft of a novel, where one of my favorite characters dies–and relatively early in the work.  Note my wording: “where one of my favorite characters dies.”  Does this not sound altogether passive?  That’s because it is so.  In the story in my mind, I simply saw Thord dying in that battle.  To write otherwise would be false to the story.  It would not surprise me if Tolkien faithfully passed on a story he felt that he was given.

I want a library like that.

I want a library like that.

And should this make us upset?  No!  When a great character should die, let him die and take a piece of our hearts with him.  If a great character lives, let us rejoice that he obtains the glory and peace due to him.