The Mad Missourian, Ben Wheeler returns!
A tome of terror and nightmare beyond your reckoning! IT IS THE NECRONOMICON AESTHETICA . Bound in the twisted and flayed flesh of critics and penned with the blood-tear ink of underpaid and overworked artists, this book will be the end-all and be-all of entertaining fiction analysis. This is not to be an explicit guide to a paint by numbers towards something poor, generic and, Lord forgive me for saying this, derivative. This is a guide to promoting excellence of storytelling, to look at, disagree with or consult like a road map where you already know the way, but you want to make sure.
Read ON brave delver of the darkest literary arts!
This is part 2 of the Knight’s Steed Series
Deep in the mindspace, Scrofula comes to you. He rebukes you, and your hands turn into crabclaws and gain ears. He demands you listen, and not forget a word of it. His head, which turns into your mother, her legs at his neck, a half-remembered child hood friend’s sunburnt hand and a Merovingian coin, never stops murmuring from three mouths.
You ask him why. He says shut up or he’ll turn you into a newt.
There’s a question that few will answer in the negative: Is Sir Lancelot the same riding on a motorcycle rather than his horse? Well, of course he is. He is Sir Lancelot. His horse doesn’t necessarily change who he is, or his nature. While this is a mostly proper answer, the real point is whether or not he is a knight errant on a horse. Again, few would say no.
But does a motorcycle gang member have the same gravitas as a knight? Or are all those shows in the 80s and 90s about men going from small town USA to small town USA righting wrongs and doing good deeds about a modern knight? Or, perhaps, Batman, the Dark Knight, saving Gotham from itself? Or the maverick but good natured pilot? Or the secret agent with his super car?
Is bloodline required for a modern ‘knight’? In the Arthurian legends, it is. Galahad is the secret son of Lancelot, who is the son of King Ban. Even though he is given the shameful job of working in the kitchens, he is secretly revealed to be worthy of knighthood, glory and eventually the grail. Almost everyone who shows up has some bloodline to them, and I can’t recall a single commoner becoming a heroic knight.
But in these modern, American times? The bloodline isn’t so much a thing. He might have a connection or famous ancestry, but it is not the same as in Arthurian legends. Therefore, while James Bond and Bruce Wayne are ‘royalty’, Bond in England and Wayne within Gotham, one can say that most need not ever be of blood to be a knight. Knighthood is distilled to a set of actions and character traits, rather than a family job.
Chivalry, having declined into limp-wristed fedora tipping, was once the brutal set of rules through which Christian men interacted with each other in battle and in peace. A complex system of honor, mercy and hospitality came together for something unheard of and unmatched by any other culture in existence. Chivalric rules have switched hats and names to be indistinguishable from it’s limp-wristed current iteration. Now it is a personal code in battle and in the person’s interactions in others. Therefore, it is not set in stone, but Is completely recognizable in others without being explicitly named.
Following all of this, it is not illogical that there is no real rule for a ‘knight’ for the modern times. It is instead connected, entirely, to the aesthetic of the story being told. Lets go over some examples.
Genres that are applicable will be written here, though it won’t be an exhaustive list and super generic genres (I.e. Science Fiction) will be ignored.
Stories set in: 1800 – 1900: England (Late Clockpunk, Steampunk, Gaslamp Fantasy, EARLY dieselpunk) : Here is the line where romance turns to something ‘modern’ but keeps a certain spirit. Horses should still be common common. Legitimate knights are still running around, but they are few and far between. Carriages are a sign of wealth and status, and can be used in dramatic chase scenes. However, they will have less personality than a horse, and its driver, usually a human, will demand characterization. In more ‘adventurous’ stories, ships, monowheels, airships, early airplanes and so on can be used as a ‘steed’ but because AI haven’t been invented yet (properly), they won’t have personality that a horse can bring.
1840s to 1920s: Old West (Cattlepunk, Steampunk): Horses all the time. Cowboys are knights. Their horses should have personality of some kind, if the cowboy has a specific named horse he rides. If the horse doesn’t have personality, then it leaves out a significant part of the lifestyle of the cowboy. Anything that’s
1920s to 1980s (Late Steampunk, Dieselpunk, capepunk/Superhero, Film Noir, Spy thrillers, popularization of Military genres, Pulp etc): Horses are becoming rare, but the car, motorcycle and so on are solidly replacing them. The knight is probably no longer nobility, but many have some vehicle that they care for. However, this period often seems to have the weakest connection between Man and his transportation. They have famous vehicles, but few have ‘personalities’ or can be interchanged. I.e. Batman has a batmobile. Everyone has an idea what that looks like, but if there are 10 people in a room, maybe 3 or 4 people will agree which is the most iconic version.
Theory time: Famously, Lawrence of Arabia died when he swerved his motorcycle to avoid boys playing on the road. It could be said that his death in 1935 is a sign of the end of Knighthood, except for a few outliers. World War 1 killed off much of the spirit of the age. Nobility became encrusted, dusty and unwieldy. Those who survived were not the bold men needed for the next generation, but majority of men who produced art that might not have been as healthful as some would imagine.
William Hope Hodgson died, but what if he lived? What if Hemingway had died instead of living? While it is not so profitable to imagine such a future, it is noticeable. Consider that C.S Lewis and Tolkien survived and the great affect they had on the world. Consider the Frankfurt school and their ilk, and the evil they had done. It is not to anyone’s surprise that flipping the living and dead counts would change the entire history of the world to date, and that is not mere hyperbole.
Therefore, past WW1, knighthood in any classical sense is mostly dead. Everything after will likely be infected with modernism, post-modernism and other diseases of the modern era. Thankfully, the feverish dreams have begun to dwindle, but the effects of those times will still be with us for a long while. Keep this in mind when reading anything past WW1.
Of course, the pain doesn’t last forever. By the time the Baby Boomers are adults, things start to change. While art gets worse in the 1980s and on, sins from WW1 start to roost and/or begin to heal. Because this is cultural movements, things are hard to see except in the long term. I say that things are worse than ever until about 2016, when the storm breaks and things become public, and therefore, heal-able. However, some things began to heal early, but silently.
1980s to 2016 and beyond (Proto-Cyberpunk, Modern, Mad Maxs): Cars have much more importance in the psyche, especially of Americans. Often a ‘knightly’ individual will have a special vehicle that may border on having a personality. If it is infected by something or has an AI implanted in it, it will CERTAINLY have a personality. It will have its’ own character in a way that hasn’t been seen by Silver of the Lone Ranger and others of its kind. Observe Knight Rider as the most famous example or the A-team and their iconic van, so on.
During this point, it goes from high hopes to low spirit, and will continue on as the rot continues until the next section. While 9/11 did have an affect on the cultural consciousness of America, it didn’t do much to affect literature, other than make Desertpunk sort of popular. Many pre-worldwar 1 books have been forgotten by now, except the truly greatest examples. There are 2 groups, those who remember the oldest greats, like Dunsany, and those who do not.
Therefore, the corruption is worse and worsens during these years, until 2016. The quality of books lower and the spirit meaner. Where as before the knights slowly died away, now they are mocked and made worthless throughout the culture.
In the real world: 2016s and on: (Pulprev, superversive etc) Literature starts Split up into two camps. Assuming a modern ‘urban fantasy’ a more honest, non-subversive series of stories arise. Horses have good characters, heroes wander once more and motorcycles show up everywhere to the rejoicing of all. It goes across all genres, but the change in spirit is so great as to be recognized.
Stories set in the future (Cyberpunk, Desertpunk, early space opera) The knight’s steed can have an AI and personality. The form, by now, has been completely freed from even the form of a horse. What stops a knight riding a mobile suit? A mecha? A rocket ship?
Well, that’s next week’s article.