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 Growing up to become ‘The Knight’ that God wants me to be

"The Knight" by Gene Wolfe on table with toy knights

John Touhey | Aleteia

John Paul Szewczuk - published on 10/03/23

In Gene Wolfe’s 'The Knight,' a contemporary teen awakens in a strange, magical world. His adventures mirror the challenges that all teens face today.

Editor’s note: The Wizard Knight is a two-part novel that appeared on Aleteia’s 2023 Book List for Teens. We wanted to get a teenager’s perspective on the book, so we invited John Paul, a young writer and high school senior who lives in Connecticut, to share his thoughts on The Knight, the first book in the duology.

As I grow up, I have started using a cell phone, driving, and taking on more responsibilities. These things make me feel that I’m maturing. When I look closer, however, I notice that what really makes someone a mature adult is how they act. Watching my father care for his elderly uncle and my mother helping her parents has shown me what it truly means to be a man. They could have done whatever they wanted with the resources and freedom that they have. Instead, they decided to help their loved ones. I can see that the choices they made are not a restriction, but rather true freedom.

I am also finding that being a teenager means being introduced to lots of things that you can do but shouldn’t necessarily do.

A teenager in a strange land

In Gene Wolfe’s The Knight, a contemporary teenage boy awakens ina strange and magical world where dragons exist and cats can talk. He discovers that he is inhabiting the body of a fully grown man who also happens to be a knight named Sir Abel. We follow Abel through many adventures as he grows and matures. He eventually learns to live up to the expectations of what it means to be a knight.

Abel is given several examples of the person he wants to become. This starts with Bold Berthold, a hermit who lives in the forest. Although injured and out of his prime, Berthold is still an exemplary figure. Abel must care for him at times, but Berthold also teaches Abel about the world and what things were like before Abel existed.

Then there is Sir Ravd. He is referred to as the best knight Abel ever saw, and his wisdom is what sets Abel on the path of knighthood. Berthold and Ravd both show the importance of mentors and their positive influence in a child’s journey to adulthood.

Child in a man’s body

Sir Abel loses these figures rather early in the story, however, and is left to fend for himself. That’s unfortunate because Abel is literally a child in a man’s body. He tries to explain this to the other characters he meets, but even though they say they understand him, and that the same thing once happened to them, they don’t really understand Abel’s problem.

As with most teenagers, Abel finds that adults can’t really understand the experience of being a teenager in today’s world. His unique experience, along with the fact that he is literally from another world, isolate Abel from the people around him. He feels completely different from everyone else.

Abel also has to learn the rules of the strange land that he finds himself in. He needs guides to explain the customs and scenarios he encounters. He needs currency explained to him to avoid being scammed. Despite being much stronger than those around him, Abel is really still a teenager inside and is still vulnerable.

"The Knight" by Gene Wolfe, close up of book and toy knights

What does it mean to be a knight?

As his quest continues, Abel starts to realize that his own initial perception of knighthood was superficial. Sir Ravd clarifies that being a knight is more than possessing wealth, a horse or powerful weapons. He teaches Abel that what truly makes a person a knight is their sense of honor, and that knights must value honor more than their own lives.

Abel’s initial view of knighthood is similar to a child’s view of adulthood and maturity. As children, we identify adulthood by its physical and outward attributes, like strength and having a job and money. A person can have all these things and lack maturity, however.

One aspect of Abel’s journey that especially resonates with me is the progression of his self-confidence. When he first starts to present himself as a knight, Abel usually second guesses himself, saying that he isn’t technically a knight, or that he is a very poor knight. By the end of the book, though, he fully embraces his knighthood, without apparent doubt or uneasiness. This mirrors the normal experience of maturing and growing. Like Abel, we often struggle to not only change and progress, but also to accept who we are becoming.

Divine help

In this tremendous task, Abel is helped not just by those around him, but by divine intervention. Otherworldly entities come to his aid, including an angelic figure. This reflects the importance of a strong relationship with God as one journeys into adulthood. It demonstrates the strong influence that Gene Wolfe’s Catholic faith had on his writing.

This is also something I could relate to. Often when I feel as if I am alone, I have to remind myself that the faith I received is constant, and that I can always rely on it.

Abel’s journey to knighthood ends with him fully embracing the mantle in a fashion similar to reaching heaven.

I enjoyed reading The Knight and look forward to finishing the series. The book resonated with me, as it focused on the experience of navigating a new and strange world, something that I also experience. Its fantasy setting gives it a true sense of timelessness.

BooksPersonal GrowthTeens
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