March 05, 2004

The Geste of Duke Jocelyn, Jeffery Farnol

Farnol carries off clichés as though he had them over his saddlebow. He slips from blank to jingling verse and into prose at his convenience. He interjects himself and his daughter, arguing about the course of the story, and usually puts their discussions into the same rhymes the medieval characters use, even as he's aggrieved by his daughter's tasteless use of slang ('ripping', 'corking'). But his pace is brisk and even, so—taking this as the light amusement it claims to be—it works. The plot is a trusty old dobbin:

"'Spite all thy talk, my mind on this is set--
Thus, in all lowliness I'll e'en go to her
And 'neath this foolish motley I will woo her.
And if, despite this face, this humble guise,
I once may read love's message in her eyes,
Then Pertinax--by all the Saints, 'twill be
The hope of all poor lovers after me,
These foolish bells a deathless tale shall ring,
And of Love's triumph evermore shall sing.

"So, Pertinax, ne'er curse ye so
For that in lowly guise we go,
We many a merry chance may know,
Sir Pertinax of Shene."
"And chances evil, lord, also!"
Quoth Pertinax of Shene.

Some of the antic prose is jolly too:

"Fellow," questioned the haughty knight, "what hold ye there?"
"Fellow," quoth Sir Pertinax, haughty and gruff also, "'t is no matter to thee!" And speaking, he buttoned the jewel into the wallet at his belt.
"Fool!" exclaimed the Knight, staring in amaze, "wilt dare name me 'fellow'? Tell me, didst see three foresters hereabout?"
"Poltroon, I did."
"Knave, wilt defy me?"
"Rogue, I do!"
"Slave, what did these foresters?"
"Villain, they ran away!"
"Ha, varlet! and wherefore?"
"Caitiff, I drubbed them shrewdly."
"Dared ye withstand them, dog?"
"Minion, I did."
"Saw ye not the badge they bore?" demanded the fierce stranger-knight.
"'T was the like of that upon thy shield!" nodded Sir Pertinax grimly.
"Know ye who and what I am, dunghill rogue?"
"No, dog's-breakfast--nor care!" growled Sir Pertinax, whereat the stranger-knight grew sudden red and clenched mailed fist.
"Know then, thou kennel-scourer, that I am Sir Agramore of Biename, Lord of Swanscote and Hoccom, Lord Seneschal of Tissingors and the March."
"Ha!" quoth Sir Pertinax, scowling. "So do I know thee for a very rogue ingrain and villain manifest."
"How!" roared Sir Agramore. "This to my face, thou vile creeper of ditches, thou unsavoury tavern-haunter--this in my teeth!"
"Heartily, heartily!" nodded Sir Pertinax. "And may it choke thee for the knavish carcass thou art."
At this, and very suddenly, the Knight loosed mace from saddle-bow, and therewith smote Sir Pertinax on rusty bascinet, and tumbled him backward among the bracken. Which done, Sir Agramore laughed full loud and, spurring his charger, galloped furiously away. [...]

The secondary characters are some of them charming; Rob o' the Greenwood, who Farnol does the respect of not explaining; the frightening but benevolent witch and her frightening but benevolent dwarf son; and the grouchy sidekick Sir Pertinax, who gets several star turns of his own. The lovely maidens are valiant, though ineffectively, and the hero gets himself into trouble for consistent and not totally numskulled reasons.

Project Gutenberg etext #8165

So wrote clew in Fiction (20th c.). | TrackBack
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