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The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount Paperback – March 28, 1977
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Nonexistent Knight" is about just that: a knight in Charlemagne's army who doesn't exist, but "inhabits" an empty suit of armor. The knight, Agilulf, is an exemplar of chivalry, and annoys almost everyone. When the validity of his knighthood is brought into question, a great chase ensues between the main characters of the story, which, when the smoke clears, culminates in a "confession" of the narrator. The story's mood is a strangely profound tongue-in-cheek. It is moving, funny, and intense.
"The Cloven Viscount", by contrast, is a harsh and violent story that includes enough whimsy to keep it from sinking into a hopelessly depressing tale. After the mostly upbeat feel of "The Nonexistent Knight" the brutal imagery of this story is shocking. The story involves a Viscount who is in fact cloven, that is, literally cloven in two by a Turkish cannon. He is not only cloven physically, but in other more interesting ways. The implications this story presents are numerous and incredibly thought-provoking.Read more ›
The second tale is of a nobleman cut in half whose two halves live separately on: one evil, one good. This is a more straightforward and compact story, and clearly a warning against extremism of any kinds. The evil side is truly nasty, and the good one starts out beloved, but eventfully gets too pushy and interfering for everyone's good. Eventually the two halves are rejoined to make a balanced personality and everyone lives happily ever after.
Both stories can also be read as existentialist meditations on the meaning of existence. They can also be read with an eye toward the horrors of WWII and the nature of evil. In the first tale, Charlemagne and his knights are bumbling fools for the most part, but still manage to engage in a bloody war. In the second, a carpenter's expertise is enlisted to create more and more elaborate torture and hanging devices, while a doctor abandons his commitment to helping people. In any event, if you like Calvino's other fabulist work, you'll like these two novellas, but they're probably not the place to start if you're unfamiliar with his work.
"The Nonexistant Knight" opens with Charlemagne and his army preparing for a massive battle -- except that one knight named Agilulf is, technically, nonexistant. Okay, he's the very image of honor and chivalry, but he's also a walking empty suit of white armor. For some reason, Charlemagne doesn't seem disturbed by this.
Fortunately, Agilulf is able to do his job despite not existing; Calvino's meditations on this are outstanding. Because of his ultra-perfection, Agilulf ends up attracting a naive young soldier, a feisty warrior woman, and an odd young knight who is looking for the Order of the Holy Grail. A Shakespearean tangle of sorts emerges before things start to sort themselves out...
"The Cloven Viscount" is a simpler work: A viscount is hit by a Turkish cannonball that somehow splits him in half. Surprisingly, he's not dead -- they're able to save the right half of his body. But when the right half goes home, it becomes increasingly clear that it only has half the personality as well. And unfortunately, it's the evil half.
As the various peasants try to deal with the viscount's vicious acts, the left half shows up as well. As it happens, the left half is the good half. He's also, despite his goody-goody personality, as much of a menace as the evil side. Can the two halves somehow get back into a whole man, or will they drive everyone else nuts?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Calvino is a joy to read, but he makes you think deep. If you are looking for a light read to pass the time you may want to keep looking. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Kmhinmoore
The Nonexistent Knight is probably my favorite novella! It's extraordinarily well-written and manages to balance humor, absurdity, and philosophy with wonderful grace. Read morePublished 18 months ago by David Horton
Of course this is more of a philosophy book, and people are going to have different ideas. Either way, I enjoyed the literature, and the book did give me something to think about... Read morePublished 22 months ago by M. C. Mathet
The book showed up on time and was everything the description said it was. It was purchased for school reading.Published on November 10, 2013 by Russell Saul
In this wonderfully original Calvino's signature simple and allegorical tales, the author presents deeply fundamental questions about existence. Read morePublished on August 31, 2013 by whj
It's a book, it has words, it works, what else can we say. Used for school and passed the coursePublished on December 13, 2012 by Stone River
Sometimes a book is so good that you go to bed at 3am only to wake up at 5am because you've decided that finishing that book is more important than going back to bed. Read morePublished on July 18, 2012 by Bryan Kerr
Calvino is pretty much tops when it comes to weaving these delicate little historical fantasies. Neither of these is quit as strong on their own as the utterly wonderful baron in... Read morePublished on February 16, 2012 by jafrank