Mundus vult decipi: Here begins the history of the birth and of the triumphing of the great legend about Manuel the Redeemer, whom Gonfal repudiated as blown dust, and Miramon, as an imposter, and whom Coth repudiated out of honest love: but whom Guivric accepted, through two sorts of policy; whom Kerin accepted as an honorable old human foible, and Ninzian, as a pathetic and serviceable joke; whom Donander accepted whole-heartedly (to the eternal joy of Donander), and who was accepted also by Naifer, and by Jurgen the Pawnbroker, after some little private reservations: and hereinafter is recorded the manner of the great legend's engulfment of these persons.The Silver Stallion is a darkly humorous, often sad, satire on human hypocrisy and our need for heroes. Cabell is unsparing in his skewering of the delusions of religion, marriage and politics, among others. Yet, he doesn't leave us utterly forlorn, as the final paragraphs attest:Anyhow, young Jurgen had brought down from Morven a most helpful and inspiring prediction which kept up people's spirits in this truly curious world; and cheerfulness was a clear gain. The fact that nothing anywhere entitled you to it could only, he deduced, make of this cheerfulness a still clearer gain...There might, besides, very well have been something to build upon. Modesty, indeed, here raised the point if Jurgen...could have invented out of the whole cloth anything quite so splendid and far-reaching? And that question he modestly left unanswered. Meanwhile...it was certain that Poictesme, along with the rest of Christendom, had now its wholly satisfactory faith and its beneficent legend (p. 354).The novel is divided into 10 books that take place in and around Poictesme, an imaginary, 13th century land somewhere in France, and reount the adventures of Dom Manuel's followers (The Fellowship of the Silver Stallion) after his miraculous assumption into Heaven (according to the sole eye-witness testimony of the young child Jurgen) (for maps and a fuller explanation of Cabell's imaginary realm, see The Atlas of Fantasy and The Dictionary of Imaginary Places; and for a short but concise bio of Cabell, see the entry in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy).I'll leave off this unabashedly positive recommendation with a short sample of Cabell's lyrical, darkly humorous prose:Then Madame Niafer arose, black-robed and hollow-eyed, and she made a lament for Dom Manuel, whose like for gentleness and purity and loving kindliness toward his fellows she declared to remain nowhere in this world. It was an encomium under which the attendant warriors stayed very grave and rather fidgety, because they recognized and shared her grief, but did not wholly recognize the Manuel whom she described to them.As an FYI: The copy I have is the 1926 first edition (bought at an outrageously cheap price from aLibris) but I abhor the "Image Not Available" thumbnail and like to have a covershot in there whenever I can so I went with the more recent paperback edition's photo.Vanessa
I am currently reading this book. It makes me laugh out loud but also puts me to sleep. Frank C. Pape's illustrations are fascinating.Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in May 2003.Many readers of fantasy today basically assume that it is a genre which originated with J.R.R. Tolkien; this is not at all the case, and the best of the earlier writing is, in my opinion, well worth resurrecting. James Branch Cabell is today almost completely unknown, even with the occasional cheap reprint in some "fantasy classics" series, and he has a charm and humour almost totally lacking in most post-Tolkien fantasy. In the second half of the twenties, he wrote a loosely connected trilogy set in the kingdom of Poictesme, of which this is the second. It was attacked at the time as blasphemous and indecent, two charges which would hardly be made today even though it is still just about possible to understand why people reacted in this way.The Silver Stallion is the best of the volumes in the trilogy. Figures of Earth lacks the ingredients which mark out The Silver Stallion from just about every other fantasy novels, and Jurgen sometimes reads as though Cabell is trying too hard to shock the reader. The reason this novel is different is that it is about what happens after the end of the quest, during the living "happily every after". It starts with the death of Dom Manuel, central character (if not exactly hero) of Figures of Earth. The fellowship of nine companions who fought under the banner of the Silver Stallion ("rampant in every member") is disbanded, and his widow sets about turning his reputation as the liberator of Poictesme into that of a national saviour and redeemer, sort of a cross between Christ and King Arthur. (It is Cabell's appropriation of Christian ideas and even Biblical quotations to his manifestly false redeemer and particular what is said about the survival of any religion in Part IX which provoked the charge of blasphemy.) The Silver Stallion is about both how the cult of Dom Manuel becomes established and the ageing of his former companions. These nine men find it hard to fit in with the changes in Poictesme, partly because they remember better than anyone else what Dom Manuel was really like, and partly because they miss the old days of fighting and wenching.The them of the ageing heroes makes The Silver Stallion pretty unusual in the fantasy genre, even today. (In this era of debunked heroes, fantasy has generally continued to depict the old fashioned superhuman goodies.) The closest parallels I can think of are the world weariness of some of Michael Moorcock's heroes, the character of the aged Bilbo in TThe Lord of the Rings and Cohen the Barbarian, who has a minor role in several of the Discworld novels. Reading the novel reveals, however, that stylistically Cabell is not like these authors stylistically, reminding me instead of L. Sprague de Camp and Tom Holt. It is a pity that Cabell is not still widely known, and this trilogy at least is well worth seeking out.Fraser Sherman
One of James Branch Cabell's best. In this sequel to Figures of Earth, which ended with Manuel of Poictesme disappearing from this world, his devoted followers meet their own eccentric endings as Cabell satirizes religion, politics, idealism, fairy tales and of course there's sex. Throughout all this the legend of Manuel slowly transforms the cynical, conniving conqueror into a saintly redeemer possessed of all the virtues.John
After the disappearance of Count Manuel, his widow and a missionary start the legend of Count Manuel the Redeemer. The Knights of the Silver Stallion dissolve the order and wander to the ends of the earth and beyond. Some of the knights have difficulty associating the Manuel of legend with the ordinary man they knew. One wanders in search of a young princess. One wanders in search of Manuel and winds up in pre-Columbian Mexico. One dies in battle and accidentally goes to the wrong religion's paradise. One seeks knowledge in an underground library. One turns out to be a minor devil, to the dismay of his wife. One wanders in search of a spirit that is trying to take over his body, and finds it.As usual, Cabbellian wit and irony.Maureen
as my compulsive consumption of cabell continues (this has been in my purse a month now and this is my third re-read), i have been alerted to the fact that i am reading these books "out of order" though it hardly seems to matter. i will say that it seems the more you read cabell, the more intertextualities you recognize as you come upon them. i discovered the paternity of dame lisa, jurgen's wife in reading the silver stallion, which added a certain piquancy. my beloved jurgen also make appearances here: as a child, then a youth, then the jurgen that bewitched me but he is by no means a main character. this book is about heroes not poet/pawnbrokers. these include jurgen's father coth of the rocks, and the other eight heroes who made up the fellowship of the silver stallion under their tenth member and leader, the count dom manuel, redeemer of poictesme (cabell's fictionalized medieval french demesne) who saved it from the pagan north men. the action of this pseudo-history novel occurs when, one fine day, dom manuel disappears and nobody knows where or how he left. the only two that claim to have seen him go are children, and each relate incredible stories of a supernatural departure. dom manuel's wife and her counselors (among them horvendile, the author's interlocutor) call the silver stallion together, only to disband the fellowship and set about fashioning a puritanical christian cult around the lost hero, to smooth out and reinvent his reputation, to make him now a spiritual redeemer that will return a la king arthur, in the hour of poictesme's need. cabell's interest in the autumn years rears its head again here, in choosing to tell the tales of the last adventures of these heroes' careers, these men who knew a different version of the man who disappeared, while he examines what makes a hero, and reminds us how easy it is to put pretty words around previously inappropriate deeds. everyone can be redeemed, in time. and so too, can they be forgotten with just a few more grains of sand.the silver stallion is perhaps not quite as ribald as jurgen but there are romantical shenanigans aplenty. these heroes really know how to woo a dame. but seeing as there are so many of them and just one jurgen, the effect is rather less concentrated. the quotes i've selected to showcase here highlight cabell's interest in love. he embraces it while he denounces it and he seems to recognize it in all its incarnations. the first comes from the story ninzian, the most devoutly rigorous of all dom manuel's former allies after his wife founds out his terrible secret. and the other is one of the cantankerous coth of the rocks softer moments (i can think of only one other, actually, just after this) these are poignant moments but mostly cabell is fun and cabell is witty even if cabell is wise. i wish i could have taken a turn around the maypole with him. :)***"No, Ninzian, I simply cannot stand having a husband who walks like a bird and is liable to be detected the next time it rains. It would be on my mind day and night, and people would say all sorts of things. No, Ninzian, it is quite out of the question, and you must go back to hell. I will get your things together at once, and I leave it to your conscience if, after the way I have worked and slaved for you, you had the right to play this wrong and treachery upon me."And Balthis said also: "For it is a great wrong and treachery which you have played upon me, Ninzian of Yair, getting from me such love as men will not find the equal of in any of the noble places of this world until the end of life and time. This is a deep wound that you have given me. Upon your lips were wisdom and pleasant talking; there was kindliness in the gray eyes of Ninzian of Yair; your hands were noble at sword-play. These things I delighted in, these things I regarded; I did not think of the low mire, I could not see what horrible markings your feet had left to this side and to that Bide. Let all women weep with me, for I now know that to every woman's loving is this end appointed. There is no woman that gives all to any man, but that woman is wasting her substance at bed and board with a greedy stranger, and there is no wife who escapes the bitter hour wherein that knowledge smites her. So now let us touch hands, and now let our lips, too, part friendlily, because our bodies have so long been friends, the while that we knew nothing of each other, Ninzian of Yair, on account of the great wrong and treachery which you have played upon me."Thus speaking, Balthis kissed him. Then she went into the house that was no longer Ninzian's home. ***And very often, too, Coth would look at his wife, Azra, and would remember the girl that she had been in the times when Coth had not yet given over loving anybody. He rather liked her now. It was a felt loss that she no longer had the spirit to quarrel with anything like the fervor of their happier days; not for two years or more had Azra flung a really rousing taunt or even a dinner plate in his direction: and Coth pitied the poor woman's folly in for an instant bothering about that young scoundrel of a Jurgen, who had set up as a poet, they said and--in the company, one heard, of a grand duchess,--was rampaging every-whither about Italy, with never a word for his parents. Coth, now, did not worry over such ingratitude at all: not less than twenty times a day he pointed out to his wife that he, for one, never wasted a thought upon the lecherous runagate.His wife would smile at him, sadly: and after old Coth had been particularly abusive of Jurgen, she would, without speaking, stroke her husband's knotted, stubby, splotched hand, or his tense and just not withdrawing cheek, or she would tender one or another utterly uncalled-for caress, quite as though this illogical and broken-spirited creature thought Coth to be in some sort of trouble. The woman though, had never understood him...Then Azra died. Coth was thus left alone. It seemed to him a strange thing that the Coth who had once been a fearless champion and a crowned emperor and a contender upon equal terms with the High Gods, should be locked up in this quiet room, weeping like a small, punished, frightened child.