The King Who Saved Himself from Being Saved Analysis

John Ciardi

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

On the surface, this little poem of 168 lines is an amusing fairy tale with a twist: A knight in armor suddenly appears, disturbs the peace of the kingdom, and becomes the one who must be conquered. The lighthearted tone adds a sharp edge to the underlying satire, which mocks the concept of the hero, the heroic ideal, and the whole fairyland tradition. Here, the kingdom is in a languid state of peace, and the direst threat is only a virus, which has afflicted the queen with a cold. The princess whiles away her time in the tower listening to a lark, and the giant lolls in the park smelling the flowers.

Into this tranquil world of sylvan repose and prosperity—the king thinks of exerting himself only to count his gold—the would-be savior noisily appears. Fiercely he insists on slaying the giant and saving the kingdom. Claiming the princess as his bride, as well as half the kingdom, is also among his plans. The queen is aroused from her bed; the giant runs away and hides. The knight’s bellicose manner frightens the larks, and the princess, far from being enthralled, bursts into tears. The king, shocked but unintimidated by the clamorous intruder, orders him to leave or be shot. The king’s only ambition is to allow his kingdom to fade peacefully into fairy myth and become “Long Ago and Far Away.” Finally, he commands his cannoneer to fire at the knight and thus saves the kingdom from being saved.

This playful make-believe is cast in a...

(The entire section is 580 words.)