Geography plays a significant role in The Walking Drum by author Louis L'Amour. This novel is set in the Middle Ages and takes place in multiple locations throughout Europe and the Middle East. Kerbouchard, the story's main character, is forced to flee his homeland in Brittany to escape a corrupt government official. He escapes to Spain and the city of Cordova, where he poses as a scholar. Kerbouchard himself notes the importance of setting in a person's life when he comments, "Up to a point a person’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and changes in the world about them."
Kerbouchard's Time in Cordova
While living in Cordova, Kerbouchard moves inland and lives as a scholar. He soon discovers that the city is rife with the same political corruption he fled in Brittany. In this way, Cordova is far more similar to his homeland than he ever expected. The city features a blend of Spanish and Moorish culture, and Kerbouchard falls in love with a young Moorish girl named Aziza. The slavery that is prevalent in the area leads to culture shock for Kerbouchard. During his time in Spain, he finds the European style of government to be heavily oppressive and the politics to be all-consuming.
Kerbouchard describes Cordoba as exciting, boisterous and prosperous. The economy is thriving despite the political corruption, or perhaps on account of it. Unlike Brittany, reading is widely encouraged in Cordova and Kerbouchard is highly valued for his studious nature. This atmosphere of intellectual freedom is epitomized in the quote, "Reading without thinking is nothing, for a book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.”
Kerbouchard's Time in Paris
Kerbouchard finds Paris to be different from Cordova in the sense that it is less open to outsiders. He quickly offends a local teacher and finds himself on the outs in this close-knit society. Parisian architecture is much more gothic than the open halls and arched doorways he saw in Cordova. The book paints Paris as darker in general, both in aesthetic and in tone. Kerbouchard encounters many artists in Paris, including a troupe of acrobats and several caravans. He and his companions have far more hostile encounters in Paris than in Cordova. Much of Kerbouchard's time in France can be characterized in this passage, which is also the origin of the book's name: "We often sang as we marched, and there was always the sound of the walking drum, a sound I shall hear all my life, so deeply is it embedded in the fibers of my being..."
To summarize Kerbouchard's experience in both cities, Cordova is a thriving, open society with a robust economy and an appreciation for the intellectually gifted. Paris is a far more religious city with greater economic disparity and Kerbouchard is less welcomed as a scholar than he is as a warrior.