The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Jack Winesap and Sven Agaard are, in some ways, stock characters who represent philosophical positions in an ongoing debate about language as art and entertainment versus language as a guide to the truth. As is usually the case with Gardner’s fictions, however, both are also fully realized, individual human beings who have specific characters and desires. In the case of Winesap, the overriding drive is to be liked and accepted; for Agaard, to be recognized as an accomplished and honest scholar. Freddy Agaard can be seen as a synthesis of them, becoming in his writings the historian as creator, the artist who transmutes the dry facts of the archives into a re-creation of actual human beings. As an artist, he is also in some ways a “monster,” an individual set apart from the normal run of humanity. “Monster,” both in its strict linguistic derivation and as Gardner uses it, does not necessarily connote a sense of horror or fear but simply someone set apart by a special gift or talent to “show forth” or reveal something essential to human existence. It is in this sense that Freddy Agaard is a monster, and “King Gustav and the Devil” is his finest product of showing forth, or illustrating, the facts of the human condition. Within the confines of that book, Gustav Eriksson Vasa, the first king of Sweden, is a man torn between idealism and realism. Determined to create an independent nation with a monarchy that will serve his people, he finds that he must...

(The entire section is 476 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jack Winesap

Jack Winesap, the first-person narrator of the realistic part of the text. Visiting a college, Winesap accepts a dinner invitation from Professor Agaard. Winesap endures Agaard’s testy behavior and takes an interest in the book that his son, Freddy, is rumored to be writing. Freddy secretly shows Winesap his book; it is this “book within the book” that constitutes the remainder of the novel.

Sten Agaard

Sten Agaard, a professor of Scandinavian history and father of Freddy. Agaard is a wizened, older man of vinegary disposition and considerable social awkwardness. Despite these drawbacks, he often has keen insights into the fallacies of academia and its politics, and he is a devoted father. His embittered cynicism makes him an outcast among his peers and a problematic parent for Freddy.

Freddy Agaard

Freddy Agaard, a semi-invalid and the only child of Professor Agaard. A young adult, Freddy is more than eight feet tall, obese, and extremely strong. He has childlike facial features and an extremely gentle, retiring nature. Freddy also has a predisposition toward sudden and largely unpredictable tantrums, during which he is capable of inflicting considerable damage. Freddy, therefore, has jailed himself in his father’s house, where he pursues his remarkable but unshared talents in art and prose. The greatest of his achievements is “Freddy’s Book,” a tale of the turbulent and violent times surrounding Gustav Vasa’s accession to the Swedish throne in the early 1520’s. Crafted as a symbolic realist saga, Freddy’s book is a sensitive and insightful investigation into the nature of the human heart, of good and evil, and of existence itself.

Gustav Vasa

Gustav Vasa, the king of...

(The entire section is 742 words.)