The King Who Saved Himself from Being Saved Critical Essays

John Ciardi


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The effect of the poet’s tongue-in-cheek approach in The King Who Saved Himself from Being Saved is to keep readers distant from the fiction and to suggest that one not take the tale seriously. In addition, the characters are, except for the king, scarcely more than names. The knight, who is given the obvious, generic name of Hero, is never seen without his helmet. He remains a faceless force with one outstanding trait: an unwavering zeal that blinds the believer. Yet, the simplicity of the plot, its charming commentary, and, above all, its compelling logic—it is silly to start a fight in this peaceful world—engage one’s attention and sympathy. Readers may be disarmed by the tone and manner of the poem’s narrator, a congenial voice that continually assures that all this playfulness is mere artless fabrication. This staged innocence befits the characters in the story itself. The giant wants only to smell the flowers in the park, the princess passes her time in the tower watching the larks, and the queen lies in bed with a cold while the king snoozes on the throne. Once aroused by the intrusive knight, however, the king proves to be a practical sort who thinks the clamorous Hero is not only a nuisance but a fool so determined to do the heroic deed that he cannot see that the kingdom is in no need of saving. He is so caught up in his enthusiasm that he ignores the cannon’s fuse as it rapidly burns toward the powder. Children will delight in the...

(The entire section is 568 words.)