Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In On Moral Fiction, Gardner criticizes writers who create elaborate verbal palaces with no life inside, and he has Billy More issue the same complaint: “Words, whatever their sweetness and juice, turn prunes at last, and eventually ashes.” However, there is still pleasure in an elaborate, self-conscious style when the writer has confidence that he is creating more than the sand castle that Jonathan Upchurch says this story is.

The novella-length “The King’s Indian” is full of grandiose, usually comic, celebrations of figurative language. Upchurch experiences “the smell of unlimited futurity stinging” his “nosedrills.” He sees a sperm whale with “teeth that would serve as Plato’s form for the fall of civilizations.” Billy More—all the characters are philosophers and poets—describes Captain Dirge’s house as “so crammed with brass and silver and gold it would keep a dead Eskimo sweating for fright of thieves.”

More important, “The King’s Indian” is a virtual catalog of allusions to past masters, especially the literature of the sea. The story’s mariner-guest frame and its albatrosses come from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). Miranda is named for the heroine of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611), her father is Gardner’s version of Shakespeare’s Prospero, and Wilkins is his Caliban.

Most of the time, Gardner pays homage...

(The entire section is 411 words.)