Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion is the account of a spiritual odyssey, undertaken not in youth but rather near the end of life. Surprisingly, it is an odyssey which, though it does not find perfection, does find a kind of home. When Stone was seventeen, his mother died, leaving him with the conviction that life was merely something to survive, providing no pleasure in action, merely relief in contemplating those events through which one had lived. At the office, Stone is nearly invisible; at home, he is besieged, truly frightened when the black tomcat invades his fortress.

When he is propelled into life, first by his marriage, then by his creative impulse, Stone discovers that there can be pleasure in the moment itself, even though one must often pay the price of pain in other moments. In the real world, time, which had dragged, flies by, because now his life is full of incident. The tree in the neighboring schoolyard, which had reassured Stone by its dependable seasonal pattern, now represents the changes which are occurring in the previously unchanging Stone himself. In his new life, when the tree leafs out, it is “no mere measuring of time,” for he is “at one with the tree, for with it he develop[s] from day to day, and every day there [are] new and inspiring things to do.”

With his new, exciting home life and his creative new job, Stone can move between two worlds, generally finding one of them satisfactory at any given time. Thus, for the old frightened security he has substituted a gamble. Sometimes both of his worlds are satisfying, as on his blissful evening. Yet even when his prospects at work have dwindled and Margaret has lapsed from her usual admiration, Stone does not relapse into the fearful reclusiveness which had been his pattern for forty-five years. His venture into life has taught him that he can survive and that “calm would come to him again.” In the meantime, Margaret can be depended upon to keep his feelings alive, whether of affection or of irritation. Either is better than denial of life.