(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Although they were his friends, Barker and Lambert often considered Quinn a fool, even a dangerous man, for he persisted in seeing the ludicrous where they saw only the grave. On this particular afternoon, Quinn was walking behind his two friends; as he saw the buttons on their tailcoats, he thought them very much like dragon’s eyes. Forever afterward, he thought of their backs as two dragons shuffling to the rear.

By the end of the twentieth century, such imagination was scarcely appreciated. The whole world had become orderly. The smaller nations had disappeared, and among the larger nations, Great Britain was by far the most extensive and best organized. The king was now chosen by lot instead of by heredity on the theory that anybody could be a good king. Parliament was only a memory of the days when government was a tedious process. As a reflection of the times, everyone wore sober, uniform clothing. Armies and wars were almost forgotten.

During their walk, Quinn and his friends were astonished to see a fine-looking man in a green military uniform decorated with many insignia. The man was attracting a good deal of attention, for the people had never seen brilliant clothes before. When Lambert and Barker invited the man to dinner, they learned that he was the former president of Nicaragua, the last small state to be conquered. They considered the former president an affable, saddened man. He still believed firmly in the right of individuals and of states to be different, but he was obviously very old-fashioned in his thinking. In fact, after they argued with him and showed him the current reasoned view, he committed suicide.

Later, Quinn was entertaining his friends as usual with pointless quixotic stories. Barker and Lambert listened patiently at first, but the meaning of the vague stories always eluded them. At last, in exasperation, they told Quinn to go stand on his head. To their surprise, Quinn did so, and competently. While he was thus attracting attention from the passersby, some policemen approached. Thinking they were to be reprimanded, all began to apologize. The policemen, however, brought word that Quinn had been chosen king. Barker protested loudly that Britain had no need to choose a buffoon as king. Quinn, however, was quite willing to be a king. He immediately styled himself King Auberon.

One day, the king was taking a stroll when a nine-year-old boy in a cocked hat struck him smartly with a wooden sword. Instead of punishing the boy, Auberon gave him a coin and complimented him on his knightly bearing. The sight of the boy in his make-believe armor gave the king an idea for bringing life and joy to staid London.

As soon as he could, he appeared before a historical society with his great innovation. All the districts of London that had been cities in earlier days were to be returned to their former autonomy. North Kensington, South...

(The entire section is 1189 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Walking to work on a wintry day in 1984, powerful bureaucrat James Barker, idler Wilfred Lambert, and prankster Auberon Quin meet the exiled president of Nicaragua, a country that has been swallowed up by more powerful nations. Despite the Nicaraguan’s argument that imperialists annihilate the customs of the conquered, Barker defends imperialism, insisting on the superiority of English civilization, which has evolved from democracy to despotism. He explains that the country needs neither a parliament nor a king; the latter, whose duty is simply to sign papers, is now chosen through a rotation system. The Nicaraguan, appalled by Barker’s words, dies three days later. Quin, meanwhile, is stirred by the Nicaraguan’s patriotism.

Quin, to Barker’s horror, is named king. Unlike Barker, he realizes that London’s people are sunk in a deadening, joyless routine. He mingles among common people to determine their needs. A child named Adam Wayne attacks him with a toy sword, and Quin, amused by this childish imitation of knighthood, decides, as a joke, to revive medievalism. He issues a Great Proclamation of the Charter of Free Cities. Suburbs become cities, each with a city wall, a guard, banners, official colors, and coats of arms. Their provosts are selected by a rotation system. Quin happily assigns the cities their official colors, garb, guards, heralds, and trumpeters.

The selected provosts, who include Barker and Red Buck, conspire to create, through bribery, purchase, and bullying, a road that will destroy five old stores on Pump Street in Notting Hill. Ten years...

(The entire section is 651 words.)