Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In The Non-Existent Knight, Calvino’s many narrative lines spread out in various directions only to return to a common center. In similar fashion, Calvino posits the separation and subsequent, though problematic, combination of art and life. As Raimbaut learns, in war nothing is as it seems, and, as Sister Theodora’s duplicitous telling of her tale proves, in art nothing is quite as it seems either. War itself is like a dead metaphor or an overused literary convention: entirely predictable and played according to rules so stale and rigid as to make the knights who participate in it appear absurd. Yet, as Raimbaut also understands, humankind needs rituals to keep from slipping into the void. The chivalric code forms one such ritual, and the rules of narration another. Sister Theodora’s narrative method involves, first, the breaking of literary rules and, second, breaking into her own narration. Her repeated disruptions leave the reader both perplexed and delighted, the attention divided between tale and teller. She leaves the sources of her narrative uncertain; they include rumors, written accounts, eyewitness reports, her own imagination, and, as the reader comes to believe, her own experiences. She implies that the daily routine in the convent where she writes has managed to leave its impress on her tale of war and quests, and one suspects that something similar has happened with fact and fiction, history and imagination, each infusing and confusing...

(The entire section is 587 words.)