Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1134
Chris Hughes is the bildungsroman hero of the story. In the beginning, he is a pampered and sheltered American intellectual, in a sense a victim of a leisure-oriented society, who is conservative and most often described as being "anxious" about the situations he finds himself in—in other words, afflicted by a postmodern anxiety of influence and malaise. He is naive and underdeveloped as a person because of the loss of his parents, and because he has spent all of his time with books, studies the history of experience rather than experiencing life for himself. When caught in bewildering situations in medieval France, Chris slowly starts to realize his condition: "Such theoretical posturing turned history into a clever intellectual game. Chris was good at the game, but playing it, he had somehow lost track of a more straightforward reality— that the old texts recounted horrific stories and violent episodes that were all too often true." As he spends more time trapped in the Middle Ages, Chris continues his contemplation of modern life:
For some reason, he found himself thinking of . . . the arguments among the graduate students. . . . It was no wonder they argued. The issues were pure abstractions, consisting of nothing but thin air—and hot air. Their empty debates could never be resolved; the questions could never be answered. Yet there had been so much intensity, so much passion in those debates. Where had it come from? Who cared? He couldn't quite remember now why it had been so important.
For Chris, the disorienting culture shock and the pain from the inadvertent jousting match with Sir Guy reunites him with the physical reality of life. His transformation is somewhat abrupt, but he gradually becomes less whiny and more manly until he is able to step into Marek's chivalric role and become Kate's protector. Ultimately the reader is led to identify with Chris as he rescues Kate from the knight at the Green Chapel and returns from his journey with a better understanding of not only the past, but the present as well.
Andre Marek is the scholar who does not study the past from a distance, but lives it even before experiencing quantum travel. He takes broadsword lessons and teaches archery because he believes in the romantic chivalric ideals. It is interesting to note that he is not an American as he speaks with " . . . just a trace of a Dutch accent," suggesting that Americans are too caught up in the pursuit of money and technological advancements to appreciate the value of history. The idea of Europe and its citizens as a cultural/historical artifact occurs again later in a discussion between the minister of antiquities of France and Professor Johnston: "You know there is a sentiment here that Americans destroy all culture, having none of their own." Marek, then, represents the culture itself as well as a way of incorporating the past into the present. Marek's decision to remain in the fourteenth century surprises no one. When Professor Johnston and the others find the location of Marek and Claire's tombs in the present, they discover that Marek's dying words were, "I have chosen a good life," indicating his satisfaction with his decision to stay. The Americans cannot quite accept this, however, and they invent a sadness for Marek that does not exist in the evidence given. When asked if he thought Marek was happy, Johnston replies affirmatively, but thinks to himself that ". . . however much Marek loved it, it could never be his world. Not really. He must always have felt a foreigner there, a person separated from his surroundings, because he had come from somewhere else." Johnston can be seen as displacing his own feelings of exclusion from the rich cultural heritage of Europe.
Robert Doniger's personality is best described by his own words. When John Gordon reminds him that one of his employees has just died, suggesting that ITC is responsible, he gets the following response: '"That's true,' Doniger said coldly. 'And you know what? There's fuck all I can do about it. . . . Just handle it, okay?'" People do not matter to Doniger, and in that respect, he is "no different than other aggressive young entrepreneurs". All that concerns him is the pursuit of profit-generating knowledge. In many ways, Doniger is a caricature of Silicone Valley start-up entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs. His employees have nicknamed him "Dead March Doniger," but continue to work for him because he is nearly always right in his criticisms, and he is undoubtedly a brilliant physicist.
Kate Erickson is the main female character of the novel, and as such modern feminist readers will particularly scrutinize her. At first glance, Kate seems to be an empowered woman character; she is not described physically, except as "ash-blond, blue-eyed and darkly tanned" but is instead characterized through her actions. Her rock-climbing ability makes her an active character early in the novel, and even allows her to rescue Andre and Chris from the tower in Castelguard. Her high-altitude action scene with Robert De Kere demonstrates her courage and wit. But in the end Kate's physically abilities and fearless nature fade into the background, and she becomes a woman in need of rescue at the Green Chapel. It is not surprising then, that she is seven months pregnant by the end of the book, incapable of rock climbing and seemingly resigned to a back-seat role of complaining about the air temperature.
The Lady Claire d'Eltham is a far better candidate for the empowered modern woman, except for the fact that she is a native of the fourteenth century. The reader is never privileged with Claire's thoughts, but she is always in the center of the action. Chris is the first to meet her, disguised as a boy. It turns out that she often cross-dresses in order to move freely in a society where women's roles are restricted. Claire seeks stability through marriage, and when she is discovered in an uncompromising position in the monastery, she defends her sexual exploits to Chris by saying, "How dare you judge me? I am a gentle woman, alone in a foreign part, with no one to champion me, to protect or guide me." Claire needs a husband whose physical strength and political power will shield her from rape and war, but she is not waiting for her prince to come, as the stereotypical medieval princess might, but instead has her first husband killed, directs Sir Guy (her next intended husband) in a charade of antagonism to allay the suspicion of the public about her husband's death, and grants the Abbot sexual favors in the hopes of gaining the secret of La Roque, displaying her political ambition. In the end, Claire's machinations pay off and she finds the husband and protector she desires in Marek.
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