CIPC #321: Chess in literature: the D-quel.

Yes, after the sequel, there is now finally also the d-quel. Yes, I realise how awful that pun is. No, I’m not sorry about it.1 Anyway, here’s yet another blog post about chess in literature.

She spent a good deal of time sitting on the little bench in the stern playing chess with Reepicheep. It was amusing to see him lifting the pieces, which were far too big for him, with both paws and standing on tiptoes if he made a move near the centre of the board. He was a good player and when he remembered what he was doing he usually won. But every now and then Lucy won because the Mouse2 did something quite ridiculous like sending a knight into the danger of a queen and castle combined.

(Clive Staples Lewis, The voyage of the Dawn Treader, HarperCollins 2007, p.67)

The voyage of the Dawn Treader is quite different from the two earlier instalments of Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Some of the protagonists are different, there are not really any villains, and the story is very episodic. In this particular episode, a ship and those who sail on her are trying to survive a storm.

Two of the shipmates, who are useless in the circumstances, keep themselves out of other people’s way playing chess. Coincidentally, that has also been my approach to life so far.

Realism: 0/5 Okay, Reepicheep is only a mouse, but how am I supposed to believe he forgets he’s playing chess?!

Probable winner: Usually Reepicheep, apparently.

But he could not get to sleep; he never felt more wakeful in his life; so he lit the lamp and got out the chess-board and played himself a game of chess. But even that did not enliven him: it seemed slow somehow; so he gave chess up and tried to read.

(Jerome K. Jerome, Three men in a boat, Penguin books 1974, p.100)

Three men in a boat is one of those rare books that derive pretty much all their appeal from the quality of the prose. The plot, three men in a boat make a short touristic trip, is not particularly thrilling and the main characters are rather useless ponces. But Jerome K. Jerome’s ironic wit makes the whole thing worthwhile. 

Even despite such outrageous scenarios as someone finding chess slow! Admittedly, this character doesn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the box — indeed, he seems more akin to a spoon — so perhaps he really does find our noble game slow and tedious. On the other hand, he’s smart enough to breathe.

Realism: ?/5 There is almost no information. I suspect, purely based on the character of the player, that there may have been some illegal moves. 

Probable winner: After getting to know the chap in question, I refuse to believe he can win, even against himself. So, nobody.

Cinq minutes après, l’officier des gardes entrait et le duc de Beaufort paraissait profondément plongé dans les sublimes combinaisons de l’échec et mat. […] Il y en avait là plus qu’il n’en fallait pour donner des préoccupations du duc; aussi en fut-il des échecs comme de la longue paume: M. de Beaufort fit école sur école, et l’officier le battit à son tour le soir comme l’avait battu le matin La Ramée.

(Alexandre Dumas, Vingt ans Après, Chapter 21)

This book is not so well known — and I’m not sure why. Everybody and their dog knows The three musketeers, and sequels are massively successful. So why does this sequel get so much less attention? Or does it get attention and did it just pass me by? In any case, it picks up the story of d’Artagnan and his friends twenty years later.3

But this chapter focuses not on the musketeers, but on Mr. Beaufort, a nobleman imprisoned for being out of favour with the queen — and her advisor, cardinal Mazarin — is awaiting his great escape. In the meantime, he plays real tennis and chess. He is a profoundly stupid character, and he consequently loses pretty badly.

Realism: ?/5 Once again, there is next to no information. The thing with the idiot losing at chess is very accurate, though.4

Probable winner: Not de Beaufort, that’s for sure.

1. [Yes, I’m seriously contemplating calling the next instalment the E-quel. No, I cannot guarantee the 500th one won’t be called the D-quel again.]
2. [I don’t know why Mouse is capitalised. Perhaps he, like Aslan, is a metaphor for God.]
3. [Depending on the interpretation of that sentence, it may be only one year: Les trois mousquetaires came out in 1844, Vingt ans après in 1845.]
4. [I sadly speak from experience.]