Two months ago we began considering character Archetypes and how they reflected our values, for better or for worse. Last month we considered Warriors in that connection, and this month we are going to expand on that notion by looking at the knight.
To grasp this as an archetype, it is important that we agree on what we mean. Here I am looking at the noble fighter, whether called samurai or paladin or cavalier or some other name. These are those who fight for honor and glory and are proud of what they do. The Knights of the Round Table are exemplary of this; so, too, perhaps are Charlemagne’s paladins, at least in their legendary form. The fictional representations of Richard the Lionhearted and his inner circle in such books as Ivanhoe, and indeed much of Sir Walter Scott’s work, give us this image. I am less familiar with the literature of the Orient, but the Kurosawa film The Seven Samurai, and it’s American remake as a western, The Magnificent Seven, provide such characters: men who are proud to be fighters, and believe that there is a higher standard for them. We might suggest that the Green Berets, Rangers, and Seals have something of this in their identities, and at times the pride of the Marine Corps hints at this idea. Also, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police fit the image to some degree.
Being proud of what we do, in this sense, is not an evil thing. It means that we make every effort to be and do The Best we can at all times, not because someone is going to judge us by our actions so much as because we would not do less. In defending the honor of the Jewess Rebecca, Ivanhoe would stand and fight as her champion even though he is near death from injuries suffered days before, not because of any affection for her, nor for any duty to her, nor even out of gratitude for what she has done, but because he deems it the right thing to do. He would do right, act nobly, and defend truth in the face of death, because he should.
The seeking of perfection in what we do is a noble goal; but it also has a danger, that we should perceive ourselves as superior to those who do not try so hard, or who do not succeed so well. Ivanhoe’s adversary is such a man, who thinks that morals and laws are for people beneath him, that he has done the world so much good that it owes him whatever he wants. He, too, pursues perfection, as a knight should; but he does so for selfish, not honorable, reasons, seeing it as a way to greatness and power. Such is one of the hazards of this archetype.
It is also a danger that the knight would glory in violence. We have discussed violence already in Battle, and also in the second issue of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, in the article “Real and Imaginary Violence”. Violence many be a necessary evil in our world; but to value it for its own sake challenges central ideas of our faith. If it becomes more than a necessary means to a righteous end, it has stolen our truth. Even at times it cannot be as much as that. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, ends do not justify means; rather, bad means tend to corrupt good ends.
Yet in all this, there is something to be said for holding to your beliefs and fighting for them, doing so with personal integrity adhering to a code of honor. It rings a note in our hearts, makes us want to stand a bit taller, to be the person who lives by his principles and fights for them when called upon to do so. Some piece of truth is shown in our willingness to defend that truth that we understand. God receives some glory from our decision to stand by our honor. There is truth here worth knowing, despite the dangers on the flanks.
This article was originally published in August 2004 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.