Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025217, Mon, 24 Mar 2014 15:30:41 -0400

Re: Fairy Chess Variants in Pale Fire
Jansy Mello: I wish some of the Nabokovian chess experts would express their ideas about the link between “Pale Fire” and “Fairy Chess.” I’m following Berndt-Peter Lange’s hypothesis when he writes (quoting the passage again): “Life is here seen in terms of a game of chess between unknown players indulging in another one of its special forms, fairy chess, whose rules allow imaginary pieces to make irregular moves: “... but there they were, aloof and mute,/ Playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns/ To ivory unicorns and ebon fauns…” (II. 818-829)”It occurred to me that Charles Kinbote’s variants (fairy chess is a “variant” of chess,)* related to John Shade’s verses might be explored as being representative of a literary kind of “fairy move” ** in the context and structure of JS-poem/CK-commentary.[...]By coincidence, or not, there are a few lines usually quoted in association to “Pale Fire” that come from the chapter on “Exile” (?) in “Speak, Memory,” the same chapter in which he describes his putative “fairy tactics” **** Perhaps the “ultrasophisticated” evaluation of fairy chess and PF’s variants is simply one such wild goose chase, deliberately inserted in the novel for the enjoyment of a special group of readers (unfortunately my ignorance of chess is an obstacle to fulfil my hunter’s instincts). I need Nabokovian help to enjoy this virtual (and misplaced) novel variant reading of PF’s story…
Dave sez: I believe the fairy chess analogy is intended more on a macro than a micro level (not that Nabokov ever neglected the micro, but by the same token didn't let it dominate the macro, more a matter of "making ornaments / Of accidents and possibilities"). That there are chess variants and text variants suggest there may be world variants. Fairy chess problems may also change other stipulations, including multiple solutions (not a bug but a feature). I've covered much of the ground in blogposts:http://nnyhav.blogspot.com/2005/09/nabokovs-theme.htmlhttp://nnyhav.blogspot.com/2011/04/reversification.htmlTo some specifics not considered therein:As you noted, the Nightrider is one of the most common fairy pieces, extending Knight moves linearly. (It's fairly common for notation to use "S" for the knight and "N" for the nightrider).The Unicorn is an established fairy chess piece, a 3-dimensional bishop. There is no piece known as the Faun (the allusion is to elsewhere, C677-8 translation of Marvell: The poem in question is "The Nymph complaining for the death of her Faun"; within the poem, reference to Silvio helps to establish Sybil (nee Irondell) Shade's identification with the pivotal Sylvia O'Donnell (well-connected to Zemblans and Wordsmith administrators alike), and the opening couplet ("The wanton Troopers riding by/Have shot my Faun and it will dye.") hearkens back to the epigraph by Samuel Johnson (by way of Boswell: "... Hodge shall not be shot."). )Not cited in PF, but I can't but include:Nostalgic King: "On reaching a square a Queen's move from its home square, the Nostalgic King must, on the next move, go home."Squirrel: moves or captures two squares away ("a Squirrel at d4 controls the perimeter squares of the rectangle b2-f6.")Hunter: moves forward like one piece (say a bishop) and backwards like another (say a rook).(quotes & info from Anthony Dickins, A Guide to Fairy Chess [Dover])
NB: Berndt-Peter Lange doesn't properly disentangle competition between (a) chess players and (b) problem solvers vs composers. But the point is rather (c) competition between composers.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/