Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025227, Thu, 27 Mar 2014 16:41:03 -0400

Re: Fairy Chess Variants in Pale Fire
Jerry: You say that fairy chess problems may have multiple solutions as a feature. Was this true at the time *Pale Fire* was written? And am I right to think that this isn't necessarily part of fairy chess, since having more than one way to force mate is common in standard over-the-board chess, but instead it's a "social" phenomenon that multiple solutions have been accepted in the fairy-chess-problem community but not in the standard-chess-problem community?
When people take the idea seriously that a Nabokov story is like a chess problem, they may still be right to think there's only one key, but it may be worth repeating that much of the interest in a problem can be in other "phases" of play, namely what would happen if it were Black's move and how Black refutes White's incorrect but tempting attempts. Or so I'm told. Thus finding the key doesn't end the esthetic enjoyment of a problem.
Have you ever looked at the Kinbote Task, the king-in-the-corner waiter of the *Solus Rex* type? Though not a problemist, I came up with one once, but it has no esthetic interest and has what I believe is a flaw, at least for conservative solvers, so on a scale from 1 to 10, its score is negative.
Dave sez: Multiple solutions had already long been well established even in the semi-orthodox field of help-mates, and in fairy chess proper, for example, for solutions dependent upon the topology of the board (e.g., normal, cylindrical, toroidal; but with a unique solution for each). BUT: such solutions should relate to one another within a framework of thematic unity and satisfy other aesthetic criteria (economy of means, "naturalness" of position, prior art, etc.). And in orthodox problems uniqueness of solution is itself a theme (dual avoidance, with a variety of sub-themes), but there had been "occasional" (ie like verse, not of the highest order) instances of multi-solution problems.
The best problems are not those most difficult to solve, even aside from the fact that aesthetic considerations can guide one to the solution. And what to the solver is a red herring is to the aficionado an integral part of the construcion. I think that Nabokov was quite acute in drawing an analogy to literary appreciation, but that it can be taken too literally.

While I'm about it, a follow-on on my off-list colloquy with Jansy: Kinbote's note on "Marvell and Donne", beside the Fawn, also points to the latter's Holy Sonnet X ("Death, be not proud..."), which enjoys a certain resonance "For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow": in particular, the third quatrian bolsters Carolyn Kunin's thesis of Shade's transformation into Kinbote at a stroke:Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,And poppy or charms can make us sleep as wellAnd better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?BUT: the proximity of M&D to "Hurricane Lolita" suggests a deeper allusion, not to the poems Kinbote cites, but beyind, to Marvell's "Upon Appleton House" and the place of the daughter of his patron Lord Fairfax in it, and his leaning upon the example set by Donne in The Anniversary Poem's lament for Elizabeth Drury, the daughter of his patron ... perhaps this line of enquiry has already been pursued?

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