With this poem, Fred Chappell takes his readers far from the southern landscape and familiar passions of his acclaimed Midquest tetralogy. He tells instead of a forbidding medieval castle ruled by a mad king and peopled by bitter, scheming grotesques and melancholy weaklings who cower at the sound of the sweet, sad voice of truth that haunts their nights.
Castle Tzingal is a fairy tale without moral or happy ending, a tale in which lies and self-deceptions take the place of ogres and in which moral corruption is the dragon to be slain. In a series of highly formal dramatic monologues, Chappell presents the corrupt longings and fears of the court’s manipulative astrologer, its forlorn queen, a pensioned admiral, a seductive page, and the homunculus—born of chemicals and fire—who spies on them all:
What things I might say if I so inclined!
The astrologer’s passion for a comely page
Is news; Queen Frynna has no peace of mind
Since a nimble harpist sojourned here
Last twelvemonth; there’s a wealthy vein of silver
Runs beneath our Castle Tzingal; the magpie
Singing in the courtyard wicker cage
Is a transformed enemy sorcerer.
This kind if information finds its flowering
In time; all knowledge becomes of use,
And when it does I bear it to the King.
Ruling over this monstrous court is King Tzingal himself—self-proclaimed “great lord of toads”—whose only power is hatred and whose reign can only be ended when his dismal kingdom is finally overrun by truth, by poetry.
Set in a mythical kingdom in a mythical age, Castle Tzingal is a political fairy tale that speaks with the vivid, sometimes harsh truth and knowledge of our most fevered nightmares.
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