Why the Knight in “Once A Knight”?

Once A Knight coverDuring my weekend forum on the Military Writers Society of America website last weekend (April 27-29), one of the members asked about my use of the term knight and my basing the fictional village of Cantiny on the actual old walled city of Toul, France. Did it have something to do with the era of knighthood and chivalry?

Since the advent of air combat in WW I, those combat pilots were often referred to as knights of the air. In my protagonist Tex’s case, I did consider two aspects:

  1. The Knights of the Air  were an important element of the publicity for WW I (although much of the tales of aerial chivalry in that war were overblown mostly to make good press).
  2. Tex’s background as a Texas Ranger has instilled him with a code of conduct and honor that he carries forward into the war (even though it is true that not all Rangers of that era were quite so honorable or heroic).

Tex is thrust into situations in which his innate sense of honor and chivalry are tested by fire, although I doubt Tex would have thought of himself in those terms.

In all honesty, I hadn’t consciously considered the village of Cantiny (based on Toul) as any kind of metaphor connected with knights. However, when I wrote about Cantiny, in my mind’s eye I was seeing the ancient town of Toul (in France’s Alsace Lorraine region where I lived in 1963-65) as it might have been during WW I. Here’s how I initially described it:

Cantiny was an old village with parts of the stone walls still standing from when it had been a fortified city, back in the Dark Ages I imagine. A stone fountain big enough to be its own fort filled the center of town. Four roads started at the fountain and chased the four winds. The withered old French men of the town gathered round the fountain on sunny days to smoke and drink wine and tell lies about other wars. Every one of them carried a walking stick and wore a jacket that looked as old as they did and was always a couple sizes too small.

Here are two photos of Toul I took back in 1964 (one of the old entrance to the walled city that used to span a moat and the other of the big fountain in the center of town, albeit without any of those old men):

Ancient entrance to Toul, France

©1964 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved

Centre-ville fountain in Toul, France

©1964 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

The short answer, therefore, is that I did see a metaphorical connection between Tex Ross, WW I combat pilots, and the much earlier historical era of “knights in shining armor” and all the folklore surrounding it.