Board Games

Thursday, 18th May 2006

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If you were a chess piece, which one would you be? asks Violet, a friend in China.

Queen: the most powerful, and most vulnerable to attack.
King: silent and dignified.
Rook: brave but lack some brain
Knight: brave and willing to protect but limited in capacity
Bishop: a little sly...sometimes you do not notice a bishop is ready to attack...
Pawn: brave and honest, hard-working, and also ambitious

Violet admits that she'd like to be a bishop . . . the sly one . . . but thinks the pawn resembles her the most.

Tenniel's White KnightThe White Knight

I'd go for the knight because all the other pieces on the board travel in straight lines. They're so logical; I prefer to take the road less traveled.

Knights have a lopsided way of moving (as I have, with one leg a centimetre longer than the other!). Apparently there's only one pattern of movements in which a knight can visit every square on the chessboard without visiting two squares twice. But don't ask me how it's done!

Hidden Dimension

The Knight is the only piece who regularly breaks out of the two dimensional world of the board. If I remember my chess moves correctly, the knight is the only piece that can leap over another piece (without taking the piece, as in draughts/checkers).

I used to rely on my knights to stir things up when playing against an opponent who was in control, playing a doggedly sure kind of game, with apparently no chink showing in their defences. In the story, Alice, talking about a chess game, describes a 'nasty Knight, that came wriggling down among my pieces.'

Sir Isumbras at the FordMillais
John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
A Dream of the Past - Sir Isumbras at the Ford

In John Tenniel's illustrations to Through the Looking-Glass there's a hint that the White Knight makes occasional trips into the real world, because he's collected a motley assortment of objects from everyday life which he keeps hanging around his saddle: fire tongs, bellows, a hearth brush, carrots and a string of onions; the kind of miscellaneous objects that you might grab in occasional forays into a Victorian house, if you were a magical chess piece that could break into reality. There seems to be a traditional basketwork bee-hive behind the saddle. A bee-hive is controlled by a queen, so perhaps that's the connection.

Tenniel's White Knight appears to be based on this Pre-Raphaelite painting by Millais of an old knight taking two small children across a ford.

It seems that the melancholy, kind old White Knight, with his ingenious but impractical schemes, is a portrait of Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832 - 1898), the author of the story, which gives the scene where he says goodbye to Alice, who is shortly to become a queen herself, some added pathos. Next Page

Richard Bell,

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