“The Jousting of Granny Whetherall”
by Katherine Ann Pelter
(A Critical Review)
by P.B. Wombat
This may become the seminal work by the up-and-coming Southern writer,
already established for her collection of short stories about regular
Southern people just sitting around being regular. There’s nothing
regular about “The Jousting,” though, as the personable
but a bit cranky Granny Whetherall becomes involved in the Society for
Creative Anachronism: “She spurred her horse forward. Would he
see her riding there, chain mail flaring out? Would old Wotan the Tinsmith
love her for that or notice only the wrinkles and loose folds of skin?”
Pelter here bridges the gap between 20th Century Modernism and 12th
Century archaism in an anachronistic, yet satisfyingly eclectic style.
But what we really get when we go to Renaissance fairs is not true-to-life
replication of the past, but a re-presentation of our own romanticized
perspective of our own distant past:
The broadswords, the bucklers, the lances and adzes, war hammers
and morning stars all had their places. Yes, that would be yesteryear's
business, the official ranking of the SCA royal family. But no use
now in letting them know how silly she'd been ignoring her one true
Knights outnumber peasants at these events, combat takes place every
hour on the hour (whether there’s reason for it or not), and “grog”
(generally a watery domestic beer tapped from a warm keg in a trailer)
is sold and consumed in commemorative plastic mugs. “The Jousting”
taps into this, revealing the ability of the retired in our nation to
finally live out the dreams of late childhood and adolescence. Pelter
shows not only the fact of a second childhood, but the very necessity
Late adolescence and early adulthood are usually when people’s
silly dreams run up against the cold, hard, lance of workaday realities,
are skewered and die, and lie bleeding on the grassy field of relative
youth and health. Granny Whetherall finally has the time and money to
chase after her dreams, and on a snow-white charger to boot. Pelter
"Cordelia, I want a hogshead of hot grog."
"Are you cold, milady?"
"I'm chilly, Cordelia. Presiding as warrior-queen stops the circulation.
How many times must I tell you?"
Certainly she has outlived her chance to be the hot, young damsel
in distress or the more-mature-yet-still-desirable young princess, but
matron-queen has its perks as well, commanding legions of re-enactors,
for instance, instead of the heart of just one knight-errant: "Sitting
up nights with sick servants and injured knights and serving wenches
changes a woman."
It all makes for a masterful work full of intrigue and insight, and
it sure beats reading stories about recreational vehicles and grandchildren.
In the end, it is pure inspiration: "You were jousted, thrown off
your horse. Stand up to it." Would we all be so lucky when we're