"The Jousting of Granny Whetherall": A Critical Review

P.B. Wombat

Issue 10 * Fall 2006

This may become the seminal work by up-and-coming Southern writer Katherine Ann Pelter, 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 passion.

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 for it.

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 writes:

"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 her age.