The Knights of the Cornerstone by James P. Blaylock
Ace Books 2008
The Knights Templar can hold a tale together in myriad ways. Not only is their history fascinating, but it lends itself so well to both mysteries and fantasy. The legends that surround them can feed tales that consist of an evil compromise with materialistic supernaturalism. Or they beautifully fill with metaphors the tales of those whose worldview weds the transcendent to a good creation.
The first, an evil compromise, is seen in Dan Brown's “The Da Vinci Code.” The second, the transcendent wed to a good creation, is seen in the book I am reviewing, The Knights of the Cornerstone” by James P. Blaylock.
Blaylock is a fabulist. He writes using fantasy, but in a real contemporary world. One sees two of his favorite writers, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, peeking through the cracks in his stories.
His recent book, written in 2008, is full of humor, mystery, unabated adventure and descriptive writing that place the reader into the core of the character's experiences. The reader is at once confronted with scenes that pull together, for instance, a quiet river scene, an aunt dying with cancer and dementia, a tasty casserole of rice, shrimp, peas and crumpled potato chips and a box with mysterious contents that cause objects to levitate!
After several serious ghost stories, Blaylock, with this book, returns to the biblical images he uses so well. Looking back to a much older interview, 1988, focusing on his book The Last Coin, Blaylock speaks about his use of biblical material:
“I grew up going down the street to the Presbyterian church. I've been steeped in biblical stories my entire life, as many of us have. Given what Christianity has evolved into throughout Europe and the world, why, man, there's this giant, almost untapped quantity of stuff.”
In this particular story Blaylock connects the ancient Knights Templar to a small hidden town, New Cyprus, beside the Colorado River. The veil of Veronica, the veil that Veronica supposedly used to wipe the face of Jesus as he stumbled toward Calvary is a part of the story. The face of Jesus appears on the veil. The face of Jesus enters the story. And of course there is the Cornerstone.
In Blaylock’s stories there is always a hero, weak though he might be. In this story, Calvin Bryson is, unwittingly, called to be a knight so the story circles around his calling. But this is a different kind of a knight story and the heroine, Donna, who is already a knight, unlike the lady in the usual medieval tale, will fight beside him.
This is also a story about community, a community that indulges in piles of pancakes, bacon and chili fries yet is hidden around a communion of bread, wine and a decanter constantly broken and mysteriously repaired. They are unable to resort, during a time of attack, to official police protection, and instead resort to secret plans, brave deeds and unseen powers.
Probably without intending to, Blaylock has redeemed the story of the Knights. Brown raised the ancestors of the Knights Templar to a supposed holy position and attempted to align them with vile deeds, sexual rites, which he wished his readers to see as good. Blaylock gives the one real ancestor a part in an unholy group of thugs who wish to glorify magic as a means of gaining wealth and power. The non-ancestoral knights of New Cyprus are in a sense spiritual ancestors of the ancient Knights Templar. They understand that the miraculous is not meant for worldly use and the holy relic, as Blaylock has his characters say, “it is what it is.”