Chess in Literature
Throughout history, works of fiction reflected numerous important events. Writers recreated the reality that surrounded them with quills and ink. Chess has always been widely popular with renowned authors of different eras. The vast world of 64 squares serves as a great metaphor for the characters’ relationships. Sometimes, it also parallels ongoing historical events. In the novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Stefan Zweig, and Vladimir Nabokov chess played an essential role.
Let us delve into the wonderful world of classical literary masterpieces!
Vladimir Nabokov – Chess in “The Luzhin Defense”
A classic example of the use of the game in a fictional narrative. The book depicts the protagonist’s hardships, who substituted his entire reality with chess. In the midst of a battle against his greatest opponent at a decisive tournament, Luzhin suffers a nervous breakdown. His attempt to become a “normal” person failed. Chess took over Luzhin’s mind, and he saw no other way out than to commit suicide. A sorry end, indeed.
The character was inspired by a strong player and Nabokov’s personal friend Curt von Bardeleben. He allegedly ended his life exactly as Luzhin did.
“The Flanders Panel” by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, a modern bestselling author, incorporates chess into several of his novels. At times, they play a crucial role. That was exactly the case in The Flanders Panel.
The story unfolds swiftly and in a highly unusual manner. Discovery of a message hidden in a medieval painting where two knights battle over the chess board led to a series of murders. The artistic depiction of the game inspired the killings. As it turns out, the 15th-century canvas holds the key to unraveling all the mysteries. Solving the riddle requires answering questions about what occurred five centuries ago. Perhaps, this might help the protagonists deal with the reality of their own situation.
Along with the characters, someone is playing a game of their own. Every time they capture a piece, a murder occurs. Fans of detective stories definitely should not skip on the renowned Spanish author’s addition to the genre. Each chapter is full of surprises. The reveal of the antagonist’s identity is absolutely jaw-dropping. No one would expect that person to have committed all those heinous crimes.
Chess is integral to The Flanders Panel’s storyline. Enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy the authentic portrayal of the game.
“The Royal Game” by Stefan Zweig
The Austrian author’s final work has become his definitive creation and a cult classic.
The two main characters are polar opposites of each other. Mirko Czentovic is a world chess champion who is incidentally a narrow-minded and arrogant person. Dr. B. is an intellectual who learned to play only by chance. Held prisoner by the Gestapo, he played chess against himself in his own mind in order to keep his sanity. He was capable of foreseeing an opponent’s every move but started to lose touch with reality.
The doctor, unknown to the public, wins the first match against his world-famous adversary. However, he then experiences a nervous breakdown, a natural consequence of his involuntary seclusion. As well as the thousands of imaginary games he played against himself. In the second match, the positions of the pieces shift in the doctor’s mind, and the encounter ends in a 1-1 draw.
Zweig has a beautiful artistic vision. He skillfully conveys the protagonist’s feelings and emotions. The Royal Game is rightfully considered a masterpiece of world literature.
Throughout its rich history, chess has fascinated many writers who featured it in their books. The aforementioned examples are just a glimpse of the role of chess in literary fiction. The theme of black and white pieces in art contains a limitless potential for interpretation.