Friday, February 14, 2014


I'm currently reading a novel by T.C. Boyle called When the Killing's Done, which centers on human intervention in animal control on the Channel Islands off the coast of California. Early in the novel, animal rights activist Dave LaJoy is aboard his boat, the Paladin. For some reason, in a book which so readily supplies the informational context of the story, Boyle is withholding here, even though it's also the title of the chapter. He, or LaJoy at least, even manages to get in a dig at a female character, who, from any other indication, is not an idiot.

"And Anise--she'd been to college, but sometimes he wondered about the gaps, the yawning chasms, in her knowledge--asking, "Paladin? What's a Paladin?"

LaJoy may tell his girlfriend offscreen, but Boyle leaves us in the dark. Apparently, he doesn't think his readers will be so ill-informed.

Well, think again, T.C..

I'm sure that if I had a context other than just the name of a boat, I would be able to have some less hazy understanding of what a paladin is, but what the name evokes without that is some sort of careening wagon or carriage, loaded with goods. Traveling the Spice Route?

Oh, well--enough.


Uh, no. I think I know where I got the careening wagon image, though, but of that, more in a minute. A paladin was one of the twelve legendary knights of Charlemagne, who according to Wikipedia, are often referred to as the Twelve Peers.  Their exploits are first recorded in the chansons de geste, or songs of heroic deeds, and by extension into the modern day, the word has come to take on the meaning of anyone who takes up a heroic or noble cause. English speakers will see the equivalence in some ways to the knights of the Round Table, and in fact their stories form part of a literary cycle known as the Matter of France, just as Arthur's court is known from a similar cycle known as the Matter of Britain.

Etymologically, the word goes back through Middle French to Italian (paladino) to arrive at the inevitable Latin palitinus or "of the palace", meaning a court official. I hadn't known, either, that all these palace derived words go back to the Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, and the one where the first palace stood, that of Augustus Caesar. I'm sure that Dave LaJoy would be rolling his eyes.

 In one of the rare unintentionally funny moments of browsing the Online Etymology Dictionary, I read:

"The Old French form of the word was palaisin (which gave Middle English palasin, c.1400); the Italian form prevailed because, though the matter was French, most of the poets who wrote the romances were Italians."

Italians had the upper hand in romance? Them's fighting words, Frenchmen!

To move forward to my modern misconception now, the wagon image must be from an old Western show called Have Gun, Will Travel, which was probably airing in reruns during my childhood, though I don't remember it like I do shows such as Bonanza or Gunsmoke. I'm sure some wagons and stage coaches figured into this somewhere. Anyway, the main character is named Paladin. Paladin in his Clark Kent aspect lives the life of a connoisseur and dandy, but when he undertakes the solution of a crime he dresses in black and carries a derringer, becoming in essence a "black knight". In fact, here is his business card:

 I'm intrigued by the show now. Apparently, Paladin drops references in nearly episode to some figure of what used to be called the Western Canon, and the writers were not afraid to have Paladin quote lengthy passages from Shakespeare, either.

It was a different era.


  1. I've never seen Have Gun Will Travel though I've known of it- and the name Paladin - for as long as I can remember. I think there was a Marvel superhero of the same name.

    1. Paul, yes, I noticed images of some comic book or as I thought gaming character, but didn't pursue it. Probably should have.

      A friend writes me that her brother could probably sing the Have Gun Will Travel theme song if I tested him, and as I'll be seeing him tomorrow, perhaps I will.

  2. I knew there was a western character named Paladin, although I don't remember the show. In a pop quiz I'd have said a paladin was some sort of luxurious enclosed stretcher borne by servants. And now I have to go to work without figuring out what those conveyances are really called.

    1. Nancy, yes, I think there must be a mode of transportation that sounds similar. because we are both having the same sort of thought about it.

  3. Thank you! Under the surface of consciousness, that was driving me crazy.