King Horn


This text copyright © 2008 Dr Anne Wilson


Please do not copy or quote from this text without acknowledging the author.

The Ritual Plot in ‘King Horn’


Move 1


Horn’s father, King Murry, is killed by pirates


Horn is exiled with Fikenild








Move 2


Horn is a thrall at King Aylmer’s court


He is loved by the king’s daughter Rymenild


Fikenild tells the king that Horn will kill the king and

marry Rymenild


Horn is exiled



Move 3


Horn is Goodmind at King Thurston’s court


He saves the king from an invader and

refuses the reward of the king’s daughter

and kingdom




Move 4


Horn returns to King Aylmer’s court bolder, wins

Rymenild from her suitor and is betrothed


He declares his innocence and his plans to win his

father’s kingdom




Move 5


Horn recovers his father’s kingdom and

becomes king







Move  6


Horn returns to King Aylmer’s court, where Fikenild is

threatening the king and seizing Rymenild


Horn defeats Fikenild


He marries Rymenild





This narrative is about the winning of kingdoms, but we would expect an exciting account of brave enterprise and opportunities seized. What we get is an account of a hero who fails to seize opportunities and puts uninteresting obstacles in his own way. If he is a prince, why pretend to be a thrall at a foreign court, ineligible to marry the princess? Why does he not tell the king the fate of his father? We are never told. Motivation is the most glaring problem. It is hard to see why there is any progression and yet there clearly is. Horn returns from exile highly effective.


I find that the plot of King Horn progresses in steps which I call ‘moves’, each move depending on the performance of the previous move. Two of the moves, Moves 3 and 6, are replays of Move 2. In Move 2, at King Aylmer’s court, Horn is accused by Fikenild of planning to kill the king and marry the princess. In Move 3, at King Thurston’s court, he defeats an invader threatening to kill the king and seize the princess, and then he refuses the offer of the princess and kingdom. Finally, at the court of King Aylmer once more, he saves the king and his daughter from the very same character who has accused him of planning to kill the king and marry the princess in Move 2. The outcome is that the king’s son who has pretended to be a thrall without explanation wins both his father’s kingdom and King Aylmer’s. I also find that the accusation against Horn is reversed in Move 3, when Horn becomes Goodmind and saves a king from an invader without accepting the rewards of the princess and kingdom, and that it is reversed again in Move 6, using the accuser Fikenild as the traitor. There is another strategic relationship, too, between Moves 3 and 6. In Move 3, surrogates – King Thurston and his daughter – are used for the reversal, while, in Move 6, the exact situation of the second move, Aylmer’s court, is used, rather than surrogates. This pair of moves appears in many of my plots, and seems to be about a building up of power in the narrative.


This text copyright © 2008 Dr Anne Wilson


Please do not copy or quote from this text without acknowledging the author.