The Buried Giant

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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Wistan Character Analysis

Wistan is a Saxon warrior traveling through England to see how the Saxons and Britons are living together and to slay the dragon Querig, whose breath has made everyone living in the country forget the past. On his journey, Wistan stops in a Saxon village and discovers that a young boy, Edwin, has been kidnapped by ogres and the people are too afraid to go find him. Wistan volunteers and is able to find and save Edwin, who was, however, bitten by a dragon while he was with the ogres. Wistan brings him back to the town and meets Axl and Beatrice there. Wistan believes he recognizes Axl from his past, but cannot remember who he was or what he did. Still, Wistan agrees to accompany Beatrice and Axl, along with Edwin, for a while on their journey to help protect them from ogres. On the road, they meet Sir Gawain and he and Wistan, although respectful to each other, find themselves at odds when both profess their desire to kill Querig. Despite being ambushed by a band of Britons sent by Lord Brennus, Wistan takes Edwin under his wing, and together they go to find Querig. As they get closer, Wistan remembers more and more of the past, including the fact that King Arthur broke a treaty (one Axl had brokered) with the Saxons, and had slain innocent women and children. Wistan confronts Sir Gawain about this and Sir Gawain comes clean about what really happened, but refuses to let Wistan slay Querig and restore everyone’s memories. This leads to a duel between the two during which Wistan kills Sir Gawain. After this, Wistan successfully slays Querig. Although he accomplishes his mission, Wistan feels regret that so many Britons (including Axl and Beatrice) will likely be killed in the inevitable war to come. Still, he decides to follow through on his orders and to train Edwin to be a Saxon warrior after allowing Axl and Beatrice to leave safely.

Wistan Quotes in The Buried Giant

The The Buried Giant quotes below are all either spoken by Wistan or refer to Wistan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Buried Giant published in 2015.
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Even so, sir, isn’t it a strange thing when a man calls another brother who only yesterday slaughtered his children? And yet this is the very thing Arthur appears to have accomplished.”

“You touch the heart of it just there, Master Wistan. Slaughter children, you say. And yet Arthur charged us at all times to spare the innocents caught in the clatter of war. More, sir, he commanded us to rescue and give sanctuary when we could to all women, children and elderly, be they Briton or Saxon. On such actions were bonds of trust built, even as battles raged.”

Related Characters: Wistan (speaker), Sir Gawain (speaker), King Arthur
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

“I speak of people at the end of a brutal road, having seen their children and kin mutilated and ravished. They’ve reached this, their sanctuary, only after long torment, death chasing at their heels. And now comes an invading army of overwhelming size. The fort may hold several days, perhaps even a week or two. But they know in the end they will face their own slaughter. They know the infants they circle in their in their arms will before long be bloodied toys kicked about these cobbles. They know because they’ve seen it already, from whence they fled. They’ve seen the enemy burn and cut, take turns to rape young girls even as they lie dying of their wounds. They know this is to come, and so must cherish the earlier days of the siege, when the enemy must first pay the price for what they will later do.”

Related Characters: Wistan (speaker), Axl
Page Number: 141-142
Explanation and Analysis:

“How can you describe as penance, sir, the drawing of a veil over the foulest deeds? Is your Christian god one to be bribed so easily with self-inflicted pain and a few prayers? Does he care so little for justice left undone?”

“Our god is a god of mercy, shepherd, whom you, a pagan, may find hard to comprehend. It’s no foolishness to seek forgiveness from such a god, however great the crime. Our god’s mercy is boundless.”

“What use is a god with boundless mercy, sir? You mock me as a pagan, yet the gods of my ancestors pronounce clearly their ways and punish severely when we break their laws. Your Christian god of mercy gives men licence to pursue their greed, their lust for land and blood, knowing a few prayers and a little penance will bring forgiveness and blessing.”

Related Characters: Wistan (speaker), Father Jonus (speaker)
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

“There are Britons who tempt our respect, even our love, I know this only too well. But there are now greater things press on us than what each may feel for another. It was Britons under Arthur slaughtered our kind. It was Britons took your mother and mine. We’ve a duty to hate every man, woman and child of their blood. So promise me this. Should I fall before I pass to you my skills, promise me you’ll tend well this hatred in your heart. And should it ever flicker or threaten to die, shield it with care till the flame takes hold again.”

Related Characters: Wistan (speaker), Edwin, King Arthur
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

“I accuse you of nothing. That great law you brokered torn down in blood! Yet it held well for a time. Torn down in blood! Who blames us for it now? Do I fear youth? Is it youth alone can defeat an opponent? Let him come, let him come.”

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), Axl, Wistan
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

“A dark man he may have been, but in this he did God’s will, not only Arthur’s. Without this she-dragon’s breath, would peace ever have come? Look how we live now, sir! Old foes as cousins, village by village. Master Wistan, you fall silent before this sight. […] Her breath isn’t what it was, yet holds the magic even now. Think, sir, once that breath should cease, what might be awoken across this land even after these years! Yes, we slaughtered plenty, I admit it, caring not who was strong and who weak. God may not have smiled at us, but we cleansed the land of war. Leave this place, sir, I beg you.”

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), Wistan, King Arthur, Querig, Merlin
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

“Foolishness, sir. How can old wounds heal while maggots linger so richly? Or a peace hold for ever built on slaughter and a magician’s trickery? I see how devoutly you wish it, for your old horrors to crumble as dust. Yet they await in the soil as white bones for men to uncover.”

Related Characters: Wistan (speaker), Sir Gawain, Merlin
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:

“You and I longed for Querig’s end, thinking only of our own dear memories. Yet who knows what old hatreds will loosen across the land now? We must hope God yet finds a way to preserve the bonds between our peoples, yet custom and suspicion have always divided us. Who knows what will come when quick-tongued men make ancient grievances rhyme with fresh desire for land and conquest?”

“How right to fear it, sir,” Wistan said. “The giant, once well buried, now stirs."

Related Characters: Axl (speaker), Wistan (speaker), Beatrice, Querig
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Buried Giant LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Buried Giant PDF

Wistan Character Timeline in The Buried Giant

The timeline below shows where the character Wistan appears in The Buried Giant. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...to bring them to the longhouse for breakfast. He also introduces the warrior as Master Wistan and tells them that Wistan speaks the Briton language with ease. Axl greets Wistan and... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Axl tells Wistan that he speaks “our language” very well. Wistan, catching himself staring, tells Axl that although... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...beyond their superstitions”—they think the boy will be transformed by the bite. Ivor has asked Wistan to take the boy with him and leave him at a village of Britons where... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Walking back to Ivor’s house, Beatrice and Axl spot Wistan sitting on a lookout platform. All three are leaving shortly, but Wistan asks Axl to... (full context)
Chapter 4
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...exhaustion, Edwin’s mother’s voice told him to call for the warrior. A short time later, Wistan opened the barn doors and examined Edwin’s injury, which Wistan had made him promise not... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...train him to be a warrior one day and he rejoices that, by leaving with Wistan, it seems to be coming true. Edwin looks back down at the old Britons and... (full context)
Chapter 5
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
After a long hike upwards, Axl, Beatrice, Wistan, and Edwin realized they would have to find a bridge to cross a large river.... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...help them on the farm. The grey-haired soldier watches as Edwin holds their horse and Wistan giggles manically to himself. Axl notes that the grey-haired soldier seems ready to reprimand the... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Once out of sight of the soldiers, Wistan drops his act and suggests they take a shortcut to avoid the main road. As... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
When they emerge from the forest back onto the main road, Wistan realizes that there is a rider somewhere ahead of them. Standing in the road, the... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...others to share some fresh bread. Axl and Beatrice sit next to the knight, but Wistan and Edwin stay at a distance with the horse. The knight asks where they are... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Wistan suddenly walks up, drops his act, and apologizes for having pretended to be a mute... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Having become friendly with each other, Wistan asks Sir Gawain to look at Axl, who is about as old as Sir Gawain,... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Axl asks Wistan why he insists on using a disguise even though the country has been at peace... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Wistan asks Sir Gawain if he receives the same respect as a knight of King Arthur... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Beatrice tells Wistan that there are several Saxon families in their own village and he points out the... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...they hear hooves approaching. The grey-haired soldier from the bridge appears and greets Sir Gawain. Wistan resumes acting like a mute and Edwin stealthily moves closer, but the grey-haired soldier tells... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Gawain confirms that they are “simple creatures.” Even when the soldier raises his sword to Wistan, he doesn’t break character and continues to act like a mute. Sir Gawain grows angry... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
The grey-haired soldier tells Sir Gawain that Wistan is here to slay Querig, which alarms Sir Gawain. Wistan confirms that this is part... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Turning away from the dead soldier, Wistan tells Sir Gawain that the Saxon king has also received word that Lord Brennus wants... (full context)
Chapter 6
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...monastery, although Beatrice fell asleep quickly in spite of them. Edwin, too, is asleep, but Wistan waited until the monks retired to bed and then snuck out to explore and, even... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Another monk, Father Brian, brought up a tray of food for Axl and Beatrice while Wistan and Edwin were out exploring the monastery. While Axl and Beatrice eat, Father Brian talks... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Listening to Wistan chop wood, Axl thinks back to their parting from Sir Gawain, who had attempted up... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Axl hears Wistan resume cutting wood and wonders why the warrior is so intent on working so late... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Axl leaves Beatrice dozing in their room to talk to Wistan in the courtyard while the monks are away in a meeting. Axl asks Wistan if... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Wistan tells Axl that Edwin came to him earlier to report that he had heard moans... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Axl shudders at Wistan’s description but realizes it’s the truth. Wistan goes on to say that, in times of... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...argument, Axl says he’s glad that the idea will never be put to the test. Wistan looks “strangely” at Axl before apologizing for “questioning that good knight” about whether or not... (full context)
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Edwin comes back from his exploring and speaks to Wistan for a moment. Axl walks over to them and Wistan tells him that Edwin found... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Axl says he wants to return to Beatrice, and Wistan agrees. As they start walking back, Edwin abruptly stops, and they notice a monk watching... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Jonus asks Edwin to come forward, but Wistan doesn’t let him even though Beatrice says he should let Jonus look at Edwin’s wound.... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Interested in the conversation between Jonus and Wistan, Beatrice tells Jonus about her conversation about the mist with the medicine woman. She asks... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...room startles Axl and he realizes he had fallen asleep. He notices the sound of Wistan’s woodcutting has stopped. Axl thinks about Jonus’s questions about Beatrice’s pain, but realizes that the... (full context)
Chapter 7
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...and the soldiers had simply appeared and demanded the two Saxons. Beatrice expresses anxiety about Wistan’s safety, but Father Brian says they have very little time and must go down through... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...so they can go down, but Edwin initially refuses and insists on going to help Wistan. Axl tells Beatrice to tell Edwin whatever she has to in order to get him... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...Arthur,” because Sir Gawain had. Sir Gawain then admits that he told the abbot about Wistan but asks if he was to know “how dark the hearts of holy men could... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...explains that as soon as he found out what was in store for Axl, Beatrice, Wistan, and Edwin, he had asked Ninian to put him in the tunnel to protect them. (full context)
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...will compel Edwin to “seek congress with a she-dragon.” This, Sir Gawain explains, is why Wistan is interested in Edwin: he can lead Wistan to Querig. Edwin suddenly rushes to the... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...Gawain tells them the boy immediately ran off—he believes Edwin is going back to help Wistan. Axl is upset, but Sir Gawain insists there was nothing he could do to stop... (full context)
Chapter 8
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...be mortal.” The monk says that Father Jonus said they’re not. Edwin knows this means Wistan “could not be so badly hurt.” According to the monk, Father Jonus instructed him to... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
On the previous day, Edwin asked Wistan how he knew the soldiers would come. Wistan said he didn’t know for sure but... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Edwin regrets having let Wistan down by falling asleep and then going into the tunnel. As he follows the young... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
From the moment they entered the monastery, Wistan had been “preoccupied” with a stone tower there. He frequently stopped to look at it... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...cell. On the way, the monk tells Edwin about the soldiers that came and how Wistan had gone straight into the tower with the soldiers behind him. Despite the predictions of... (full context)
Gawain’s First Reverie
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...Gawain wanted to get Horace some breakfast, but a monk ran out and told him Wistan had escaped the monastery. This news made Sir Gawain happy even though it “br[ought] back... (full context)
Chapter 10
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...but does so before he realizes what’s happening. He walks into the cooper’s cottage and Wistan greets him. Edwin asks him if his injuries are very bad and Wistan says that... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Edwin apologizes again and Wistan asks him if he thinks he was chosen merely for his bravery. Wistan admits Edwin... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Edwin asks Wistan if there’s “some special feud” between him and Lord Brennus. Wistan says that he and... (full context)
Chapter 12
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Edwin can hear Wistan calling to him to slow down but he ignores him because Wistan is walking too... (full context)
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Edwin and Wistan enter the forest and walk on until they come to a clearing. Edwin wants to... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Wistan then tells Edwin that he’ll forgive Edwin’s deception if Edwin makes a promise to him.... (full context)
Gawain’s Second Reverie
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...Gawain had agreed to accompany them to the giant’s cairn, eager to get there before Wistan and the boy. (full context)
Chapter 15
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...to turn them.” Axl asks who Sir Gawain is talking about and learns that it’s Wistan and Edwin. Beatrice is excited that they are coming to help, but Sir Gawain becomes... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...down the mountain. Sir Gawain, appalled, refuses. Beatrice expresses interest in waiting to see if Wistan will slay Querig. (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Wistan walks forward, laughing at the sight of Axl and Beatrice, and asks why they are... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...asks Sir Gawain if he is the dragon’s protector, which Sir Gawain confirms is true. Wistan asks if Querig is close and Sir Gawain says that this is true, as well.... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...indicates that they are close, and the group silently walks on until Sir Gawain asks Wistan if he won’t reconsider his mission there. Wistan refuses, so they continue on quietly. Sir... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Sir Gawain begs Wistan to think about “what might be awoken across this land” if he kills Querig and... (full context)
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Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Sir Gawain asks Axl to use his “fine eloquence” to help him and Wistan leave the place as friends, but Axl says he and Beatrice are there to see... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Wistan stands over Sir Gawain’s body until Axl calls down, “Bravo, sir,” and tells him that... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
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Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Wistan descends into the pit without waking up Querig and only examines her for a few... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Axl tells Beatrice that Wistan is right and observes that while they had longed for the dragon’s death for the... (full context)
Chapter 16
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...enough for revenge” and decides to make whoever killed his mother pay. Edwin doesn’t see Wistan, just the old Britons. Beatrice tells him to go to Wistan, so Edwin runs forward.... (full context)