arthurian literature

The Forgotten Round Table: Sir Borre

One of the things that fascinates me about the Arthurian canon is not just the weirdness of what’s in it, but the number of things that are left out of it. We can’t tell from this distance whether these holes in the narrative have always been there–it’s easy to imagine an oral tradition that was at one point common knowledge going out of fashion, or failing to be transmitted to a new population, so that what eventually got written down was missing things that at one point previous, everyone just knew.

Enter – and quickly exit – Sir Borre.

…There came a damosel that was an earl’s daughter: his name was Sanam, and her name was Lionors, a passing fair damosel; and so she came thither for to do homage, as other lords did after the great battle. And King Arthur set his love greatly upon her, and so did she upon him, and the king had ado with her, and gat on her a child: his name was Borre, that was after a good knight, and of the Table Round.

–Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur (p. 18). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

That’s it. That’s literally his only mention in the whole book. He’s not in any of the tournaments. He’s not in the lists of the dead from marquee villains, or the Grail Quest, or the final battles. He’s there in this one very early moment, and then never comes up again.

Have I mentioned that I have a deep weakness for minor characters whose stories never get told? The encounter with Lionors is early in the story; Arthur had a single victory behind him, with many battles yet to fight before his throne would be secure, and he was very young. When Borre was born, things would have still been very much in flux. What kind of life would that have been? What did he do later on? Did he have siblings? There’s nothing to go by, and I want to know so very much.

It highlights an omission in character that is glaring to modern readers although not, it seems, to Sir Thomas. We see Arthur as warrior, as king, occasionally as friend and even more occasionally as husband, but throughout the entire lengthy tale we never once see him acting as a father. This despite the fact that fatherhood is central to the story; the entire shape of the tragedy is formed between the child he had with his sister and the ones he never had with his queen.

It also seems to me to another instance of the differing ways in which different social eras used Arthur. The brief aside for Borre is typical of the practicality that marks the early stories about Arthur’s reign. They might be full of outlandish magic and monsters, but when it comes to humanity, they are matter-of-fact. Pretty lass catches king’s eye, baby results, what more is there to say? Contrast that with the elaborate classical tragedy that is Mordred’s story, a tale that admits to nothing of practicality whatsoever in its dizzy pursuit of high drama.

Since I am definitely not doing NaNoWriMo this year, I am obviously not working on a third novel in my Arthurian urban fantasy world. That being the case, Borre is obviously not a character in it.

Obviously. Because I haven’t time for that. Right? Right.

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