arthurian literature, reading

Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur Book 6 – Meet Lancelot

This book collects a lot of short adventures. It breaks with the quasi-historical feeling of the previous books, which on a high level were concerned with Arthur’s wars and the establishment of the Round Table. From this point on, it’s more about individual characters, without the framework of larger events around them like we had in Book 2.

Lancelot has been only briefly introduced in the story previous to this. He gets mentioned by Merlin in a couple of foreshadowing pronouncements, and appears with the rest of them in the Roman war, but he hasn’t really had center stage until now. The story picks up after everyone comes back from conquering the Empire.

The Adventure of Sir Turquin involves a lot of elements common in Lancelot stories:

  • Lancelot is napping. (This happens a lot.)
  • His traveling companion, one of his apparently-infinite relations who change designation randomly among brother, cousin, and nephew, ends up a captive of the horrible Turquin.
  • Lancelot himself is enchanted and taken prisoner by Morgan and some of her friends, who demand that he pick one of them for his paramour. (Every woman in the kingdom wants his body.)
  • Lancelot is set free by a damsel working for Morgan, if he will help her father Bagdemagus win a tournament. (Women are also constantly helping him.)
  • Lancelot makes friends with a random knight after a farcical in-the-wrong-bed incident. (He is always making friends with people.)
  • Lancelot wins the tournament for the damsel’s dad while in disguise. (He does more tournaments incognito than openly.)
  • With the help of another damsel who demands a favor in exchange, he finds Turquin’s castle. Turquin hates Lancelot for having killed his brother. (We often run into people complaining that Lancelot killed one of their relatives.)
  • Lancelot kills him, sets one of the captive knights free to let the rest go, and heads off with the damsel.

That ends the first adventure. In short order he next deals with a knight who guards a bridge and robs and/or ravishes all ladies who pass thereby, and two giants who are keeping 60 women prisoner–you may see a theme. Then he saves Kay from some knights who are chasing him, and swaps armor so that Kay can get home safely (incognito, again). He rides around for a while baiting jerks into attacking what they think is one of the weaker knights, and generally has a great time for a few chapters.

Then there’s the Chapel Perilous, a delicious little magical adventure involving undead knights and a malevolent sorceress (who wants his body), followed by a silly adventure in which he is deceived into being unarmed and has to use a stick to defeat his attacker, and then a somber one in which he tries and fails to save a woman from being killed by her vengeful husband.

In some ways this isn’t so different from the adventures back in Book 4, which also involved Morgan, enchantment, imprisoned knights, and a lot of fighting. There’s a different tone and emphasis here, though, a lighter touch with the whole story. It took me a while to figure out what strikes me as different, but I think it’s because this is the first of the adventure collections in which there’s a strong theme of people asking the knightly character for help–and being given it, or at least an attempt being made. The early adventures are more ambiguous, are touched off by mysterious or magical manifestations like Lady Lile or the White Hart, and whether they go well or not seems to be almost random, or dependent on the intervention of other magical forces. The Book 6 adventures are larger than life, obviously, but they are also more human, more grounded, and less alien. They’re also the first stories to include an overtly humorous tone.

The book after this is Gareth’s story, which I already did a long post about the last time I delved into these books, so I think I will skip it now. Then we get into the exhausting muddle that is Tristram, and then back to Lancelot and the start of the Grail stuff.

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