arthurian literature

Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur Book 9 – Tristram, and Others

Have not updated lately, I know. I have been in a writing slump, a reading slump, a generally bleh kind of place mentally. Things are better pandemic-wise (locally), but not enough better that I feel I can actually relax. The weather has been miserable, alternating heat waves and rainy spells that are just as effective at keeping everyone indoors as lockdown was last summer. I have been doing a lot of yoga this week and trying to get back into creative projects.

In five weeks it will be the end of the first year of the three-year plan I wrote up last summer, and that’s taking up a fair amount of mental space, as well. And now, back to Malory.


Although this book eventually gets back to Tristram, it starts with a whole new character, a fellow who goes by the name La Cote Male Taile. (Spelling was even more haphazard for French than English at the time.) There are echoes in this book of Gareth’s story, the young man who comes to Arthur’s court in search of adventure and hooks up with a shrewish damsel who turns out to be nicer than she seems.

There are a lot of differences, though. Gareth is part of the Lothian clan, while this one (his given name is Breunor, not to be confused with the evil king Tristram killed in book 8) is no one in particular. Gareth is mocked for having beautiful hands, Breunor for wearing an ill-fitting, slashed up coat–the coat his father was wearing when he WAS MURDERED, thankyouverymuch. Lamorak and Gaheris both approve Breunor’s knighting, and so Arthur goes ahead with it.

Breunor promptly saves the queen from an escaped lion. (Lancelot is gadding about somewhere at the time the story begins–which is actually important to the plot.) Then a damsel arrives bearing a mysterious shield, looking for a knight to take up the quest that comes with it. Breunor volunteers, much to the lady’s displeasure, and she berates him continually as they set off on the adventure. Breunor has a few jousts and doesn’t show very well, losing to both Bleoberis and Palomides as they travel, and then they meet up with Mordred.

They are near one of those castles where everyone has to fight the resident champions and be taken prisoner if they lose. The time period really needed a Michelin Guide. Mordred is knocked off his horse. Breunor kills his knight and ventures on into the castle, where there are a straight-up hundred enemy knights to fight. He does his best, kills a dozen of them, and escapes with the help of a lady in the castle.

Outside, the damsel and Mordred assume that Breunor is dead, and then think he’s lying when he tells them about the fight, but when the facts are proven start thinking better of him.

Meanwhile, Lancelot comes back from wherever he’s been and hears all about Breunor and the shield. You idiots, he responds, that shield is the very one that Tristram had a glancing encounter with in the last book, this is NOT Baby’s First Quest material, I’m off to save the lad’s bacon. He catches up with them posthaste. Mordred finds an excuse to leave. Lancelot hangs out with them and runs interference when the damsel continues being mean to Breunor, until he gets a letter from Tristram that he really needs to reply to. 

We are by this point in an entirely different world than that of the early books. As soon as Lancelot stops paying attention, Breunor gets himself taken prisoner along with the damsel. Having dealt with his mail, Lancelot hits the road again, with a pause to fight a random fellow who afterward directs him to avoid Castle Pendragon, because there’s a knight there who has a bunch of people prisoner. Naturally he goes, defeats the evil inhabitants and frees the prisoners, but then rides off at once so Breunor and the lady have to catch up to say thank you.

The damsel apologizes to Lancelot for her previous behavior, and explains that she’s only been so mean to Breunor because she thinks he’s too green for this adventure and doesn’t want him to be killed. So now they’re friends.

Finally they reach a bridge, where the mysterious shield (that started this whole thing) signifies that they are only allowed to cross one at a time and fight three brothers on the other side. (This, too, has some strong echoes of Gareth’s story.) Breunor defeats the first two, but after a very long fight is taken prisoner but treated well by the third. Lancelot comes along and finishes things, frees another collection of prisoners, and gives Castle Pendragon to Breunor. (Pending Arthur’s approval, one hopes.)  

And also, as the French book maketh mention, Sir La Cote Male Taile avenged his father’s death.”

But apparently that part wasn’t interesting enough to put in here. Huh.

Unfortunately, at this point the story returns to Tristram for a further 33 (!) chapters and flails all over the place in doing so. This section starts with Isoud 1 hearing about his marriage to Isoud 2 and suggesting that they should both come stay at her court all cozy-like, which they do, and then Isoud 2’s brother Kehydius falls in love with Isoud 1, and the story just gets more convoluted from there. I will spare you a play by play this time because honestly, while there’s a lot of activity–Tristram goes crazy for a while, gets banished, participates in endless jousts and tournaments, gets imprisoned, gets involved with some of Morgan le Fay’s schemes–there isn’t really a plot.

There is one interesting chapter, in which Tristram anonymously saves Arthur from an evil sorceress trying to seduce him (and when that fails, to kill him). It’s a strange place in the narrative for such an encounter–Arthur hasn’t been seen in any significant role for quite some time–and the whole incident is given a perfunctory treatment. This adventure also conflates Nimue and the Lady of the Lake, who you may recall was killed back in Book 2.

The book, and this volume, ends with a big tournament that includes one of those loopy Morgan bits where she tries by subtle methods to expose Guinevir and Lancelot, instead of just sending Arthur a note or having one of her infinite damsel minions make an announcement. Tristram’s involvement in this scheme is incidental in terms of his effect on the story, although it does mean that he gets to joust Arthur in Book 10.

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