I can already hear you thinking, He’s not a forgotten character. This is absolutely true, however there’s a lot of hilarious stuff that gets left out of modern adaptations, which tend to foreground the love triangle.
I’m going to stick with Malory for this post, because I’m still grinding my way through Chretien de Troyes. The stories are, of course, inconsistent. Malory tried, but continuity wasn’t actually a thing yet, so even within his one collection, there are points where the passage of time just doesn’t work, and the characterization is wobbly at best.
If you’re skimming the 500-odd pages of Le Morte D’Arthur for Lancelot stuff to read, you can skip the first four books entirely, because his only appearances are in Merlin’s prophecies. Of the remainder:
- Book V is the war with Rome, in which he barely appears.
- Book VI is “his” book, and contains a bunch of short adventures all jammed together in what must have been one very exciting year. None of them are more than a few pages long, and there’s a lot of variety.
- Book VII is Gareth’s, in which Lancelot has a minor supporting role. Gareth is a cupcake, so you should read this one anyway.
- Books VIII, IX, and X are Tristram’s story, which will be addressed in a future post. This has some of the best Lancelot background bits; he spends a lot of time rescuing fellow knights, being gracious, and face-palming. Skim it, and don’t try to keep track of the main character.
- Book XI starts off the nearly 100 pages of the Grail story. A lot of things happen to Lancelot in this. None of them are good. Also, 15 years pass between Galahad’s birth and the quest, during which no one else ages.
- Book XVIII, XIX, and XX are largely concerned with Lancelot and Guinevir. Includes some funny adventures, some serious ones, more tournaments, and the romantic part of the tragic endgame.
- Book XXI is the other tragic endgame with Mordred, which is almost an afterthought here, and then more romantic tragic endgame, because even with Arthur dead our lovers aren’t allowed to be happy. Read it if you like to be sad.