Le Morte d’Arthur

Sorry that this one took forever – April is always a pretty exhausting month for me, so this post is probably not up to standard.  (Do I have a standard?)

I must confess that my knowledge of Arthurian legends has been pretty much limited to a few weeks of acollege course and the times I watch shows like Merlin and spend the first episode complaining “This is nothing like the legends!” and the last episode complaining “I really hope this is nothing like the legends!”

Instead of complaining, I figured I should actually, you know, read some of the texts related to Arthurian legends.  So I picked up a copy of Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.  Well, technically, I picked up “the classic rendition by Keith Baines” which according to the preface has been translated and arranged and edited a bit from the original Winchester edition, but is still a pretty good read.  If the characters’ names look odd here, it’s because I’m using the version found in my book.  I’ll include the more popular spellings in brackets.  Also, I don’t know if it’s the translation or what, but when I tried to create a family tree of who was related to whom, I got confused because some people call other people “sister” when I’m pretty sure they mean “aunt.”  You can see my attempt at the bottom of this post. (Pro tip:  If you actually have watched Merlin, reading this book makes everything super awkward.  So good luck with that.)

{And now for something completely different.  This summary will include the occasional quote from a classic body of work on Arthurian legends that marks a pinnacle of the high standard to which I hold all modern narratives and cinematography – Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  These gems of delightful wit and astounding brilliance are included in curly brackets to distinguish them from my own humble offerings.}

Finally, because going chapter by chapter would take forever, I’m going  to go character by character, omitting lesser knights and/or quests.  All apologies to those of you who enjoy the riveting tales of Sir Balin and his brother.  {Get on with it!}

Uther Pendragon

Once upon a time, Uther Pendragon, king of all of Britain, was at war with the Duke of Tintagil in Cornwall (which is apparently not a part of Britain).  Then one day, he hears the Duke’s wife Igraine is attractive, so he calls a truce to the terrible war and invites them to dinner.  Afterwards, he corners Igraine and begs her to be his mistress.  This sort of thing happens a lot in this book.  Surprisingly, she actually likes her husband, so she declines the offer and their family flees in the night.

Uther, of course, does what any of us do when we get rejected:  he asks Merlin to change Uther’s appearance so he looks like the Duke, sneaks into Igraine’s bedchambers, and helps her conceive Arthur.  The Duke has conveniently died that very day without her knowledge, so no one is around to protest when Uther later claims her as his wife.  As a bonus, Igraine’s sisters also get married:  Margawse [Morgause] marries King Lot and goes on to father half the cast while Elayne marries King Nentres, never to be heard from again.  (Incidentally, I counted at least 3 Elayne/Elaines in this novel.  See if you can find them all!)  Igraine’s daughter Morgan le Fay is sent to a nunnery, which apparently does not deter her from either marriage or witchcraft in later years.

Two years later, Uther gets sick and dies.  It’s a little bit anticlimactic as far as introductory characters go.

Arthur

The caveat to asking Merlin to help Uther seduce Igraine is that Merlin gets to run off with Uther’s firstborn son.  This would be a bad thing if Merlin were the kind of guy who sacrificed babies.  Fortunately, he just places Arthur with an adoptive family – Sir Ector, his wife, and their son Kay – and nobody says another word about it.

A few years later, St. Paul’s Cathedral is visited by a random block of marble and an anvil with a sword sticking out of it.  A helpful message suggests that whoever pulls out the sword gets to be king, because since Uther died, no one thought to keep track of his successor. {I thought we were an autonomous collective!}  Everyone who tries to pull the sword out fails miserably.

One day a tournament is held.  (As we will see, this is not an uncommon occurrence.)  Kay is supposed to compete, but he forgets his sword at the inn and sends Arthur back to get it.  The door is locked, but fortunately Arthur remembers that handy sword at the cathedral.  After desecrating a sacred institution and stealing the sword from the church, he takes it to Kay, who recognizes it and tells his father that he’s pulled it out of the anvil himself.  Sir Ector (who really needs to learn better parenting skills so he stops raising thieves and liars) has them demonstrate putting the sword back in and out again to prove the real thief possessor of the crown.  Then he springs the “You’re adopted and also heir to the throne regardless of any actual leadership qualifications you might possess!” surprise on Arthur.

Arthur takes it well, but still has to fight his way through the naysayers – in particular, six kings of various realms (Including Igraine’s sisters’ husbands) who want to wage war on him.  He summons allies from France {Why do you think I have this outrageous accent, you silly king?} and for some reason has a tournament instead of preparing for war.  By the time they finish it, Arthur and his men now have to fight the armies of 11 kings, but Merlin is there, so of course they win.

During this time, Margawse comes to spy on Arthur with her sons, Gawain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Aggravayne [Agravain].  (Sounds like one of them is adopted).  For whatever reason, she instead falls in love with Arthur and vice versa, and they have a bouncing baby boy Modred [Mordred].  At this point, I direct you to the family tree.  Margawse is Arthur’s aunt.  A little awkward, but we’ll go with it.

Arthur eventually breaks his magic-stone sword in a joust with King Pellinore, who likes to stand in the middle of the road and challenge people. {None shall pass!} He brings it to Merlin, who just sighs and points to the lake where a hand appears out of the water holding another magic sword – Excalibur, one presumes.  So in case you were confused like me as to whether Arthur’s sword came out of the stone or the lake, the answer is both.  The Lady of the Lake is willing to give him the sword and scabbard (which keeps its holder from shedding a drop of blood) in return for a “future favor” which he doesn’t ask about until it results in a few beheadings.

Arthur figures he should probably get married and goes to Merlin for advice on whether or not he should pick Gwynevere [Guinevere].  Merlin warns him that she’s destined to love Launcelot [Lancelot] and the whole thing will end in disaster, but Arthur seems okay with that.  He gets her dad’s permission, and her dad forgoes the dowry to give them a round table with 50 seats and magical nameplates at every seat that dictate who gets to sit there.  The table is very particular about seating arrangements, and even has seats reserved for knights not yet born, refusing to reveal their names until they’re in the room.

Arthur takes orders from the piece of furniture, trying to locate all the knights meant to go there, while in the meantime fighting various kings and other enemies including his half-sister Morgan le Fay and the Romans. {What have the Romans ever done for us?! – no, wait, wrong movie}

Considering the book is called Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur is absent for a surprisingly large portion of it.  Occasionally he’ll throw a tournament and lose to one of his knights (often Launcelot or Tristram) but he doesn’t really do much himself.  But while I’m on the subject, I’d like to toss out a brief note to Malory and his adherents: Let’s try to limit the tournament thing to three per novel, okay?  It does get old eventually.

Merlin

Merlin spends a lot of the first part of the book getting lambasted by the author for practicing magic and being the son of the Devil (he can’t help who his dad is, okay?!), while at the same time pushing the storyline forward or shaking his head at Arthur whenever the king says or does something silly.  (Which is a lot.)  Other times, he just ruins the ending for everyone with his prophecies, which is why I think the author is keen to get rid of him.  After all, if the answer to every obstacle is “let’s get Merlin to handle this” then why bother with the knights?  Granted, the other answer is “let’s get a sorceress to handle this,” but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When King Pellinore brings a kidnapped noblewoman called Nyneve (Nimue) back to Camelot, Merlin falls in love with her.  He follows her around like a puppy and she’s surprisingly okay with that because she wants to learn the craft of magic from him.  Out of the blue, Merlin informs Arthur that he’s leaving the kingdom forever because it’s just about time for him to be buried alive.  Arthur and I have a similar reaction and say “Since you know how you’re going to die, can’t you just… not…do that?”  Merlin’s reply is “No, because that would affect the space-time continuum” and he tells Arthur about a few spoilers coming up in the future before he and Nyneve go off.

Merlin, who knows that he’s going to die soon and since the girl of his dreams is right there and all, figures he hasn’t got much to lose.  However, Nyneve informs him that she has no intentions of losing her virginity to him and she gets him to swear not to use his magic to overcome her.  Amazingly, he complies.  So much for being devilspawn.

He tosses out a few more spoilers to various individuals and teaches Nyneve everything he knows (whilst dropping plenty of hopeful hints about how they could make magic of an entirely different kind).  Then he makes the unfortunate mistake of taking her to a cave in Cornwall, where she presumably snaps after all the come-ons and rolls an enchanted rock in front of the entrance, blocking him inside forever.

This happens on page 70 of a 500 page novel and I am upset because I always prefer mages over knights and brains over brawn. (I blame DragonLance for introducing me to Raistlin in my formative teenage years.)  Regardless of what I want, though, that’s the last time anyone sees Merlin.  The only person who can free Merlin is the one who put him there and apparently no one goes to try and convince Nyneve that Merlin is not a complete horndog all the time, so presumably he remains there to this day.

Morgan Le Fay

Morgan le Fay gets her own section.  She doesn’t actually get a storyline except in relation to others, but I’m squeezing her in anyway because she’s persistent enough to deserve it.  She pops up randomly throughout the story to meddle with the lives of the knights and others.

On one not-so-very-good-day, she tries to have Arthur killed (presumably as revenge for sleeping with her aunt) by sending her lover Accolon after him.  They end up fighting but Arthur wins and forgives him (because the dude’s a knight), instead swearing revenge on Morgan.  Around the same time, she also tries to have her husband killed, but is stopped by their pesky son who actually likes both his parents.  Things get awkward at the family dinner table after that.

She tries a few other tactics to kill off Arthur, including pulling a Medea and sending him a coat that sets the wearer on fire.  (Fortunately, he gets a maid to try it out first.)  She also tries to seduce and/or kill various knights, but that goes about how you would expect.  Her appearances and inevitable failures become almost comical (she is a one-person Team Rocket) but she’s still pretty darn cool.  Sort of.  …I just really like magic users, okay?!

Gawain

The son of Margawse and King Lot, Gawain gets off on the wrong foot in Camelot.  He spends his first afternoon as a knight trying to avenge the death of his father but accidentally beheads a random lady instead.  That creates a few problems.

When his cousin Uwayne is banished from Camelot because his mother Morgan le Fay tried to kill her brother Arthur (see, this is why I made a family tree), Gawain tags along for an adventure.  The two meet up with some knights and pick up a few damsels along the way, and you could probably make an awful bro comedy flick out of their adventures if you were so  inclined.

Gawain’s brother Gaheris is equally hotheaded, killing their mother when he catches her in bed with Sir Lamerok.  His justification for not killing Sir Lamerok at the time is that the dude is unarmed and naked and that’s just not cool, man. (Why this rule doesn’t apply to Margawse, I’m not sure.)  Understandably, Gawain is less than happy about his brother killing their mom.  Everyone else in Camelot just finds the whole thing awkward.  (Especially Arthur, because that’s his… aunt?  Lover?  Whatever.)

Eventually the brothers reconcile, join forces, and kill Sir Lamerok in an ambush.  Arthur’s upset because Lamerok was actually helpful to Camelot, regardless of whether he could keep it in his pants.  Sir Percivale faints when he hears the news, because according to my family tree, he was Lamerok’s brother, despite the fact that I can’t recall them ever interacting.

Launcelot du Lake

I don’t know what this says about me, but I always find that good people tend to make boring characters.  I mean, yeah, I would rather hang around with law-abiding citizens than gang members any day – but as far as narratives go, a story in which everyone is polite and minds their own business is not a good story.

Launcelot tries his best to be a boring good guy, but it’s difficult because he is such a chick magnet.  He is the kind of guy who falls asleep under a tree and wakes up to find that he has been kidnapped by four queens (Morgan included) who insist that he choose one of them for his paramour.  Yes, this sort of thing is a daily problem for Launcelot.  He declines, of course, because he has sworn his fidelity to Queen Gwynevere (overlooking the minor inconvenience of her marriage) and he would much rather spend his life fighting duels and rescuing maidens than be tied down by a wife.  To prove his integrity, he does exactly this.

One day, after saving a naked woman from a steam room and then slaying a fire-breathing serpent in a tomb (also known as Tuesday for Launcelot), he is invited to dinner with King Pelles.  While there, a woman appears with the Holy Grail in her hand. Launcelot is amazed by the Grail, but the king is meanwhile trying to hook him up with his daughter, Elaine, because Pelles heard a prophecy that says Launcelot’s son Galahad is the one who must get the grail instead.  Launcelot makes this whole thing difficult because he’s loyal to Gwynevere and would rather not conceive a baby with a woman he’s just met, prophecy or no prophecy.

Fortunately there’s an enchantress around (isn’t there always) who can use magic to convince him to sneak into Elaine’s room and convince him that he’s with Gwynevere, when he’s actually making love to Elaine.  Galahad is conceived, and most everybody is happy.  The king is happy, the enchantress is happy, the prophecy is happy, Elaine is really, really happy.  But Launcelot is not happy.  He forgives Elaine, thanks her kindly for the night, and bravely runs away.

Eventually Elaine tracks him down.  He wakes to find himself in Elaine’s chambers, yet again the victim of an enchantress, a Gwynevere-looking mirage, and an overly willing Elaine.  Gwynevere walks in this time and accuses him of sleeping around because, really, the whole “I was ensorcelled and thought she was you!” defense only works so many times.  A catfight ensues between the ladies and Launcelot defenestrates himself.  {When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled}

He runs through the woods in his nightshirt like a crazy man.  Arthur sends the knights out after him, but it takes them quite awhile to catch up.  In the meantime, he wrestles a dwarf, beheads a boar, and is kidnapped by Elaine again.  This time when he wakes up, he just sort of groans.  At least he’s not crazy anymore.  {Well she turned me into a newt!  …I got better.}

When Launcelot finally returns to Camelot, Arthur greets him with open arms and voices his assumption that Launcelot’s temporary insanity must have come from his deep love for Elaine.  Everyone at court shuffles their feet awkwardly and looks away.  Arthur is either completely oblivious or hopelessly optimistic about Launcelot’s feelings for Gwynevere.  Uh-oh.

It turns out that Launcelot’s love for Queen Gwynevere actually kicks him out of the running to get the Holy Grail.  This is, of course, her fault for being a woman.  Not only that, but Aggravayne starts talking openly about their affair (but since everyone knows already, the concern isn’t as much of “the word is getting out!” as it is “someone is actually talking about this!”)  Launcelot runs away again.

In the meantime, someone dies from a poisoned apple meant for Gawain at one of Gwynevere’s feasts, and everyone blames her for it, because if you’re going to poison someone, you always do it in front of a dozen armed guests.  Arthur just sort of shrugs and says “I can’t stop this, I’m the king.”  What a faithful husband.  No one else will fight to defend her honor (I still wonder what this is meant to prove.  If you win, she’s not guilty and if you lose, she is?) but on the day of the joust, Launcelot shows up again anyway and wins.  Nyneve later reveals the real culprit and I wonder why we bother fighting at all if we can just ask a sorceress what actually happened.

Soon after, yet another tournament is being held elsewhere, which Launcelot wants to fight in anonymously to regain some of his honor.  He stays at a place owned by a baron and his daughter named Elaine, who falls in love with Launcelot.  Now, I get that sometimes writers run out of ideas.  I get that they may use storylines to draw attention to parallels.  But when you have two completely unrelated women with the exact same name doing very similar things?  It makes you look lazy.

Oh, but this Elaine just wants to give Launcelot a token to wear into battle.  Totally different concept.  He accepts because he thinks it will complete his incognito costume since Sir Launcelot never wears tokens from ladies.  He wins, but is grievously wounded.  Elaine rides to Camelot and nurses him back to health with the other knights cheering her on. (He wore her token, after all.  It must be love.)  Launcelot is still Launcelot, though, and friendzones her until she dies of a broken heart or something.  Gwynevere apologizes for being mean to him, makes him wear her token at the next tournament (because the woman enjoys playing with fire), and things return to normal.

Or, at least, the sort of normal where someone tries to carry off the queen and Launcelot fights for her honor while Arthur just sort of stands around telling everyone that he can’t do anything because he’s the king.  (This is what happens when you let swords pick the rulers.)

Gareth

I am including Sir Gareth, lesser known brother to Sir Gawain, because his story cracks me up.  One day, he shows up at Arthur’s house with a dwarf and three requests.  The dwarf is not relevant.  The first request is for food and drink.  He’s saving the other two requests for next year.  Also, he refuses to reveal his actual name, preferring to live in the kitchen by the name of Beaumains.  A year passes and a woman shows up and asks the knights to rescue her sister, but refuses to give her sister’s name so that Arthur can’t help her.  “Beaumains” senses a kindred spirit and cashes in his other two requests by 1) getting permission to go on the quest for the lady and 2) being knighted after proving himself successfully.  When Kay screams “commoner!” at him, they duel, Gareth wins, reveals that he’s actually a noble, and gets knighted immediately.  So much for proving himself.

Gareth rides after the lady, and she is not impressed with him at all.  She begins her onslaught of insults, not letting up even after he kills six thieves and the Black Knight. {Come back here and take what’s coming to you!  I’ll bite your legs off!}

He also defeats the Green Knight, the Puce Knight, the Indigo Knight, and you think I am kidding about these colors, but I am not.  The lady tells all of them that Sir Gareth is just a kitchen boy and they should avenge their fallen Black Knight (whose armor Gareth is wearing).  They do so, fail, and swear allegiance to Gareth.

Eventually he also defeats the Red Knight and meets the obnoxious woman’s sister, who is slightly less obnoxious but still insists that he can’t marry her until he does a few more things (and since when was marriage part of the goal anyway?)  She makes him swear a yearlong celibacy campaign, kidnaps his dwarf, and has him fight in a tournament wearing yellow (okay, that was his own decision).  He also kills the Brown Knight just to add to his rainbow collection and ends up battling another knight who turns out to be Gawain.

Apparently he’s done enough questing and he gets to marry the less irritating sister.  They celebrate, of course, with a tournament.  Presumably the field is decorated in rainbow armor.

Tristram

Sir Tristram [Tristan] gets the name that means “of sorrowful birth” because his mother dies giving birth to him, after a premature labor brought about by grief at learning her husband the king was kidnapped by a sorceress whilst on a hunt.  One imagines that things can only go up from here, but this is not the case.

Tristram’s dad remarries and the wicked stepmother naturally wants her kids on the throne, so she consults the Wicked Stepmother Book of Tricks and opts for the poison.  Of course, she fails to keep tabs on the poison, so her own son drinks it and dies.  She tries again.  This time the king tries to drink from it, but she manages to stop him and confesses everything.  Before she is burned at the stake, however, Tristram pleads on her behalf and saves her from it.  As a reward, he is sent far, far away from these crazy people.

But not far enough.  Eventually he goes to visit his uncle King Mark, who asks him to fight one menacing Sir Marhaus.  They fight to the death, with Tristram victorious but wounded beyond the skill of his doctors. {Tis a fleshwound!}

He goes to Ireland to find an antidote for his poisoned wound, using the not-at-all-suspicious alias Tramtrist, and is nursed back to health by Iseault [Isolde], the daughter of King Angwyshaunce [the man with the silliest name in the galaxy].

Tristram and Iseault fall in love, but Tristram’s physical therapy regimen requires that he fights a lot of knights.  It also turns out Sir Marhaus was the queen’s brother (oops) so he is sent back to King Mark, who tries to kill him because, well, why not.  That puts a damper on things, so once he proves himself to both sides, he asks King Angwyshaunce for Iseault’s hand in marriage.  The caveat is that her hand is not for himself, but for King Mark – as a way to get the man stop trying to kill him.  This can only end well.

Iseault’s mom sends a love potion with Iseault’s lady-in-waiting, to be used on the wedding day so Iseault and Mark will actually like each other.  Unfortunately, Tristram and Iseault get thirsty on the way over and drink it instead.  (Oops.)  After Iseault’s and Mark’s wedding, the court ladies get jealous of the lady-in-waiting and kidnap her for no discernible reason.  While Queen Iseault looks for her in the forest, she comes across a knight who says he’ll find the lady-in-waiting if Iseault grants his wish.  She agrees and he succeeds, and apparently his wish is to take Iseault for his own.  King Mark sort of shrugs and blames her for agreeing to a blank check.  Apparently these sorts of promises trump marriage commitments when it comes to honor. When she’s gone, he sends Tristram and others to track her down and bring her home.  Really, guys?  Really?

Things become more ridiculous when Morgan le Fay sends King Mark a special drinking horn that only women who haven’t committed adultery can drink from without spilling.  It turns out that only four out of a hundred women in King Mark’s castle don’t need extra napkins to clean up those spills.  King Mark’s reaction to this is “Alas!” followed by a “now my queen and all these ladies will have to be burnt at the stake.”  I like to assume the statement is delivered with an indifferent shrug.

Notice that none of the men are expected to prove their fidelity to their ladies.  Pro tip, guys:  If only four women in your court are being faithful to their marriages, it is possible that there might be something wrong with the way you treat your women or the way you arrange your marriages.  (I also recommend not carrying off women from their families just because you think they’re pretty.)

Fortunately, the men of the court know that the horn was an evil plot of an evil sorceress, so their own innocent wives are spared. Tristram and Iseault, in their infinite wisdom, celebrate in bed that night and get caught by Tristram’s cousin.  They escape into the forest.  If I were writing this, they would live happily ever after and we could move on.  But I’m not writing this, so Tristram goes hunting one day and gets hit by a poisoned arrow and Iseault is, of course, captured and returned to King Mark.  (Maybe they should have run to another forest somewhat further away.)

Tristram goes to a different king to get an antidote for his poisoned arrow wound and is offered the king’s daughter Isode in return.  Really, Mallory? Are you even trying anymore?  You really expect me to buy your recycled goods?  Sigh.  Anyway, he accepts the marriage, but doesn’t consummate it because of reasons.  Meanwhile Iseault writes to Queen Gwynevere to complain about Tristram’s infidelity and seek her advice and I had to put the book down to cackle at the grand irony of that sentence.

After more tournaments and damsel rescues, Tristram goes to visit Iseault and finds out she and another knight (Isode’s brother, in fact) have been writing letters to each other.  When he challenges the other knight, the guy defenestrates himself (Sorry – I will never pass up a chance to use the word defenestrate).  Following the path of Launcelot, Tristram goes crazy.  Though I can’t figure out why.  “The woman I love gets a letter from some guy who wanted to sleep with her despite the fact that she’s married to a different guy in the first place?  Clearly the only solution is to wander naked in the forest and also fight some tournaments because that’s what a knight does, crazy or not!”

Eventually King Arthur sends some guys to track him down, and when he meets up with Iseault, Launcelot is nice enough to lend them his castle to shack up in.  Most people seem okay with this, up until King Mark finds and murders him.  Though if we’re being perfectly honest, the man has a right to be upset.

Galahad

Sir Galahad, the son who was conceived via Elaine raping Launcelot (or so I choose to classify it because Launcelot did not give his informed consent to the activity), appears at Camelot one day, all grown up and surrounded by a dozen weeping nuns.  Launcelot sees that the boy is very attractive and modest and decides that he should therefore be knighted. Wait, what?  Why?  Was it the weeping nun entourage?

The Round Table agrees and the Siege Perelous (aka the extra fancy VIP seat at the Round Table) displays his name on it after he proves his worth by pulling a sword out of a floating stone (and this is totally not a recycled storyline because the stone is floating this time).  The chair itself says “Thys ys the siege of Sir Galahad the hawte prynce,” so we know the guy is really, really attractive, just like his dad.

Arthur holds a tournament just to make sure Galahad is as awesome as his dad (he is) and to celebrate the completion of the Knights of the Round Table. {We eat ham and jam and spam a lot!}

They sit down to dinner and someone lights the Holy Grail beacon {Oh, wicked Zoot!} and Gawain suggests they all set off to find it.  This makes Arthur burst into tears because he’s spent so long accumulating the best and brightest and now they all want to go and do things other than fight in pointless tournaments and where did he go wrong and why does no one love him?!

Although many set out to find the Grail, not all of them are competent enough to get it.  Sir Percivale accidentally gets naked with Lucifer, Launcelot hangs out with a hermit and sides with the wrong army in hopes of getting more glory if he can just help them win (he loses badly), Gawain wanders around, falls asleep in church, and accidentally kills his cousin Uwayne, and other knights fail to keep themselves in a decent enough shape to be worthy of the Grail.

They all meet up at a castle for the night, but only Galahad has passed the test, so he is woken up by a noblewoman who takes him to sail around on a magical ship, like some sort of hallucinogenic hippie trip.  He gets the other knights to come and join him on the ship when a sword shows up, but only Galahad can pull it out of its scabbard (and wheeere have I heard this type of story before…).  Suddenly Sir Percivale has a sister who doesn’t even get a name but is more than willing to tag along to become a sacrificial virgin (because what story is complete without one?)  They drain her of blood, put her on another ship, and send her out to sea so her voice can guide other knights.  Well, I guess it could be a worse end for a woman with no name.

Galahad catches up to the grail in prison, of all places.  He is crowned king and carried off to Heaven by angels, taking the cup with him.  Well, so much for bringing back the Holy Grail.  Having run out of family members, Percivale becomes a hermit and dies, while Sir Bors goes to let Arthur know that the Grail is probably not going to show up again.

Modred

Later, Sir Modred is hanging out with some other knights lamenting that Launcelot and Gwynevere are shacked up and no one is doing anything to stop them.  Gawain shushes him.   Worst kept secret in Camelot, but you’re not actually supposed to talk about it!  When Arthur walks in on the conversation, most of the knights literally run away {Run away!  Run awaaaay!} while Aggravayne and Modred break the news that Launcelot and Gwynevere are a thing.

Aaaaand it turns out Arthur’s already known for a long time, but he actually likes them both so he’s never said a word because it would mean having to hang them or burn them or something.  Guess he paid attention to Merlin’s spoilers after all.

Now that it’s out in the open, though, Modred and Aggravayne are determined to bring the adulterers to justice.  Launcelot, upon hearing about their plots, of course runs straight to Gwynevere’s chambers, because how else does one best prove one’s innocence but by heading to the scene of the crime?

Modred and his gang of knights attack him, but he kills the whole gang except Modred, who is gravely wounded but not yet dead.  Now that Gwynevere’s room is covered in blood splatters, Arthur’s reaction is, quite literally, “I suppose that to uphold my own dignity as king I must now suffer my queen to be burnt at the stake.”  I imagine this is followed by a put-upon sigh.  No wonder Gwynevere picked up a lover.  Arthur doesn’t exactly sound like the life of the party here.

Launcelot saves her from the stake, of course, and runs away with her back to his castle, but not before killing off Sir Gareth and Gaheris and a variety of other Round Table knights.  When Gawain finds out about the death of his two brothers, he is not happy.  He sides with Arthur on this one and they ride against Launcelot.

The battle is probably dramatic and worthy of a Lord of the Rings-style montage with a soundtrack of wailing women, except that no one’s heart is really in it.  From the beginning, Arthur  is pretty much willing to forgive everyone and just go home already, but Gawain pushes him on.  Bors almost beheads the king in the heat of it all, but Launcelot stops him.  Wait, why are we fighting again?  Even the Pope gets involved, telling Arthur to {Get on with it!} man up and that he will excommunicate everyone in Britain if Arthur doesn’t reconcile with Launcelot and Gwynevere.  Yikes.  Launcelot quickly returns Gwynevere to Arthur and is banished from the country.  He goes to France, and Arthur goes to visit him, leaving his bastard son Modred in charge.

This can only end well.

Modred, sitting on the throne, has decided that it is very comfy and that he would like to keep it.  He plans to usurp Arthur by writing a letter to himself that says that Arthur died in battle.  He also decides the queen should be his as well, because he has obviously forgotten all about her track record.

She agrees to marriage, but only after she goes to London to prepare her trousseau.  Which is just… right over here.  In the Tower of London. Oh, these knights?  They’re just helping with the, uh, decorations.  The cooks bringing in provisions?  Oh, that’s for the…wedding cake sampling. Yes.  The cannons are…for the father-daughter dance.  The swords are for – oh, who is she kidding, she’s locked herself and some soldiers in the Tower and is prepared to defend against any siege he tries to make.  She does a pretty good job of it.  Nicely done, Gwynevere.  Way to avoid marrying your stepson.

Unfortunately for Modred, fake letters only go so far and Arthur is actually still alive.  As is his army.  They scare off Modred’s army pretty quickly. Gawain then faints from a wound that Launcelot gave him the last time they fought {Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who!} and wakes up in time to write him a letter of apology before he dies.

Meanwhile Arthur and Modred make a date to sign a peace treaty, but that doesn’t go according to plan when someone gets bitten by a snake, draws his sword to kill it, and the armies accidentally mistake it as a sign to slaughter each other.  Arthur spears Modred, Modred hits Arthur on the side of the helmet with his sword, which means that Arthur is mortally wounded, but still has time to say goodbye to various knights, ask Sir Bedivere to toss his sword back into the lake and put Arthur himself on a convenient barge full of attractive ladies who row him off to Avalon to heal his wound.

In the morning, Sir Bedivere stumbles across the Archbishop of Canterbury dressed like a hermit (Modred kicked him out) weeping at a fresh tomb for Arthur.  This leads me to conclude that Avalon’s doctors are not as good as they were rumored to be.  It also means that Arthur, as Once and Future King, may still be alive until proven dead.  Personally, I’m surprised no one has jumped at the idea of a movie featuring the zombie knights of Camelot.  For a book called Le Morte d’Arthur, though, I was expecting more of a death scene.  Some wailing, maybe.  Instead, I got 3 ½ pages of Arthur’s death, and about 500 pages of tournaments and helpless damsels.

To finish up, Gwynevere learns of Arthur’s death and decides to get herself to a nunnery.  Launcelot decides to copy her and gets himself to a monkery (as I like to call monasteries).  They both die six years later in their sleep, and though it’s a little anticlimactic, we’ll just have to take it.  I still have no idea who took over as King of Camelot.  I like to assume it was Morgan, because she just sort of disappears otherwise. (Except for the rumors that she was on Arthur’s funeral boat? Maybe?)

For the sake of length, many storylines have not been mentioned, and I have left out Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Summary. For more details, I suggest you go read the book, because it provides fine morals for everyone.  For boys, the moral is this:  When either you or your girlfriend cheats on the other, running naked in the woods like a crazy person will usually bring her back to you.  For girls, the moral is this:  If you want your life to have any meaning during the dark ages, you’re better off becoming a sorceress.

My sorry attempt at a family tree is located below.

Le Morte d'Arthur Family Tree

Le Morte d’Arthur Family Tree

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Summary

2 responses to “Le Morte d’Arthur

  1. Michelle

    This post is so much win. Half the time I was so book-stoned by the writing that I didn’t even pick up on the nonsense (finishing it today gave me a monster head-ache), but the book-stoned feeling also helped me actually get to like some of the characters by the end, like Gareth. Since the author wrote it in prison, we can only wonder at how much he “romanticized” and took creative license with. Still, I’m glad I read it. Now if only this head-ache would go away.

    Also, yeah, I try not to think about all the repercussions this story has on the Merlin storyline.

    • I understand your headache! I suspect the translation has something to do with it, but for me, there were so many characters popping in and out of different stories that it was all I could do to keep track of the main ones.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s