Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Move Aside, Lancelot...

...and excuse me while I gripe about Arthurian legend.

Specifically, while I gripe about what Wikipedia claims is the only "fairy tale" which is set in the midst of Arthurian legend-the tale of Lanval. More specifically, it was written by somebody I've never heard of called Marie de France. This is sad, because it's a story that offends me on the level of feeling sympathy for excessive cruelty and lack of sympathy for a female character.

Lanval is the story of some knight, who was everybody's favorite knight, because he was just so darned nice! (If you are wounded by the sheer level of my sarcasm, I apologize. It's just that Lanval has nearly surpassed Lancelot as my absolute least favorite Arthurian knight of all time.) He gave everything he had to the poor, and spent all his time doing knight things. Thus, he had little money left over, and relied entirely on the charity of the king.

But that rhymes-with-witch, Guinevere, hated him because he'd refused her advances on him. (Sorry again about the sarcasm.) So she told Arthur all kinds of fibs to make Arthur hate him and not give him money. He got poor, and had to sell his armor and his horse and stuff, and leave. Poor Lanval! (Stupid unintentional pun.)

But then Lanval met a beautiful fairy queen, and she gave him magic armor and a giant horse and a bottomless moneybag, and also love. (I am not making this up. That's exactly what she gave him.) Yay, Lanval! Now, he could give stuff to the poor again. But she warns him not to tell anybody about her and their relationship, or she'll never speak to him again.

Then, after Lanval gives tons of money to the poor and returns to Arthur's court, Guinevere accuses him of "not liking women," i.e. liking men instead. (The exact phraseology of her accusation depends on the text, as many versions were bowdlerized.) He responds that his girlfriend is much prettier than she is. Oops, mentioned the fairy queen! Poor, stupid Lanval!

Lanval runs around like a ninny, his gifts gone, looking for her, but he can't find her. Poor Lanval. Meanwhile, that mean old Guinevere tells Arthur that Lanval slandered her by claiming his girlfriend was better-looking than her, and Arthur sends his knights to catch him. They round him up and put him on trial.

Fortunately for Lanval, the fairy queen shows up just long enough to prove that yes, she is indeed prettier than mean ol' Guinevere. But then she leaves really fast. He chases her, catches up to her, and nobody in the mortal world ever sees him again, because she took him to the fairy world.

What a stupid, stupid story.

The Arthurian tales are subject to a lot of interpretation, but the one thing that always bothers me (other than Lancelot) is treating Guinevere like some kind of shrieking harpy.

-Signing off.

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