Tag Archives: Lancelot

In which Lancelot is boring but Galahad is worse

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By this point it should be clear that there is little love lost between Lancelot and Yours Truly. And I am sorry, I really am! I tried to like the guy or at least view him with some sort of academic objectivity, but I can’t. Him and Guinevere, they’re supposed to be this power couple and yet Lancelot seems to have as many ladies fawning over him (with various degrees of reluctance on his part) as Gawain. And Gawain is known as the Ladies’ Knight! Give me a break. Anyway…What was I saying? Oh, yes! For the longest time I thought Lancelot would hold the “least favourite knight” title for me. Then I came across this young lad named Galahad….

 

Galahad’s character suffers from what I like to call the Superman Syndrome (and if that is a real thing I apologise to whoever coined the term). His singular function in the Arthurian tales is to be flawless. He’s the best knight; he’s the other person to pull the sword from the stone (thank you Malory…); he’s the one to find the Grail; yada, yada, yada. And you know what? I could –somewhat begrudgingly- deal with all that if he got some character development on the way. But nooooooo… I’m not kidding! In Malory’s version (which I’m going with since I don’t have access to the other versions of the story right now) he finds the Grail, rules as king on a city nearby (or was it the city he found the Grail in? I always get confused at this point.) and then dies. I think the way it is explained is that he was too pure for this imperfect world. Or it could just be that Sir Bores-a-lot Jr. had no other reason for existence. I’m not exaggerating. From the moment Elaine (not Elaine of Astolat, another Elaine) hears Lancelot is visiting her father and starts plotting to sleep with him, it is with the understanding that the result of the union will be the Chosen One. And we all know how that works out….

 

 

There are versions of the legend were Percival or even Gawain (-sigh- When am I gonna get a movie about him?) find the Grail. Heck! I’m pretty sure Lancelot finds it in one. Do I have a problem with that too? Well, I have problems with the Grail subplot in general, but that is the subject for another post (or more likely a dissertation). But no, I do not mind any of these three gentlemen finding the Grail. Why? Because that is not their only characteristic. They are not carbon cut-outs or lists of tropes on legs. They are three-dimensional characters with all the imperfections and struggles that come with that. And for that reason I can sympathise with them. Because I can see there was a process and a struggle to better themselves in order to be considered “worthy”, whatever that means….In Galahad’s case, not so much.

 

Now, someone might point out the fondness that medieval authors had for allegorical storytelling and archetypical characters. I understand and respect that. Sometimes variations on an already familiar theme are more imaginative than a completely new melody. However, even archetypes develop over time and I’m sorry but I just don’t see that in Galahad’s case.

In which I share some of my favourite arthurian-themed songs

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Let it be known that my music knowledge extends to the refined level of “this sounds nice” vs. “this sucks”. As such, when I talk songs, I usually mean the lyrics as they are what I focus on. What does this mean for my poor tormented readers? Another list of course! I swear, I’m not making this up as I go. I actually listened to these songs parallel to my studies for the past few years and I think that they affected, to an extent at least, my understanding of some characters. (It’s what I call the Mr Darcy rule: the first one you come across will ALWAYS be your golden standard.) As such, here are my ten favourite Arthurian-themed songs:

 

The Lady of Shallot

Sung by Loreena McKennitt, it was the first song of this genre that I heard (movie songs do NOT count, coughSwordinStonecough). Other than the lady’s admittedly gorgeous voice, I was most struck by the lyrics. The song is actually a condensed version of Tennyson’s poem concerning the cursed maid of Astolat, Elaine, and her love for Lancelot. However, instead of focusing on the court and Lancelot (who, for being called loyal to a fault, had way too many sweethearts connected to him), the lyrics draw attention to Elaine and her Rapunzel-esque isolation to a tower. Initially I just liked “The Lady of Shallot” because, well, it sounded pretty (sue me, I was sixteen!). Now, having the story as delivered by Malory, and generally having read a lot more on the subject of Arthurian romance I’m more struck by smaller details, like the pathetic fallacy that permeates the poem, the sense of isolation that the Lady maintains even after her story is made known to Arthur’s court and the unresolved mysteries of the story. Why was Elaine cursed? By whom? Why did she have to weave? Who put her in the tower? Would she have still died if she had just “looked down to Camelot” instead of her gaze being amorous and mostly directed to Lancelot?

 

Lilly Maid

While we’re on the subject of Elaine of Astolat, this song, by Heather Dale, is also about her. This time however, instead of the song just focusing on the Lady, it is Elaine’s words that are heard. Drawing from Malory’s version of the story, here Elaine makes one last address to Lancelot, recounting their relationship before she goes to the lake to die. What has always struck me about this version is that, despite the soft words and sounds employed; there is an undercurrent of resentment that doesn’t exist in Tennyson’s poem. Here Elaine blames Lancelot for her death and with lines like “With trembling hands I held your life inside you/ But still failed to earn your favour for my own” it’s not exactly a mystery why (for further information read the “Fair Maid of Astolat” episode in Malory’s book. And be prepared to dislike Lancelot more and more with each line.)

 

The Captive

This was one of those songs I found after one too many clicks on YouTube. It is sung by Heather Alexander and, although not explicitly Arthurian in nature, would fit right in with the family…The titular captive is a lady forcibly married to a lord, whose main character trait is that he is an abusive jackass. One day, a magician visits the court and, after bedazzling them, manages to free the lady and run away with her. There’s a bit more on the story, but these are the bare bones of it. I loved how each character had a distinctive voice, figuratively and literally. The lack of a chorus also helped promote the sense that this is a short narrative instead of a song. Why do I call it Arthurian? I imagine this would be the sort of thing Merlin would get tangled in when he was young and before he started babysitting the Pendragon royal line…

 

Hawthorn Tree

Speaking of Merlin, here is another song about him, this one by Heather Dale. The focus here is Merlin’s relationship with his apprentice Viviane (who later became the Lady of the Lake. Or earlier was? Timelines are tricky like that….) I’ve always found it interesting that Merlin is aware of his fate, yet still agrees to teach her all he knows, heralding in a sense the beginning of the end for Arthur’s court. In this song, both the nature of their relationship (“love or enchantment”) and Viviane’s reasons for imprisoning Merlin are left to the audience’s imagination. Even Arthur remains in ignorance, being only able to speculate on the former and being informed about the later by an unnamed woodsman. I could go on and on about the symbolism on the song but that would be akin to spoilers so I’ll refrain.

 

The Trial of Lancelot

Again a song by Heather Dale and it’s about Lancelot. Shocker, I know. This one however is a guilty pleasure of mine since, a. it’s the trial that never happened in the Arthurian cycle (you know, when Lancelot actually has to answer for his actions instead of leaving Guinevere to deal with the fallout) and b. it’s one of the only two versions of him that I can actually stomach (the other being the BBC Merlin one). Ironically, this was also the song that began my dislike of Galahad, who up to this point I only had passing knowledge of. My running theory about the guy is that because his shtick is to live like a monk, he has to ruin life for everyone around him (but more on that on a later post).  I also like this song because it sheds light on the friendships between the knights, instead of just grouping them together and assuming that names are enough information.

 

For Guinevere

Like “The Captive” this is a song I surprised myself by adding to the list. Sung by Heather Dale, it is about Lancelot and Guinevere near the end of the Arthurian cycle, when they have fewer and fewer reasons to hide (aka, more and more people die…). Personally, I think their love story is overrated in a Romeo & Juliet kind of way. –shudder- That was one messed-up story… The lyrics are beautiful however, and so is the music and since I first heard it when I started watching Merlin –and was shipping Merlin/Morgana something fierce- I choose to imagine the song is for them. There are no names mentioned anyway, so it could also work for any other forbidden couple you ship. Personally,  I thought it was about Tristan and Isolt before I saw the title.

 

The Prydwen Sails Again

This is a pretty obscure one (by Heather Dale), referring to an early Welsh tale where Arthur and co. invade Ireland in search of a magical cauldron that brings the dead back to life (early version of the Grail story perhaps?). The song is sung by a lady bidding farewell to her knight as he joins Arthur’s band. What has always confused me about it though is that the way the lyrics are phrased it is implied that either this is Arthur’s second attempt or that the lady in question knows in advance what will happen. Seeing that this is the story of a group of semi-mythical knights invading one of the Celtic Underworlds (or Otherworlds, depending how you see it) in order to bring back a zombie-making magical cauldron, I’m more inclined to go with option b. By the way, if there is not a movie with the aforementioned plotline, somebody needs to make one! I would pay good money to see it!

 

Kingsword

While staying on the subject of mystical items, “Kingsword” by Heather Dale is –surprise, surprise”- about Excalibur, its story and the prophesies surrounding it. I actually really like this one, because the language is so full of symbolism and allusions that it could easily fit in nearly all versions of the tale, including the more modern ones. And…that’s all I can really say about it. You have to listen to it to get it.

 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The original poem is one of my favourites in Middle English tradition. The song by Heather Dale is based on the poem but has different take on things, being more of an Oak King and Holly King type of struggle instead of the ambiguous quest the anonymous poet sends Gawain on, resulting to an even more open-ended conclusion. You can see why I like this one… The song also has a really joyful tune, making it sound like a carol (fitting for a story where the main action takes place during New Year’s Day…).

 

Mordred’s Lullaby

This was the first song by Heather Dale I ever heard (I think…it was part of a YouTube binge…). As it is painfully obvious by the title, the song is sung to an infant Mordred by his mother (Morgana or Morgause depending on the tradition), foretelling his fate and pretty much teaching him to hate his father and all he stands for. And before any of you start wondering what sort of messed up thing you stumbled on, I’d like to point out that this song provides something that most of the older versions of the story tend to leave out: a freaking reason for Mordred to basically cause the end of the (Arthurian) world. I also like the fact that, despite the almost single-minded focus of the lyrics, certain phrases betray uncertainty on his mother’s part as well. On the one hand she wants revenge, on the other she is reluctant to sacrifice her child for that cause.

 

Wow! This post ended up longer than I thought. And if anyone thinks there’s too much Heather Dale and not enough variety, a. I’m writing this with no internet access and can therefore only rely on my memory, b. She’s done a lot of AWESOME Arthurian songs and more people should hear them! (-fangirl moment over-)

In which romance is not all it’s cracked up to be

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Romance is supposed to be one of the more straightforward messes a person can and will (inevitably) find themselves in. One meets another, sparks fly, hijinks ensue, yada-yada-yada, happy ending (hopefully). Sounds pretty simple, right? No! So much so that this lovely gentleman, Andreas Capellanus, felt the need to set a list of rules regarding romantic love and its expression in his book, De Amore. Here’s a translation I managed to find:

 

  1. Marriage should not be a deterrent to love.

Since this comes from an era when marriage and love are not mutually inclusive…

 

  1. Love cannot exist in the individual who cannot be jealous.

Love = Trusting your partner? Nooooo!!!!!!! Othello had it right!

 

  1. A double love cannot obligate an individual.

What is that even supposed to mean? Don’t cheat on your lover?

 

  1. Love constantly waxes and wanes.

It’s perfectly normal to give your other half the Scottish shower treatment. Just don’t be surprised when they dump you.

 

  1. That which is not given freely by the object of one’s love loses its savor.

-insert innuendo and undue giggling here-

 

  1. It is necessary for a male to reach the age of maturity in order to love.

And this being the middle ages, I’d estimate “maturity” means around 16 years. Mid-to-late teens? Sounds about right.

 

  1. A lover must observe a two-year widowhood after his beloved’s death.

Not a day more or less!

 

  1. Only the most urgent circumstances should deprive one of love.

But…but…but…rule 4 said….

 

  1. Only the insistence of love can motivate one to love.

Ah…that innocent age before restraining orders….

 

  1. Love cannot coexist with avarice.

Jealousy is just fine though!

 

  1. A lover should not love anyone who would be an embarrassing marriage choice.

Well, that’s pretty restricting, isn’t it? Is the party line “Kind of star-crossed lovers” instead of “star-crossed lovers”? Because it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

 

  1. True love excludes all from its embrace but the beloved.

Especially that unlucky person you are married to… Although that MIGHT explain why in most later tales Arthur has no children.

 

  1. Public revelation of love is deadly to love in most instances.

“I’m not ashamed of what we have honey! I just don’t want your husband to run me through!”

 

  1. The value of love is commensurate with its difficulty of attainment.

Going back to my point about restraining orders…

 

  1. The presence of one’s beloved causes palpitation of the heart.

Psychic link joke in 3…2…1…

 

  1. The sight of one’s beloved causes palpitations of the heart.

So does the sight of needles or spiders for some people. I always assumed it had something to do with fear…

 

  1. A new love brings an old one to a finish.

Unfortunately not always as Elaine of Astolat learned…

 

  1. Good character is the one real requirement for worthiness of love.

What about that social standing you harping about in rule 11?

 

  1. When love grows faint its demise is usually certain.

Rule 4! Rule 4, bog-dammit!

 

  1. Apprehension is the constant companion of true love.

Especially when you sleep with your employer’s wife, coughLancelotcough…

 

  1. Love is reinforced by jealousy.

In case you missed the point in rule 2.

 

  1. Suspicion of the beloved generates jealousy and therefore intensifies love.

Also tragically murderous or murderously tragic scenes.

 

  1. Eating and sleeping diminish greatly when one is aggravated by love.

In the middle ages the way to a man’s heart was, in fact, not through his stomach.

 

  1. The lover’s every deed is performed with the thought of his beloved in mind.

Every deed?

 

  1. Unless it please his beloved, no act or thought is worthy to the lover.

That’s pretty all-encompassing. What if she’s allergic to peanuts and he loves peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast?

 

  1. Love is powerless to hold anything from love.

Then why is that every other dramatic love confession goes along the lines of: “I can no longer hide my love from you”?

 

  1. There is no such thing as too much of the pleasure of one’s beloved.

Second round of innuendos in 3…2…1…

 

  1. Presumption on the part of the beloved causes suspicion in the lover.

What’s that even supposed to mean?

 

  1. Aggravation of excessive passion does not usually afflict the true lover.

Two rules above: “no such thing as too much pleasure”. Also RULE 4. I think these count as passions!

 

  1. Thought of the beloved never leaves the true lover.

Until they find a new love or the two years of widowhood pass at least….

 

  1. Two men may love one woman or two women one man.

I feel like I should be making a rule 34 joke here….

Galahad

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Galahad, Galahad,

Doubly his father’s son,

Mounted his steed

And off he was

To seek the Sangreal.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Haute Prince he’s called,

He’s traded his sun-red armour

For Virginal white

And a bloody shield he bears.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Begotten of magic,

Arthur’s shade

And younger half,

A perfect knight is called.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

He’s rescinded his mother’s,

His nursemaid’s charms,

And for a Wasted King

The Wastelands he charts.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Lightbringer of Camelot,

Why do you hurry?

Why find the Grail?

Fulfil the Quest?

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Your name is a beginning,

A beginning of an end.

What makes you so worthy,

You, who are but a means to an end?

The Maid on the Boat

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Red roses rest upon a windowsill,

Fading in the fake, flickering light.

Pale petals, washed out with age,

Scattered against the damask fabric.

My name is Elaine and this is my tale.

 

Red was the blood that fled from your side,

Fading the life with every hour’s strike.

Pale-faced you called to your Lady for mercy,

Scattered memories like discarded tokens.

My name is Elaine and I saved your life.

 

Red was my brother’s shield that you bore,

Fading my dreams, drowning in the river.

Pale sunlight, barely a gleam,

Scattered dewdrops as you rode away.

My name is Elaine and you betrayed me.

 

Red is the sky as I take to the river,

Fading my youth, “wasted”, they say.

Pale is the parchment that rests on my hands,

Scattered my song, trails in the air.

My name is Elaine, Elaine of Astolat, the Lilly Maid.

 

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,

Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,

Till her blood was frozen slowly,

And her eyes were darkened wholly,

Turn’d to towered Camelot.

For ere she reach’d upon the tide

The first house by the water-side,

Singing in her song she died,

The Lady of Shalott.