In which Sir Launcelot is outwitted
The Tale of Launcelot Outwitted is way more straightforward. Nothing supernatural here, just a lot of misogyny.
We open with Sir Launcelot as he rode around randomly, in search of whatever strange adventures came along. One day he passed a castle and as he did, bells rang. This got his attention, and then more things happened, as he watched! A falcon flew out from an upper window of the castle. The falcon had lines tied to its feet, which was an important part of falconry, but in this case it was a bad setup because the falcon got caught in a tree; the lines hung down and became tangled in the branches. So the hawk was stuck!
“Poor falcon,” muttered Launcelot.
Just then a damosel came rushing out of the castle. “Sir Launcelot! Sir Launcelot! Please, please, help me! Save my husband’s falcon! You’re the flower of knighthood; take pity on my situation! I only lost control of her for a second, and now she’s up in the tree, and if my husband finds out he’s going to be so mad he might swing a sword and slay me! Please help me, good knight!”
“Okay, okay, listen, what’s your name, wait… sorry, this is Malory. What’s your husband’s name?”
“Sir Phelot, a knight of the King of Northgalis,” said the lady. Which was all Launcelot needs to know, because Malory just lives inside his own personal Handmaid’s Tale. I’ll call her Phelotte.
“Well, Phelotte, since you know my name and you asked me nicely, I guess I’m duty-bound to try to get your hawk down. It’s a long way outside the areas of my expertise, I got to say. I’m not a very good climber, and that’s a high tree, and its branches don’t look very good for climbing.”
“All right, I’ll give it a shot.” Launcelot dehorsed himself, and tied up his horse. He asked Phelotte to help him get his armor off, so he would be able to climb better. Once he was unarmed and unarmored, she gave him a boost, so he could shimmy up the tree towards the falcon, which sat tangled on a high branch.
“Hey there little birdie…” In an astounding display of lateral thinking, Launcelot broke off a heavy branch from the tree and tied the falcon’s lines to it, then dropped the branch. This worked perfectly: the falcon was pulled down to earth, but unhurt. Phelotte easily recovered it.
“So I guess I’m done here,” said Launcelot.
Just then Phelot appeared! Phelot had been actually hiding behind a bush this whole time! He sprang out, fully armed and armored, with his sword drawn.
“Ha! I gotcha! I have you at a disadvantage! I managed something that no one has ever done! And now I’m going to be the knight who kills Sir Launcelot!”
“What’s happening? Hello?”
“This was a trap!”
“What? No! Surely Phelotte wouldn’t do that to me!”
“She does what I tell her to do!” cried Sir Phelot. “And now you die!”
“Wait, are you serious? You want to joust? I’m at kind of a disadvantage here. You want to help me down and I can armor back up?”
“No! That was the whole point of this trap!”
“Oh, I see.” Launcelot raised his eyebrows, and clucked his tongue in disapproval. “Cheating. You’re a cheater. For shame, Phelot. You should be ashamed.”
“If talent is the gift God gives Man, cheating is the gift Man gives himself!” cried Phelot. Okay, actually Mr. Burns said that on the Simpsons. Phelot articulated that exact same sentiment, though! “Thou gettest none other grace, and therefore help thyself as thou canst.”
“I just feel sorry for you, man,” said Lancelot. “But all right. Will you at least pass me up my sword?”
“For the last time, no! This is a trap! I am cheating! I give you nothing!” And Phelot brandished his sword and waves it around. “You’ve got to come out from that tree sometime, and when you do…”
“No weapon, man, that sucks,” muttered Launcelot. But this was Sir Launcelot du Lake we’re talking about!
He spotted another likely branch, big and heavy and dead, and ripped it off the tree. Then he crawled out until he was more or less over his horse, and dropped down. Phelot assumed he was going to try to drop down directly onto his horse, but Launcelot instead came down on the other side of it, which permitted him a split-second of advantage over the distracted Phelot. Launcelot used that split-second to smack Phelot upside the head with the branch, knocking him down and loosening the knight’s grip on his sword. Then Launcelot grabbed Phelot’s sword from out his hand, and sliced Phelot’s head off with it.
Then he stretched and cracked his knuckles, because he was just that much of a stone cold badass.
“MY HUSBAND OH NO!” Phelotte realized what’s happened, and she started screaming and sobbing. “YOU MONSTER YOU KILLED MY HUSBAND YOU MURDERER!”
“What? What? That was self-defense! Did you not see what just happened with the trap, and you were part of it, and the falcon –“
“MY HUSBAND’S DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU!”
“WAAAAAH!” Phelotte stopped screaming her head off, but only because she fainted. Is it getting harder to remain detached about Malory’s systematic anti-woman stance, or is it just me?
“Okay, I’m out,” said Launcelot. He took his armor and departed before she came to, or anyone else sprang up from nowhere. “Worst strange adventure so far, thank God it’s over,” he muttered.
But there’s a second half! Technically these are two separate stories I guess, but there’s sufficient thematic unity that I don’t feel bad about linking them. Shortly after dealing with Phelot, Launcelot encountered a knight running down a damosel. The villain had a sword out and was waving it at the lady; clearly he meant business.
“Help! Help!” the damosel shouted.
Launcelot sighed, and rode his horse up in between them. “Whoa, whoa,” he said, “let’s all calm down for a second. What’s up here? What’s happening? You’re a knight, I can tell by the armor. Why are you running down a poor defenseless woman? Didn’t you hear about the new oaths that Arthur instituted at the end of Book III? No more just randomly killing women.”
“This doesn’t concern you, stranger,” said the knight, whose name was Sir Pedivere. “This is between me and my wife. I’ll kill her! I’ll kill her despite whatever you say.”
“Yeah, no. If you’re going to insist on that, then you and I will fight. And I should warn you, I’m Sir Launcelot du Lake. Kind of a big deal.”
“Seriously? Jeez. Listen.” Pedivere glared at his alleged wife. “She’s an adulteress, okay? She’s cheated on me. I need to kill her.”
“It’s not true!” she cried. “He’s just jealous because I’m very close to my first cousin. But we aren’t lovers! Surely you, Sir Launcelot, of all knights, understand that it’s possible to be very close to a member of the opposite sex — your cousin, or maybe the wife of your king — and not be, technically speaking, an adulterer?”
“Of course,” said Launcelot. “Listen, you’ll be safe with me. We’ll all head back to Camelot together, all right? Get Arthur to sort all this out. I need to be heading back anyway; it’s nearly Pentecost.”
Pedivere and his wife agreed to this, and they started up the road as a group. About an hour into the hike, however, Pedivere suddenly spun about. “Oh no! Did you see that! A dozen men at arms, riding up behind us!”
“What? Where?” Launcelot turned to look, and Pedivere, quick like a bunny, drew his sword and decapitated his wife.
Launcelot was outraged. “Traitor! You’ll pay for that!” he cried.
“I surrender!” said Pedivere immediately. He dropped his sword and fell to his knees.
“I… you… I… you’re cheating!” Launcelot was even more outraged. “We fight now!”
“Get up and fight!”
“No! I surrender!” Pedivere turtled up like a hippie being accosted with a taser.
“What, the… Okay, okay, I’ll take my armor off, how about that?”
“No! I surrender! I said I surrender!”
“C’mon. Fight me. If you kill me, there will be no witnesses! It’ll be like none of this ever happened…”
“I surrendered already!”
“Okay, well, then.” Launcelot quaked with rage. “Then you’ll have to do what I would have made you do if I beat you in a fight! Take this severed head of your wife, and go and tell Queen Guenever all about this incident, and do whatever penance she says.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Pedivere. He was just happy to have survived.
SMASH CUT to Winchester, where Arthur and Guenever listened to Pedivere’s atrocious story. I don’t know why Winchester instead of Camelot.
“Let me ask you a question. Does Launcelot think I like this?” Guenever asked Arthur.
Arthur shrugged. “I dunno. Don’t you?”
“Constantly he sends me these villains and defeated knights. I mean, feh. I don’t like these awful knights. This one’s story is particularly bad. Frankly Launcelot comes off as slow-witted.” She sighed.
Pedivere cleared his throat. “Can I have my penance now?”
“No, no. I won’t give you penance to do, either, jerk,” she told Pedivere. “Go bother the Pope about it. He owes us a favor.”
So Pedivere took the severed head of his wife to Rome, where he told the Pope all about it. The Pope winced when he heard the tale. Then he had the head given a good Christian burial and sent Pedivere back to Guenever with an apology note. Afterwards, Malory claims, Pedivere would repent and become a holy man and hermit, which more or less ties into his other appearance, in Book XIII.
At Pentecost, Launcelot met a bunch of knights from his adventures earlier in this book, which serves as a sort of recap. There were Gawaine, Uwaine, Sagramore, Ector-the-Lesser, Kay, Gaheris, all the other knights imprisoned by Turquine, the three unnamed knights who fought Lancelot thinking he was Kay, and the other three knights (Gauter, Gilmere, and Raynold) he fought for Kay. There were Nimue’s cousin Meliot, and Bagdemagus, and Gahalantine, and Mador and Mordred, and even Sir Bellus, the knight whose tent Launcelot invaded during a comic homophobic interlude. Arthur congratulated Launcelot on a solid year of terrific strange adventures, and everyone got drunk and partied. And so at that time Sir Launcelot had the greatest name of any knight of the Round Table, and most he was honoured high and low. The end!
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