So Book III is structured differently than the first two books. The first two books were just a bunch of things that happened, that is, if you look at Book I, there’s the story of Arthur’s conception and birth and coronation, the story of Arthur’s war with Team Lot & Mister 100, and the story of Arthur’s encounter with Pellinore and the Lady of the Lake. Book II has a little more of a through-line, inasmuch as it keeps to events that feature Sir Balin in chronological order, from Wilma’s arrival at Camelot to Balin’s death, but even there you have unrelated bits like Morgan le Fay copying Arthur’s scabbard. And the things Balin does don’t always have much narrative flow to them: why on Earth does King Mark show up for a scene partway through?

Book III, though, is concerned with Arthur’s wedding to Guenever, even if the wedding itself is skipped. There’s the setup for the wedding and the strange adventures that come out of the reception. Even when the narrative splits, there are connections or at least thematic links in the stories. Gawaine is the Bad Knight, who lacks mercy and thinks he can coast on his noble birth. Tor is the Good Knight, who doesn’t want to hurt anyone if he can avoid it. Pellinore, man, Pellinore is just pretty much a jackass, but the three of them together do give you a picture of the spectrum of knighthood.

I don’t like how little of Guenever we see, but I do like the little bit we do see. On the rare occasion when she’s able to step in and actually do something, she levies a clear and articulate punishment on Gawaine. I’m interpolating a bit in her dialogue with Pellinore, but it seems reasonable to me; he asserts that Eliene’s death is really Guenever’s fault and Merlin has to jump in to defend him.

Low points, well, there’s plenty. Arthur is a lot of things, but especially into Guenever is not one of them. Virtuous Tor is a bit of a peeping Tom. Neither Gawaine nor Pellinore are especially sympathetic figures. Arthur’s refusal to go on strange adventures and Merlin reluctantly saying Gawaine and Tor and Pellinore can go instead, that’s pretty sketchy in the text. The wedding is built up to, and then the wedding itself is skipped entirely. But what gets me about this Book, really…

Remember how Pellinore overhears a conversation between two knights out in the middle of nowhere, in which peril and treachery are hinted at? Poison, a special plan for dealing with Merlin, and a traitor in Arthur’s confidence? Yeah. That never gets mentioned again.

What the hell, Malory?


Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book III Conclusions — No Comments

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