So in Book V, King Arthur invades Europe, conquers his way from Normandy to Rome, and declares himself Roman Emperor before turning around and going back to Camelot. That’s basically it. Compared to the previous Book, this is a very simple through-line. Maybe I’m starting to get jaded! But this book we’ve got a few things happening.
1) Launcelot arrives! Launcelot appears and does very little. First, he asks permission to stay in England and have an affair with Guenever, which permission he doesn’t get. Second, he defeats a vastly superior force with sheer knightliness, and vows never to fail, retreat, surrender, or quit. Malory promises more Launcelot in the next Book, though: “here followeth the sixth book, which is of Launcelot du Lake.” So we’ve got that to look forward to!
2) Arthur kills a giant! Actually the first chunk of this storyline, before it becomes all about Gawaine for some reason, the first chunk of this storyline is pretty good for showing how Arthur operates, what motivates him, et cetera. Not his finest hour w/r/t Guenever and the question of who gets to be in charge while Arthur’s away, but beyond that he’s an okay dude. Certainly he gets properly incensed about the giant’s various atrocities. I can’t really imagine Gawaine getting freaked out about that.
3) Sir Gawaine sneaks in a strange adventure! Gawaine is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between “utterly incompetent and cowardly and the worst knight” and “guy who you don’t want to mess with because he will knock your block off.” If I’d been Sir Priamus I maybe would have tried to get someone else, Floridas or Wisshard or someone, to be my Christianity Sponsor.
4) Sir Priamus appears! Priamus doesn’t show up again, which is a shame, as he’s an interesting guy. He starts out as a kid in Tuscany, where his father is a former enemy turned to service of the state. He grows up and becomes a knight in the Roman military, but he’s still an outsider, as he’s not Christian. He decides to throw his lot in with Arthur, and betray his former comrades (they defect with him, or maybe they don’t, Malory really doesn’t say). Afterwards he’s showered with riches and glory and appointed Duke of Lorraine, which appears to be a very cushy appointment. Lorraine is a large and wealthy province. But he’s further from home than ever, wherever home is, and the new friends he signed up with essentially abandon him when they return to England. If I was writing minimally-fantastic fantasy fiction about Arthurian times, I could do worse than looking at what happens to Priamus in Lorraine. Maybe tell it from the POV of his squire, there’s questions about his religious background and his effete fashionable ways… I could see it. Nobody else write that story! I called dibs!
5) I get the sense that by the last chapter or two, Malory was tired of this storyline and just wanted to rush it along, because he spends all of two pages on Arthur’s conquests following the capture of Florence, and his triumphant arrival in Rome, and his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, and so on. To be fair, “Holy Roman Emperor” is not a phrase Malory uses, but given the dates I can’t interpret it any other way. Plus if Arthur had any hold over Spain & Libya & Tunisia & all those other countries that Lucius pulled troops from, enh, Malory doesn’t talk about it. So I guess Arthur just killed the Roman Empire and set up a much smaller Empire consisting of England, Germany, France, and Italy.
NEXT: ALL LAUNCELOT ALL THE TIME!