All right! A bold new era for Le Morte D’Arthur, as we start Book VII! Book VII requires a little bit of lead-in, stuff to bear in mind:
1) An extremely cursory internet browse (the only research I’m doing on this project) suggests that unlike most of the rest of Le Morte D’Arthur, Malory made up this book, on his own, out of whole cloth. It’s not an adaptation of anything French! I could be wrong about this. It’s also a tale that’s been reinterpreted many times since then, which is to say, it’s a story from Le Morte D’Arthur. Tennyson used it, in “the Idylls of the King.”
2) At 35 chapters, it’s the longest book so far. I’ll be skipping over some material in it, because no one wants pages and pages of jousting content. This is the part where we start to see lots of jousting. However, book length is about to take a steep rise: Book X is a whopping 88 chapters long, as we begin to approach maximum jousting. After Book X, though, the length of chapters gets much more reasonable fairly quickly.
3) At the conclusion of Book VII, I’m going to be taking a break from Le Morte D’Arthur for three weeks. But never fear! Content will continue to appear on this site. It’ll just be something a little different from Sir Thomas Malory. I’ll come back to him, and the very long tale of Tristram and Isolde, afterwards.
Anyway, now begins the tale of Sir Gareth, called Beaumains or Sir Prettyboy. It’s Book VII of Le Morte D’Arthur! We start, of course, with Sir Gawaine screwing around.
See, it’s Pentecost, and as we well remember from Book VI and other places, Pentecost is when all the knights of the Round Table get together and swap strange adventure stories. This is a big deal! It’s the biggest day on the Arthurian calendar, and Arthur has announced that dinner can’t start until he’s seen or at least heard about a satisfactorily crazy strange adventure. Given Arthur’s noted dislike of strange adventures, this strikes me as a little odd, but I can rationalize it as him wanting to concentrate as much strange adventure on a single day as possible, so he can enjoy the rest of the year.
Sir Gawaine is worried, because on this particular Pentecost he doesn’t have a good strange adventure story, and so of course he fears Arthur won’t be satisfied, he’ll blame Gawaine, and then boom, back to the Orkneys with him, stripped of knighthood. Gawaine is insecure, you guys. It is a character trait that he has. It’s the morning of Pentecost, and Gawaine has nothing! He’s running around Camelot, frantically trying to scare up a strange adventure at the last minute.
And he lucks out, because out the window he sees three guys riding up to Camelot with Peter the dwarf. Remember Peter? He’s the go-to dwarf for strange adventures, because I’ve decided that whenever Malory mentions a dwarf, he’s talking about the same dwarf every time, and that dwarf is named Peter. Peter’s on foot, and he takes the horses from the three men when they arrive and disembark. Gawaine doesn’t pay much attention to the men — one of them is about seven feet tall, but big deal, so what, Gawaine could be that tall he just doesn’t want to — and runs to Arthur to tell him about the strange adventure.
“Sire! Sire!” Gawaine bursts in on Arthur. Arthur is obsessively checking and re-checking his Round Table roster, as he does every Pentecost. Over the course of the year a certain number of knights die or get taken prisoner, and Pentecost is when Arthur inventories them and promotes as many as needed to replenish the Round Table at 150 knights. “Sire! Uncle Sire!”
“Don’t call me that,” Arthur tells him. “You have a strange adventure for me?”
“You bet, sire! Three men, on horses!”
Arthur is unimpressed. “Uh huh.”
“And one of them is really tall!”
“Uh huh. Not really feeling it, Gawaine.”
“And Peter the dwarf acts as their groom!”
Arthur perks up immediately at the mention of Peter. “Oho! Peter’s involved? Why didn’t you say so?”