Book XII picks up more or less where Book XI leaves off, which hasn’t been standard practice in Le Morte D’Arthur until recently. Book IX has strong ties to both Book VIII and Book X (in fact the split between Book IX and Book X feels pretty wholly arbitrary), but otherwise these Books have been mostly self-contained. Now that we’re well into the second half of Le Morte D’Arthur, building up towards the climax, the overall plot begins to move a little faster than the glacial pace of Books VI to X.
Launcelot’s adventure wherein Peter secures him a place at Castle Blank, and he lives there for a while, and then he wanders off to fight a boar? That could have been left on the cutting room floor. But even so, there’s very little fat in Book XII; the only time we break off from the main plot is when Malory interrupts himself to bring us the secret origin of Sir Helin No-Last-Name, which interlude takes up less than a chapter. Compare that to the story of Breunor in Book IX, which was wholly unconnected to what went before and what went after; to the saga of King Mark repelling invasion in Book X; to Sir Palomides’s random strange adventures and Isoud the White and I could go on, man, I just really hated Books VIII to X a lot.
Of course I’m not counting the tail end of Book XII as being properly part of Book XII. As far as I’m concerned, they were an appendix to Book X. I won’t hold them against Book XII, even if they do form an incredible anticlimax to the lengthy, lengthy saga of Tristram and Palomides.
“Let’s get you baptized!”
“Sure, why not?”
And they did and then they lived happily ever after!
Anyway. Back to Launcelot. The part where he lives in a doghouse in the town of Corbin, eating meat that people throw over a fence to him? That part’s pretty okay. I did not make that part up.
The same old notes make up Book XII. You’ve got your knightly hospitality, your random Pitiless Bruce attack, your Peter acting as a go-between, your crazy knight living with a hermit, your crazy knight being recognized by his lover, your enchantress being the only halfway intelligent person around, your enchantress casting deeper slumber on Launcelot and dragging him off into a tower, your Grail healing, your big jousting tournament, your tearful knightly reunion, and your Arthur being totally oblivious to the Launcelot-Guenever affair. These are all things we’ve seen before, and it gives Book XII a gently familiar air.
WRITE YOUR OWN BOOK OF LE MORTE D’ARTHUR!
Contribute to the Matter of Britain! Roll 2d6 times on the following table, then interpolate those elements, in the order you rolled them, into your own story! If you get the same result twice, just repeat yourself!
01 Merlin shows up with his gold marker and writes down a prophecy unrelated to the current story
02 Launcelot looks all shifty when someone accuses him of sleeping with Guenever
03 Arthur ignores a clue about the Launcelot-Guenever affair
04 Launcelot beats a knight jousting and sends him to go visit Guenever
05 Peter the dwarf acts as a teleporting messenger/courier
06 A knight goes crazy and lives in the woods for a while
07 A knight takes up a pseudonym for no clear reason
08 Gawaine whines and reminds everyone that King Arthur is his uncle
09 Launcelot takes a nap; he may or may not be discovered by a woman who knows him
10 Someone holds a gigantic jousting tournament
11 Pitiless Bruce attacks, then runs away
12 A knight announces an intention to go on a strange adventure
13 A damosel appears, with a strange adventure all set up, just needing a knight to participate
14 Nimue has to clean up someone else’s mess
15 Some jerk knights standing by the side of the road challenge passersby to jousts
16 Gawaine, Mordred, Agravaine, and/or Gaheris hold a grudge
17 Tristram returns to Cornwall in triumph
18 Tristram is exiled from Cornwall, never to return
19 Tristram insults a friend and alienates them such that they pretend not to recognize him the next time they see him
20 Palomides cries