As Books of Le Morte D’Arthur go, Book XIII isn’t bad. It hews to more or less one continuous narrative, which is always a plus. First Brisen rides a horse in on Arthur’s Pentecost feast, after which there’s an additional Pentecost feast! One marked by miracle and portent!
Seriously, this is the bit that we’ve all been waiting for. When you list off elements of the King Arthur myth, or at least when I do, it goes Merlin, sword-in-stone, Round Table, Launcelot and Guenever, Holy Grail, Mordred and the death of Arthur. We checked off the Launcelot and Guenever box way back in Book VI; everything since then has been more or less filler.
Launcelot announces that it’s GRAIL TIME, when the sword that Merlin enchanted way back in Book II shows up. We get a little scene of Sir Gawaine, which I guess is comic relief? Then Merlin shows up, and if it’s not Merlin it’s a professional Merlin impersonator, I mean c’mon. He’s just as dickish as Merlin ever was.
Basically everyone gets the gist of the situation — it’s GRAIL TIME, Galahad is the best knight, and that’s it basically, those two things. And yet there are chapters and chapters of everybody standing around talking about how it’s GRAIL TIME and how holy Galahad is and just beating us over the head with it. It’s so bad that Malory has another big feast with another mysterious apparition announcing the Grail, which makes three feasts and two apparitions.
Finally the knights set out! And everybody knows that all of them are going to fail the quest. There is no suspense about this at all. Arthur explicitly warns Gawaine; this is Galahad’s time to shine. And yet all the knights ride off anyhow, from Launcelot on down.
The back half of the book covers about three parallel tracks. In the first one, Galahad gets a magical shield and a sidekick and reenacts a scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and also he beats Launcelot in a joust and meets Nacien. In the second one, Gawaine manages to kill some really evil dudes and fails to learn anything from Nacien and gives up on the Grail quest. And in the third, Launcelot has a come-to-Jesus moment, literally, when he almost gets to win the Quest of the Holy Grail but instead Jesus steals his horse! Then he and Nacien have a heart to heart.
Nacien has rocketed to the top of the charts in terms of characters I had no idea existed until I started this project; he’s like a holy hermit version of Pitiless Bruce in that regard.