|Title: Rude Tales and Glorious|
Author: Nicholas Seare aka Trevanian aka Rodney William Whitaker whose other aliases include Beñat Le Cagot and Edoard Moran.
Illustrator: William Bramhall
Publisher: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Picture a wintry night in a remote corner of Wales-- sleet and rain lashing the great stones of the castle of Dolbadarn. Within, imagine a baron sitting comfortably before a roaring fire with his wife, his fulsome daughter and their guest, the new clerick. But the Baron is restless. the clerick is a dull fellow, good only for 'confessing' the women in the upper chambers. What the Baron yearns for are stories. When a scurvy beggar and an ancient hag gain entrance claiming that they are in truth Sir Lancelot and the Fair Elaine, the Baron is only too glad to listen. Fortified by good food and drink, Sir Lancelot begins telling the tales of Sir Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they "really happened."
We meet the Knights milling about trying to decide how to choose their King. Merlin, a bearded, sly old man with a magic act, announces that the matter will be settled by a contest called the Sword and the Stone. He contrives for his assistant, Arthur, to win not only the adorable Gwen, known for her generosity in granting her favors far and wide. We meet Sir Gay and Sir Gervais, each blinded by the beauty of the other, and the Black and Red Knights-- will they ever find out what the grail is? We meet the marvelous Percival and his "flaw", a physical distinction "like the clapper of a great bell", and we follow his travels that, despite his affliction, finally earn him his place at the Round Table. What brave deeds were done by these honorable fellows!
These wonderful tales and more, so different from the ones in our history books, were penned in the fourteenth century by a forebear of the author, Nicholas Seare, who clearly has a sense of the ribald and satiric. Seare has at least seen fit to share them with us all. Medievalists will be edified, the general reader, amused and delighted.
Nicholas Seare*, author of 1339 or So is a Welsh literature scholar. Reclusive in the extreme, little is know of his history or current activities. He lives in Caernarvonshire, Wales.
* Nicholas Seare is actually the second pen name of a well-known author.
I really, really hate it when the summary screws stuff up. If you're going to go that detailed into what the book is about, maybe you, publishers, could actually put in some effort into making sure that information is correct. Of course, doing that probably requires reading the book and I understand why any sane person would give up halfway.
So, I've gotta put the trigger warning for discussions of rape and sexual assault up here before the review even starts. The book basically reads like a badly told rape joke. So, there's going to be a lot of
You people are just lucky I'm doing this review alone. I almost invited Waldorf and Statler to come back and help me out. The only reason I was able to get through this book was by imaging them dryly yelling "Funny, Funny, Funny," every time
Warning for Spoilers and Trigger Warning for Discussions of Rape and Sexual Assault
Okay, just to make the record clear, I have no problem with crude humor. Fart jokes, tales of poorly thought through sexual exploits, comparisons of penis size-- all those things can be amusing when told well. The problem with this book is that they are not told well. Also, as I said above, this humor is mostly based around rape jokes. Which is not funny. Ever.
The story revolves around two beggars who have conned a Baron into believing they are Sir Launcelot and the Fair Elaine. They agree to tell the Baron stories about the Knights of the Round table in exchange for food. Launcelot tells five tales (the sacking of Troy, Arthur pulling the sword from the stone and three parts of Persival's story) and Elaine tells two (about knights created for this story).
Here's the epiphany I had about two-thirds of the way through the book:
So, while the first tale had some goodish stuff because
"Ah, good brother, surely thou wouldst not have me plunge into the tale of Persival without first acquainting you with the burning scholarly questions that do rage around the seeming-simply story. How else wouldst though apprehend and appreciate the subtle meanings and symbols of the legend?"
"Let the devil piss on the burning questions and extinguish them! And if the Fiend's bladder be up to task, let him wag his pissette about and piss also upon all symbols! I give ni fig ni fart for symbols! What I want is a good story, man! Thou hast babbled on till mine eyes do droop, yet nothing of meat and matter hast thou said!"Here's the thing about parody. It's done best when the author loves the subject they're mocking. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is hilarious in part because the Monty Python crew actually had a pretty deep understanding of the legend and were able to add things in that added a lot of layers to the text-- subtle meanings and symbols, if you will. Muppet King Arthur is hilarious because Benjamin and Storck do the same thing. Rude Tales and Glorious is bad because
The story begins in Dolbadarn where the Baron is about to set down for an evening meal with his wife, daughter and the chapel's new cleric. What the Baron looks forward to every night are tales-- preferably rude and glorious ones. When the cleric proves useless in that regard, a beggar and hag take their chance, claiming to be Launcelot and Elaine and they regal the Baron with stories from the round table.
The story got off on the wrong foot with me pretty much instantly with the first of William Bramhall's illustrations. The picture is of Launcelot standing buck naked in front of the Baron and his family. This is understood to be something of a humiliating experience for Launcelot (his clothes stank so bad the Baron had them taken away and new ones brought), so I can't for the life of me figure out what I'm supposed to take away from the wife and daughter having clothing so sheer that their nipples are clearly visible. It's the beginning of the pattern of this book where you're supposed to laugh at
I already talked about the sacking of Troy, which was amusing until the end. Launcelot's next story is about Arthur drawing the sword from the stone, which I'll get into during the character section. Next is Elaine's story about Sir Gay and Sir Lionel. First, let us all
Hilarious. Excuse me while I
Of course, once Sir Gay and Sir Lionel see each other, they realize the other actually is the most beautiful knight in the land. They go merrily on their way leaving two battered women in their wake.
This would be one of the moments where I almost put the book down to walk away and never come back.
We'll skip Percival's chapters for now and move onto the story of Sir Gervais. Gervais is riding through the forest when he encounters an old crone. The crone claims that Sir Gervais is in an enchanted forest where all things appear to be opposite of what they are. The crone uses this to claim that she is actually super hot princess and that's why Gervais perceives her as a super ugly and disgusting crone. And as we've discussed before, if consent is given under false pretenses, like lying to a guy about your age and appearance so he'll sleep with you, it's rape. So Sir Gervais spends a year getting raped by this crone who has tricked him into believing she's a beautiful princess living in a grand castle (when she's really living in a hole in the mud).
The crone eventually asks Sir Gervais to take on her neighbor, whom she feels is encroaching on her land. The crone's neighbor is a big, burly guy. Believing himself to be in this enchanted forest, Gervais thinks that this means the neighbor is actually a decrepit old man and promptly gets his ass handed to him and is strung up in a tree. The daughter of the neighbor tells Gervais she'll help him down if she has sex with him. Since Gervais isn't really in a position to refuse at that point, we have another instance of him being rape. Do to his time in the forest and what the crone did to him, Gervais spends the rest of his life having sex with old women, believing them to be super pretty young things, and fighting old men, believing them to be great warriors. And we're supposed to find this funny. Yeah.
There's also a Scarlet and a Black knight who are dueling throughout most of the stories Launcelot tells. We never find out why they're fighting. Also, we never find out what's going on with the Grail that most of the characters spend time searching for. I don't know if
When the sunrise's on the Baron's castle, Launcelot and Elaine ride off on a horse given to them by the Baron in exchange for their promise to come back and the half dead clerick stumbles back to his chapel.
Fair warning. It gets worse.
Launcelot ("Launcelot"?) is a fairly inoffensive portrayal of Lancelot, at least as far as I'm concerned. Aside from telling the stories, he really doesn't do much in the context of the legend. His only real claim to fame is that he fights Persival in the last story and gets his ass kicked. This loss, due to an ill-timed oath Launcelot made before fight Persival, is what curses him to forever roam the earth as a beggar.
Elaine doesn't appear in the legend. All she does is tell two horribly offensive stories. And it's not even explained why she is cursed to wander the earth forever as a beggar like Launcelot is. I'm not even sure which Elaine this is supposed to be. Bet you a nickle
Merlin is a wizard who makes his living selling what is most likely snake oil potions. He owns the sword in the stone which he uses to make money off of bets in down. Inside the stone is a clamp that holds the sword in it and Merlin hides inside keeping the clamps locked while the big strong men in the city try to draw it. He waits until they all give up and then un-clamps the sword when Arthur tries his hand in order to win money in wagers. The beginning of Launcelot's second tale is a Bishop trying to get the noble lords to choose a king to rule above them. Merlin hears about what is going on and contrives with the Bishop to have Arthur be crowned king through the stone contest. He isn't seen again after Arthur is crowned king.
When we first meet Arthur, he is Merlin's fifteen year old apprentice. He's a little arrogant, kinda dumb and super lucky. He avoids three assassination attempts by the nobles to pull the sword from the stone and is crowned king. He assembles the Round Table and then we don't see him again until the end of the book when Launcelot goes to fight Persival and he doesn't do anything there.
Gwenevere. Now, she's not really my favorite character. I can pretty much take her or leave her in whatever form she's presented in-- from a shallow, petty girl to a regal and much loved Queen. However, I acknowledge that to a lot of women who love the legend, Gwen is super important because she's one of the two most well known characters. I bet a lot of young women grew up loving her and in a story with not a huge variety of female role models, there are maybe some lines you do not cross when presenting Gwen as a character. One of those lines would be portraying the character as a whore who tries to fuck anything that moves. And I really do mean anything-- including non-human anythings.
Dear Rodney William Whitaker-- fuck you. How dare you do that to Guinevere.
The last three tales Launcelot tells deal with Persival the Rude. This is also the moment where it becomes clear that
Persival works and works and works until one day a knight comes to stay at the tavern. In a bit that was actually pretty funny (see how generous I'm being), Persival thinks the knight is being eaten by his armor. So he tackles the knight and attempts to pull him out of his armor by his nose. The tavern owner freaks out and knocks Persival unconscious and when he awakens, Persival is trounced up and about to be disciplined by the knight. But the knight gets into an altercation with the tavern owner and his wife and ends up unconscious himself. The tavern owner and his wife free Persival and an old man who the knight believes is a wizard who has hidden the holy grail in hopes that the knight will believe they knocked him out instead of the tavern owner and his wife. Persival and the old man spent a few months traveling together until the old man swindles Persival out of it by convincing Persival the coins are cursed and the counter-curse involves the old man running away with the money and Persival becoming a knight.
So Persival tries to be a knight, but because he is poor none of the real knights will take him seriously. He eventually ends up at a convent, injured. He babbles about his desire to be a great and worthy knight in his delirium. When he's healed, the prioress tells Persival that she can make him invisible. She of course doesn't, but here is where we get our final rape jokes of the book. The prioress has Persival strip, because of course his clothes aren't invisible ::wink wink::. She grabs his penis, pretending that she thinks she's grabbed his wrist, and fondles it. Persival, thinking she thinks she's holding his wrist, doesn't say anything and just sorta sits there embarrassed and horrified (supposedly for her) as she fondles him.
We then get into a bit more tricky section where the prioress tells Persival to leave but then locks him in the room. She then goes to her bed to masturbate while pretending she's being attacked by demons. Persival sees his opening and has sex with her. Now, Persival believes himself invisible and is pretending to be a demon, so basically he thinks he is raping the prioress. He's of course not, because she can see him. Which is kinda rapey on the part of the prioress. Also, she uses this farce of a demon to pretty much beat him rather senseless during sex. Which also isn't cool.
This whole section, which continues on to Persival believing he's raping the whole convent, was just really uncomfortable to read. Consent was bad on all sides and yet this was clearly portrayed as something hilariously funny when it was really repulsive.
Persival eventually leaves the convent to go battle knights. Naked. Of course he gets his ass kicked every time because he's not invisible (the prioress worked in a loophole where he's invisible only to those pure of heart). Persival eventually makes his way to Camelot where he duels Launcelot. He gets lucky when Launcelot gets knocked off his horse by a tree and proceeds to beat the knight senseless. And that's how we ended up here.
A knight named Lionel makes a brief appearance but he really has nothing to do with the knight of the legends. Galahad and Gawain also make brief appearances during the beginning of the Grail Quest. Unfortunately, neither of them know what the Grail is, so they try to feel each other out to see if the other one knows while not admitting they don't know.
One Star for this book, for obvious reasons. However, I will never give it the dubious honor of being the worst Arthurian book I've ever read. To hate something that much requires the same level of passion as loving your absolute favorite book. I leave this book with no feelings for it beyond disgust and the hope to quickly forget it. I almost passed on reviewing it because I didn't want to give it the privileged. But there are too many five star reviews out there for this book with no acknowledgement of its poor treatment of rape and sexual assault and this shit must be called out. And so you get this very angry review. And that's all I have to say about this book.
Also, I'm not tagging this post with the characters because they deserve better than that. I'm also not tagging this with the author's name