|Title: The Squire, His Knight, & His Lady|
Author: Gerald Morris
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Squire Terence and Sir Gawain are off questing again, but this time their journey is overshadowed by their ultimate destination-- Gawain is to meet up with the Green Knight in a contest that could easily lead to Gawain's death.
Along the way the two have a slew of hair-raising adventures and encounter the usual odd assortment of characters: the dreaded Huntsman of Anglesey; the eccentric Parsifal; and the evil Marquis of Alva, from whom they rescue the plucky Lady Eileen. Sparks instantly fly between Terence and Eileen as she joins the squire and his knight on their travels
As they weave their way between the world of men and the Other World, both Gawain and Terence discover much about themselves-- Terence learns more about his past and about what the future holds for him, and Gawain is forced to confront the true nature of courage and honor.
Also known as 'The Continuing Adventures of the Sir Wozzells' (look, you can never have too many, alright?).
Warning for Spoilers
The Last Time I Read this Book...
Guys, I have to admit, for a while there I was worried. I was less than impressed with the first book of the Squire's Tales. Admittedly I had never been impressed with the first book, but there were enough moments of 'that was rather anticlimactic' for me to worry that my love for this book was unfounded and that a second read with a critical eye would reveal all sorts of flaws that hadn't been there before. So words cannot describe how grateful I was upon reading the ending of this book to find myself thinking 'there is literally nothing that could make this a better book' (I'm sure there's stuff that could make this a better book and they will probably be discussed as the review goes on-- but my point is that it ended on a huge emotional high).
It's the Green Knight, people! For the love of his king and uncle, Gawain takes up the Green Knight's challenge-- a blow now for the same blow exchanged a year from now. Like in the original story, Gawain takes up the Green Knight's ax and cuts off his head, only to have the monstrous man pick it up and tell Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel in a years time to receive his blow. The court at Camelot immediately begins to mourn Gawain as though he's already dead and starts talking about him in past tense despite the fact that he's standing right there! So, fed up with them, Gawain and Terence head off nine months early. This kicks off a series of adventures that eventually leads them back into the Fairy Other World and to the home of Lord Bercilak and his wife.
The interesting thing about this book is that it's less of Gawain's story and much more of Terence's story this time (as the title suggests). Terence ends up taking center stage to rescue/save/protect Gawain at least three times. He has his own love interest who he saves ones but who is equally helpful in his quest to keep Gawain from dying. And through all this Terence grows from a squire who has a closer relationship with his lord than most into Gawain's equal-- eventually earning knighthood and the title of Duke of Avalon. But in the end, knowing what he wants from life and what he's good at, Terence returns to Camelot with Gawain and a simple squire once again. But he does get one last laugh at the very end in the best twist and one of the greatest moments in the entire book, proving himself not only a loyal friend to Gawain, but a loyal friend to Arthur as well.
We start with war. During a dinner banquet, emissaries from Lucius, self proclaimed Emperor of Rome arrive and demand that Arthur acknowledge Lucius as his sovereign lord and send tribute. After trolling them for a minute, causing Gawain and Kai to nearly die of laughter, Arthur kicks them out and declares war against Lucius. It is during this war that Sir
I'm pretty sure Gerald Morris borrowed from some of the older myths to tell Gawain's adventures between leaving Camelot and arriving and Bercilak's castle. But I find myself not knowing these stories well enough to say for certain nor being able to find information about them existing in my usual haunts. I'm inclined to say that Gawain's 'battle' with the Huntsman of Anglesey is from one of the original legends because how Morris twists it around and uses it to play on his theme about the nature of stories and how they become larger and grander with each telling (A lord thinks there is an evil huntsman living in his woods killing his people, but really it's just a woodsman who mistook another hunter for an animal. Gawain and Terence make up a story about a viscous monster living in the woods and how Gawain defeated it and a day later it's the most retold legend in Britain). But as for Terence's adventure in the castle of the Marquis of Alva, the battle with Hag Annis (although I'm inclined to say this one was from the legend) and the battle with the pig-knight and his boar army I really can't say for certain (this also ties wonderfully into Morris' theme about stories. The little people Gawain and Terence rescue from the pig-knight and boar army don't know who saved them. So they dub their savior Sir Wozzell and throw a party for every single knight who passes through their village-- by the time Gawain and Terence have made their way back, the little people are honoring Sir Wozzell for the third time).
Certainly the best addition to the Green Knight story itself are the two battles Gawain faces after his failure of the Green Knight test in order to enter Ganscotter's castle. In the second battle, Gawain faces the Irish hero Cucholinn. It's from Cucholinn's legends that the original Gawain and the Green Knight story was drawn, so it was a heavy moment in the story when Gawain meets this knight who has the same scar as him and failed the same test. Terence, Gawain and Eileen spend a few weeks at Ganscotter's castle before returning to the human world, where they learn seven years have passed since Gawain and Terence left on their quest to find the Green Knight
(I want to take a quick moment to talk about Eileen before I get into the legendary characters. Like Terence, she is an original addition created by Morris for this series, and she is nothing short of awesome. She and Terence meet when Gawain has been kidnapped by her uncle, the Marquis of Alva. She and Terence immediately start bickering, so you know that they're going to fall in love. She helps Terence rescue Gawain by lending him one of her dresses and Terence begs her to come with
Gawain: Is still the best Gawain ever. He doesn't really go through much growth until the end of this story, preferring to get his ass saved by Terence. During the war with Lucius he's injured in the first skirmish and sits out most of the big battle. He does stop a contingent of Roman soldiers from hitting the British and French troops from behind, but bites off more than he can chew and has to be rescued by Arthur and Lancelot. After taking the Green Knight's challenge, Gawain tries to teach Terence how to be a knight, leading to one of the most ridiculous exchanges in the entire series. You see more of his relationship with Morgan and learn why these two are so close.
Near the end of the book, Gawain finally makes it to Bercilak's castle and this is where you see most of his growth as a character. Like in the original legend, he is pursued by Bercilak's wife. Early in the first book, you might have seen him go for it. Or, if he didn't go for it, he would have lost his temper with her and declared her attempts to seduce him to the entire court. Now, in love with Lorie and having grown as both a knight and a man of honor, Gawain manages to persuade her off in a way that both honors his host and protects her honor and dignity from scandal. Also, he is first inclined to return the magic girdle she gives him to Lord Bercilak, but it's Terence and Eileen who talk him out of it using Bercilak's front as a rather addled brained man as an excuse to break their bargain. After learning that he failed Bercilak's test and exchanged his honor for his life, Gawain is devastated. And this is truly the moment when we see his last bit of character growth into the greatest knight at Arthur's Round Table. At the end of the book, Gawain marries Lorie but then is forced to return to the world of men with Terence and Eileen.
Arthur truly breaks my heart in this book. His love for Guinevere is so pure and so deep that it absolutely devastates him that she cannot return his feelings in kind. His grief is eased somewhat after Gawain takes on the Green Knight's challenge for him. It it is in this moment he realizes that his knights understand and accept his love and, unlike Guinevere, are able to return it. He manages to keep faith all seven years after Gawain disappears and is able to gladly welcome his nephew home.
What I enjoyed most about Arthur's character is that the story makes clear that, despite Gwain or Lancelot holding the title of greatest knight in all of Britain, it is in fact Arthur who deserves that title (but as king he can't hold it). After playing a pivotal roll in the defeat of Lucius, Arthur spends a lot of time at the beginning of the book 'going to visit an Abbott' which turns out to actually mean anonymously riding around the countryside bashing knights off their horses. While Gawain is away looking for a stick to turn into a second lance, Arthur finds Terence and challenges him to a joust. He unseats Terence and gives him some tips on jousting. At the tournament held at the end of the book, Terence disguises himself as Sir Wozzell and defeats Sir Lancelot using the tips Arthur gave him. Receiving his prize, Terence is able to honor Arthur as his teacher and the greatest knight in all Britain.
Kai is the same old Kai who is curt and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He still enjoys hanging out with Gawain and working as Arthur's seneschal. He, along with Gawain is one of the de facto leaders of the anti-Lancelot brigade and it would be interesting to see how he bore that load after Gawain disappeared and especially, as the story briefly mentions, Lancelot saved his life. Poor Kai. He deserves so much more screen time than is given.
Tor starts the book away from the court-- off questing. And he and his squire are both greatly missed by Gawain and Terence. Tor doesn't appear until after the war with Lucius, bringing with him his own great tales and news of Marhault's death ::sniff::. After Gawain, Terence and Eileen disappear into the fairy Other World, Tor spends the next seven years looking for some clue as to what happened to his friends. His reunion with Gawain and Terence near the end of the book seriously makes my heart burst with happiness.
Guinevere. I love her arc in this book. I love how she starts off as this vain, silly girl who can't comprehend the man she has married and so she has this dalliance with this knight who is just as vain and young and silly as she is-- a man she can understand. And then, over the course of seven years, she grows up. She learns how tiring it is to love a man like Lancelot. How tiring it is to live on the pedestal he's put her on. She, or so it's implied in my reading of the book, learns to appreciate the love Arthur gave her. But it's been years and she doesn't know what to do or if there's even an chance of her kindling any sort of relationship with Arthur and after making a fool of herself over Lancelot for all those years, how can she extract herself from that relationship? And then
My only complaint about this growth that Guinevere goes through over this course of the book is that it all happens off screen. That you only see it from the perspective of other characters is a travesty.
Lancelot: Oh, god. What a nincompoop-- thus making him my very favorite Lancelot ever. While brilliant in swordplay and jousting, Lancelot is pretty much an idiot in regards to everything else. He's super self-absorbed and never takes time to realize how his actions may affect or hurt others (such as his an affair with Guinevere which he makes no attempt to hide and honestly couldn't be more blatant about it-- following Guinevere around and dubbing her the 'Peerless Perfection of Maidenhood'). Those who hold a great deal of loyalty to Arthur, such as Gawain and Kai, absolutely loath him and his behavior and that you actually have characters calling Lancelot out on his behavior is why I enjoy this Lancelot so much (that along with his growth in later books). After
When we first meet Bercilak as the Green Knight, he is a large, imposing figure throwing insults at Arthur, his knights and his court. When we meet him again at the end of the book, he's put on the farce of being a dimwitted man who isn't really aware of what's going on around him. He challenges Gawain to their game of exchanges-- whatever Bercilak catches on his hunting trip, he will give to Gawain in exchange for Gawain giving him whatever he finds in Bercilak's castle. Since all three days Gawain receives a kiss from Bercilak's wife, all three days he returns it to Bercilak with a kiss on the mouth (have I mentioned how much I love this Gawain recently). But, in hindsight, you can see him craftily trying to give Gawain as many chances as possible to succeed in the Green Knight challenge, going so far as to either find a priest or turn into a priest who Gawain can confess to and who gives Gawain a lecture on the nature of modesty and pride and the importance of shame (what Gawain learns upon his failure of the challenge). After Gawain fails the Green Knight's challenge, Bercilak consoles him and offers him some words of wisdom on the nature of shame and the importance of honor, driving home the priest's point. After Gawain, Terence and Eileen leave Ganscotter's castle, Bercilak escorts them to the edge of the fairy Other World.
Lady Marion (Lady Bercilak): She is shown in the castle to be craftier than her husband-- although it's of course an act by both herself and her husband. She attempts to seduce Gawain, but he manages to turn aside her advances all three times and she only manages to give him the green girdle.
Morgan Le Fay is still the coolest aunt ever and remains one of Gawain's favorite people. Although Terence doesn't like her, Gawain often invites her to the private parties that he holds in his quarters with other knights. We learn a little bit more about Morgan from Gawain when he tells the story of his youngest sister Elaine who died as a child and who Morgan did her best to heal and how Gawain cried with her when Elaine died. In this book, Morgan confesses to being in love with Arthur. Which is a little odd from a reader's perspective but I do like how none of the characters really treat it as a big deal. This also explains her animosity towards Guinevere-- she loves Arthur and cannot tolerate anyone treating him so poorly. So she works to outshine Guinevere-- not necessarily in a catty sort of way but more in a 'how dare you hurt my brother like this' sort of way. She's very protective of her family.
Parsifal makes a brief appearance in the book as a young man who Gawain, Terence and Eileen meet right when the cross into the fairy Other World. He sees Gawain's armor and decides he wants to be a knight. He and Gawain spend several hours wrestling. Gawain manages to hold his own against Parsifal, but only because Parsifal has been instructed that biting and clawing are unsportsmanlike and keeps having to check himself. At the end of the book, they meet him on their way back to man's world. Parsifal says he still wants to be a knight, but that he needs to tell his mother that he's leaving. Gawain tells Parsifal that he'll have Arthur watch for him.
Lorie makes only the briefest appearance at the end of the book when Gawain, Terence and Eileen arrive at Ganscotter's castle. She and Gawain marry and everyone is happy until he has to leave again. She speaks only one line, which makes me grumpy. I'm also grumpy that we never see her interact with her half-brother Terence and that we're only told that she and Eileen get along swell but never see them interact.
I love this book! It's not perfect (the way Guinevere's growth was handled, the lack of Lorie, some stuff with Lady Bercilak I'm going to talk about and the way Morris handles budding romances), but it hits all of my emotional pleasure points. It's a strong and enjoyable retelling of the Green Knight legend with some enjoyable characters and fun quests in between. It looks deeply at the effect such a beheading game would have on the characters. The battles are intense and leave you on the edge of your seat and there's no moment of 'that was anti-climatic' in the entire book. And, seriously, the last two chapters of this book has one of the most most heartwarming, humorous, and just plain enjoyable resolutions to a book that I have ever read.
On the possibly uncomfortable pushiness of Lady Bercilak's character (Trigger Warning?)
So, part of the myth of the Green Knight is that while staying at Lord Bercilak's castle, Gawain is pursued by Bercilak's wife. Her attempts to seduce him are met with resistance and at the end of the day she only gives Gawain a kiss that he must return to her lord. This story as its told skirts close to some iffy consent issues. Gawain clearly tells Lady Bercilak no, but she keeps at him for three days straight, always ending with a kiss that he does not want and which he is honor bound to return to Bercilak regardless of how Gawain feels about kissing her or her husband.
Morris' book... if you have an understanding of rape culture, I think Morris makes it clear that what Lady Marion is doing is problematic. He has her entering Gawain's room when he's asleep and sitting at the foot of Gawain's bed while Gawain, who is either close to naked or completely naked, clutches his sheet around his body as if his life depends on it. Terence wonders if he should rescue Gawain from Lady Marion and on the second and third day, at Gawain's request, keeps the door between his room and Gawain's open in case Lady Marion tries to give Gawain more than a kiss. And after Lady Marion's seduction, Gawain spends as much time as possible outside of Bercilak's castle and away from her. So, clearly we're supposed to view this as something uncomfortable for Gawain and thus not okay.
But, at the same time, if you don't have an understanding of rape culture, it's probably pretty easy to read this scene as a joke along the lines of 'ha, ha, look at the big dude so intimidated by a lady!' And it's a shame because I don't think that was Morris' intent (but who knows, really). But unfortunately the scene just remains too close to having consent issues and being problematic without really engaging with the problematic aspects of the original text beyond. And it's a missed opportunity.