|Title: The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf|
Author: Gerald Morris
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Her castle under siege by an evil knight who keeps beheading all her would-be rescuers, Lady Lynet realizes that the only way to get help is to get it herself. So one night she slips away and strikes out for King Arthur's court, where she hopes to find a gallant knight to vanquish the Knight of the Red Lands and free her castle. Instead, she finds an odd dwarf named Roger and a scruffy kitchen hand named Beaumains.
As the three unlikely companions return to Lynet's castle, they face suprising adventures, including encounters with the uncanny Squire Terence, his master, Sir Gawain, and the majestic sorceress Morgan. And somewhere along the way, Lynet discovers that people can be much more than they seem.
Or, In Gerald Morris' words:
"In this story a skilled knight called Beaumains conceals his real name and takes a menial job as a kitchen servant-- curious behavior that would normally call for some explanation, but Malory never explains. Then, when Beaumains rides off on his quest, he is sometimes accompanied by an unnamed dwarf who knows his true identity, but Malory never bothers to tell who this dwarf is or how he knows Beaumains or why he cares to ride with him. After Beaumains arrives at Lynoness's castle, a knight with no name appears from nowhere and fights Beaumains for no apparent reason. The nameless knight is defeated, but luckily for him, Lady Lynet appears on the scene and magically cures him, although Malory had not mentioned until this moment that Lynet was an enchantress. Indeed, the modern reader's response to Malory's tale will often be, "Huh?""
--Gerald Morris, pg 211-212 of the Savage Damsel and the Dwarf
Warning for Spoilers
The Last Time I Read this Book...
I'm going to take a moment to embarrass SamoaPheonix. Remember how I said in my Squire's Tale review that SamoaPhoenix hounded me pretty hard to read this series? Well, she was actually pretty sneaky about it. My very first introduction to the Squire's Tales was a screenplay adaptation of this book that SamoaPhoenix had written. We had just recently figured out the other was a writer and had started sharing each others work, and this screenplay was one of the first things SamoaPheonix shared with me (As of writing this, I have not read SamoaPhoenix's review of the book, so I don't know if she's admitted to loving it so much-- it's her favorite book in the series because of the Beauty and the Beast parallels-- that she wrote a screenplay of it. But it's okay if she didn't, because I did it for her).
So the first time I actually read the book was an interesting experience because it was kinda like reading a book after seeing the movie. I was looking for all the things SamoaPhoenix changed in her adaptation, comparing and contrasting the two and watching for how they fit together. This time, much further removed from SamoaPhoenix's adaptation, I was able to settle in and enjoy this book as its own entity.
It's the legend of Sir Beaumains as told from the perspective of the Savage Damsel. Throughout the story, Morris throws all sorts of twists and turns not only to keep it new and interesting, but to make some sense of the original story. The biggest twist is Gaheris' role in the story. Normally he doesn't show up until the end-- after Gareth rescues Lyonesse, he marries her while his brother Gaheris (who has no role in the story) marries Gareth's traveling companion and Lyonesse's sister Lynet. In Morris' story, Gaheris has been cursed by an Enchantress and has been transformed into a dwarf. Thus explaining why he travels with Gareth and how he knows Gareth's true identity. He is also the mysterious knight who attacks Gareth at the end of the story (because Gareth is a git and needs to have his head bashed in).
Morris' other twists include a clever explanation to why Gareth appears in disguise at Arthur's court (since he had already been introduced in the previous book as a knight), some fun with the colorful knights Gareth passes on his journey to Castle Perilous in order to make personalities more, well, colorful. And the inclusion of Morgan Le Fay as Lynet's teacher.
This story doesn't deviate from the original legend much at all and the twists serve only to enhance what's already there. This story basically begins where the The Squire, His Knight and His Lady left of and it's all Lancelot's fault. After his defeat at the hands of Sir Wozzell, Lancelot disappears. Gareth, who idolizes the fallen knight, vowed that the court of Camelot would never hear his name again until he had restored the honor of Sir Lancelot and rides off. Gaheris, who knows that Gareth is a fool and will end up hopelessly lost, goes after him. Months later, as a dwarf, Gaheris drops Gareth off in the Camelot kitchens. Since he refuses to give Sir Kay his name, the seneschal dubs him Beaumains because Gareths hands are so well manicured.
From there, the story follows the standard legend. Lynet and Lyonesse's castle is besieged by the Knight of the Red Lands (who I keep wanting to call Ironside even Morris never gives him that name in the book). Lynet decides to sneak off to Camelot and ask Arthur for a Knight of the Round Table to save her lands from this plight. When she arrives, Lynet refuses to tell Arthur her name because her father fought against him in the rebellion. So instead of giving her a knight, Arthur gives her Beaumains after the young man begs to be given the quest and Kay recommends he be allowed to go. Joined by Roger!Gaheris right out of the gate because Beaumains still doesn't know how to find his way, the three journey back to Castle Perilous, meeting all sorts of colorful (literally) characters along the way.
In the end, Gareth defeats the Knight of the Red Lands, Gaheris gives Gareth a much needed thumping (although he gets pretty badly thumped in return), and Sir Wozzell somehow gets his due (or does he?) restoring Lancelot's honor (whether he wants it or not). Gaheris and Lynet move up to Orkney so Gaheris can serve as Gawain's steward in and the two live happily ever after (until the next adventure, at least).
In his first book, Morris didn't really do well on the female character front. In his second, he did much better with Eileen, but while Eileen had agency and saved the lives her two traveling companions as often as they saved her life, her arc was still secondary to that of Terence and Gawain. In this book, Lynet is the main character and every other character is secondary to her. As it really should be, because in the original story Lynet was something fierce and there really needs to be more stories out there about her. I really enjoyed how Morris kept the heart and soul of this character from original story (a character with a quick and brutal tongue and never lacking an insult) while still allowing her room to grow over the course of the story. She's quick to judge at the beginning of the book, but by the end she's learned to judge people on their merits rather than their title. Morris also takes time to explain how Lynet became an enchantress (she learns a few things from the fairy court over the course of the book before training with Morgan at the end). My favorite bit is how Morris was able to weave in her traditional romance with Gaheris alongside the more modern inclination to pair her with Gareth (Lynet falls in
lust love with Gareth when she begins to realize his fighting prowess, but she eventually comes to realize that they had nothing in common and that she's actually found true companionship, love and respect with Gaheris).
Neither Gaheris nor the unnamed dwarf are characters who often find the spotlight in Arthurian retellings, giving Morris a lot more leeway to have fun with both of these characters and make them his own. And he does so happily as he combines the two together to explain not only how the dwarf knows who Gareth is (being brothers and all), but also where the mysterious knight at the end comes from. Like Gawain, Gaheris is very smart and practical but unlike Gawain he's a terrible fighter (in something that later becomes a thing, it's pointed out that Gaheris prefers to stay on defense on the battle, allowing his enemy to tire out). Also, his relationship with Lynet is super adorable, because it becomes clear early on that he's super into her. But he never pushes-- he never demands that she see him as a viable love interest (even after his curse his broken he still believes himself to not be worthy of her). The two have a fantastic relationship that grows from mutual respect and trust to something really quite lovely and touching as Lynet realizes that Gareth's pretty looks aren't all they're cracked up to be. At the end, Gaheris gives up trying to be something he's not and exchanges his life as a knight for one as the steward of Orkney.
I'm not really sure what to make of Gareth's character in this book. I mean, I really like Gareth as a character. He's generally presented as a loyal character, one of Lancelot's most promising students, and a character who was tragically killed while Lancelot tried to rescue Guinevere from the stake. Morris clearly has no patience for the character as Gareth is by far the silliest character to appear in this series yet (and after Lancelot in the last book, that's saying a lot). To Gareth, Lancelot is the greatest knight there is and he won't hear anyone say boo about his hero. To that end, he makes his vow to live in disguise until he can restore Lancelot's honor. This vow often gets him into trouble as his refusal to give his name while riding around in full armor leads to challenges that could have otherwise been avoided as well as challenging anyone he believes to have tarnished Lancelot's honor (whether they actually did or not is another story). After defeating the Knight of the Red Lands, Gareth falls madly in love with Lyonesse and practically falls over himself to get in her pants (and would have if Gaheris hadn't attacked him for being an ass to Lynet). In the end, Lynet tricks him into believing he's restored Lancelot's honor and Lyoness and Gareth are happily married.
So, up until this point, Morris has had some pretty silly characters. And, in keeping with the lesson that Lynet learns, Morris usually portrays the actions and the choices of the characters as what makes them silly and wretched, not necessarily that there's something wrong with them. Gareth... Gareth I think crosses that line. His stupidity is too often the butt of jokes instead of his stupid decisions. With just a few less remarks about bed wetting and Gareth needing bread crumbs to find the chamber pot and being dropped on his head, it would have been fine. Because Gareth's decisions/choices can be stupid and hurtful without saying that the character himself was born (or became so by injury) stupid and simple.
Kai is amazing. He's the same old Kai from the past two books and continues to prove how awesome he is. He sees right through Gareth's silly disguise, but he keeps quiet because making Gareth work in his kitchens is way more fun. But after Gareth begs the right to go on Lynet's quest, Kai is quite insistent that Arthur let him go (presumably, again, because this is more fun). After Lynet and Gareth leave, Kai finds them on the road and offers Gareth a set of armor and weapons. Either as a way to prove that Gareth is a better fighter than Lynet believes or in a moment of pure karma, Kai then proceeds to get his ass kicked by Gareth who wants revenge for the way Kai treated him.
Morgan is introduced near the end of the book to teach Lynet magic. The two spend an unknown amount of time in the fairy otherworld, which ends up translating to two weeks in the real world. We learn a bit more here about how enchantresses learn their magic (through telling stories-- more on Morris' theme of the power of storytelling). At the end of their time together, Morgan offers Lynet one of three vials- one will make a man fall madly in love with the first person he sees after drinking it, one to make her breathtakingly beautiful and one that can heal people. Morgan, we learn, took the beauty potion while Lynet takes the healing potion (and uses it save Gaheris after Gareth nearly kills him after his ill-advised thumping attempt). Morgan and Lynet part ways as close friends and equals.
Lyonesse is Lynet's older sister and she is wretched. Breathtakingly beautiful, Lyonesse is vain, petty and only interested increasing her power. She feels nothing for the young knights who get themselves killed in an attempt to save her. When Gareth defeats the Knight of the Red Lands and promptly falls in love with her, Lyonesse initially refuses him because he won't tell her his name and she doesn't want to risk him being lowborn. Then she kidnaps Gaheris!Roger and intends to torture him for information on Gaheris. When Lynet is threatened in this, Gaheris!Roger gladly gives up Gareth's name. Gareth arrives then, demanding Gaheris!Roger back and Lyonesse gladly welcomes him into her castle. The two flirt shamelessly and agree to meet later that night for sexy times (this is when Gaheris angrily tries to thump Gareth for being so wretched for Lynet and nearly gets himself killed). After Lancelot's honor is restored, Gareth and Lyonesse are married in a lavish ceremony.
Gawain makes an appearance at the very end of the book. He had been off looking for Gareth and Gaheris and finally managed to catch up with them at the very end of the book. Gaheris is happy to see him, but Gareth immediately challenges Gawain to a duel, believing that Gawain has claimed himself to be a greater knight than Sir Lancelot. Gawain lets Gareth unsuccessfully bash at him (using Gaheris' method of fighting) until Lynet is clever enough to state that the knight Gareth defeated the night before (Gaheris) was actually Sir Wozzell. Thus Gareth has restored Lancelot's honor and is free to use his name and marry Lyonesse. Which brings us to...
Lancelot himself. Since his defeat at the hands of Terence in the last book, Lancelot has become a woodcutter going by the name Jean le Forestier. And, as much as I loved Lancelot's fall from grace in the last book, this is where his story gets interesting. Morris gets what I think a lot of authors miss when it comes to Lancelot, and that he's not a good guy and his actions shouldn't be romanticized, they should be called out for what they are. Morris has called out Lancelot, and now he's going through the trouble of rehabilitating the character. Lancelot has realized he was a fool-- that it was silly of him to spent so much time listening to the bards and to try so hard to be the greatest knight. He now enjoys his life as a woodcutter where he actually has to struggle to do his job (instead ob being a knight which came easily for him). Over the course of the story, he saves both Gaheris!Roger (from the Knight of the Red Lands) and Lynet (from wolves), proving that he's still got it. In the end, Lynet and Gaheris respect his request to be left alone and he continues his life as Jean le Forestier. We'll be seeing him again.
A staple of the Beaumains story are a succession of knights he must defeat, each known for the color of their armor. Morris uses them to help develop the characters of Lynet, Gareth and Gaheris!Roger. The first one is Sir Percard, the black knight. Percard threatens Lynet and his killed by Gareth. Rescuing her causes Lynet to begin to have feelings for Gareth and to suspect he's more than he appears. They then move on to Sir Pertelope, the Green Knight. Although he never thought well of his brother, Pertelope challenges Gareth to a fight. This loyalty mirrors Gaheris!Roger's devotion to Gareth and how he stands by him despite how much trouble Gareth has gotten him into. Next is Sir Perimones (ostensibly the red knight, not to be confused with the other one as his armor has long since faded to pink), who is certainly meant to be a mirror for Gaheris. Perimones has no interested in fighting but would rather fish, but after he mistakenly suggests that Lancelot didn't have much interest in fighting anymore and finds himself battling Gareth. Like Gaheris, Perimones doesn't fight and only defends himself. The fight is finally broken up by Lynet, Gaheris!Roger and a trout. Last is Sir Persant the blue knight, a clear stand-in for Gareth as he is a brilliant fighter but not that intelligent. Gareth wins their battle but is injured in the process.
The Knight of the Red Lands is a rare instance where a character from the legends as his story downgraded in Morris' retelling. In the legends, the Knight of the Red Lands laid siege to Castle Perilous in order to lure Gawain, Lancelot, Tristan or Lamorak to fight him while in this one he seems truly interested in marrying Lyonesse. In the original story Gareth spares his life and he becomes a Knight of the Round Table and he was a part of Gareth's wedding feast while this book he's dead.
Arthur makes a brief appearance in the book to hear Lynet's request for a knight and isn't at all amused when she refuses to give her name despite his hospitality.
Arthur makes a brief appearance in the book to hear Lynet's request for a knight and isn't at all amused when she refuses to give her name despite his hospitality.
A few small quibbles with this book, but no more than the last one. It is an entertaining story, told well with some spectacular characters. But it doesn't quite hit all the emotional high points for me, so I'm hesitant to give it five stars because I have so much more love The Squire, His Knight and His Lady. If I gave half stars, I would give it 4.5, but I don't so four stars for this one.