|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. .
It should be said first off that this is one of my all-time favorite books ever. I’ve read it so much my hardcover edition is falling apart. My first wobbly try at screenplay writing was adapting this book. So you probably shouldn’t pay attention to anything I have to say about it. Just go read it for yourself. Preferably in the much better cover of the newer editions.
This is a retelling of the slightly less well-known Malory story of Beaumains, the alias of Gawain’s brother Gareth. It is more popular with Arthurian authors, however, so this is one I’ve read a couple versions of (most recently Sarah Zettel’s barely-there rendition, seen in my review of Under Camelot’s Banner). Morris’s twist is adding the character of Gaheris, another of the Orkney brothers, to the story in the form of the dwarf that accompanies Beaumains. This, by the way, is the big reveal at the end of the story, so act surprised later. Morris has also chosen to tell the tale not from an original character’s perspective this time, but from a side character, Lynet the enchantress.
Morris begins with a medieval-style “Last time on The Squire’s Tales…” intro, recapping the events of the final chapters of The Squire, His Knight and His Lady and relating the aftermath of Lancelot’s defeat at the hands of “Sir Wozzell” (aka Terence, Gawain’s squire). Gareth, Gawain’s youngest brother who is obsessed with Lancelot, makes a foolish vow that his name will never be heard in Camelot again until he has restored Lancelot’s honor and leaves court. Gaheris, the second oldest Orkney brother, expresses concern about Gareth’s safety, but Gawain brushes him off. So Gaheris follows Gareth alone, and later Gawain changes his mind and follows them—without Terence, for once. A disheveled young man soon appears at Camelot asking for a job as a kitchen boy. Morris doesn’t even bother to conceal that this is Gareth, poorly disguised by a beard. However, only Sir Kai recognizes him. Kai mocks Gareth by giving him the name “Beaumains” (Pretty Hands) but doesn’t reveal his secret. We are left to wonder what has happened to Gaheris and Gawain.
Meanwhile in Cornwall, two sisters are living under siege by the Knight of the Red Lands, a brutish but skilled knight who wants to marry the beautiful elder sister Lyonesse. Plainer, feistier, and smarter than her sister, Lynet has grown tired of watching knights fail to rescue them. She sneaks of out her castle with the idea of going to Camelot for help. Lost on the way, she runs into a mysterious dwarf named Roger who agrees to guide her to Camelot. The pair immediately begin a round of witty banter, which in Gerald Morris’s established style should mean they’re attracted to each other.
At Camelot, Lynet and Roger part ways. Lynet is taken in by some familiar faces: Terence and his love Eileen. They help her get an audience with King Arthur and the Round Table. Lynet describes her plight, but is reluctant to give her name as her father fought in a rebellion against Arthur and she believes Arthur will refuse to help the daughter of an enemy. Instead, the opposite happens: Arthur begins to refuse her help because she won’t give her name, but Beaumains steps in and asks to take on the task. Lynet, highly insulted by this “kitchen knave”’s audacity, mocks him and storms out only to discover Beaumains has followed her. They meet up with Roger by coincidence and he reluctantly agrees to take them back to Cornwall since neither Lynet nor Beaumains knows the way.
On the way, Beaumains gets into several fights with random knights, some more intelligent than others. Lynet is tutored in herblore by a mischievous faery friend of Terence’s and told she has great potential to learn magic. She also develops a crush on Beaumains/Gareth, to the torment of Roger (Gaheris, cursed to be a dwarf except for a few hours on certain nights), who has fallen in love with her himself.
They reach Lynet’s home, Gareth defeats the Knight of the Red Lands and immediately falls hard for Lyonesse. This pains Lynet and infuriates Gaheris, who can’t stand to see the woman he loves cast aside by someone who doesn’t appreciate her. However, Lyonesse perversely plays hard to get and refuses Gareth’s advances, so Gareth and Roger/Gaheris leave. Lynet is taken to the Other World for her final and most extensive tutoring in magic by Morgan le Fay, where she also discovers that she has fallen out of love with Gareth. She returns to the World of Men in time to discover Lyonesse has had Roger imprisoned in order to learn more about Beaumains. Gareth shows up again, and is this time welcomed in now that Lyonesse has discovered Beaumains is Prince Gareth of Orkney.
Lyonesse and Gareth agree to meet in his room after everyone else is asleep to sex it up, but they’re not very subtle as both Lynet and Roger/Gaheris overhear the plan. This is the last straw for Gaheris, and it also happens to be a night when he’s human again. He borrows some armor and confronts Gareth while he and Lyonesse are naked in bed. Lynet hears the commotion and comes running. Gaheris and Gareth fight, and while Gaheris manages to wound Gareth in a way that ensures he won’t be having sex for awhile, Gaheris’s wounds are fatal. Lynet drags him back to her own room and uses a healing potion given to her by Morgan on him before he dies. Gaheris then realizes his curse is broken and explains: he was put under a dwarf-spell by an enchantress for being rude to her, and could only break it when he learned to truly honor a woman. He and Lynet confess their love for one another, much to Gaheris’s surprise as he believed Lynet still loved Gareth.
Then comes the problem of what to do next. Gaheris has to leave or there might be suspicion he was behind the midnight attack. In looking for a place to conceal him the lovers come across Lancelot, of all people, who has been hiding nearby in the forest as a simple woodcutter. Gaheris stays the night with him.
The next day Gawain arrives, searching for Gaheris and Gareth. Gareth attacks him, mistakenly believing Gawain has been telling people he is a better knight than Lancelot. Lynet thinks fast and bullshitty and tells Gareth that the mysterious attacker the previous night was Sir Wozzell, Defeater of Lancelot (Gareth never saw Gaheris’s face and was dumb enough not to recognize his own brother’s voice taunting him with things only his brothers would know). Having “defeated” “Sir Wozzell”, Gareth has fulfilled his vow to restore Lancelot’s honor in a way his simple mind can understand.
Gareth marries Lyonesse, Gaheris marries Lynet. The latter pair move north to become the stewards of Orkney having discovered the paths they were meant to be on.
Lynet: If you thought Eileen from the last book was a spitfire, she has nothing on Lynet. Eileen never reaches for weapons when crossed. Lynet isn’t a trained fighter but she has a temper and a tendency to grab whatever weapon is available when she loses it. While blessed with good sense and a razor wit, Lynet isn’t immune to the charms of a handsome man and spends a lot of the middle of the book crushing on Gareth and being completely blind to his faults. She takes to magic well but according to Morgan will never be a particularly powerful enchantress, as she is too attached to the human world and is weakened further by deep love (this, by the way, is why Morgause is so powerful: she loves no one and spends all her time studying magic). Lynet and Gaheris are well matched in this series: both are witty and not particularly interested in power or glory, while Lynet’s hot temper is balanced by Gaheris’s friendly unflappability.
Gaheris: In this book we are introduced to two of Gawain’s brothers. Gaheris, as the second son in this version, has been nominally head of the Orkney family in the seven years Gawain was gone on his quest for the Green Knight. In that time he has matured considerably off-screen, from the moron first mentioned in The Squire’s Tale to a man fairly comfortable with who he is, with a strong sense of family loyalty. In this story he finally comes into his own. He knows he shouldn’t be a knight. He’s really bad at fighting. What he hasn’t figured out until this book is what he wants to do instead. For awhile he enjoys being a dwarf because there are no expectations to meet. Then he runs into Lynet, and realizes there are upsides to being human he hadn’t thought of.
Gaheris has a sharper wit than Gawain. He also seems to have a thing for grammar, a characteristic I love. He is very realistic but tends to underestimate his own value. This causes some problems when he refuses to pursue Lynet because he thinks she wouldn’t be interested, but instead ends up hurting her every time he tries to leave or push her away. Eventually with the help of Lynet and Lancelot he discovers his true calling in life. He has also learned a similar lesson to Gawain’s in The Squire’s Tale: not all ladies are simpering damsels in distress. In defending Lynet’s honor against the fickle Gareth, he is able to break the dwarf-curse and regain human form permanently. As a bit of trivia, he is the sixth person to hold the title “Sir Wozzell” that we know of. You can never have too many.
Gareth: There seems to be a thing with Morris’s four Orkney brothers. Of two major traits, intelligence and good at fighting, each one has a different mix. Gawain, the eldest, is intelligent and good at fighting. Gaheris is intelligent but bad at fighting. Agrivaine is an idiot and bad at fighting. So that leaves Gareth, the youngest, to be an idiot but good at fighting. He is worse than Lancelot used to be, because at least Lancelot saved all his foolish devotion for one woman. Gareth bounces to whatever woman is prettiest within a certain radius. While an excellent fighter—he bests Kai—he is shown to be no match for Gawain, or presumably his hero Lancelot. Oh, yeah, and his worship of Lancelot is kind of pathetic. His buried mommy issues over Morgause leaving when he was young might account for it. Here’s hoping Gaheris permanently castrated him because the idea of Gareth and Lyonesse reproducing is nauseating.
Lyonesse: Lynet’s selfish and cruel but gorgeous elder sister. She only cares that the knight she marries be famous and preferably titled. She is also skilled at manipulation of suitors and after capturing Gareth’s attention she toys with him in order to buy time until she finds out he is a prince and the brother of Gawain. After that she is all over him.
Morgan le Fay: This is the most time we have spent with Morgan so far in the series. We get a better sense of her human side as she teaches Lynet sorcery. It seems that even though she gets along with Gawain she has less interest or affection for her other three nephews. It appears she is sometimes tasked with the job of training enchantresses newly come into their power.
Lancelot: He pops up as the mysterious woodcutter who saves both Lynet and Roger. He reveals that after his humiliation at the hands of “Sir Wozzell”, he had intended to shut himself away from the world as punishment. However, he has discovered that there is much more honor to be gained from simple hard work than by following the latest trends and being called the best fighter in the land. Probably to Story’s dismay, this is where we start liking Lancelot. No longer the thoughtless robot just going through the motions, he now has reason to look for real meaning in his life.
Kai: He recognizes Beaumains as Gareth but chooses to let Gareth continue his charade, giving him his mocking nickname to keep people from asking what his real name is. Rather considerate of the seneschal, in his own way. He also convinces Arthur to allow Beaumains/Gareth to take on the challenge of killing the Knight of the Red Lands. He teases Gareth and Lynet, but Gareth pays him back once he is in armor again by defeating him in a joust. Kai takes this in stride; like most people who are confident in their own skill, he is not concerned if beaten when trying to make a point.
Arthur: Here he is briefly seen as a just king who is not a pushover even for damsels in distress, as he is about to refuse to help Lynet when she won’t give her name.
Gawain: He gets a cameo at the very end. He and Gaheris adore each other, especially now that Gaheris has really come into his own. It is also a little odd to see Terence and Gawain separated when they are such a package deal in the first two books. It seems that now that Terence is secretly a knight himself they are much more independent and can function separately or together as the situation demands. It is interesting to see Terence through other characters’ eyes; while Terence tends to downplay his own abilities, everyone else with a brain stem notices that there is something extraordinary, or at least unusual, about Gawain’s quiet squire.
Sir Dinadan and Sir Griflet make cameo appearances early on in the book, and Mark, Tristram, Iseult, Tor and Palomides are mentioned. Morgause’s relationship with her sons is explored in hindsight, including the detail that Agrivaine and Gareth still mourn her while Gaheris and Gawain are relieved she is gone.
This is the Beauty and the Beast story I didn’t get with Morris’s version of the Loathly Lady. Of course I’m going to love it to death. These are also some of my favorite characters, particularly Gaheris. They are just so funny, and loveable despite their flaws and mistakes. There is just enough of our previous beloved characters to reassure us that they are not gone for good, they’ve just faded to the background to make room for others’ stories.