Welcome All- A Few Things to Know

Welcome All- A Few Things to Keep In Mind:

1. Hi all. I'm Storyteller Knight. You can find me on Fictionpress where I write novels about King Arthur, Superheroes and Vampires (but not at the same time) and at Pardon My Sarcasm where I rage about how the republicans are ruining all things.

2. Here is the Master List of books read, books owned and books needed to complete a series. Superscripts next to title links to reviews on this site. Or you can search using the lables.

3. I'm approaching this blog with the assumption that everyone reading already knows the ultimate spoiler of the King Arthur Legend: Everyone Dies. Those who read King Arthur books do so to see different interpretations of the characters and the stories. My goal here is to analyze the effectiveness of those interpretations. Thus, all my reviews will include spoilers.

4. This is not an Arthurian 101 blog. As I said above, I'm assuming that everyone reading already knows the legend and is looking for different interpretations of that legend. Therefore, I'm not going to take time to explain who the characters are and what roles they traditionally play. Links to Arthurian Encyclopedias at the bottom of the page.

5. These reviews are my opinions of the books. I may hate a book you love or I may love a book you hate. If you have a different opinion, write it up. I'd be more than happy to have some guest posts.

6. Please don't ask me (or any of the guest bloggers) to do your homework for you. As I said above, this is a blog dedicated at looking at these books from an Arthurian perspective. If you comment on posts asking us what the theme is or such, we're just going to screw with you.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

SamoaPhoenix Guest Review/Reread: The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight

Title: The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight
Author: Gerald Morris
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Pages: 310
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Ever since that tragic night when her mother and guardian were murdered, thirteen-year-old Sarah has been living on her own and searching for the knight who was responsible.  Her quest for revenge leads to an even greater adventure when she witnesses Queen Guinevere being kidnapped.  Soon Sarah finds herself accompanying Sir Gawain and Squire Terence on a remarkable journey to rescue the Queen.  In their travels they meet, among others, a mystery knight traveling incognito in a dung cart, a faery who becomes Sarah's first friend in a long time, a reclusive monk who plans to spend the rest of his life building a tomb for Sir Lancelot, and a princess who might have a little more gumption than she appears to.

As the plot thickens, Sarah finds out more about the people she's met and befriended, as well as about herself.  She begins to learn the true consequences of vengeance and what it really means to be a princess.

In this funny and unforgettable sixth novel, Gerald Morris creates yet another tangled web of magic spells, enchanted castles, mystery knights, revenge, and heart-pounding adventure.  

I have nothing much to say about the covers, or commentary about the first time I read this book (which was in high school). Let’s get this party started!

Spoilers, etc…

The Twist

It sometimes mildly annoyed me as I observed Story reading her way through these books for the first time back when we were in college that she was able to tell what the main plot of most of the books were merely by their titles (the exceptions are the three with the word ‘Squire’ in the title). In this case, she knew immediately that this book was Morris’s version of the abduction of Guinevere by Meleagant and her rescue by Lancelot. Morris of course puts his own spin on things; this is post-affair Guinevere and Lancelot where they have each decidedly gone their separate ways and Lancelot is accompanied by two original Morris characters: Nimue and Merlin’s daughter Ariel, who we met in Parsifal’s Page, and our main character, Sarah.

The Plot

This story takes place three years or so after Parsifal’s Page ends. Sarah is a thirteen-year-old girl who has been living on her own in the woods, dreaming of revenge on those responsible for the murders of her mother and her Jewish guardian. She encounters Sir Kai and Queen Guinevere traveling through the woods, and witnesses their abduction by Meliagant. Helped by Morgan le Fay in disguise as a crone and page-turned-smith Piers from Parsifal’s Page, she makes her way to Camelot to tell Arthur. Arthur sends her with Gawain and Terence to search for the missing pair, and sends Piers to try to find Parsifal to see if he can come back from the Grail Castle (he’s there visiting) to help. Piers, not sure if he can find Parsifal in time, goes to Jean le Forestier/Lancelot to beg his assistance instead. Lancelot agrees but is not particularly well-equipped for the journey, which leads to the scene of him riding in the dung-cart.

Gawain and Terence are not happy about having Sarah along on the quest, and they leave her behind with Ariel, who had appeared to give them directions, at the first opportunity. They don’t realize Sarah, informed by Morgan le Fay that the knight who had a hand in murdering her parents is involved somehow in the kidnap plot, has her own agenda for wanting to come. Ariel and Sarah meet up with Jean!Lance, and the threesome continue on together. They encounter several interesting characters, including a knight who has the same foolish notions of knightly honor Lancelot once espoused (this guy reminds me of season one-Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender with the way he whines about honor); a monk guarding Lancelot’s future tomb (kind of morbid but I like his backstory); the knight who killed Sarah’s parents (Sarah kills him and discovers it does little to help her state of mind); the Vavasour, a vassal of Meliagant who tries to prevent them from going further; and finally the Sword Bridge.

They make their way to the castle where Guinevere and Kai are being held, but are forced to leave Ariel behind because an enchantment prevents those of the Seelie Court (nice faeries) from entering the land of Logres. They discover Logres is ruled by the vapid, naïve King Bagdemagus, controlled from behind the scenes by his son Meliagant. Bagdemagus has another child, a daughter Charis, who is about Sarah’s age. Charis has been pretending to be foolish and brainless for years to get around her brother, but eventually begins to discover her own strength as she helps Lancelot and Sarah try to rescue the queen and Kai. Meliagant goes through the motions of accusing Guinevere of being unfaithful to Arthur with Kai and condemns them to death. Lancelot agrees to be their champion in trial by combat, but Meliagant, with the help of Morgause who has been orchestrating this whole thing all along, kidnaps him and basically buries him in a hole to keep him from showing up to the fight. In searching for Lancelot, Charis and Sarah stumble across Terence and Gawain, who made it to Logres but are too weak or injured to fight. The girls are forced to improvise. Sarah fights Meliagant herself in disguise as a boy, while Charis figures out at the last minute where Morgause stashed Lancelot and goes to dig him out. Lancelot, Charis, Gawain and Terence all arrive at the trial in time to help Sarah defeat Meliagant, though it is Lancelot who strikes the final blow.

All of Morgause’s spells break when Meliagant dies, and everyone begins to recover. Charis comes into her own as her father’s regent, giving Sarah her own castle and parcel of land to rule, taken from the Vavasour. Piers, Nimue and Morgan le Fay all arrive, Piers with news of a grand feast at Camelot in Sarah’s honor, Nimue to greet her daughter and Lancelot, and Morgan to reveal she was the crone who helped Sarah, because Sarah is actually her niece, the daughter of Morgan, Morgause and Arthur’s sister. Once everyone is well enough to travel, the group sets out towards Camelot, with Lancelot finally ready to return as a knight and Sarah renouncing her revenge on those who had a hand in her mother and guardian’s deaths.

This book is chock-full of little verbal gems. Below are some of my favorites:
Terence: “Arthur trusts Piers because Piers is trustworthy, not because he’s important. Two very different things.”
Gawain: “Few people are both, in fact.” (pg 54)
Gawain: “You may have faith in this, sirrah. If you put your hand on my arm again, I will cut off your fingers and provide you with five more holy relics.”
Terence: “Guaranteed to protect the faithful from frauds.” (pg 64)
Lancelot: “If your honor was so slight as to be lost by falling in a river, it is not worth having.” (pg 123)
Brother Constans: “He hated because he was a man who hates, and that was his own choice. It is the same with every hatred.” (pg 132) 
Sarah: “Ariel knows how much that knight deserved to be killed! That wasn’t cruelty—it was justice!”
Lancelot: “It usually is.” (pg 171)
Gawain: “I’ve been hurt worse.”
Terence: “Really, milord? When was that?”

Gawain: "All right. I've been hurt nearly this bad before." (pg 245)
Kai: “If you doubt my own word, I would be happy to ask my brother about the specifics of feudal law.”
The Vavasour: “Why should I care what your brother thinks? Who is your brother, anyway?”

Kai: “His name is Arthur Pendragon.” (pg 282)
The Characters

Lancelot: Is this really the same overdressed oblivious peacock we met in The Squire, his Knight, and his Lady? The transformation is now complete. New Model Lancelot is thoughtful and restrained, with a newfound confidence that stems from discovering your own self-worth from within rather than worth given to you by others. He even has a sense of humor. I commented in my review of Parsifal’s Page on Morris not humoring Piers’s desire to be called Pierre in Part 1 of the story. He does the same sort of thing with Lancelot here, which I appreciated. Even after the readers and his fellow characters have confirmed he is Lancelot, Morris consistently refers to him as ‘Jean’ throughout the book. It might have been done to avoid changing the character’s name mid-book, but from a symbolic standpoint I appreciated it. It is also revealed as per the legend that Lancelot was raised for a few years by Nimue, the Lady of the Lake.

Guinevere: I also like what Morris did with Guinevere here. We get a fairly good look at her even though she stays somewhat in the background. When we last saw her as more than a cameo, she was an oblivious young woman interested only in fashions, her own beauty, and Lancelot’s attentions, culminating with her dramatic rejection of Lancelot at the end of Squire, Knight, Lady. I like that Morris has her obviously still interested in fashions and gossip—in essentials she’s the same person even after seven years without Lancelot—but she is much more mature, has grown into her role as queen, and is clearly loyal to Arthur alone.

Kai: Sir Kai continues to be awesome. He still keeps his dry sense of humor even when badly wounded. He is the first person to believe in Sarah and continues to do so throughout the book. It turns out he is a friend of Sarah’s guardian, as the two were imprisoned together in Dolorous Guard before Lancelot rescued them.

Meliagant (Meleagant): Like many manifestations of this character, he seems to believe that kidnapping a woman is the way to win her heart. When he finds ‘evidence’ that she and Kai have sexed it up in their dungeon cell (bloody blankets Guinevere was using for bandages since both Kai and Lancelot are wounded), he plans to try and execute her for adultery against the King (though he has a Freudian slip and claims it’s him she betrayed). He is in fact a pawn of Morgause, though he does not seem to be in love with her as Lamorak was. He is ruthless and cruel, but not particularly clever and as self-deluding as his father in his own way.

Gawain: Gawain and Terence are back! Their brotherly camaraderie has been much missed. Watching them troll the Pardoner when they first set out on their rescue mission is a lot of fun. Both of them spend most of the later part of the book out of commission, though they try their best to help Sarah and Charis set things right. Gawain has telling things to say to Meliagant about Morgause getting rid of her minions once they've ceased to be useful.

Morgause: She is back with a vengeance after her defeat at Terence’s hands in Squire’s Tale and sort-of reappearance in Ballad of Dinadan. She seems to have originally orchestrated the kidnap plot to get rid of Guinevere and Kai, two of Arthur’s mainstays, but modifies her plans to also get rid of Lancelot when he shows up out of exile. While defeated at this turn, she is back to stay for the rest of the series as the shadow in the background, waiting to pounce.

Bagdemagus: Charis sums him up best: he only believes what’s comfortable for him; truth upsets him, so he ignores it. He, Griflet and Lancelot were once friends back when Lancelot also had a head for nothing but fashion. He is completely controlled by Meliagant and seems to have no problem with this, continually asking for his son after Meliagant is beheaded in front of him.

Morgan le Fay: We see more of Morgan’s dark side in this book, as she encourages Sarah’s ruthless quest for revenge even as she helps her seek the people responsible (who happen to also be the people responsible for kidnapping Guinevere and Kai).
Sir Pedwyr (Pedivere): A knight Lancelot defeated for murdering his own wife and then sent off to the Pope to ask for forgiveness. The journey changes him so much that when he returns to England he becomes Brother Constans, the monk building and guarding Lancelot’s future tomb.

Arthur: He does not fall apart at Guinevere’s kidnap, though he wants to go rescue her himself. Gawain, Terence and Bedivere persuade him that this is not the best idea. He and Bedivere stay behind to pretend all is well and continue ruling the land. They eventually have to deal with some minor uprisings organized by Morgause.

The Pardoner: This is not an Arthurian character, but he appears elsewhere: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the frame story of the Tales, a group of characters meet on a pilgrimage to Canterbury and tell each other stories to pass the time. One of these frame characters is The Pardoner. Morris’s Pardoner is exactly the same in appearance, speech and actions as Chaucer’s. I read Morris’s version first, and was extremely pleased to recognize this character when I read the original Tales (though I was not pleased to see the character himself, as, like Sarah, I find him utterly despicable: a 12th-century profiteer who plays on the faith and fears of others to enrich himself, much as certain characters in the media and televangelists do today). Morris uses this character to point out that such people are anything but harmless, and can in fact find themselves responsible for great and terrible wrongs. This is Morris’s only direct reference that I know of to a non-Arthurian work in the series (aside from the Greek myths he alludes to in The Squire’s Quest), though the Canterbury Tales sort of counts because one of the frame characters (The Wife of Bath) does tell a version of The Loathly Lady.

Gareth, Gaheris, Lynet, Bedivere, Griflet, Parsifal, Conduiramour, Nimue, Igraine and Sir Turquin are mentioned or make cameo appearances. Original Morris character Piers, now at least seventeen and described as tall and powerfully built after years as a blacksmith’s apprentice, and his parents Marie de Champagne and Trebuchet also appear or are mentioned.


 After two stories that are somewhat duds for me, Morris is back in form. This story is fun and serious at the same time, with some cogent things to say on the nature of hatred, revenge, scapegoating, honor, friendship, and leadership. This is a wonderful cast of characters who are great to watch grow and develop. I will leave it for Story to gush over the Girl Power aspects of this book.

Five stars.

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