Sunday, 3 August 2008

Gawain Again

I am not sure how it happened, but I have suddenly found Gawain again. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, I was absolutely obsessed with this one knight of the Round Table. I thought Lancelot was a bore - he didn't seem to have a sense of humour, and he was universally acknowledged as The Greatest Knight of All. Blah.

Now Gawain, he is quite different. Somehow he gets into the strangest adventures of all, usually involving a wide array of ladies (young, old, seductive, distant, pretty, ugly, lethal, protective, possessed of magical powers or not) and really weird opponents, like green blokes on green horses or even the devil himself. He is at once the most courteous and considerate, as well as the most savage of King Arthur's knights. That is, he does not anger easily and never seems eager to fight; but when he gets into a rage he seems to lose control entirely, much in the way of ancient Irish heroes like Cúchúlain. He also has a kind of superpower: his strength waxes and wanes with the sun. This is a striking thing, because it shows clearly that his origins are more ancient than those of most other knights in the medieval romances. His ambiguity of character also shows in the fact that though in British romances (the notable exception being Malory's Morte Darthur) he is always a hero, while in French romances he is either used in contrast to the central hero of the story (mostly Lancelot and Percival) and portrayed as not living up to their standard, or he is simply a villain and a thug. I can't think of any other characters in medieval Round Table stories who serve both purposes.

When I was fifteen I started to write my own Gawain trilogy - yes, even then I never settled for small projects ;-). I actually made it through the entire first book, and with characteristic naïvité showed it to a teacher, who told me I should try to get it published. I did try, twice. Of course the manuscript was rejected, and when I look at it now, it is obvious why XD - so obvious, in fact, that I'm rather relieved that nobody can produce a copy and confront me with it... But, well, I was only fifteen after all. The great thing was that one of the publisher's professional readers, an author of young adult books himself, invited me to his home to give me tips about writing. I am still grateful for that, because even though I lost courage after the two rejections and stopped in the middle of my second Gawain novel, it dawned on me much later that this writer thought I had it in me to write a good novel one day. The novel is still not written, and my attention has for a large part shifted towards comics, but his encouragement has strengthened my belief in my capacity to tell a story - a capacity that I do my best to hone, even if, like everything else, it takes me a lot of time.

Now, why did I start about Gawain again? It is just that a few pieces about his character fell into place, like that, out of the blue. It crossed my mind that, unlike with my Gauls, Gawain might actually furnish material for short comics. That means that I could take on something that can be finished within a limited timeframe. Also positive is that the settings would be rather similar to the ones I need to picture Gaul, and so these short stories could provide good exercise. I already have a lot of material in terms of plot. And a new version of Gawain just found its way to paper, so...

Here are the first sketches, mostly in bic pen. I wanted to try drawing with bics because I see that lots of artists do it, with great results, even though the medium never really attracted me. Trying it out has warmed me to it, though I'm not really projecting any finished pictures in it.


Cecilia said...

Hi my dear,
sorry for not commenting here for so long. I really like your latest sketches, and betweet these Gawaian ones, the one with the old lady (Raghell? I didn't understand her name, sorry).
I have to admit that, my fascination for knights notwithstanding, I have never read much of Arthurian romances, not even now for my thesis (there's a shortage of warrior women at Camelot). I read Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot at 15-16 and a few pages of Erec and Enide, and then stop. On the other side, I adore some Arthurian movies, Excalibur above all.
In this case too, I have to say that my sympathy goes to the villains (Morgan le Fay and Mordred), to ser Keu and to the poor horned husband, king Arthur himself.
Which is the first work to read about Gawain? Gawain and the green knight?

ampersand said...

Hi Cecilia,
You know I understand about not commenting :-). Though of course I'm hyper-happy when you do :D.

It's true, in Arthurian lore it's the men who do all the fighting, though some modern stories make Gwenhwyfar/Guinevere a warrior woman. But despite my feminism I have always been rather fond of the Round Table. I have read several English romances in the original Middle-English, but Middle-French I remember as being far more difficult, so I have only read Chrétien in modern French retellings.

The first work to read about Gawain... Well, I guess you cannot go wrong with the Green Knight :-). The first Gawain to leave a deep impression on me was T. H. White's, in The Once and Future King (which I am aching to reread). He's rather tragic - he had an awful childhood and grows up having difficulty telling right from wrong. I read the book in a Dutch translation; it was only when I got my hands on an English copy that I discovered White had given Gawain a heavy Scots accent :).

Arthurian movies tend to leave me rather annoyed because they hardly ever pay attention to my dear Wawan, and when they do, they paint him negatively! Excalibur is a perfect example :P. I suppose I shouldn't complain too much because at least they cast Liam Neeson to play him, but... *sigh*

Oh, I like the villains too, especially Morgana and Morgause (girlpower!), and Morholt, for some reason. And Merlin, Arthur and Keye/Cei/however you wish to spell it, too. Mordred - not so much. He kills my Gawain! Can't have that ;).

Am currently rereading Adolf Muschg's Der rote Ritter. It's a marvel, with a dear, delightful Gâwân, based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzivâl. But I don't think it's available in any other language than German :/.

I'm off to bed now. Read you soon!

the comics expert said...

Yeah, I can't help it, I can omly think of Gauvain. You'll have to forgive a fool. I do think I'll try to find some of those romances in read form, see where that takes me.
Funny anecdote about that Gawain-trilogy. I wonder if you've ever told me about that.

Your art is kicking some serious ass! Sweet stuff. I detect a little Kaamelott in there somewhere (not even the comic, 'cos I ain't read those).

We'll talk more feminism soon, I'll bet ^_-

Cecilia said...

Excalibur gave Gawain a bad publicity? I never realized that; probably I was too taken away by Liam Neeson, as you say, but I confess that my major aim while watching that movie is to try to remember Merlin's spell. Next time I'll watch it I'll pay more attention to Gawain ^^

I find Middle English fatiguing, probably because I've never studied it ^^ For the Romance Philology exam at university I studied Provençal and translated trobadours. Then practice made me quite fluent in reading old french or langue d'oil as you wish, but only in the limits of chansons de geste, where the scheme always repeats itself (sieges, battlefields, armors, ritualized speeches, etc). I'm admired by the fact that you can read German, French and old English too.

My thing with Mordred is only referred to the last duel with Arthur, because I'm a fan of the father-son duel motif ^^

ampersand said...

I was going to show you my illuminated Gawain mansucripts last Saturday, but I forgot! Did I really never tell you about the trilogy? I used to meet people years after the thing was written, and they'd ask me whether it was true that I'd already published a novel. It was pretty embarrassing, having to say again and again that all I managed was to get two rejections :-). So maybe I pushed the fact away and never mentioned it to you :D.

Gauvain, woohoo! I wish I could use my LJ icon that says "Gauvain + Yvain = OTP" ("One True Pairing") *g*

...Okay, if I do manage to produce some Gawain comics, you'll have to get used to another version of King Arthur's nephew, I'm afraid... Of course I grant that nothing can be better than the Kaamelott version. Hum. ;-)

I can't blame you for not paying much attention to Gawain in that film; Merlin was obviously stealing the show! He's the only character with a sense of humour XD.

Middle English is, if you ask me, relatively easy for Dutch speakers. It seems closer to modern Dutch than to modern English. It depends on the dialect, though - "Yvain and Gawain" is for example much easier to read than "The Anturs of Arthur" (both of which I happen to have in the same book).

Father-son duels - yes, I know what you mean :-). I like mother-son duels too *g*. I just love that Gawain's mother is witchy. In my story she hates her son, who is desperately trying to win her affection. I guess I got the idea through Gawain's Grail adventures. Fancy a night questing for the Grail and winning, not a cup that holds the blood of Christ, but a castle full of women, including his own mum! There's an Oedipus complex for you :P...