Monday, March 30, 2009

Sir Gawain: Great Knight, or Greatest Knight? Those are your only choices.

Today is the "What's your Scott and Jean?" meme day, where participating comic bloggers declare and explain their "Scott and Jean" or rather their "Greek Sacred Cow"--the one story point that they cling to that makes them completely frothing-at-the-mouth insane, and are unable to discuss reasonably.

I have a lot of those. Kyle Rayner is a better Lantern than anyone else; Wally West should be the Flash; Steve Trevor should be the love interest for Wonder Woman; The Kingpin has only 2% body fat (I once stopped the car over this one) to list a few, but those all fall among those that are negotiable. Things that change after a few years or after seeing the right writer manage it.

Really, in all of Geekdom there is only one matter that I will never negotiate on: Sir Gawain.

My first real interest in the King Arthur legend came with the reading of Sir Gawaine and the Ugly Wife (Not the Howard Pyle version. Do not read the Howard Pyle version.) It was followed by seeing a televised presentation of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight. Preferring short stories to longform novels even as a child, most of my Arthurian research came from hunting for folklore books in the library/on the internet. Mainly I searched for Gawain stories. He was my favorite character, the rightful heir to the throne (as the oldest son of the oldest sister, he had much more legitimacy than Mordred), the paragon of courtesy and gentleness (when written correctly), and often the only one of those fucking stone-aged Roundtable morons who treated women like human beings. He may be seen as a womanizer because he had a different girl in every story (and most of the more interesting women in Arthurian literature are in Gawain adventures), but can you honestly fault the only man in Logres who would solve a dispute over who gets to marry a woman by ACTUALLY ASKING THE GIRL for getting laid a lot? No, that's only natural.

Bundled into this protectiveness are very specific ideas about his mother. See, I always traced Gawain's progressive attitude towards women to the influence of his mother Morgause, King Arthur's more interesting sister. I always like to describe her as the Blanche Devereaux of Camelot. A mature, vibrant woman with an especially active sex life who may be a bit self-absorbed and blinded by passion at times, but is still a warm, good-hearted mother.

Modern writers love to redeem Morgan Le Fay so they can have a "strong woman" but want to keep the witch, so they like to make Morgause the evil one. I fucking hate that. She has so much potential on her own as a female character. Sure there's stories where she slept with her brother and don't get me wrong, I find that horrifyingly disgusting as we're all meant to. But think about it, wouldn't it suck royally to find out that the hot little prince you slept with to cement a treaty was not just a blood relative, but a freaking sibling? Oh, and that you're going to have his kid. I mean, what's with these writers that they can't empathize with a character who made such a huge freaking mistake and need to demonize the character to keep the plot point. Do we really need to make her the wicked witch of the North to keep that part of the story in?

Hell, just leaving that part out (a lot of writers are squeamish on the incest), do we really need to cut off her head in the end for bedding a hot little knight a third of her age twenty to forty fucking years after her husband kicks it? I mean, what's wrong with someone in the Court having a healthy sex life?

I had been reading pre-Malory legends for years when I finally got off my ass and read Le Morte D'Arthur and The Once and Future King. I discovered right away that I really hate Le Morte D'Arthur because Gawain is such a blockhead, because he's shown up as the idiot, because he has to have a freaking enchantment just to explain why he can stand up to Lancelot AFTER spending much of the story getting his ass saved by Lancelot. And honestly, I fucking hate Lancelot and the whole fucking Lancelot/Guinevere story that moviemakers/comicwriters/novelists/etc are so fucking fascinated by that they'll throw considerably more interesting characters in the fucking trash to make time for it. I hate that so muchfiction after this point was based on Malory's story, running the Lancelot loves the Queen story into the ground when they could have been fleshing out characters like Gawain, Perceval, Yvain, Lynnette, Morgause, Eric, Enid, Kay, Bors and so on. (And for the record Perceval gets screwed in this book too because they give his Grail Quest glory to Lancelot's shitty little cipher of a son Galahad. That's Perceval's fucking story, dammit!)

And I will never forgive T.H. White for giving the Green Knight adventure to that little asskisser Gareth and for making "Morgause is the evil witch" (though I concede that The Queen of Air and Darkness is a kickass title) into a motif that everyone who wants to show Morgan as sympathetic likes to use. (Yeah, fuck you too Mists of Avalon!)

My Gawain is not the jerk of the Howard Pyle stories, or the dick of the Tristan cycle, or the blockhead written by Thomas Malory and TH White. My Gawain is the respectful, quiet, handsome man from the Green Knight and the Ugly Wife/Loathly Lady stories, and if your Arthurian story features any other Gawain, I will most likely hate it and call you mean names no matter how skillful and innovative the story may be.