Queen's Champion: The Legend of Lancelot Retold
Pride Publications & Imprints 1997 The stories of king Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have probably been retold more times than any other story. Already in the Middle Ages it was retold uncountable times, and in the last few years there've been so many retellings flooding the bookstores one can start to wonder if everything about it isn't told yet. At the same time, there is such a richness of themes, stories, and perspectives in the Arthurian tradition, you can carve your own story out of it and still be part of that same tradition. Arthur accepts everyone. Even though some purists might take offense from some ways to use the story.
This time the story is told from Lancelot's perspective. A young knight raised by the Lady of the Lake, soon after arriving to King Arthur's court becoming the special protector of his queen, Lady Guinevere. Focus is not so much on King Arthur, or the wars with the Saxons, but on Lancelot's romance with Queen and his relationships to the knights he grew up with, Gawain and Galehaut. Important themes are the struggle between the old Celtic religion and the rising Christianity and, well...
There is a major problem when the author is trying to conceal an important theme of a book. In some stories it might work, but this time at least I understood what it was all about at an early stage. The name of the publishing company, the author's personal history, the cover picture, even the author's sometimes quite obvious efforts to avoid revealing the "secret", they all help confirming my guesses. Orson Scott Card says, in his excellent book "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy", about a piece of amateur writing he'd read, that because "the writer had to labor so hard to conceal what was actually going on in the story, he was unable to accomplish anything except concealment". That comment would maybe be a little bit too harsh in this case, but the reason for that might very well be that the writer failed in her try to conceal. The theme in question could have been treated in a more interesting way if Ms. Newport discussed it openly. (The expression "came out" comes to my mind). Especially if I'm correct in my guess that this theme is the very centre point in the "From the Lion Fairytale" series.
The other theme really doesn't help so much. It has its own problems to struggle with. Oh, I don't get upset when it's presented like there was a good old religion unfairly being conquered by a new bad one. People can have their different opinions in religious matters, and this one is quite common. Read Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon", for instance. But the problem with Ms. Newport's version and many others' is that their pagan religion is so obviously 20th C. made. Listen to this: "For us, midsummer falls between the two festivals which celebrate the male energy - Beltane and Lughnasa. So just as we celebrate the mythical archetypes of father and son, we also celebrate the archetypes of mother and daughter". Mythical archetypes? Well, I'd guess Lancelot's teacher couldn't have read C.G. Jung, right? So even if he'd had Jungian ideas, he wouldn't have used Jungian terms. Personally, I'm quite sure nobody in 5th C. Britannia ever even discussed "male energy". Anachronisms of this kind may be a good thing if you want to teach someone neo-Paganism, but I really don't think that's Ms. Newport's intention, and then it's just disturbing.
So - I'm not really impressed. But that doesn't mean this book is all bad. A little amateurish, I'd say, in language and plot. It stumbles between dreamy, almost lyrical passages, matter-of-factly prose and Lancelot's thoughts about this and that. I'm not really a great fan of poetical fantasy, but I actually think those are the best parts of this book. But I think the book would've won a lot not being told in first person by Lancelot. Different perspectives could've made life in King Arthur's court, and the Lancelot-Guinevere love story, come alive in a more powerful way. But then you would've got quite a different book - and there already are all kinds of variations on these stories.
© 1998 Henriksson & Henriksson.