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Images from Janell Cannon's
Stellaluna. Reprinted with
permission from Harcourt Publishers.
 
Reviews

Reviews: (by author)

Gerald Morris. The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1999. 229 pages. $15.00 hardcover. ISBN 0395912113.

This sequel to The Squire's Tale takes largely the same cast of characters: Terence, the squire who usually ignores the lowliness of his station, Gawain, the knight with an unusual amount of good sense, Morgan, the sharp-tongued and sharp-brained enchantress, and Arthur, king of all the Britons. The story begins when the court's dinner is interrupted by messengers from the Emperor of Rome, whom Arthur invites to dinner: "we have roast venison, and my cook really makes a good thing of it." But when it becomes clear that the messengers insist on boorishly demanding tribute over the dinner table, Arthur sends them to wait in the entry hall and decides to go to war. The war is fought in France, and Terence and Gawain acquit themselves brilliantly, saving the day. Much of the recognition, however, goes to a flashy new French fellow by the name of Lancelot.

Yes, Lancelot comes to Arthur's court in this novel, and he comes wearing feathers and spouting silly French nonsense at Guinevere, who unfortunately falls for it. The situation at court becomes increasingly tense as parties form - one for the new French style of chivalry and one for the old British style of knighthood. In the meantime, Arthur becomes increasingly unhappy as he sees his wife grow more and more infatuated with Lancelot. At last the Green Knight comes to Arthur's Christmas court.

The remainder of the plot centers around a re-telling of 14th century poem Gawain and the Green Knight, and just as the cook makes a good thing of roast venison, so does Gerald Morris make a good thing of his source material. The disdain of Terence and Gawain for the shallow aspects of chivalry (particularly the knights' habit of puffing up their exploits: "one lie is as good as another," Terence says) proves to be an excellent counterpoint to the French-style chivalry brought by Lancelot and French story-tellers to Arthur's court. The novel actually reproduces within itself the clash of native British re-telling of Arthurian legend, such as Gawain and the Green Knight, and the French romances of Chretien de Troyes. Because Morris' source material questions the values of knighthood, it proves to be an excellent choice of tale to reproduce such a clash - one effect of this is that The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady is a rather more serious novel than the first one was. It is still hilarious in particular scenes (the scene in which Gawain receives the elaborate and completely useless shield with its "five fives of perfection" is a wonderful farce), but the overall tone is more thoughtful.

The wonderful and engaging characters, the exciting and meaningful adventures, the magical and yet somehow realistic setting - all these are excellent reasons for both girls and boys to enjoy this book.

Recommended reading level: Age 11-15

Reviewed by Jamie Madden

 

Gerald Morris. The Squire's Tale. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. $15.00 hardcover. ISBN 0-3958-6959-9.

This is a really delightful story based on the exploits of one of King Arthur's knights, Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain has been given less attention than he deserved in our books - that French fellow Lancelot has been hogging the spotlight. This book sets this situation to rights

The squire of the title is Terence, an orphan who meets Gawain in the woods and is taken (at a magician's urging) as Gawain's squire. Gawain is pretty happy with this situation: Terence is a sensible fellow who is good with a bow and (even better) an excellent cook. If you've ever gone out questing for months and tried to live on the food you can find, you'll realize why having a squire who can't cook is a serious problem. Terence is one of several characters who have been created for this book rather than taken directly from Arthurian legend, but all of these characters fit perfectly into the Arthurian world. Terence and Gawain go to Camelot, where Terence's ability to move silently in the forest helps return to the king the ring that is a sign of ruler-ship over Britain. Then the knight and squire go out questing, where they battle other knights, find an enchanter's palace, and generally have adventures (some from familiar Gawain stories such as the tale of Pelleas and Ettard).

The real fun in this book is not from the story itself (the plot is rather loosely woven) but from the wonderful humor that permeates it and particularly the way the author has fun going against some Arthurian conventions. Class lines are crossed as Gawain and Terence become friends instead of master and servant, much to the surprise of some of the folks at Camelot; Gawain is not too impressed by the trappings of knighthood and points out that "any clodpole can own armor, and any number of good fighters have to do without it." When they come across a hideous dragon, the decision is "To save a lady, maybe, but why fight a thing like that if you don't have to . . . Live and let live, I say." (The dragon turns out to be Gawain's aunt, Morgan le Fey.) In fact, fighting is a dubious occupation in this book, in which the knight who guards a bridge, forbidding all to pass, is considered pretty foolish, and some of Gawain's battles end in victories he wasn't really interested in (as when he accidentally kills Sir Ablamor's lady). One very nice side effect of telling Gawain's stories instead of Lancelot is that we are not treated to the tale of Guenever's betrayal of her husband. In fact, the book ends while the Camelot court is still in full swing, as Terence discovers he is a powerful sorcerer and foils a plan to destroy the kingdom.

This is a fun book, and should appeal to both boys and girls. It offers a fresh, modern perspective on Arthurian legends, while keeping much of the magic that makes those legends, well, legendary.

Recommended reading level: Age 11-15

Reviewed by Jamie Madden

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