June 15, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Merlin “Lancelot Du Lac”

Series Four, Episode Nine.

So, let’s talk about Lancelot.

OK, so, in short, Morgana (who now seems to hate everybody but at least Gauis has an explanation for why she’d want Gwen taken out) partially resurrects Lancelot for the express purpose of ruining Arthur’s engagement to Gwen.  She even gives Lancelot an enchanted bracelet to force Gwen to act on long forgotten feelings.  Because Gwen really and truly is in love with Arthur.  What a novel concept.  And, ultimately, the plan works.  Agravaine sets up Arthur to catch Gwen kissing Lancelot, and he encourages his nephew to execute both of them.  However, Arthur decides in a rather tearful scene to simply banish Gwen and Lancelot “commits suicide” before anyone can executed him.  Merlin and Gauis figured out the truth, and Merlin even pointed out that Agravaine is not a trustworthy individual.

But for Arthur, it doesn’t matter how much he loves Gwen if he isn’t sure if he can trust her anymore.  The scene between Arthur and Gwen at the end, with her crying and his being stoic and holding it all in, actually works pretty well for this show, and Merlin suffers a rare loss as he doesn’t manage to reconcile the pair before the episode’s end.

But I want to take a moment to discuss Lancelot, not as a character on this show, but in general.  And here goes:  Lancelot and Guinevere is my least favorite part of all the Arthurian legends. I would much rather anyone telling a King Arthur story tell, well, any story other than that one.  That’s mostly because it’s the story everybody knows and there doesn’t seem to be much there that anyone can make new or different.  True, Merlins take may be on the more creative and interesting ones I’ve seen in quite some time.  But that’s beside the point.  Most people telling the Arthur story get to Lancelot and then that’s all they want to tell.

Part of this goes back to the origins of Lancelot as a figure in the history.  In fact, Lancelot was one of the last of the major Arthurian figures added to the stories.  King Arthur’s legends originally began with Welsh folklore set in a pre-Christian era.  There, Arthur was a great king who had a large retinue of loyal followers.  Over time, storytellers added more of the elements we recognize today such as Merlin the magician and the sword Excalibur.

As for Guinevere, she was always Arthur’s wife and always Arthur’s weak point.  Even before Lancelot was part of the narrative there was a story where Arthur went on an epic war against the Roman Empire.  That ended just before Arthur achieved total victory.  Why?  Word reached Arthur that the man he left behind to run Camelot, Mordred, has somehow stolen Guinevere from Arthur. As such, Arthur turned around and went home to Camelot.  That would ultimately be his last battle.

Now, despite being mostly known as an English folk hero today, King Arthur was shaped more first by the aforementioned Welsh and later by French romance writers.  That would be about where Lancelot came in as a major figure in these stories.  The Church may not have entirely approved some of these early stories since they did feature adultery.  However, they were popular as depictions of courtly, chivalric love.  That is the idea that knights performed great deeds as a token of their (often chaste) love for great, generally married ladies.  The Lancelot story often goes too far as it shows the love going from “look but don’t touch” to “someone get me a garden hose to stop these two from doing that”.

Point is, I don’t much like the fact that Lancelot’s story is the one people remember.  It’s the one pop culture seems most inclined to bring up again and again.  There are plenty of other stories.  The fact most stories seem inclined to discuss the fall of Camelot (as Guinevere and Lancelot’s betrayal of Arthur’s love and trust ultimately leads to) than, say, anything else that happens in those old stories doesn’t sit well with me.  To Merlin‘s credit, given it has one season/series still to go after this one, it looks like we got a different take on the Lancelot and Guinevere story.  This version doesn’t lead to the kingdom’s ultimate fall, and I’m fine with that.

Plus, I think this is the last we see of Lancelot.  He does end the episode by briefly reverting to his true self to thank Merlin.  And that’s that.  I liked the character as presented, but he’s done here now.

So, I am sure we haven’t seen the last of Gwen.  I mean, her brother is still one of the Knights of the Round Table.  Truthfully, this may be one of the better ways of retelling a tired old story I’ve seen in a long time.