Reading the Classics: Review of T.H. White's "The Ill-Made Knight"
We all know the story of Lancelot: King Arthur's most intimate friend, one of the greatest knights of the round table, handsome, skillful, clever, fell in love with Gwynevere, etc. Malory's Morte D'Arthur shows us the gallant and prepossessing side of the famous knight,. but T.H. White's depiction gives us a new and possibly more realistic view of what it may have been like to be Arthur's champion and friend.
Galahad Lancelot Dulac was born a hideous child. Learning to be ashamed of himself at an early age, he is determined to prove his worth to the world. Abused and alone, Lancelot is shown kindness from Arthur at an early age, and once he is asked if she should like to become a valiant knight of the Round Table one day, Lance, as Arthur calls him, falls in love with the king's ideals and does his utmost to prove himself worthy. he spends years breaking his body, training alone, wondering why he was made so repellent, until at last he is accepted in the court as a Sir. Though he is invincible, righteous, kindly, he forever hates himself for loving Arthur and Gwynevere at the same time. Riven between his love for his king and his queen, he leaves to guard himself from imprudence, going on many successful quests and being fulfilled by none of them. He is cruelly tricked into relinquishing his ability to perform miracles by Elaine, is driven mad by Gwynevere's character and beauty, and is left with a broken heart, a son he cannot care for, and a king who has lost faith in him. Resigning himself to the consolation of proving himself worthy once more, he returns to the court after a many-years absence to reclaim his miracles and his friendship with Arthur.
This is possibly one of the best books I have ever read. White makes us feel so terribly for Lancelot: he is beaten then befriended, lauded then hated, rejected then loved, deceived and reconciled all in one volume. His struggle does end in triumph, but for the Ill-Made Knight, as Lance calls himself, it's a triumph that has mostly pain and so few pleasures.