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Sir Aglovale returns to Camelot and swears revenge on
the Orkney faction for having killed his brother Lamorak. Arthur
convinces Aglovale that the only way to stop the bloodshed is for
him to give up on revenge. Aglovale tells Arthur about the adventures
of his youngest brother, Sir Percival, who is also a holy knight
like Galahad. Percival has some adventures in a magical forest and
then boards a magical barge with Sir Bors and Sir Galahad. In the
barge, they are joined by Percival’s sister, a holy nun. On their
search for the Holy Grail, the three knights get into a fight with
a group of men and slaughter them. Galahad tells them the slaughter
is not sinful, since the murdered men were not christened. They
then come to another castle, where Percival’s sister sacrifices
her life to save a woman with a fatal disease. After telling his
stories, Aglovale asks Arthur to invite the Orkneys to dinner on
Other returning knights bring contradicting rumors about
the adventures of Bors, Percival, and Galahad. Rumors fly that Lancelot has
died or gone mad. Guenever becomes less cautious, and Mordred and
Agravaine wait eagerly for her to reveal her affair. Lancelot returns
to Camelot exhausted but sane. Uncle Dap tells Arthur that Lancelot
has been wearing a hair shirt—a painful way of doing penance for
The next day, Lancelot tells Arthur and Guenever the story
of his search for the Holy Grail. Guenever, now forty-two years
old, has dressed up and put on makeup in an effort to look good
for Lancelot, and his heart warms at the sight of her. Lancelot
tells them that he did not find the Holy Grail, which was reserved
for Galahad. Lancelot also says that if Galahad seems cold, it is
because he is more angelic than human. Lancelot relates that Galahad
defeated him in jousting. Lancelot then confessed his sins, which
he thought would make him the best knight in the world again. But
he was then beaten by another group of knights, after which he fell
asleep in a chapel. When he woke up, his sword and armor had been
taken from him. He then began to wear the hair shirt as penance.
Thinking he had cleansed himself and could fight as well as he had
before, Lancelot fought a knight dressed in black but was again
Arthur is outraged that Lancelot, his best knight, has
been beaten. Lancelot continues with his story: he then got on a
magic barge, and Galahad soon joined him. Eventually Galahad got
out to seek the Holy Grail. The barge eventually returned to the
castle where the Grail was located, and Lancelot was allowed to
watch Galahad and other holy knights participate in a Mass in a
chapel that contains the Holy Grail.
Having found God, Lancelot decides to end his affair with
Guenever, but she is confident he will return to her. The narrator
explains that Guenever is not an evil seductress, for seductresses
usually leave men hollow, while both the men that Guenever loves
have accomplished great things.
Guenever’s faith in Lancelot’s love grows weaker as time
passes. One day, she demands that he go on another quest instead
of torturing her with his presence. Just as Lancelot has
decided to give up his abstinence and rekindle his affair with Guenever,
she leaves the room and refuses to talk to him. He leaves Camelot
the next morning.
With Lancelot gone, it becomes even clearer
that Camelot is no longer the place it once was. The best knights
have either succeeded in finding the Holy Grail or have died. At
the court, fashions are silly and infidelity is the norm. Mordred
and his friends now dominate Camelot, and Guenever is widely despised.
In an attempt to win some popularity, she throws a dinner party
for the knights and leaves out a tray of apples, Gawaine’s favorite
fruit. A distant relative of the Pellinores tries to avenge Lamorak’s death
by poisoning one of the apples, but an innocent knight eats one
first and dies. Guenever is accused of trying to poison Gawaine.
Each side picks a champion to fight for their cause.
Sir Bors agrees, reluctantly, to be Guenever’s champion.
In the days before the fight, however, he finds Lancelot in a nearby
abbey. Lancelot takes Bors’s place and easily defeats the knight
who accused Guenever. He spares the knight’s life, but insists that
no mention of the incident be made on the poisoned knight’s tombstone.
The episode with Sir Aglovale in Chapter 30 is
important because it reveals that, even after it has been in place
for so long, King Arthur’s government still relies on sacrifices
made for the common good. Arthur has committed himself to a system
of government that is moral, but he has also inherited a country
in which wrongs are committed every day and the system of justice
in place is still not strong enough to deal with all of them. Arthur
is not yet in a position to punish his strong men, so he must appeal
to individuals such as Aglovale to forego their vengeance. The old
system is based on avenging any wrongs that a person commits against
one’s family. The system is so ingrained that Arthur has to ask
some of his knights to forgive others’ wrongs against them until
a new system of justice can be established.
In this section, we also gain a better understanding
of Guenever. Until now we have seen her as more of a target for
Lancelot’s affections than an individual in her own right, and the
portrait of her had previously been more flattering. In these chapters,
however, Guenever begins to seem like a furtive, jealous, and secretive
woman. She fears Arthur’s retribution if he finds out
about her affair, but she nonetheless continues the affair even
after Lancelot tries to call it off. As her behavior worsens, so
does her physical appearance, and she begins to use makeup to try
to keep Lancelot attracted to her. The image of Guenever putting
on makeup to cover her age suggests that she is trying to hide her
true, immoral self. The narrator tries to temper such an unattractive
picture of Guenever by telling us that Arthur is ten years older
than she and that their marriage was arranged. With this qualifying
description, we sympathize more with Guenever’s situation, though
we still do not applaud her lack of morals and honor.
The other major development in these chapters
is Lancelot’s newfound humility and piety. His failed quest for
the Holy Grail has taught him that there are some goals that cannot
be accomplished through skill in battle. Lancelot’s son, Galahad,
comes to exemplify this new knightly ideal instead. Since he is
pure, pious, and virginal, only Galahad is able to accomplish the
quest for the Holy Grail. Even though Galahad is the product of
a union that was corrupt and dishonorable, he rises to become a
highly moral figure. White, however, is more interested in humanity
than in heroism, and he keeps Galahad as a minor character while
Lancelot remains a pivotal figure. Like Malory, White is principally interested
in the tragic aspects of King Arthur’s story and in the circumstance
that bring about the demise of Camelot and England’s golden age.
Galahad seems fairly cold, and almost inhuman, in his perfection.
Lancelot, on the other hand, realizes his own mortality and his
human failings, and sees that he can never reach the sterile perfection
of his son. Lancelot’s understanding of the limitations of his character
demonstrates his maturity and humanness.
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