Arthur Dayne as Sir Lancelot

At first glance, who better to fulfill the role of First Knight than Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning, almost universally reckoned to be the finest knight who ever lived? Wikipedia cites this scholarly description of Lancelot:

According to Pamela Raabe, in Chretien de Troyes’ work Lancelot is portrayed as not only the bravest of knights, but one that everyone he meets is forced to describe as uniquely perfect. (Raabe, Pamela (1987) Chretien’s Lancelot and the Sublimity of Adultery. Toronto Quarterly. 57:259-270)

Compare with:

The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who would have killed me but for Howland Reed. (Eddard Stark to Bran Stark, ACoK, ch.21)

I learned from Ser Arthur Dayne , the Sword of the Morning, who could have slain all five of you with his left hand while he was taking a piss with his right. (Jaime Lannister to Loras Tyrell, ASoS, Ch.67)

Another detail about Lancelot: His castle and the location of his final resting place? Joyous Gard. Formerly called Dolorous Gard, the name was changed to Joyous Gard after Arthur and Gwenhwyfar visit as his guests. If it were a tower, it might well be called… the Tower of Joy.

In Chretien de Troyes tale “The Knight of the Cart” which introduced the Lancelot-Gwenhyfar affair to the medieval world, Lancelot rescues Gwenhwyfar, who has been abducted by Melwas (Meleagant) His quest portrays the struggles to balance his role as King Arthur’s warrior within the framework of courtly love and his affair with Gwenhwyfar. In order to reach her to effect the rescue, he must travel in a cart which the audience understands to be a mode of transport usually reserved for criminals. This foreshadows the consummation of the affair, which occurs after the rescue. Essentially, Lancelot breaks his contract with his king and becomes a criminal or social outcast through his actions. Critically, his role as the King’s First Knight does not change, but has been sullied.

This parallel posits Rhaegar as Arthur married to Elia as Gwenhwyfar. By all accounts, R+E (like A+G) had a marriage of mutual respect and fondness, if not passion. Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning and “bravest of knights” is Lancelot, King Arthur’s First Knight who before he learned his true name was known only as “The White Knight.” Is there is a possible parallel here with Arthur Dayne and Elia Martell? How does Lyanna Stark fit in? As usual, with GRRM things are not so straightforward, as our next installments will show.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Lady G – thanks for the post.

    Question: For someone who has read and re-read all the asoiaf material but has never read ANYTHING on Arthurian legend, and who seldom has time to consume anything not in the audio format (audiobooks, youtube episodes, etc.):

    What are your suggested starting points for the process of becoming obsessed with Arthur at an asoiaf level of insanity?

    • Going to post my reference list here for posterity:
      Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy (plus one)
      Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles
      M.Z.Bradley’s Mists of Avalon
      TH White’s Once & Future King
      Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian Trilogy
      Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Series
      Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Arthur Trilogy and finally, John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is a wonderful starting place & overview
      For the record, historical sources referenced in the essays include the Welsh Triads, a number of medieval chronicles (Nennius, Gildas and Geoffrey of Monmouth), French romances (Chretien de Troyes and Robert de Boron) and English literature (Ser Gawain & the Green Knight, and works by Spenser, Malory, Tennyson and William Morris)

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