(Reference Books You’ve Gotta Know About!)
The Book of Guinevere: Legendary Queen of Camelot
By Andrea Hopkins
Barnes & Noble Books
Guinevere the Young Queen and Bride. Guinevere the Victim of Abduction. Guinevere the Courtly and Gracious Queen. Guinevere the Lover. Guinevere Falsely Accused. Guinevere the Jealous Harpy. Guinevere Noble in Adversity. Epilogue: The Fall of Guinevere.
When I picked up this book, the table of contents — which is what the above is — reminded me of the various stages of woman that we run into: the virgin, the wife, the hag. That’s not surprising, of course, because the myth of Guinevere is a personification of those stages, fleshed out into full-blown story, complete with adventure and tragedy and — naturally — romance. (Without that last, what would we be? But anyway.) Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” is the version that became best known, but the story had been told and retold prior, and has been told and retold since. It is a story that has fueled the imagination of writers for a millennium, if not more.
Guinevere is an integral part of the legend of King Arthur, but interestingly enough, it wasn’t until the triangle of Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot came into play (and got all the media attention, if you think of it that way) that she got much attention. But every mention of the queen prior to that, in all the earlier tellings of Arthur, had her as a distinct person, a ruler in her own right, who came into the marriage as a political entity, with strength of her own. The title of “queen” is not necessarily that of consort to Arthur; she had power in her own right. This book reminds us that no matter how the legend, and tragedy, is interpreted, she is more than simply virgin, wife, hag. She wasn’t, in our own parlance, someone to simply introduce and do one thing and then throw out; she isn’t a simple throw-away character.
Paradoxically, the table of contents reduces her to virgin, wife, hag, but also reminds us that she is more. She is victim; an alarming number of Arthurian stories reminds us that she was abducted numerous times, and at least once Lancelot rescued her. She is ruler, the courtly and gracious queen. The lover, who brought about a tragic end, but with strong passions of her own. The falsely accused, in which she is accused of crimes she did not commit (but of course, justly accused of the one she did, later on). According to author Andrea Hopkins, this occurred relatively frequently, leading me to wonder about the political dynamics of the Arthurian court. She is also the jealous harpy, when the queen manipulates and schemes to control those around her. This also plays into the queen who finds herself in love with Lancelot, and suffers when she suspects he’s dallying with another. (Sounds like a soap opera, doesn’t it? Well, it is.)
The story of Guinevere, all the variations of it, as ruler, bride, lover, repentant, reminds us of the richness of the legend. Hopkins reminds us that each character has depth, and as writers, we should plumb those depths for all we can.
Copyright 2000 EMS Flynn