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Literature: Idylls of the King
Alfred Lord Tennyson's verse narrative Idylls of the King is inspired by Arthurian legends, especially Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur; however, it also draws extensively on the Mabinogion and French traditions. The complete Idylls consists of 12 poems, plus a dedication to the deceased Prince Albert and an epilogue addressed to Queen Victoria. Tennyson, a longtime enthusiast of the Arthurian tales, worked on the collection for decades: the first four poems appeared in 1859, and the last one in 1885. (In book form, the poems are not in order of writing or publication.)

It was illustrated by Gustave Doré.


Provides examples of:

  • A Day in the Limelight: Because Tennyson doesn't try to replicate Malory in his entirety, a number of significant characters, like Merlin, appear in no more than one or two poems apiece.
  • Accentuate the Negative: How Vivien and Modred set to work on other characters.
  • Accidental Murder: Balin and Balan, of each other.
  • Adapted Out: Morgaine/Morgause.
  • Anyone Can Die
  • The Atoner: Guinevere and, if you're paying very close attention, Lancelot.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Thoroughly deconstructed by the end, as physical appearance turns out to be an utterly unreliable way of judging character.
  • Berserk Button: Balin responds badly to any number of things, but especially to perceived insults to himself and to Guinevere.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Round Table is destroyed, Arthur is dead and gone and civilization is in ruins. Still, the good Sir Bedivere remains, and the new year is at hand.
  • Child by Rape: Arthur.
  • Consummate Liar: Vivien, although she's right about Guinevere and Lancelot.
  • Cool Sword: Excalibur.
  • Cradling Your Kill: "Balin and Balan".
  • Darker and Edgier: The poems become grimmer and gorier as the Round Table dissolves.
  • Dead Woman Writing: Elaine leaves a posthumous message for the court in "Lancelot and Elaine".
  • Death by Despair: Elaine of Astolat.
  • Death Seeker: The heartbroken Arthur after he realizes the extent of Guinevere's and Lancelot's treachery.
  • Driven to Madness: Sir Pelleas, complete with Madness Mantra ("I have no sword").
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Sir Gawain, who dies offstage between "Guinevere" and "The Passing of Arthur."
  • Fisher King: As Arthur's power fades and the Round Table slowly disintegrates, the seasons change for the worse.
  • Girl in the Tower: Lyonors in "Gareth and Lynette."
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Guinevere's passion for Lancelot destroys the Round Table by undermining everyone else's virtue.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: Why Arthur Jumps at the Call in "The Coming of Arthur."
    • Subverted in "Gareth and Lynette." Because of some backstage maneuvering by Arthur, Lancelot does not go on the quest when Lynette asks; when he does put in an appearance later on, Lynette is exasperated instead of pleased.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Guinevere whenever a woman gets too close to Lancelot, as first becomes apparent when Vivien shows up.
  • Heroic Vow: Knights must swear one to join the Round Table.
  • Holier Than Thou: Pellam's understanding of Christianity.
  • Idiot Ball: Carried by several characters.
    • Thanks to his Incorruptible Pure Pureness, Arthur doesn't pick up on the relationship between Guinevere and Lancelot.
    • Merlin allows himself to be tricked by Vivien.
    • Tristram doesn't pack up to go, despite Isolt warning him that Mark could return any second.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Arthur and Galahad.
  • Kill 'em All: The battle at the Red Knight's court on a small scale, followed by Arthur's final battle on a large one.
  • Knight In Shining Armour: Most prominently Arthur, Gareth, and Galahad.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Lancelot, especially in "Lancelot and Elaine", "The Holy Grail" and "The Last Tournament."
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted, sort of. Arthur strongly advocates male chastity and tells Guinevere that he was a virgin before he married her. Similarly, Sir Galahad's purity is linked to his virginity. A number of knights fail to pass this test, though.
  • Merlin and Nimue: Here, Merlin and Vivien.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Enid by Geraint.
    • More ironically, Guinevere accuses Lancelot of cheating with Elaine of Astolat.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Tristram neglects to keep track of time during "The Last Tournament"...
    "Mark's way," said Mark, and clove him thro' the brain.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Tennyson's Arthur is a romanticized version of Prince Albert.
  • Not So Different: The Red Knight's point about the relationship between his court and King Arthur's. Given what follows, he appears to be correct.
  • The Oath-Breaker: By the end of the sequence, many of Arthur's knights have betrayed their vows in one way or the other.
  • One Steve Limit: Unlike the original legends, Tennyson does not deluge us with multiple characters with the same name.
  • Playing Cyrano: Sir Gawain promises to do this for Sir Pelleas in "Pelleas and Ettarre." The execution, however, leaves something to be desired.
  • Public Domain Character: The entire cast of characters.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Lynette spends most of "Gareth and Lynette" trying to provoke Gareth, whom she believes to be base-born, until she changes her mind near the end.
  • Smug Snake: Modred, Vivien.
  • Sole Survivor: Sir Bedivere.
  • Tame His Anger: "Balin and Balan" subverts this trope. Balin does his best, but once he's separated from Balan and begins to doubt Guinevere, his self-control evaporates.
  • The Dividual: Balin and Balan, of the syndividual type. Balan is capable of restraining Balin's anger issues. Then, they split up.
  • Triang Relations: Type 12, although platonic on the male ends. Arthur loves Guinevere and Lancelot. Lancelot loves Guinevere and Arthur. Guinevere loves Lancelot, but not Arthur.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Because Tennyson skips large chunks of the legend, some characters simply disappear without a trace (Vivien), or have blink-and-you'll miss-it resolutions to their plot (Lancelot).
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Arthur.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Lancelot and Guinevere; Tristram and Isolt.

The Idiot 19 th Century LiteratureIn Search of the Castaways
The Hunting of the SnarkPoetryThe Iliad

alternative title(s): Idylls Of The King
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