Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Arn: The Knight Templar

Go To
"I gave my word."

Arn: The Knight Templar is a series of books by Swedish author Jan Guillou, also known as The Crusades Trilogy, and a film (or two, in Scandinavia; it was condensed to one international release) telling the story of a young man who finds himself as one of The Knights Templar as penance after falling in love with and bedding Cecilia, and conceiving a child out of wedlock. From his beginnings as a child monk being trained in the sword to befriending Saladin, we get a snapshot of his entire life. While much of the film takes place during The Crusades, it also takes much time out to elaborate on Arn's past and Cecilia's current penance as well as the sociopolitical climate in the kingdom that one day will be Sweden.

The book series consists of the following:

  • The Road to Jerusalem
  • The Templar Knight
  • Birth of the Kingdom

There was also a sequel, The Heritage After Arn, about a fictionalized version of real historical person Birger Jarl, which has not yet been translated.

The books were a huge success with Swedish audiences, spawning walking tours of historical sites as well as television documentaries and a renewed interest in medieval history.

The books contain examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Due to the setting, there's a whole slew of these; Arn and Cecilia's betrothal is a variation, although they're actually in love and are punished for becoming impatient and sleeping together before their wedding. There is also the later issue of Arn, once having returned home from Palestine, almost being married off to Sverker maiden Ingrid Ylva, when he'd rather marry Cecilia like he was supposed to all along. In the end, it's arranged for their son Magnus to marry Ingrid Ylva instead, and he has no objection.
    • Another: Knut and Blanka, who are quite content with their arrangement.
    • Arn and Magnus actually discuss this at one point. Arn wonders if Magnus is truly willing to marry a woman he has never met, but Magnus is perfectly willing.
      Magnus: I am not like you, father. The tale of your and my mother's love is beautiful, and still sung in taverns and at fairs, but when I marry, it will be for honour and for my clan. I have never considered anything else.
  • The Cameo: The young English knight with whom Arn jousts, is revealed to be Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe.
  • Cool Horse: All the Arabian horses compared to the Nordic coldbloods, but especially Kamsiin.
  • Cool Old Guy: Brother Guilbert at Arn's bachelor party, as stag nights in this period involved a contest of arms, with seven events. In spite of never having practiced two of the events (throwing spears and throwing axes) and going up against men a third of his age, he still manages to place second.
  • Cool Sword: Arn's sword was given to him by Brother Guilbert who was never defeated while wielding it. He is told never to raise it in anger or use it for personal benefit.
  • Death by Childbirth: Narrowly averted; Mother Rikissa starves the pregnant Cecilia Rosa and has her working in the fields throughout her pregnancy until her labor starts.
  • Finish Him!: Young Arn is told to end the duel with Emund Ulvbane in this manner. He refuses to kill an already defeated enemy.
  • Friendly Enemy: Arn and Saladin; they've saved each others' lives, like and respect each other, and have many opinions about the future of Palestine in common. However, they're also determined to defeat the other on the battlefield because it is God's Will.
  • Guile Hero: Birger Brosa is the key player in the Folkung clan's political ambitions, and a highly skilled politician. Arn comments that even in the Holy Land, home to every schemer, opportunist and ambition-monger in Europe, people who could play politics as well as his uncle Birger were rare.
  • High Priest: The Church is a major power both among the Templars and in Sweden, so there are multiple examples of this trope, including several Archbishops and Popes.
  • Honor Before Reason: Subverted. Arn is honorable, but he is also pragmatic enough to know dying with honor isn't all it's cracked up to be.
    Arn: Think about it. The Danes expect you to call the ledung, for every man to show up manly and broad-legged with his iron hat on his head and his axe in his hand, to die bravely and with honor, but die nonetheless.
    Knut: So then we are not only lost, but dishonoured, and no-one follows a dishonoured king!
  • Horse Archer: Arn is one, leading to his reputation among the Saracens. Also, obviously, the Turcopoles.
  • I Am X, Son of Y.: Ubiquitous due to the setting, but becomes significant in one case, namely that of Bengt Elinsson. Bengt was born Bengt Svantesson, but his father was an abusive drunk, who even killed Bengt's mother Elin in a drunken rage. After Elin's death is avenged by her clansmen (including Arn), Bengt sheds his father's clan colors and name and chooses to identify himself as his mother's son.
  • Master Swordsman:
    • Most of the Knights Templar, but Arn and Brother Guilbert (and later Arn's students) are the ones most remarked upon by other characters.
    • Among the Templars at Gaza, Arn is remarked on as very good, but according to him there are five brothers there who are his equals and three who are better. This fact renders Harald, who until then has considered Arn capable of taking God in a straight fight, gobsmacked.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • Averted and played with; Cecilia Algotsdotter and Cecilia Ulfsdotter are lay sisters as the same time, and are told apart by nicknaming them after their hair colors; red-haired Cecilia Rosa and blonde Cecilia Blanka. They keep these nicknames for the rest of their lives.
    • Also a few instances of combinations of aversion of it and and Dead Guy Junior; Arn and Cecilia Rosa's son is named Magnus, although Old Sir Magnus is not yet dead when he's born, and there's the case of a number of kings named Knut and Erik.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Birger Brosa is... less than pleased when Arn has the indecency to not only come home from the Holy Land, but to insist on marrying Cecilia instead of allowing himself and her to be slotted into his political plans. The day is remembered as the Great Noise, because it is the only time in living memory when the famously soft-spoken Birger, whose Perpetual Smiler nature won him the nickname "Brosa", actually yelled.
  • Recycled Premise: The basic plot is the same as The White Viking: a young man is forced to commit to a crusade as a punishment, while his beloved (who is pregnant) is locked in a monastery, the man being given a symbol of female divinity as protection during his quest, and the beloved receiving false news of his death, while in fact he has been saved by the leader of the opponents to Christianity.
  • Rightful King Returns: Subverted. Eskil informs Harald that as Oystein Moyla's son, he could make a claim to the throne of Norway and attempt to seize it from the current king, his father's comrade-in-arms Sverre. Harald thinks about it, but eventually decides against it and goes to Norway with a letter of safe conduct. Sverre is overjoyed to have his old friend's son back, and Harald eventually becomes one of Sverre's most trusted advisors.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang:
    • Arn and Eskil, as adults. Arn is a devoted warrior and a man of God, Eskil is a cunning merchant with a fondness for swearing, food and beer. Despite this, they get along very well.
    • There is a "Not So Different" Remark involved: Arn explains that, as castellan of Gaza, he had to be as much Merchant Prince, judge, politician and diplomat as a soldier.
      We Knights Templar make deals where the strangest of goods are shifted, and can cut deals with the Devil himself, or even with a Norseman, if it comes to that!
    • Also, to a certain extent, Cecilia Rosa and Katarina; Cecilia is romantic, devoted and faithful, while Katarina is opportunistic, conniving and hedonistic.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In-universe. Eskil mentions that he has heard of Arn's exploits in the Holy Land, like when he led 20000 Knights Templar in a charge against 100000 Saracens at the Mountain of Pigs ("Grisarnas Berg" in Swedish). When Arn has stopped laughing, he explains that the battle stood at Mont Gisard, and that he led 400 Templars against 5000 Saracens. Eskil shrugs and says that the Broad Strokes were true enough, and that there's nothing wrong with tweaking the truth to make a better story.
  • You Killed My Father: Two subversions:
    • Inverted when Erik Knutsson meets up with King Sverker Karlsson, after the battle of Lena.
      Your father killed my grandfather. My father killed yours. Let it end here. Give me your crown and return to Denmark in peace.
    • A source of friction between Cecilia Rosa and her friend Ulvhilde. Cecilia is betrothed to Arn, who was responsible for maiming (and, Ulvhilde believes, killing) her father, Emund Wolfbane. When Arn comes home, he gets to explain; when he maimed Emund he was a sixteen-year-old boy answering an insult to his family while trying to keep everyone involved, including Emund, alive, and taking Emund's sword-hand was the best he could do. When it came to the killing of Emund, a completely separate incident, his friends were involved, and Arn was at the crime scene but was purposefully kept out of the actual killing and sent home before Emund died.

The film also contains examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The film opens with Arn saving a caravan from bandits.
  • Arranged Marriage: Cecilia violates her arranged marriage to a Sverker warrior with Arn, driving her into penance as a lay sister and causing Arn to become a Templar.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Cecilia's sister, Katarina. When she learns that Arn fell in love with and slept with Cecilia after having rejected her, Katarina outs them to Mother Rikissa and lies about sleeping with Arn herself.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The Erik and Sverker houses. In the film, Erik the Holy is assasinated in Västra Götaland by Karl Sverkersson and his nasty henchman Emund Ulvbane. In actual history, he was killed in Uppsala by a Danish noble called Magnus Henriksson and his allies (the Sverkers might have been part of them). This was pretty unpopular among the peasantry and he was killed at Örebro. Then Karl Sverkersson, who was already king in Östra Götaland, took over the throne. It's worth to note that some medieval sources claim that Karl Sverkersson's own father also had been killed on Magnus Henriksson's order. Then Knut (or at least his men) murdered Karl Sverkersson. In the film, Knuts killing of the king becomes a straight up revenge killing and puts the Sverkers in a bad light and the Eriks in a much better one.
  • Improbable Use of a Weapon: Arn doesn't have a dominant hand, so he regularly switches between right-handedness and left-handedness to throw his adversaries off guard.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Arn and Saladin have shades of this whenever they hang out.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Cecilia's jealous sister only have a few appearances, but is the cause of Cecilia and Arn being separated for 20 years, Cecilia having to serve in a convent while Arn is forced into service in the Holy Land.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: In the second film, Arn stops a rogue crusader from attacking innocent Saracens by using non-lethal methods, knocking him to the ground, then offering him his hand afterwards to show him mercy. In return, the rogue crusader kills Arn's horse. Arn promptly snaps and kills the crusader and his henchmen for it afterwards.