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Literature / Idylls of the King

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson's verse narrative Idylls of the King is inspired by Arthurian Legend, 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 the complete book, the poems are not in order of writing or publication.

It was illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Idylls of the King provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Morgaine/Morgause does not appear in this version.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: "Gareth and Lynette" ends by saying that Mallory might have paired Gareth with his Damsel in Distress, but Tennyson thinks it's more likely he ended up with the woman he actually spent time with.
    And he that told the tale in older times
    Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lyonors,
    But he, that told it later, says Lynette.
  • 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.
  • Darker and Edgier: The poems become grimmer and gorier as the Round Table dissolves.
  • 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.
  • Dead Man Writing: Elaine leaves a posthumous message for the court in "Lancelot and Elaine".
  • Death Seeker: The heartbroken Arthur after he realizes the extent of Guinevere's and Lancelot's treachery.
  • The Dividual: Balin and Balan, of the syndividual type. Balan is capable of restraining Balin's anger issues. Then, they split up.
  • Fisher King: As Arthur's power fades and the Round Table slowly disintegrates, the seasons change for the worse.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Killed Offscreen: Sir Gawain, who dies offstage between "Guinevere" and "The Passing of Arthur."
  • Love Triangle: Arthur loves Guinevere and Lancelot. Lancelot loves Guinevere and Arthur. Guinevere loves Lancelot, but not Arthur.
  • 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" Remark: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).