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Literature / The Idylls of the Queen

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O me, that such a name as Guinevere's,
Which our high Lancelot hath so lifted up,
And been thereby uplifted, should through me,
My violence, and my villainy, come to shame.
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King

A retelling of chapters 3-8 in book 18 of Malory's Le Morte D Arthur, written by Phyllis Ann Karr and published in 1982, this book is an example of fantasy and crime fiction at the same time. The crime in question is the poisoning of the apples served at the feast prepared by Queen Guinevere, so, obviously, the Queen is the main suspect. The story is told from the perspective of Sir Kay, who, with the help of Mordred and the Lady of the Lake, tries to acquit the Queen of the accusation. During the investigation dark secrets of noble families are brought to light, religious conflicts reappear, Lancelot occurs to be a jerk, and all the courtly ideals are ridiculed.

Every chapter has a direct quotation from Malory at its beginning, and, as a whole, the novel sticks to Malory's version in every detail, including the names of minor knights and ladies and the exact chronology of events (though not the religious position - e.g. in Karr's novel the hermits are crazy old men, very much unlike Malorian majestic and omniscient interpreters of dreams).

Provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Gawain
  • Adaptation Expansion: Malory's version of the story is 6 chapters; Karr's is 33, plus an epilogue. Malory has Guinevere saved by a deus ex machina courtesy of the Lady of the Lake; Karr shows Kay and Mordred having to go to a lot of trouble to make the deus ex machina possible.
  • Asleep for Days: In the final chapter, Kay is wounded in pursuit of the murderer; when he regains consciousness, almost the first thing he says is that they have only two days to get the evidence back to London — to which Mordred replies that actually they only have one day, because he's been unconscious for nearly twenty-four hours.
  • Because Destiny Says So: The problem of Mordred, who turns into a cynical introvert after getting to know who exactly were his parents.
  • Courtly Love: Averted. Those who seem to be most courteous towards the ladies are not the most willing to help the Queen, and Kay himself is ridiculed by the courtiers only because he doesn't beat around the bush.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kay and, to a lesser degree, Mordred
  • Death Seeker: Mordred, troubled by his past.
  • Epigraph: Each chapter begins with a quotation from a medieval Arthurian romance — usually Malory, but occasionally something else such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Almost everyone has some serious reason to revenge on his fellows.
  • Excalibur: A minor appearance.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Everyone who has read Malory knows that the apple was poisoned by Pinel.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a fantasy novel, a satire AND a crime story, with sarcastic knights as detectives (and magic as forensic science).
  • Glory Days: Kay's are already behind him. However, he is more realistic than embittered, and deals with the problem very well.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: So Morgan le Fay claims, at least.
  • The High Middle Ages: Exactly like in Malory.
  • Hot Witch: Actually, two of them: Nimue of the Lake and Morgan le Fay.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Kay. He's really sarcastic for a seneschal.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: The main danger for the kingdom and court is connected with the poisoning, but the love relation between the Queen and Sir Lancelot causes some further complications.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Mind reading is a terrible thing for both the reader and the one being read, which is why The Lady of the Lake hates performing this kind of magic.
  • Murder by Mistake: Everyone assumes that the murderer meant to poison Gawaine, not Patrise.
  • Only Sane Man: Kay, as the only knight who questions their world of arbitrary honor and strange quests.
  • Perspective Flip: Kay, constantly described as an impolite coward by Malory, here is presented as straightforward and reasonable, while other knights (with possible exception of Mordred) are shown as either dishonest or plainly stupid.
  • Summation Gathering: Kay holds one in the penultimate chapter.
  • Supernatural Aid: Given to Mordred and Kay by Nimue and Morgan. Slightly subverted, as magic appears to be more restricted than non-magicians used to think.
  • Tempting Apple: The story begins from the death from a poisoned apple and the remaining fruits immediately become the object of interest for many.
  • Trial by Combat: The reason why everyone, except Kay and Mordred, desperately search for Lancelot.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Kay thinks Morgan is this, though he (and we) have no proof she's lying. Kay also qualifies, not because he isn't honest but because he's definitely letting his hatred of Lancelot color his version of events.
  • Villainous Lineage: If one is Gawaine's relative, no matter how distant, one is bound to become a serial killer, a cunning liar or, at least, an adulterer.