Love is most likely the one motif that can be present in everything. History is full of fallen empires and wars waged all caused by love—or what the people themselves believe as something called love. Literature is another branch of knowledge that does not only record all the feelings that the great and famous convey for their loved ones, but it is also the proof of how people think when they are in love. Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets all serve as an extensive testament to how intense love can make a person feel and be.
From the dramatic to the comic and from the ridiculous illusions to the harsh realities, love, no matter how cliche it may sound, really makes the world go around. This cliche may be applied to the two books that will be compared in this paper: de Chretien Troyes’ “Lancelot: The Knight of the Cart” and George MacDonald’s “Phantastes. ” De Troyes’ book can only be the type that fantasy and adventures can be made of in its true chivalric glory. Lancelot has always been a familiar and a favourite knight, most especially since he won Lady Guinevere’s love and admiration considering she is already the Queen Guinevere of the King Arthur.
Lancelot: The Knight of the Cart is really a rather absurd account of how a knight would go into great lengths of trying to rescue his damsel in distress. In the modern context that we have today, such narration, plot, setting, and language would have been considered as romantic by the women and preposterous by the men. However, there is really something so endearing about a story wherein love and self-sacrifice play with the characters at their purest sense. De Troyes’ book begins in Queen Guinevere’s abduction by a mysterious knight.
The knights of King Arthur, Lancelot and Gawain, soon chase after the abductor to rescue Queen Guinevere. The book gives a detailed account of how Lancelot and Gawain rescue the Queen, but more than that, it is a narration of how Lancelot will endure everything just to win back the Queen. Lancelot, at the start of his journey, is identified as the Knight of the Cart (de Troyes vv. 539-982). He has somehow managed to get himself in a complicated situation that makes him lose his mount (horse) that he is forced to walk whilst wearing his armour and his sword.
It is in this state that he meets a Dwarf who tells him that he will see the Queen if he will ride the cart that the Dwarf is driving. It would not have been a problem if Lancelot is in the modern times, but back then, riding a cart is such a disgrace since it is only the criminals who have the privilege to do so. Only criminals are rendered low enough to ride such a disgraceful thing. This scene is very important as this will make Lancelot be known as “The Knight of the Cart. ” Moreover, this will cause the Queen’s cold attitude that she will show Lancelot when he finally rescues her.
Considering the great lengths that Lancelot had to go through just to get to the Queen, she still treated him coldly. This scene is also one of the early glimpses that the reader will be able to see concerning Lancelot and his great love for the Queen Guinevere: The knight hesitated only for a couple of steps before getting in. Yet, it was unlucky for him that he shrank from the disgrace, and did not jump in at once; for he will later rue his delay. But common sense, which is inconsistent with love’s dictates, bids him refrain from getting in, warning him and counseling him to do and undertake nothing for which he may reap shame and disgrace.
Reason, which dares thus speak to him, reaches only his lips, but not his heart; but love is enclosed within his heart, bidding him and urging him to mount at once upon the cart. So he jumps in, since love will have it so, feeling no concern about the shame, since he is prompted by love’s commands. (de Troyes Vv. 247-398. ) There is an endless narration of Lancelot’s obstacles. The first that is of importance is the temptation he successfully surpasses as a beautiful lady seduces him, asking that he makes love to her in exchange for a night’s rest and lodging.
The Knight of the Cart encounters similar situations wherein he is tested and tempted, but he always emerges victorious in the end. Adventures that soon followed allow him to display and show his skills as a Knight and more importantly, as an honourable and strong Knight. He frees the people of Logres from the imprisonment of the Kingdom of Gorre where the Queen Guinevere is held captive. Nevertheless, even if Lancelot has always emerged victorious after every obstacle, it is the crossing of the Sword Bridge which proves his determination and encompassing love to Queen Guinevere:
He is going to support himself with his bare hands and feet upon the sword, which was sharper than a scythe, for he had not kept on his feet either sole or upper or hose. But he felt no fear of wounds upon his hands or feet; he preferred to maim himself rather than to fall from the bridge and be plunged in the water from which he could never escape. In accordance with this determination, he passes over with great pain and agony, being wounded in the hands, knees, and feet. But even this suffering is sweet to him: for Love, who conducts and leads him on, assuages and relieves the pain.
(De Troyes Vv. 3021-3194) Lancelot safely crosses the bridge and is greeted warmly by the kind-hearted King of Gorre and the cold-blooded Maleagant (the King’s son) who is responsible for imprisoning Queen Guinevere. Maleagant challenges Lancelot into a duel, and as all noble knights should, he wins the fight. Maleagant is always plotting and plotting, trying to get through the Knight of the Cart as he accumulates such a hatred for the Knight. The Queen and Lancelot finally unite (literally and figuratively speaking) when a situation both puts them into thinking that the other person is dead.
The adventure that Lancelot undertakes is so rigorous, challenging, and battle-laden that it is even befitting to make it into a dramatic and action-filled movie. The Knight of the Cart does not only have to endure numerous temptations from very beautiful ladies and magical beings, but he is also faced with other knights who want to steal those beautiful ladies or knights who just want to engage in a battle or a swordfight just for the sake of bathing in pure masculine glory.
The Great Knight is also tested in terms of intellect and emotions as he goes on his adventures—deciding the fates of people, plotting military schemes, and making the most of battle situations—and most especially, as his reputation is tarnished as he is ridiculed and mocked as The Knight of the Cart. Indeed, love plays such a significant part in the novel as it is solely the reason why Lancelot would go to such great extent to rescue his lady (even if technically, she is not his lady). Love has always been such a great driving force of humans that it is subjected to great debates and studies and such.
Teenagers commit suicide because of love, and single mothers become single mothers also because of love. Even big companies have made it a profitable excuse to market love. Love in all its beauty has been defined by a lot of people, from the downright romantic to the utterly realistic and pessimistic. In De Troyes’ book, the author refrained from making Lancelot’s love into such an enormous situation that it would dangerously border on being ridiculous. Instead, De Troyes narrated the whole plot into a magical and fantastical adventure of how a man would endlessly search for his woman.
The knight selflessly sacrificed literally everything in his power just to assure the safety and well-being of his lady. Coupled with the love that Lancelot has been showing Queen Guinevere is the sacrifice that he has been generously giving the Queen. At the fourth part of the book, Lancelot was imprisoned by Meleagant in a tower for a year. The fact that he was imprisoned in a windowless and doorless tower in the first place suggests that he offended Meleagant by winning Queen Guinevere’s freedom by a duel.
However, the people of King Arthur were unable to locate Lancelot’s whereabouts that when he was finally released, he was ‘so feeble that he staggered from his weakness and disability’ (De Troyes Vv. 6657). The first book analyzed above shows a strong and immense love that transcended time that even the younger generations of the fast-paced modern times today are somehow enthralled and drawn to how enormous love can be and how great are the sacrifices that a person can render if he or she is in love.
The next book, Phantastes, a novel by George MacDonald is a fusion of what two worlds can offer—the reality and the fantasy. MacDonald’s protagonist, Anodos, wakes up one day into a different world and discovers that he has fairy blood in his veins: ‘I awoke one morning with the usual perplexity of mind which accompanies the return of consciousness’ (MacDonald 5). He goes into an adventure in the Fairy Land or the Kingdom of ‘Phantasy’ as he sees the White Lady/Lady of the Marble and falls in love with her (Macdonald 104). He goes on a long journey, searching for her every time as he gets lost time and time again.
Anodos uses his voice and starts to sing as to inject life and breathe into the Lady’s stone-figure. Anodos, like the Knight of the Cart, goes into rigorous obstacles as he desperately tries to free the Lady from the curse: How I got through this dreary part of my travels, I do not know. I do not think I was upheld by the hope that any moment the light might break in upon me; for I scarcely thought about that. I went on with a dull endurance, varied by moments of uncontrollable sadness; for more and more the conviction grew upon me that I should never see the white lady again.
(MacDonald 117) I could bear it no longer. ‘I will not be tortured to death,” I cried; “I will meet it half-way. The life within me is yet enough to bear me up to the face of Death, and then I die unconquered. ’ (MacDonald 119) The book is narrated in a very simple manner and in the first-person point of view as Anodos himself is the story teller. The song of Anodos is the only reason why the Lady wakes up, and yet, there are also many moments when Anodos is lost and grappling with words and melody that no song would come out (MacDonald 104-105).
However, as always, his love surpasses all and he sings the most lovely of the songs, ‘DUMB ART THOU? O Love immortal/ More than words thy speech must be/ Childless yet the tender portal/ Of the home of melody’ (MacDonald 107). The lines were somehow describing how love, in all its immortality and beauty, is mute and cannot speak. Rather, love is so sacred and intense that to give it meaning, words or even a voice is to lose the magnanimity of that emotion.
The novel ends in a bittersweet memory as Anodos wakes up from his Fairy Land dream: ‘I found myself lying in the open air, in the early morning, before sunrise’ (MacDonald 174). Anodos has changed because of his adventures from the Fairy Land. He has learned to live with the exemplary teachings and values that he acquired and experienced during his dream. Most importantly, he has learned what love is and how great is its power, even if it was never meant to be his. Anodos, like the Knight of the Cart, has selflessly searched for his love just to deliver her from the curse of being a Lady of Marble.
He was ridiculed by the dwarves countless of times, was frightened to death by the Ash Tree, and even went to long and strenuous journeys just to locate the White Lady’s whereabouts. However, the most cruel of part is the fact that he knew that the White Lady is already betrothed to someone else and is meant to love someone else, The Red Knight: Crowding about me like bees, they shouted an insect-swarm of exasperating speeches up into my face, among which the most frequently recurring were—‘You shan’t have her; you shan’t have her; he! he! he!
She’s for a better man; how he’ll kiss her! how he’ll kiss her! ’ (MacDonald 114) What is remarkable about Anodos is the way he answers the goblins nobly: ‘Well, if he is a better man, let him have her’ (MacDonald 114). The two books contain both the motifs of love and self-sacrifice. Did the heroes sacrifice themselves selflessly because they love the person, or did they love the person, that is why they can sacrifice themselves fully? Love, more often than not, is too complicated and ambiguous; yet, it seems to be a universal language and emotion that can be understood by all.
The obvious resignation of the men of both books (Andonos and Lancelot) for their ladies’ affection and life justifies the fact that the men love their ladies, and no matter what happens, they will make it a point to save them. The endless obstacles of the two men with various aspects (supernatural, psychological, emotional etc. ) prove that they will indeed go to great lengths not just to have a glimpse of the ladies’ magnificent beauty (as to the case of Anodos) but more importantly, to save their lives. Saving the lives could both pertain to the heroes and the damsels in distress.
While the Queen Guinevere and the White Lady are both in danger because of external forces beyond their control, Andonos and Lancelot also put their lives on the line for the sake of rescuing them. Why would the two men go so far to such extremes when they could have any lady? Is it because they love the women that make them face such dangerous adventures? In some sense, the men are tremendously in love with their women that to live without them is death itself. Love is almost connected with a feeling of wanting to possess and belonging.
The two men wanted none of that perverted definition of the emotion. The men would be willing to give up their lives because they have to protect the women. It has become a rather automatic action, or in simplistic terms, it is instinct that makes them want and need to protect the women. Anodos and the Knight of the Cart do not necessarily want the women to belong to them, and they do not necessarily want or need to possess the women. At the end of both books, the both men knew that the ladies would not and would never belong to them, and yet they did not have any anger or resentment with that decision.
Lancelot knew that his Lady Guinevere belongs and will always belong to King Arthur’s side as Queen Guinevere and the ruler of Camelot. Even if he knew this fact, he still loved her unconditionally and without any reservations. Certainly, as the King’s Knight and as person, he should not have done that, but that is not the case in this paper, and that is entirely another matter. Anodos’ love and Lancelot’s love are the same in a sense that both would go to exceptional extent just to prove their love to their respective ladies.
Moreover, their love is enduring and non-complaining that it is very endearing to whoever would read the books. The difference in their love lies in the judgment that Anodos’ love is more whimsical and mystical that it contains an attribute of being sweetly melodic and at the same time melancholic. Anodos’ love is self sacrificial in a sense that it is hopeless, compared to Lancelot and the Queen, wherein they have a more reciprocated love for each other than that of the White Lady and Anodos.
In addition, even if Lancelot’s love is forbidden (since the Queen is already married), the love is still reciprocated by his loved one and that makes his love more powerful, stronger, and more ardent than that of Adonos’ love for the White Lady. Nevertheless, both men loved, and that is what matters the most. The ultimate test and evidence that they hold genuine love for their respective loved ones is the fact that they let go of the ladies in the end. The Queen Guinevere has her King Arthur, and the White Lady has her Red Knight.
The self sacrifice was not really the adventure that they experienced and the gruelling obstacles they faced. It is the moment when they went ahead with the adventure even if the lady was not theirs in the first place. It is the moment when at the end of their long and arduous adventure, they still let the lady choose her happiness, and then they let go.
De Troyes, Chretien. Lancelot: The Knight of the Cart. Trans. Burton Raffel. Yale University: Yale University Press, 1997. MacDonald, George. Phantastes: A Faerie Romance For Men and Women. London: Smith, Elder and Co. , 1858.