Friday, December 14, 2012

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great by Gerald Morris

"Camelot! Camelot! I know it sounds a bit bizarre!" I forgot the rest of the lyrics to this 1967 movie but I can hum the whole shebang for you if ya want just the tune.  I'm sure if I Googled it, the rest would come flooding back with Richard Burton blasting the lyrics in his distinct baritone. I thought of that movie when I read this book, although Monty Python and the Holy Grail is probably closer to the book's premise. Or maybe not. Monty Python's adultish humor is not very kidish (wink, wink). What Monty Python and the book share in common is a very funny spoof on Arthurian Legends.

Lancelot leaves France on a quest to become a knight in King Arthur's court. Right away we discover that Lancelot is a hero of a different kind. Sure, he is handsome. Sure, he has superior athletic abilities. Sure, he can get out of any scrape. But when we first meet him he is anything but typical. He is vain and ditzy. The author has a fun play on words when Lancelot takes the phrase, "a knight in shining armor," literally and believes that the only way King Arthur will accept him as a knight is if his armor is shiny. A funny scene ensues where Lancelot defeats knights attacking him lefthanded and he is frustrated that they are getting his armor dirty. How can he meet the King Arthur without "shining armor." Unbeknownst to him the knights he defeated were in a tournament where the winner gets a place at the Knights of the Round Table. From the get-go we know this is a silly tale with twists on the original tale.

Lancelot goes through 5 adventures and I believe most refer to Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur" from the 1400's which I haven't read. The adventure I liked the most reminded me Alfred Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott", from the 1800's. Being familiar with the poem made the chapter all the more funnier. Tennyson's poem is about the Lady of Shalott who is under a curse in a tower where she can't look out the window on the town of Camelot. She sees Lancelot in her mirror with his sparkling armor, feathered plume hat, and gorgeous voice and she decides to go to the window knowing she will die from the curse. Part III of the poem begins, "A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,/He rode between the barley-sheaves." In this children's book, the author has The Lady of Shalott accidentally shoot Lancelot in the butt with a bow and arrow. The Lady of Shalott's mother is lady Elaine which refers to the Malory's Elaine of Astolat who is the same person as the Lady of Shalott; it's just that Tennyson changed the name. I'm sure I missed other references since I haven't read Malory but you can see the nonstop poke on the classic in this romp.

Lancelot gets shot by the Lady of Shalott because King Arthur asked him not to participate in his jousting tournament; Lancelot always wins and it takes the fun out of the competition. Lancelot complies and leaves town only to get shot by the Lady of Shalott when he decides to nap under a tree (he loves naps). Lancelot decides his injury is a great handicap and he can now enter the tournament because it will be hard to win. He straps a pillow to his seat and disguises himself so he can participate. Of course he does well inspite of his injury, but things become complicated when he wears the Lady of Shalott's scarf and people expect him to marry her as the winner. In an ironic twist the Lady of Shalott desires another man and doesn't want to marry Lancelot.

I like how the author presents Lancelot as a trickster and one who is tricked. He's vain and clueless in some spots and funny in others such as when he drops acorns on the Sir Phelot's helmet. And even though he appears to have everything anyone could want, he isn't happy. At the end, he has even lost some of his vanity. The play on words throughout are entertaining such as the "recreant" knights. While young readers aren't going to get the references (I taught the Lady of Shalott to 12th graders in English class) they will laugh at the situations. I am kind of curious to read Malory's work and then reread this book. The book is only about 100 pages and a fast fun read. Check it out!

Reading level 4.8
Fountas & Pinnell: R

5 out of 5 Smileys

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