Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
This retells, in graphic novel format, a 12th-century Arthurian romance by Chretien de Troyes, the foremost French poet of narrative verse in the Middle Ages. Yvain, a nephew of King Arthur, sets out to avenge the disgrace of a cousin’s defeat. He kills the assailant, but falls in love with his beautiful wife, Laudine. With the assistance of her maid Lunette, he convinces her to marry him, but when he forgets to return to her side as agreed after a year engaging in tournaments, she publicly denounces his betrayal. Deeply ashamed, he loses his wits. Eventually, he recovers and after fighting on behalf of others who need help, including the lion who becomes his faithful companion, he wins Laudine’s forgiveness, again with Lunette’s assistance.
This condensed account follows the original closely, though it omits the magic ointment that cures the hero’s madness. The illustrations are used not only to advance the plot, but to reveal the reactions of characters through facial expressions. Unsurprisingly, in this medium, the action scenes receive greater space than the interior monologues and author commentary in the original.
Arthurian scholars (and I am one, I confess) will have mixed feelings. Visual adaptations, more than most, impose an interpretation that may be at variance with one’s response to the source (a romance, not an epic or ballad). Stylistically, the use of lines to denote movement and blood spurting from gashes can seem excessive and distracting—though appropriate, perhaps, to the book’s younger audience. Nevertheless, the expansion of the tradition into other creative forms is a welcome sign of its vigor, and this is a beautifully produced book. The notes by author and illustrator offer interesting insights into their approach to the material, particularly the former’s emphasis upon its irony and the latter’s choices for clothing and setting. Recommended.