Monday, June 11, 2012

Arthurian Alphabooks: D is for Dinadan

If you're not careful, reading medieval Arthuriana can seem like an exercise in obsolete classist parochialism: just look how the upper classes of the age flatter themselves with their beauty, strength, wealth, and accomplishments! Look how they assume the rightness of their many privileges! Look how they attend only to their own affairs, with scarcely a thought for the many toilers who have made their comfortable lives possible! And then, if you're not careful, you start to sound like Dennis from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Thank goodness, then, that there are medieval Arthurian texts that dare to question at least some of the assumptions that undergird the ethos of their own elite audiences. And one of the characters who voices some of the most sensible objections to the knightly ethos is the plainspoken and witty Sir Dinadan, created in the French Prose Tristan cycle but best known nowadays from Malory's Morte Darthur. Here's my attempt to capture what I imagine to be one of his typical expressions:
I say "attempt" because I am not altogether satisfied with the result. The expression I was aiming for was a kind of affronted disbelief. The occasion for the expression is no doubt yet another instance where one of Dinadan's more traditionally heroic companions has insisted on the correct knightly protocol of engaging in some sort of combat that Dinadan considers pointless or extravagant.

Dinadan's problem, you see, is that, while he is himself a dab hand at jousting and swordplay, he prefers not to exercise his knightly skill unless it's really called for; but he's such good company that he is forever falling in with honor-crazed knights such as Tristram, who practically force him to fight for a glory that he would be quite happy to do without.

Dinadan doesn't even see the point of the love affairs that are the raison d'ĂȘtre for so many of his nobler companions of the Round Table. By challenging the utility of both combat and [so-called] courtly love, Dinadan becomes a devil's advocate bringing charges against both the chivalric and the chivalrous sides of knighthood.

His wit is reported more than displayed, but it is said of him that he composed an insulting ditty about the wicked King Mark (Tristram's hateful uncle) that he arranged for a minstrel to sing at Mark's court. (I think it would be a worthwhile bit of Arthurian fanfic for someone to write a text for said ballad, just in case anybody out there is looking for something to do.)

I seem to recall that a knight called Sir Dinadan features in Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court but that, like so many characters seemingly borrowed from Malory, he is unrecognizable as his medieval original.

Anyhow, that's my D entry for the Arthurian alphabooks. Next week: a lady who is rather distraught.


Isaac said...

This guy Dinadan sounds like an important fellow to have around, and not just because he'd be fun. It's important to have someone say, "No way I'm going in there," just so the heroes (including the naysayer) can be braver when they do it.

In fact, Dinadan should be played by a young Harrison Ford, am I right?

Glad as I am to know about Dinadan, I'm still sort of sorry you didn't choose to draw Dennis the Peasant for this week's entry. I guess he doesn't come from a book, though...

Mike said...

You make a valid point there about Dinadan, Isaac. (Two, if you count the casting suggestion.)

And yeah, the book-as-source requirement pretty much rules out MP&THG drawings for the "official" Arthurian Alphabooks project (but again, if I ever do a "second series," etc., etc., pipe-dream, etc...).

Actually, though, I think I would have avoided films for the same reason I'm avoiding illustrated books (or comics-based properties), and that's because I personally don't want to imitate other artists' designs or renderings of specific characters (at least, not deliberately; I'm sure any number of unacknowledged influences are at work). I'm more interested in seeing how, after all, I would visualize some of these characters that I can avoid visualizing when I read them as verbal creations only. (And even when a character is carefully described, as are Cundrie and the Green Knight, say, it's another matter to pin down those descriptions in a single finished drawing.)

That may be why I'm so taken with your version of archy the cockroach, for example, because you diverge so widely but so charmingly (and effectively) from Herriman's model--much though you adore Herriman, as the world knows! It's also why your Caliban post was so interesting to think about, and so rich (and strange) in its preliminary sketches and process drawings.