Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Arthurian Alphabooks: L is for Lancelot, late [hors série]
The rules I'm breaking here have to do with my interest through this project to discover what images of Arthurian characters I may harbor that are not consciously derived from specific prior visual interpretations—other artists' drawings or actors' faces, mostly. Where possible, I've also tried to follow the visual cues provided textually in whatever single work of Arthuriana I have taken as my reference for a given character, even in a given moment. (My first bad attempts at Lancelot were based on a description of the young man prior to his dubbing to knighthood—not yet the mature lover or seasoned fighter, but that's where the fullest physical description of him that I know of him could be found in the Old French Prose Lancelot.)
Here, I'm not only relying on someone else's image of Lancelot, but on an image born in a visual medium to begin with—no Arthurian book to speak of! (Unless, of course, one accepts "The Book of the Film" as a book; and it is glimpsed very shortly before the scene where I paused my DVD for the sketch. See also Isaac's earlier ripostes to the sort of pedantic literalism about Alphabooks that in part defines my book-centric approach.)
Incidentally, one of the current Alphabooks images—an M drawing—is also Arthurian, though it is of course not one of my drawings (it's by Axel Medellin, and I recommend his Achilles and his Illustrated Man, as well!). It's another obvious, even necessary choice—M is for Merlin—and I'm glad to see Merlin get some attention there since he will not be featured in my Arthurian alphabet here. And yet, the purist in me is a bit disappointed, because while the drawing is technically excellent, it is presented as a portrait of Merlin as featured in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur—yet it shows him with an owl perched on his shoulder. Malory nowhere associates an owl with Merlin, whereas Merlin's familiar owl Archimedes is indeed familiar from the first part of T. H. White's The Once and Future King (and its Disney adaptation, The Sword in the Stone); indeed, the cover of my paperback edition of The Once and Future King prominently features an owl, probably Archimedes himself, swooping toward the famous sword while knights and ladies are relegated to the background. (Meanwhile, for an Alphabooks drawing of Archimedes by Sarah Pittman, see here!)
For the record, I should note that I like Axel Medellin's image of a kind of catchall Merlin, drawing on a variety of widely recognized wizardy motifs; but I don't like seeing it presented as Malory's Merlin, whose appearance is a lot harder to pin down (since Malory never really describes Merlin outright, save when Merlin is disguised as someone other than himself!). Just compare Burne-Jones's famous painting The Beguiling of Merlin for an effective image where the wizard has no beard or staff or owl—but he does have the languid yet haunted expression of a man who is resigned to be buried alive because he is so "besotted" with love for Nimue/Ninian/Vivian.
(Then again, I may just be touchy about the Alphabooks image of Merlin because for a long time I had a professional interest in staying on top of the details of literary Arthuriana, and whether or not Merlin has a familiar owl seems to me like a matter of some importance. By contrast, it didn't at all bother me to see Axel Medellin's futuristic take on Homer's Achilles, and I don't think that's just because the artist copped to its being "a very, very free interpretation.")