Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Elaine of Astolat, The Lady of Shallot

Chapter 28 of Anne of Green Gables is entitled "An Unfortunate Lily Maid". In this chapter, Anne Shirley and her friends decide to reenact Elaine of Astolat's funeral after having studied Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Lancelot and Elaine" at school. And that is how, years ago, I first got acquainted with the tragic tale of Elaine of Astolat.

In Arthurian legend, Elaine of Astolat, aka Elaine the White or Elaine the Fair or Elaine the Lily Maid, is every bit as real as King Arthur himself. She is known for falling in love with Arthur's most trusted knight Sir Lancelot, who could not return her love because he was having a love affair with Queen Guinevere, who of course is married to King Arthur. (Love rectangle!) Because of that - stay with me here - Elaine of Astolat died of a broken heart - people in medieval times tend to do that a lot - and her death is what made her famous - or at any rate, written about. This is because before she died she made her father promise to lay her corpse in a boat with a letter to Lancelot clasped in her dead hands, and have that boat rowed downriver right into the royal court. Her purpose was to have Lancelot read the letter, and have the king and queen and the whole court to know why she died, out of her unrequited love for Lancelot.

No, do not laugh. This isn't a bit funny.

When Xin You gave me a youtube link to The Band Perry's "If I Die Young", I got obsessed with the music video (the song has its own merits, future blogpost will be dedicated to it) and played it over and over again. I'd leave my computer on and keep running back to it in between studying chapters for finals just to watch it. This is because the MV reminded me so forcefully of that chapter in Anne of Green Gables and featured Lord Tennyson's more famously known poem, "The Lady of Shallot".

"The Lady of Shallot" is not about Elaine of Astolat, strictly speaking. They say Tennyson just based the poem on her. It's about this fairy lady living on the island of Shallot. She has been cursed; she is never able to look at Camelot directly. So she looks at the lane leading into Camelot through her mirror. But one day handsome Lancelot rides down the lane; the lady gets distracted, turns and looks down on Camelot, and the curse is upon her. The lady then hops into a boat, heads downriver into Camelot singing her last song, and dies halfway there due to the curse. She floats dead into Camelot where Lancelot looks at her face and sees it is lovely. See? Totally different story, me humble self thinks.

You'd better not be laughing. I really like this poem.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I found out the book Avalon High by Meg Cabot is a modern day tale centering around King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot and Elaine of Astolat!  On the second reread now. After I return the one I borrowed from Chalystha, I'm so gonna buy meself a copy. You'd enjoy the book if you knew the  bare basics to the legends of Camelot. Although, it kinda confused me because I get mixed up between Elaine of Astolat and The Lady of Shallot.

So, I went online and read The Lady of Shallot and Lancelot and Elaine properly and got things sorted out. Probably the length of the latter poem got to my head, because then I decided to write a footlong essay on what I've learnt, so here it is, published in the only place I have to put out these things, my blog. I feel very proud and accomplished right now. : ) These four hours or so I've put into this research today is time very well spent. I kept sneaking online during studying for finals to read up on various Arthurian characters, such as King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, Morgan le Fay, Mordred, the Lady of the Lake and so on.

And now I would kill to get my hands on the book Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory since every Wikipedia article I painstakingly come across goes, "In Le Morte d'Arthur..." Yeah. And since I'm putting books I would probably never ever finish reading and regret ever owning in this lifetime on my wishlist, why not ask for The Once and Future King and The Idylls of the King as well?

Although, since I'm not entirely stupid, I will take it upon me to hint that I would much rather an alpaca for Christmas, something I've always wanted under my Christmas tree.

Horizon, bred by Livanti Alpacas.

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