Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
by M.T. Anderson and andrea offermann
In his first graphic novel, National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson turns to Arthurian lore, with captivating art by Andrea Offermann bringing the classic legend to life.
Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette.
In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chrétien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion.
Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.
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Note: I received an advance copy for review. Some things may have changed in the final version.
I’ve only had one experience with M.T. Anderson’s work before – I read Feed in high school which was…. Well, it was more than half a decade ago. I loved it then but I haven’t touched it since. The fact that he was the author drew me to this more than a promise of some insight about Arthurian lore.The action scenes are dynamic but there were some panels which I felt were wasted opportunities to show more of a setting or have a more dramatic angle than ‘straight-on shot of a bloke sitting at a table with mouth open to show he’s talking’. Not all of the panels were like this, they were a minority, but what stood out most was that there would be so many of these such panels in a row.
A lot seems lost on me since my only knowledge of Arthurian legend is from other adaptations – you know, “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government” and Quest for Camelot and all that. Without knowing anything “true” and “accurate” (I could go on with the scare quotes there) about Arthurian legend, my guess is that this is supposed to be a “faithful” adaptation for Serious Arthurian Scholars.
Again, this is just my guess, but it seems to use the Frozen excuse of “historical accuracy” to not draw anyone darker than NC15 in its fictional representation of things that never actually happened. BBC’s Merlin had a more diverse cast than this for crying out loud. The horses in this graphic novel have a more diverse range of coat colors than the characters do skin tones
On top of that, the instalove could put many YA books to shame. Convention of myths or not, it’s still bad. At least the entire point of Romeo and Juliet is that they’re being foolish.
Part one, for me, was dull. I couldn’t follow a lot of what was happening because it seemed like a lot of things were meant to be implied but not really explained. It seemed to rely on me to know ahead of time what was going on and, as I’ve said, my knowledge begins and ends around Quest for Camelot. I don’t know how accurate any of this is to ‘true’ Arthurian legend. Lunette and Lady Laudine have some especially gorgeous pages, and their discussions are some of the better examples of making dull, necessary conversation pretty and dynamic. Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to many of the other panels that are just plain, close shots of whoever’s doing the talking and then a close shot of the next person who talks.
In part two, Yvain temporarily transforms into this topless hairless-but-beardy hunky Jesus type of character that hulks around in what is clearly the shreds of his old clothes but in most of the panels appears to be a less than modest grass skirt. I lost all ability to try and take this seriously at this point because I couldn’t stop thinking of Yvain as anything other than hench Jesus. The action scenes were very dynamic and quite cool – the leviathan (I think) was really beautiful. The landscapes in part two are particularly gorgeous and far more interesting than the boring close-ups of people chatting. This is also where he receives his title of Knight of the Lion
Part three was intended to have more of an impact than it made on me, I think. I didn’t find the big reveal or its surrounding dramatics any more heart-stopping than a bill two days overdue.
I was really hoping that I would enjoy this more, that it would be an inspiration to learn more about Arthurian legend. Instead I’m just disappointed. As far as adaptations go, this is a miss for me. I’d just as soon watch Merlin again, which at least inspired me to look up the characters since I actually cared about them. Frankly, this just further reinforces my thoughts that ‘faithful’ adaptations suffer from their insistence on ‘accuracy’.
Are you an Arthurian Legend buff or more casually knowledgeable?
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