Lancelot, Elain, and Galahad
I’m going to say right up front: I’ve always hated Lancelot.
His character was introduced to Arthurian legend by Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century, several centuries after the earliest known bits of the legend. Many other elements were added by various authors around the 12th century (including Guinevere, Merlin, Uther, Excalibur, and the Grail Quest), but de Troyes has the dubious distinction of introducing Lancelot’s affair with the Queen.
I find most of Lancelot’s story a cautionary tale about the terrible threat women pose to men’s honor, virtue, reliability, and general decency. The women in his story are presented as either vindictive schemers or vapid saints (who turn into vindictive schemers), while Lancelot acts like a walking garbage truck—because of the women’s influence. Ah, misogyny!
But he’s a huge part of the legend now. So when I decided to write a new take, I wanted to reframe the roles Lancelot played in relation to Guinevere and Arthur. I believed there was ample room to make these relationships constructive and loving, while keeping some necessary and understandable conflict.
So Elain came to be. Lancelot’s original story involves two Elaines: his mother and his wife (ha-ha-ha don’t get me started on that detail!). When I realized my Gwen’s love interest would be a trans woman, I decided to use the similar Welsh name Elain as a nod to tradition.
You may also wonder why the name Galahad comes into play in this book. Most folks know of the Galahad who searched for the Holy Grail. That Galahad was Lancelot’s son. What isn’t as widely known is that Galahad was sometimes given as Lancelot’s birth name.
Deadnaming is the act of using a transgender person’s birth name to reference or address them after they’ve chosen a different name. Sometimes the user is aware of the trans person’s chosen name, sometimes not.
A few characters deadname Elain in this story. Ban uses Elain’s birth name in talking about her, in part because he doesn’t know the name she chose after she ran away from home. Gwen uses the name in conversation with Ban because she doesn’t know that the child and heir they’re discussing was Elain. Each individual reader must decide how they feel about those characters’ use of the dead name. I wanted, though, to address Elain’s use of it.
She does so first in a conversation with Palahmed, when she tells him Ban discussed his heir with Gwen. In my mind, she uses the name in that instance as a way to distance herself from her past relationship with Ban.
The more significant moment Elain uses it, though, is with Gwen, when Elain tells Gwen she should call her Galahad. This time it’s not a bid to distance herself, but neither is it a reversal of her interior identity. Narration in this book is in close third person, which puts the reader deep in a character’s point of view, if not as deep as first person. Even after Elain says she must go by Galahad, the close-third narration continues to use she/her pronouns to reference Elain. Her use of her birth name isn’t an internal identity crisis but a desperate bid to be able to provide for the woman she loves by reclaiming her status as Ban’s heir.
I worked through several iterations of a character arc for Elain, to be sure that that moment was necessary. While any author might hope to evoke in their readers an emotional response, including sorrow, anger, and other emotions associated with pain, I don’t ever wish to hurt a reader unnecessarily—to put something on the page merely for shock value, without rooting it in a character’s motivations and experience. In the end, given the time and place Elain operates in, and her knowledge to that point of her father and his people, I felt she would believe she had no other choice as his heir than to live publicly as Galahad.
I’m glad to share that the name will have a happier use in a future book.
Morien, Palahmed, and Safir
I hope you like these fellows, because they’ll be getting their own love stories. 🙂 A faction exists in the world who believe that Europe in the middle ages was populated solely by white people. That was never the case, at any point in history, and we have a lot of evidence in literature and other art forms to support that fact. I recommend especially the work of Twitter account @medievalpoc for any readers interested in experiencing artifacts surviving from Europe’s diverse past.
Three high-medieval additions to Arthurian legend I do appreciate were three of Arthur’s knights: Morien, Palamedes, and Safir. Morien was a black man from “Moorish” lands (parts of North Africa and the Mediterranean) and son of one of Arthur’s knights. Palamedes and Safir were brothers and “Saracen,” a term used in Europe’s middle ages to denote, variably, someone from a particular region of Arabia and/or a Muslim. The stories in the Sons of Britain series predate the lifetime and teachings of the prophet Muhammad, so I use Saracen in reference to Palahmed and Safir’s boyhood homeland. I’ve also adapted Palahmed’s name from the original Greek “Palamedes”—or rather, Palahmed adapted it for his own reasons, which he’ll share in his story (Book 4).
Though all three of these men appear in multiple texts, their stories aren’t among our best-known. I’ll be changing those stories, as two of them will be paired as love interests, but that’s what has made this series so fun to write: it’s a chance to bring little-known characters to the fore and explore different possibilities for the legend.
Hope you’re enjoying it so far. 🙂