Lancelot is the only one who actually ended up in a lake and he didn’t even do anything wrong, smh*
*In case you didn’t know, Lancelot grew up in a lake with his cool enchantress adoptive mom, Nimue
So I miiiight do a series in which I recap Chretien de Troyes’ stories? Excepting Cliges, because that one is insane. But I don’t make any promises, either, because hello? ADHD and commitments? They do not mix. And also I am so sorry about that one post on Irish fairies that I said I would do a part two of and never got around to doing. I will do it one of these days! Just maybe…sometime later.
One day, King Arthur decides that he will go on a hunt for a certain white stag. Traditionally, the person who catches the stag gets to kiss the most beautiful woman in the court, so…mistletoe, but with extra steps? Gawain, being for once the only smart person in this story, tells Arthur that this is a TERRIBLE idea, actually, because everyone is a drama queen and why would you invite this on yourself. Do not get people started on who is the prettiest person or the best fighter. It never ends well. Being someone who gives actually good advice, Gawain is promptly ignored. This is what happens when you ignore the person giving good advice, people. They go insane and bring down a kingdom or something.
Guinevere falls behind during the hunting party, riding with an unnamed maiden and Erec, the titular hero of this story. Erec, in an uncharacteristically sweet moment, tells Guinevere that he only came along in order to keep her company. Just a warning, this is the one of the few moments in this story when he doesn’t act like a prick. Negative character development from here on out.
Guinevere and Erec happen upon a strange knight in the forest, riding with a maiden and a dwarf. Guinevere first asks her maiden to go up and bring them over, but the knight doesn’t respond very well to that, and the dwarf strikes the maiden’s arm with a whip. Not very polite people, this group. So Guinevere, rightfully furious, commands Erec to go over to them instead. Erec, however, gets the same treatment. At least they’re equal opportunity jerks and they don’t just go after women, I guess?
Erec is so upset that he decides to chase this knight down with no armor, reasoning that in the time it would take him to go get armor, the knight might have already gotten away, and he can borrow armor anyway! I’d kind of admire his tenacity if not for his actions later in the story. Guinevere is in full support of kicking this guy’s ass. Have I mentioned yet today that I love Guinevere? Because I love Guinevere and I just wanted to let you guys know.
The story briefly wraps up the subplot with the magical stag. The court, as Gawain predicted, gets very angry at the implication that their girlfriends are not the prettiest and people almost comes to blows with each other. Their girlfriends’ reactions are not mentioned, and I like to imagine their girlfriends in the corner asking them to stop. Fortunately, Guinevere saves the day by convincing Arthur to put off the problem until later, telling him to wait until Erec comes back.
Erec rides until he comes to a town. He cannot find lodging, but he finds out where the knight has been staying, and then he finally finds lodging with an impoverished nobleman. The nobleman’s wife and daughter come out from their workshop to meet him (Chretien writes ‘I do not know what work they were doing there,’ which…you’re the writer??). Erec notices that the daughter is beautiful–and I mean very beautiful, this goes on for like a paragraph–though she only wears an old, worn white dress. She has ‘a face fairer and brighter than a lily flower,’ eyes like stars (his words, not mine), and apparently is more beautiful than Iseult or something?? I don’t know, it goes on for longer, but I’ll spare you.
Anyway, she takes his horse to the stable and shows Erec upstairs, where Erec and the family have a meal. Erec asks the father why the daughter’s dress is so shabby, which seems a bit impolite to me, but what do I know. The father explains that he spent so much time at war that he lost his land. He says that the girl’s uncle, a count who lives in the area, was willing to help her, but he doesn’t want to accept. Presumably because he doesn’t want to be a burden on the guy I guess? The father still has hopes that he can marry his daughter off to a rich man, since she is so beautiful and wise. (Pardon me for being cynical, but I’m not sure it works this way in real life.) He also talks about how much he loves his daughter, which aww.
Erec asks why the inns were all full when he came into the town, and finds out that there’s going to be a beauty contest! No, really. Each knight has to present a beautiful lady, and the one with the most beautiful lady gets to take home a cute sparrowhawk! Erec also makes sure to ask who the knight he’d been following was, and the man answers that the knight’s girlfriend has won the beauty contest two years in a row, without anyone fighting with the knight over it. Erec then asks the man for a suit of armor, and what luck! The nobleman just so happens to have a brand new hauberk, greaves, and helmet, despite being poor! Erec then asks if he can take the daughter, Enide, to the beauty contest. He tells the man that he is Erec, son of King Lac, of King Arthur’s court. (Has he not told the guy his name yet? He’s spent all this time at the guy’s house and he’s only just now telling the guy his name?) The father agrees, and Enide is very happy about this, both because she likes Erec and because this means she will be a queen eventually. I am fully supportive of her liking him both for personal and mercenary reasons, by the way.
Also, Enide helps Erec get into his armor the next morning. I just wanted y’all to know that.
At the beauty contest, everyone pretty much agrees that Enide is the most beautiful, but Erec waits for the knight that he hates to go up to the perch first. The knight’s maiden is right about to take the sparrow-hawk when Erec stops her and asks Enide to take the sparrowhawk instead. The other knight, instead of settling this with words, decides to settle it with a duel instead. Murder really is everyone’s first resort in these stories, isn’t it?
The fight goes on for two pages, but I’ll summarize it with: Erec wins! Yay! After the fight, the knight, whose name is Yder (son of Nut), asks why Erec seems to hate him so much. Erec reminds him of that time that the dwarf with him attacked the queen’s maiden, and orders Yder to deliver himself to the queen and tell her that Erec will come back to court the next day along with a beautiful maiden. Yder does so, and the queen tells him that she will let him off easy since he surrendered himself to her, but she wants him to become a member of the court. This is the hiring process in Arthurian legend, I guess. Why can’t I get a job by showing up to my future workplace, being a dick to everyone in sight, and then getting beaten up by someone hot?? Why can’t I do that?? I want to get a job because Gawain kicked my ass once! I think I should be allowed to have that in these dark times!
Anyway, back to Erec, people are fangirling over him! The count, Enide’s uncle, offers to let him stay at his place since Erec is the son of a king, but Erec decides to continue staying with Enide and her father, instead. Sorry, but he is NOT leaving the hot girl.
When Erec gets to Enide’s home, he tells her father that he wishes to take Enide to King Arthur’s court and marry her after. He tells her father that he will give him two fine castles, called Roadan and Montreval, and that he will give the man and his wife gold, silver, vair and miniver (which I think are types of furs??), and expensive silk. Enide’s cousin, described as a ‘prudent, sensible, and worthy maiden,’ points out that Enide should probably be given a new gown before taking her to see the queen, but Erec replies that he wishes for Queen Guinevere to give her a fine silk gown. The damsel relents, so instead, she gives Enide her dapple-grey palfrey (which is another word for a small horse that a lady might ride).
The next day, Erec leaves for the court. Enide says goodbye to her parents, and there is a lot of crying. Luckily, Enide has a hot guy to comfort her! During the ride to Camelot, she and Erec cannot stop staring at each other and making out. I feel like an uncomfortable third party reading this.
Anyway, Erec and Enide finally come to the castle of Cardigan, where King Arthur is staying. Everyone is delighted to see them back, and King Arthur himself helps Enide down from her horse and, taking her hand, leads her inside. Erec explains a little bit of Enide’s family history to Queen Guinevere, and then asks her to give Enide a gown. Guinevere agrees, and gives Enide a dress and a green brocade mantle. The gown is lined with ermine, and gold and jewels are sewn in around the cuffs and the neckline. Two women braid Enide’s hair with golden thread, but her hair was even brighter than the thread or whatever, because she’s that perfect.
Wait, hold on, they also give her jewelry and stuff, but I just got distracted by something: Chretien de Troyes claims that Erec is a better knight than Lancelot?? LIES. EREC CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE TO–ahem. Anyway.
Erec and Enide go out into the hall, and Enide is seated next to the king. Guinevere tells the king that the matter of the white stag can finally be resolved, because no one could argue that there is any woman alive more beautiful than Enide. I mean, I think someone could actually still argue about that if they really liked arguing, which all of the Round Table does, but! For once, everyone decides to get along, and they all agree that Enide is the prettiest. King Arthur kisses her, and the matter of the white stag is resolved.
“Well, Erec seems like a pretty fine person?” you may be asking at this point. “Why do you keep dunking on him so much?” Well, that is a question that will be answered in part two, I think, because this post is starting to get a little long and I realize I probably need to split this up into two parts before this gets out of hand. This seems like a good stopping point!
Btw, if I forget to post part two, feel free to bully me in the comments lmao