6 November 2008

A New Twist to Arthurian Legends

The Adventures of Sir Givret the Short (Hard Cover)
Gerald Morris
Houghton Mifflin

Gerald Morris has done it again! With his quirky sense of myths and legends, and tongue in cheek humour, he brings to life the court of King Arthur and his knights, in yet another hilarious adventure. While they have nothing to do with the story, except to provide the setting, the king and his better-known knights such as Lancelot and Galahad often make a walk-through appearance in his books, though the starring parts are handed out to characters plucked out of his own imagination.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Gerald Morris’ writing ever since my eyes fell on his Squire’s Tales, the first of which I picked up for my elder son a couple of years ago, and truth be told, enjoyed quite as much as he did. In fact, after that first book, I borrowed every other title I could find in subsequent visits, so I could read them first. His irreverence is contagious.

The entertaining Knight’s Tales series are equally good, written as they are for younger readers. This, The Adventures of Sir Givret the Short, the second in the series, is laced with his trademark humour, though the tales are shorter and simpler, keeping in mind his target audience (Ages 4 - 8). Aaron Renier’s illustrations are in keeping with the quirkiness of the tale.

Givret is short, and therefore bears the brunt of the court’s jests. However, when every one is quick to take up a seemingly innocuous quest, he is the only one who has the intelligence to see that the completion of the quest may not be such a good thing after all. Recognising Givret’s foresight, when he sees the resultant chaos, King Arthur makes Givret a knight, much to the bewildered amusement of the Knights of the Round Table.

Wanting to know what Givret should be called, when he is a knight of the Round table, Arthur is upset when a fellow knight, amidst much merriment, says ‘Call him ‘Sir Givret the Short’. The king wants to call Givret ‘Sir Givret the Brilliant’ and he is taken aback when the new knight, not a whit out of countenance, admits to preferring ‘short’ as a tag. Givret's explanation? It is an easier tag to live up to, because “… he cannot promise to be always ‘brilliant’.”

Immediately after knighting Givret, King Arthur sends him on a quest – to save an erstwhile colleague. Sir Givret is a reluctant hero and would rather fight dragons than save his fellow-knight, since, in his opinion, his colleague “is an idiot”. However, his King is unwilling to listen to him and thus, start Givret’s comical adventures. He seems to spend much of his time trying to save his fellow knight and his beauteous lady, both of whom have a tendency to fall from the frying pan into the fire, having more courage than brain, and it is interesting to notice how he comes to the conclusion that there is place for both in the world.

And so, Givret continues on his madcap adventures, and at the end of them, he is called Givret the Wise, Givret the Brilliant, and Givret the Marvellous (read the book to find out why) though his adventures have only strengthened his opinion that Givret the Short is the best tag he can have.

Add a herald who loves to use big words, a peddler who sells useless stuff such as finger bowls and salad forks, knowing full well that people will buy the most useless things as long as he can convince them that it is the latest fashion, a villainous count with a weakness for beautiful ladies and a superstitious fear of enchanters, and an enchanter who is not what he seems, and you have a simply un-put-down-able book that affectionately mocks the classic legends of courage, even as it imitates them.

Overall, a book worth reading, and one that tells children, without preaching that battles are not always won on the battlefield.

© Anuradha Warrier and www.curledup.com

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