M.T. Anderson’s take on Athurian legend in Yvain: The Knight of the Lion is magnificently illustrated by Andrea Offerman in a most stunning graphic novels. Chrétien de Troyes is the original author of Yvain, le chevalier au lion, written in the 13th century. Most of the stories that readers associate with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table stem from the epic poems of Chrétien de Troyes.
Sir Yvain is a knight in King Arthur’s Court, and when Sir Calogrenant returns from the enchanted forest of Brocéliande gravely injured by wounds from a mysterious Red Knight, Yvain quietly leave Arthur’s castle to avenge his cousin, Calogrenant. Yvain, too, pours water over a stone in the enchanted pool in the forest of Brocéliande. Amidst a turbulent swirling storm, the Red Knight emerges to challenge Yvain for disturbing his dukedom. Yvain, defending himself and avenging his cousin, delivers some fatal sword blows to the Red Knight, and he chases the Red Knight on horseback as he rides into his own castle. The Red Knight, it turns out, is the Lord Esclados, and Yvain is now trapped in his enemy’s castle with many who are looking for the man who killed their lord.
The sorceress Lunette takes pity on Yvain, and to hide him from those who would want him dead, turns him invisible. It is while invisible that Yvain falls in love with the Lady Laudine, the widow of Lord Esclados. She is a commanding presence, with fiery red eyes and a mane of red hair. Laudine wishes to avenge the man that killed her husband, but Lunette poses the question of who is the better knight--the one who died or the one who did not? Laudine has to concede that Yvain is the better knight, and since her castle is now unprotected, she must consent to marry Yvain, even though everything shown through the illustrations indicates that it is a marriage of political necessity.
When Gawain, another knight and cousin of Yvain, comes to visit Yvain, he challenges Yvain’s knighthood, saying, “Throw off your harness, old man, spit out your bit, and prove you’re still a warrior, not a dreamer.” Yvain, feeling pressured to prove himself, begs for Laudine to allow him to travel and compete to defend his knighthood. Laudine, disdainful, agrees, saying, “I grant you permission to leave, but there’s a time limit: one year to the day. Understand? If you come back after that, my love will absolutely turn to hatred.”
Yvain sets out to prove his valor among the other bumbling knights. And when he is fool enough to not return in the time limit set by his wife...that’s when things get interesting.
For fans of Arthurian lore and legend, M.T. Anderson’s Yvain: The Knight of the Lion is a masterpiece with Yvain, Laudine, and Lunette as a compelling cast of characters. Offerman’s striking illustrations bring this ancient story into the 21st century, making it appropriate for the modern young reader.