Monday, April 25, 2022

230. Marie de France & } Tales from the Darkside.


King Arthur dishes out wives & land to all who helped repel the Scots & the Picts—all except Lanval. No one puts in a good word for Lanval. He’s excellent, but not one to boast. & the knights who notice Lanval envy him, so they stay mum. “Now [Lanval] was in a plight, very sad and forlorn.”

Aimless, he decides to “take his ease” in a meadow. It’s a strange meadow; his horse senses this but Lanval does not. He takes a nap. Or maybe he’s awake. Two maidens arrive & ask, on behalf of “my damsel,” that Lanval follow them to her tent. The tent is fabulous (“There is no king under the sun who could afford it”) & the damsel inside is fabulous.

She offers Lanval her love & wealth, but w/ a single stipulation: he mustn’t tell anyone about her.

For a time, Lanval enjoys the damsel’s company & his new found wealth—but the knights, who previously ignored Lanval (specifically Gawain), decide to invite him to a garden party & there, at the party, the queen (Guinevere, I presume), hits on Lanval. Lanval rebuffs her advance. She says, “I have been told often enough that you have no desire for women. You have well-trained young men and enjoy yourself with them.” Lanval denies he’s gay & tells her he is “loved by a lady who should be prized above all others I know.” He adds that the queen is worth less than even the poorest girl in the kingdom.

In turn, the queen promptly tells Arthur that Lanval made a move on her at the party. Lanval is put on trial; to defend himself, he tells the court about the damsel—& realizes, the moment he does so, that he’s broken his promise & lost her.

Since he can’t produce the damsel in court, he’s jailed. His sentence will be banishment. Unless… at the very last moment the damsel arrives. She declares her love for Lanval & no once disputes that she’s more beautiful than the queen. Lanval is freed, & he rides with the damsel to Avalon.

Now, there’s plenty that’s different about “Lanval” & the Tales from the Darkside episode “Ring Around the Redhead” (based on John McDonald’s story)—but there are striking similarities. The damsel—Keena, she’s named—offers not only beauty & material wealth but also intellectual gifts that appear to be magic. The hero—Billy, not Lanval—is in love with her knowledge & w/ the promise of a life in the perfect world where she’s from. Although Billy is not accused of insulting a queen, he’s in jail, about to be executed, unable to prove to anyone that there ever was a Keena. Lanval’s advocate is Gawain; Billy’s advocate is a journalist. At the very last moment, before Billy’s execution, Keena returns & whisks him away to her perfect land—Avalon.

Bob Byrne, writing for Black Gate (“Birthday Reviews: John D. Macdonald’s “Ring Around the Redhead”), dismisses the episode:
The story was adapted in 1985 for an episode of Tales from the Darkside, starring John Heard and Penelope Ann Miller. By all accounts, it was forgettable and did not justice to MacDonald’s writing.
I can’t dispute this, since (I’m embarrassed to admit) I haven’t read McDonald’s story (I will!). However, “Ring Around the Redhead” is one of my favorite episodes of Tales from the Darkside, one I rewatch often.

I don’t claim that McDonald took inspiration from “Lanval”—although there’s no reason why he mightn’t have. We can, however, be fairly sure “Ring Around the Redhead” wasn’t influenced by Roxy Music.

[ Image of Keena from Tales from the Darkside "Ring Around the Redhead" ]

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