Loving Lancelot or, the Force of Character

I have to confess, I’ve never much liked Lancelot. I never got the whole thing with him, never understood why, time and again, he appears in book after book after book, film after film. And I swore, up and down I swore, that if I ever wrote Arthuriana that there would be absolutely no sign of Lancelot to speak of. No stupid Frenchman ruining everything. No pure, guiltless knight; no hunky posterboy. The only Lancelot I marginally liked was T.H. White’s… because he was terribly ugly. I can appreciate that sort of irony. (Of course, they couldn’t have kept that in Camelot. Had to go and make him all sexy and… Italian?)

So, well, what the hell happened, right? Queen of None was supposed to be Lancelot-less. But, in spite of my very earnest efforts, he sort of popped up. In Chapter Three. Right there, at the Tournament, knocking the hell out of Gawain and adding a delightful twist to the story.

But I promised to still be in control. I promised it up and down; there was going to be nothing redeeming about Lancelot (Lanceloch in my spelling). He was going to be terrible and awful and unsympathetic and then…

Yeah, totally didn’t happen.

I can’t tell you when Lanceloch became himself, for lack of a better phrase, but this character was supposed to be in the second string. And though he’s not in the book for much of the end, as he’s been driven to near breaking by our heroine (one hell of a heroine) the scenes between he and Anna were some of my favorite to write and edit. In some ways, they’re polar opposites; he is driven by honesty, openness, compassion, and she is driven by emotion, thought, and selfishness (though she does have some more redeeming qualities, I should point out). Lance really does try to make everything work, and only gives up when it is the only choice left to him. His story’s not done yet, as it continues into the next book, but it’s been a fascinating progression of character nonetheless.

One passage in the book is most telling, for me, most accurately describes their relationship.

I watched him, his lips slightly parted, his eyes searching mine back and forth. He regarded me with a look of patience, of virtue, so pure it made me feel worthless, tarnished, shamed. I had only been with Bedevere, but still, the deed felt so improper in the light of one as Lanceloch.

How was it possible that such a man existed? I hoped that Viviane would help enlighten me in the short time I had with her. For if this was going to be the shape of the rest of my life I was certain I could not bear it.

Surely he had a flaw, at least one, that I could use to my advantage. But so far I only saw a man too honorable, too good, too dedicated. Perhaps that was it; perhaps he was a man unable to find the center of the pendulum—all was in extremes.

When he rose, he soared; but I feared what would happen if he should fall.

I’m sure some writers are in total control of their characters. I like that I’m not. Learning about the process, and how the characters come to be–sometimes seemingly of their own volition–teaches a great deal more about myself as a writer than the other way around. I don’t need predictable. In the end, Lance was remarkably rewarding; so much so that I can see how, if I had been stubborn about his place in the books, I would have missed a marvelous opportunity.

Lancelot reading:

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  1. I’m not in control of my characters. Quite the opposite.

  2. […] Well, most of you know how this part of the story goes. I started writing Queen of None, Anna’s story, more than a decade ago. I never gave up on it, but I also never knew exactly what to do with it. Every year I’d come back and edit it with the feeling that it was important, that the story needed to be told. But then I’d pack it away again, and work on something else. I even learned to love Lancelot. […]

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