Goodreads: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
Source: City Book Review
Published: March 14, 2017
Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette. In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chrétien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion. Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.
As a fan of medieval literature, I was excited to see Anderson adapt this story about one of King Arthur’s knights by Chrétien de Troyes for a new audience. Although I enjoyed Anderson’s take in general, he does make changes to the plot and characters (presumably to streamline the story) that fundamentally change some of the themes explored in the original French medieval romance. This, I think, does a disservice to Chrétien’s text, which is undoubtedly entertaining but is about so much more than epic battles and encounters with monsters. Chrétien’s stories tend toward the complex and thought-provoking, and Anderson’s changes do away with some of this in order to present a slightly more digestible tale.
The story that Anderson and Offermann present is one of courage, love, and loyalty lost and regained. Yvain is not always heroic and the outcomes of the adventures are not always happy, but this is the point, and it paints a more complicated version of King Arthur’s times and his knights than readers get from other sources. (Indeed, there are a lot of medieval texts that paint Arthur or his knights in a less than flattering light, which I think many modern readers are unaware of.) The female characters in particular in this story seem stuck between having power and being unable to wield it to get what they want. It is a story that asks readers to question social and gender roles, as well as the definition of real power.
Offerman’s illustrations are gorgeous, if a bit lacking in color for my personal taste, and they are often the backbone of the story when Anderson chooses not to use words to explain plot events from his source material. Her art is detailed and based in extensive research, adding a wonderful layer of nuance to the book. This adaptation will make the most sense to readers who have read Chrétien’s version (and I do recommend reading that; Penguin publishes a very accessible translation), but it is a solid introduction to the medieval romance for those who have not read the original.