Today I am delighted to present a review for M.T. Anderson’s debut graphic novel Yvain: Knight of the Lion, an adaptation of one of my favourite Arthurian Romances! Visually rich and deeply nuanced, this comic captures the original romance and presents it anew for another generation to enjoy.
Title: Yvain the Knight of the Lion
Author: M. T. Anderson
Illustrator: Andrea Offermann
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novel, Arthurian Romance, Medieval Romance
Themes: Chivalric love, honour, duty, family, female agency, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table
Features: Author’s note, Illustrator’s note
My Rating: 4 / 5
In his first graphic novel, National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson turns to Arthurian lore, with captivating art by Andrea Offermann bringing the classic legend to life.
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.
I grabbed this graphic novel on a whim from the library because I have been missing my research and palaeography days. And, I have to admit, I originally didn’t have high expectations because the other comic adaptations I’ve encountered for Arthurian legends have been sorely disappointing. I have always loved medieval romances, especially Arthurian epics and Breton Lais – and normally read them in the vernacular – and I was pleased to discover that Anderson and Offermann did an incredible job of capturing the nuances of the genre and bringing this tired old tale back to life in a way that can be enjoyed by all.
For those that are familiar with the stories of Yvain and Gawain, this is an absolute home run! The dialogue reads true to Chretien de Troyes down the intonation and syntax, and the imagery presented alongside it illustrates the irony and (lack) of chivalry that dominated the original tales. I love how the iconic elements such as being given a year to complete a mission, love at first sight, battling for honour, being manipulated by powerful and intelligent women, and King Arthur being a disengaged and rather cowardly figure were all maintained. And I really loved how subtle digs were made about Guinevere’s behaviour in a way that couldn’t be ignored, how Yvain’s descent into madness was depicted, and the repetition of imagery that mirrors the way in which the original poems are structured.
I will say this though, the story won’t be for everyone. Sure, the women are strong, but they also adhere to some entrenched gender stereotypes typical of the times. These women are sneaky and manipulative, their power either comes from witchcraft or beauty, and they often hold no power outside of their homes. But at the same time Anderson and Offermann work to highlight how Chretien de Troyes and other authors of Arthurian Romances often subverted these stereotypes. And further to that, I love how Anderson made no effort to reinvent Yvain and the Arthurian court into chivalric knights either. They remained cowardly, pompous, puffed up pricks who enjoy feasting, bragging, and women and very rarely commit genuine heroic deeds. While some will hate the story for this, I seriously revelling in the authenticity.
Offermann’s art work if off the wall as well. It carries in it hint of medieval tapestry, allusions of calligraphic fonts, and a colour palette that evokes a sense of nostalgia. The demons and lions look like miniatures that walked right out of a manuscript, and all of the faces are incredibly expressive. But with that being said, I would suggest that this is probably not the right book for a first time reader of graphic novels. Offermann utilizes some incredibly complex panel arrangements, intersperses tightly packed and frantic panels with full and/ or multi-page spreads, and leaves no room in the gutter for thought or interpretation. The result is an intense, action-packed read, that at first glance can be somewhat overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it, but I can see where at times the arrangement will be difficult to follow.
Would I recommend this book? In a heart beat! Not only do I love it as a throw-back to some outstanding classical literature, I think that it likely has a place in education at a high school or post secondary level. Anderson’s adaptation is just as good, if not better, than many of the modern translations handed out in Survey literature courses, and the graphic elements make it ten time more enjoyable than highly syntactic (and often heavily amended) verse. Now add in all of the information relayed through the visual elements and I think that modern readers and students will get so much out of it. Sure, it might have a YA stamp on it from the publishers, but I would suggest you ignore it. The story itself is timeless, and like the orginal, Anderson’s adaptation should be considered for all ages.