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Sir Garlon, King Pellam, and virtue


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Sir Garlon behaves just about the most shamefully of any knight in the literature, running around invisible and arbitrarily assassinating knights and ladies alike.  When Sir Balin attacks him, King Pellam, as I've seen written in some Pendragon materials somewhere, chooses Love(Family) over Hospitality in siding with his brother over Balin.

What I always struggle with is the narrative heaping of praise on Sir Pellam, given his enabling of his horrible brother.  For example, Sir James Knowles calls Pellam "the truest and most worshipful of living knights".  While I understand the contemporary values prize loyalty to the family, is that true even in this most extreme circumstance?  How can we reconcile the assertion of Pellam being some sort of British paragon given that the only major behavior he exhibits is defending his infamously dishonorable brother?

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Well, Balin does break the Hospitality first, by killing Garlon at the feast, and Garlon presumably unarmed as well (since there is a mention made that Balin would have been expected to go in without his sword, save that he refused to do so by the custom of his land, so Garlon, as a native, would have been without a sword). So Pellam is totally in the right for wanting to avenge himself on his churlish guest who has just murdered his unarmed brother under Pellam's own roof (and implied protection, as the Host). I doubt Pellam would have reacted as badly, had it been a fair duel outside of his castle (of course, Garlon probably would have just turned invisible and murdered Balin instead).

We do see similar things elsewhere as well, the Orkneys sticking together (save for Gareth) even when it means doing some dishonorable things in pursuit of their vendetta against de Galis.

Edited by Morien
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Yes, I think that Pellam is quite justified in retaliating against Balin.  But in terms of holding him to a higher standard, and to your point about the Orkneys, it seems that Pellam is seen as remarkably moral or "worshipful", where, say, Agravaine is certainly not.  Is there text to be found, or rationalization to be offered, that point to particularly noble qualities of Pellam, aside from his descendancy from Joseph of Arimethea?

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Scattered thoughts:-

- It’s an obvious point, but the mere fact of having the most noble descent tends to create a presumption from the medieval perspective that Pellam is morally a better person than everyone else, and this was still to a certain extent true in the Victorian era when Knowles wrote.  I am far from certain that a reader in either period would have felt inclined to look for evidence to validate the king’s character in the way that we do.  

- Especially given the religious dimension to Pellam.  “Worshipful” after all means “worthy of reverence” as much as it means “personally honorable,” and while “worship” was not yet an exclusively religious word in Middle English, it did already have religious uses among its range of meanings.  

In Malory, I think a lot of it is about the horror of striking someone who deserves reverence in a way that goes beyond even a normal king, because of who he is.  What Malory says is “And King Pellam was nigh of Joseph’s kin, and that was the most worshipful man alive in those days.”    So the context indicates that Malory means “worshipful” to refer primarily to Pellam’s descent and status, not his character.  

No “truest” - that’s Knowles being a Victorian sentimentalist.  Malory is, as usual, much less soft-focus than his Victorian admirers.

- Subversive reading: I note that in Knowles, it’s Merlin who describes as Pellam “truest and most worshipful.”  Maybe he’s not, and it’s a cunning lie that Merlin tells for his own purposes... :)

- I’d be interested in how many instances in the literature there are of someone being criticized for enabling a relative’s actions and being held responsible for not taking action to prevent them (as distinct from witholding co-operation).  Might make for some useful points of comparison.

Edited by Voord 99
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It's tempting to wonder whether Pellam was simply ignorant of Garlon's true nature (that gift of invisibility would certainly make it handy to cover up his guilt in murdering or wounding his many victims), though as other posters here have said, even if he knew what Garlon was really like, he'd still have Love (family) and Hospitality to motivate him.

Maybe a bigger question is how the Holy Graiil could tolerate Garlon's presence at Carbonek, something which, as best I can tell, Malory and his predecessors never addressed.  Certainly he seems to have been an utter disgrace to the Grail Family, without facing the consequences, until Balin tracked him down.

(Might the Dolorous Blow have been, in part, Pellam's punishment for overlooking his brother's crimes, with Balin as an unwitting instrument for divine retribution?

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Rereading the Wastelands adventure, I can see that Ringan’s question was actually something that Mr. Stafford noticed and addressed (p.168):  “He [Pellam] had been considered invulnerable because he was the paragon of virtue.  However, his wicked brother convinced him to adventure in the realm of Romance, and he sullied his perfect life.”  I suspect that might be based on the detail in Malory that Pellam holds a feast that’s open only to knights who bring their wives or paramours.

But I think I might like merlyn’s suggestion better, and  it could make a good modern addition to the story if one made the Dolorous Stroke a consequence of Pellam’s failure to acknowledge the fact that his brother was wicked in the first place.   

Which immediately leads to the question — what would be a good way to make that a story about the player knights?  Very much off the top of my head, I think the following might be a possibility that integrates it with the GPC.

1) Have an encounter with Garlon as a Forest Sauvage adventure during the Anarchy.  Use this as an opportunity to have the PKs meet the Brown Knight of the Wilds a little earlier than his official debut and learn Garlon’s identity and relationship to Pellam from him, and also learn that Pellam is devoted to his brother and is blind to his faults.  The plot might revolve around the PKs getting some sort of untransmissible (important!) way to overcome Garlon’s invisibility.

2) 515, before Balin’s adventure.  The PKs encounter the Brown Knight of the Wilds again, who is seriously wounded (by Garlon).  He is travelling to King Pellam to give him a final warning that he must cease to overlook Garlon’s crimes, or terrible things will result.  But Garlon found out about this.  The Brown Knight begs the PKs to complete his task for him.  They have to overcome Garlon’s opposition to reach Pellam.  (This is where the PKs having a way to defeat the invisibility that they cannot share with anyone else might come in handy for the GM.)  When they get there, Pellam refuses obstinately to listen to this final warning.  

One could have the refusal turn on Pellam’s pride in his descent from Joseph of Arimathea - it is precisely because he is the most noble person in the world that he cannot envisage that his brother could be less than moral.

3) Years later, when playing through the Wastelands stuff and encountering the Brown Knight of the Wilds for the third time, he fills them in on what happened as a result of Pellam’s refusal and how it has led to everything that they are experiencing in that story.  When they meet Pellam in that adventure, they learn how he has repented from his mistake.

Weave in a brief encounter or two with Balin at suitable points in the course of other adventures, and have some sort of parallel moral test for a PK based on Proud/Love (Family) as part of the Grail Quest many years later.

Edited by Voord 99
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On 12/28/2020 at 2:41 PM, Voord 99 said:

It’s an obvious point, but the mere fact of having the most noble descent tends to create a presumption from the medieval perspective that Pellam is morally a better person than everyone else, and this was still to a certain extent true in the Victorian era when Knowles wrote.  I am far from certain that a reader in either period would have felt inclined to look for evidence to validate the king’s character in the way that we do.  

This was a good reminder to me that I am viewing the story through a 21st century American lens, thanks.  And great clarification on the meaning of "worshipful".

On 12/28/2020 at 6:59 PM, merlyn said:

Maybe a bigger question is how the Holy Graiil could tolerate Garlon's presence at Carbonek, something which, as best I can tell, Malory and his predecessors never addressed.  Certainly he seems to have been an utter disgrace to the Grail Family, without facing the consequences, until Balin tracked him down.

(Might the Dolorous Blow have been, in part, Pellam's punishment for overlooking his brother's crimes, with Balin as an unwitting instrument for divine retribution?

Yes, the Grail's implicit acceptance of Garlon's presence was really bugging me!  Thank you for this alternate interpretation of the stroke.

 

@Voord 99 I also appreciate your integration of player character adventures into what might otherwise be solely background machinations.

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