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Who Killed King Lot?

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Malory, Book II, Chapter X:


So there was a knight that was called the Knight with the Strange Beast, and at that time his right name was called Pellinore, the which was a good man of prowess, and he smote a mighty stroke at King Lot as he fought with all his enemies, and he failed of his stroke, and smote the horse’s neck, that he fell to the ground with King Lot. And therewith anon Pellinore smote him a great stroke through the helm and head unto the brows.

Book X, Chapter XXIV:


The offence hast thou done, said Gaheris, notwithstanding a man is born to offer his service; but yet shouldst thou beware with whom thou meddlest, for thou hast put me and my brethren to a shame, and thy father slew our father; and thou to lie by our mother is too much shame for us to suffer. And as for thy father, King Pellinore, my brother Sir Gawaine and I slew him. Ye did him the more wrong, said Sir Lamorak, for my father slew not your father, it was Balin le Savage: and as yet my father’s death is not revenged.

I'm not expecting these sources to be consistent, of course - but this does raise an interesting question about the GPC. Is it more interesting if Pellinore kills Lot, leaving to the Orkney feud, or is it more interesting if Balin does so, leading to a feud for no good reason?

It would raise questions about how this would happen. People do swap their armor for fairly ridiculous reasons elsewhere in Malory, so I'm wondering if this could have occurred here. ("Hey, why is Pellinore carrying two swords?")

What do you think would be more dramatic?

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I'm going to start from a presumption that this plot as played through in a game is being used as a recapitulation of the overall plot of Camelot's self-destruction in the same way Malory uses his Book of Sir Tristram of Lyones as commentary on the rest of the Morte. So I would vary it based on the way that the players and I were framing the source of Camelot's fall. 

But some immediate motifs come to mind here. First, Balin as the agent of divine wrath against the descendants of Joseph of Arimathea in striking the Dolorous Stroke and also in potentially killing Lot and thus guaranteeing first Pellinore and then Lamorak's deaths. This is of course in play dependent on how interested in and comfortable with the players are with engaging with the theological aspects of Arthuriana, because theodicy quickly rears its head if you bring this motif to the forefront, and so the extent to which the story is about how human faults and failures keep them from God/the Garden of Eden versus being about how a cruel universe/evil Demiurge batters all human effort and labor is thus pulled into sharp relief. Which of course, depending on how you read Mordred's miraculous birth and survival, is also there in the primary plot threads.

This motif favors Balin, obviously.

A second motif here, of course, may be to push this into the background a bit. Instead we can have a social critique here of how the institution of nobility, even with the restraint of knighthood and chivalry applied, still works counter to the justice of Camelot, as the Orkney siblings simply cannot abide the injuries of Pellinore's and Lamorak's actions, even as they agree that Lot was unjustly in rebellion, or that Lamorak means them no ill-will by having sex with their mother, and in turn, Lamorak cannot back down when Gawain and Gaheris challenge him- his father's death also needs to be revenged. And this of course expands outward and further into the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere triangle, and the Lancelot-Gawain feud. 

This motif favors Pellinore, as a genuine cause for the feud creates the ambiguity that Aristotle thought underlay tragedy. 

And then there's a third motif, if the players are interested in the particular psychology of the Orkneys, where you can pull forward Gawain's oath and examine whether he has, in contemporary terms, "anger issues", or you could attempt to impute psychology to Gaheris and explain what's up with him murdering his own mother (an Electra complex?). Or go into Agravain and Mordred's heads, if players have for some reason investment in them as characters. 

I think this family of motifs is too individualized to really evaluate in terms of how it favors the dramatic decision, but of course if Gawain has poor impulse control that favors Balin, and if Gawain has difficulty processing sorrow and attempts to resolve it with violence, that favors Pellinore. And for the other Orkneys, I think it's very much a matter of putting the "create" in "creative decisions". 

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I wonder whether this is just one of those inconsistencies in Malory's work that we should not worry too much about; elsewhere, for example,he seems uncertain over whether the Dolorous Blow was inflicted by Sir Balin, or by a spear (apparently floating in mid-air) in retribution for the Fisher King trying to draw the sword aboard the Ship of Solomon meant for Sir Galahad.  (Not to mention equal uncertainty over whether King Pelles is the Fisher King/Maimed King or whether they're different people.)  He even states, at the end of the story of Pelleas and Ettarde, that Pelleas would achieve the Holy Grail, but that doesn't happen when he gets to the Grail Quest itself.

Edited by merlyn
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