Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The True Tale of the Black Knight

"Tell us stories about the Black Knight!"

They really got me with that one.
The first time we met, I told them the story of Dame Ragnell (they are studying the Middle Ages this semester), and they greatly enjoyed it; interestingly enough the most exciting character for them was the Black Knight, who asked Arthur the question and threatened to kill him if he didn't find the answer. So, naturally, they decided they wanted to hear more about him.

And here I was with one week to solve the riddle: Who is the Black Knight, really?

There is a bunch of Black Knights in legend and lore; knights, especially evil ones, generally enjoy wearing black. My favorite Arthurian novelist, Gerald Morris, might have a word or two to say about that; but the question still stood: where could I finf the true story of the Black Knight?... In one week?

There was one other person I knew of: THE Black Knight, the one that conquers all other knights, and wins every fight in the end. Yeah, I'm talking about Death. There is a story about a princess who would only marry the perfect knight, the one that could kill all others - and she ended up being carried away by exactly that person. There is an amazing song about it, Der Letzte Tanz (The Last Dance) by Schandmaul.

Anyhow, back to my quest. I doubted a whole Story Club could be based on the Black Knight being Death, so I kept on searching for more apropriate and more... alive candidates.

Remember one very important thing: Children are always right about stories.

So without further ado I present you our very own personal Black Knight: Sir Breunor.
He was interesting enough to tell about; we could start with how he became a knight (and slaying a lion in King Arthur's court was something the kids just loved to act out - Guinevere ran screaming around the Round Table pursued by a roaring lion until Breunor (or, Bruno, as we called him) killed the beast, and got knighted for his deed). We went on with the tale, and it was an absolute win: the little girl and the knight were an amazing couple, constantly yelling at each other and calling each other names until they gave up, the girl got kidnapped and rescued by a whole team of Arthurian knights, and they became best friends forever.

And this is not all. To my utter surprise, there is another story about a Black Knight, and that Black Knight is nobody else but the grandson of our very own King Arthur! If it wasn't for the kids' request I would have never found the Renaissance romance of Tom a'Lincoln and his two sons, the Black Knight and the Faerie Knight. It's a tragedy, really, but a very colorful and well written one. And because I discovered our very own Black Knight (Bruno or not Bruno) had a brother (well, half brother), there was a straight linw to walk from Black Knight to Faerie Knight (which, by the way, is the lamest name ever for a knight, according to my kids), and from faerie knight to faerie princes, and so we ended up with the story of King Cormac.

It was amazing to watch them act the story out. It was as if they knew what was going to happen the moment I started the tale; most of the time I didn't even need to tell them, I could just sit back and watch as the story progressed. They just felt their way through the entire story. I gave Cormac a string of bells I use for storytelling, and he shook them every time he needed to, and they figured out the tale on their own. It was really a fascinating sight - a story, thousands of years old, and they had no trouble coming to the same conclusion it originally had. Once it was finished, we talked about what makes a good king and why, and they all agreed that good kings talk to people and listen to their problems. They also agreed the bells were awesome, and I had some trouble untangling them before I could tie them back around my ankle.

I think I learn just as much from these kids as they learn from me. Now I know a lot more about the Black Knight, and he'll remain just that, our very own Sir Bruno, with his half-brother the Faerie Knight, who has the lamest name ever. Sometimes, just sometimes, fairy tale villains turn out to be so much more than just an evil guy in black armor...


  1. Loved this post! I've been researching this archetype and the tales that are associated with it for a character I've been rewriting and was wondering where I could find a copy of that black knight of death and the princess story? Or what culture that tale came from?

    1. That one I knew from Lucy Maud Montgomery's novel The Story Girl. I am sure it has a folk version somewhere too, but I don't have the source right now...