The Characters

King Arthur, the legendary leader of Great Britain, is a somewhat shadowy character. He leaves politics to “Winston” and the propaganda machines and interests himself in the military. He vaguely feels that his kingly role has outlived its usefulness and feels keenly the loss of the old, romantic Round Table.

Guinevere plays the part of the bored and spoiled queen, a characterization Barthelme appropriated from Malory. Like all the characters, she is not rounded out, because the purpose of the novel is not the characterization but the reaction of the characters to the situation. Guinevere seems to accept the accusations of Lord Haw Haw, the radio traitor, that she is “dallying” with Sir Launcelot, even though during the period of the book she is sleeping with the Brown Knight and not with Launcelot. She feels weary and bored and perhaps understands that the romantic role of queens is dead. She does insist, however, that “all myths come from queens.”

Sir Launcelot du Lac is a sort of noncharacter. The book opens with his fighting, and his character seems to be defined by his first jousting with and then befriending a strange knight. The book ends with his dream of “the softness of Guinevere.” He is concerned only with Malory’s two principal themes, fighting and love.

Sir Kay is King Arthur’s aide-de-camp and is primarily a sounding board for Arthur’s discussions of war and kingship. He worries about Merlin’s...

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Characters Discussed

King Arthur

King Arthur, the legendary king of Britain, presented as still living in 1940, or perhaps returned as “the Future King” of legend. He is a shadowy character. He involves himself in the military, leaving politics to “Winston” and the propaganda machines, understanding that against the propaganda machines and the manipulativeness of modern politics not much can be done. He vaguely believes that his kingly role has outlived its usefulness and feels keenly the loss of the old romantic Round Table. In this somewhat absurdist novel, he acts in ways the legends about him would anticipate. The novella closes with a surprise. According to legend, he dies in a battle with Mordred, but in this story he rather cavalierly rewrites the legend and defeats Mordred, this time without injury to himself. He explains that he “didn’t like Merlin’s prophecy.”

Guinevere

Guinevere, the queen, Arthur’s wife. She plays the part of a bored and spoiled queen, in the tradition of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (1485). Guinevere spends much of her time with a maidservant listening to a traitor, Lord Haw Haw, who claims that she is bad for morale because she is sleeping with Sir Launcelot. She seems to accept these accusations, even though during the time period of the book she is sleeping with the Brown Knight and not with Launcelot. She feels weary and bored and perhaps understands that the romantic role of queens is dead. She insists, however, that “all myths come from queens.”

Launcelot du Lac

Launcelot du Lac, the chief general of King Arthur and, at one...

(The entire section is 677 words.)