Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Buried Giant is Nobel Prize-winning British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel. It was published in March of 2015 to generally positive reviews and critical acclaim, though some have criticized the novel for deviating in style and quality from his earlier works. The Buried Giant is a fantasy novel set in post-Arthurian Britain and follows Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, as they leave their village to visit their son. However, the land is covered in a amnesia-inducing mist, and they cannot remember exactly where their son lives—or anything else about him. On their journey, Axl and Beatrice travel with a Saxon warrior, his young squire, and a legendary knight. Slowly, they begin to remember the past that they all share. A melancholic, beautiful exploration of memory and guilt, The Buried Giant is an emotionally powerful story of love and war.
After King Arthur unified Britain, the fragile peace could not endure. In The Buried Giant, some characters harken back to those idyllic times, especially the valiant Sir Gawain. One large problem that affects everyone is a mist that attacks the memory. The characters, in various stages of amnesia, experience difficulties simply carrying out the tasks of daily life, much less locating their destinations while traveling through the countryside.
The narrative centers largely on a couple who set out to visit their son. Because of the mist-induced memory lapses, Axl and Beatrice experience many difficulties. They try to locate a friar with healing skills who can help the ailing Beatrice. They encounter a young boy, Edwin, who was captured and caged by ogres. The warrior Wistan, who might have previously known Axl, decides to rescue him. They all continue toward Axl’s son’s village and along the way meet Sir Gawain—the former Round Table knight.
At the monastery, they must wait to seek Friar Jonus’s medical advice. Finally it is revealed that a dragon—which had been the object of Gawain’s quest—is causing the mist with its breath. As soldiers close in on the monastery (apparently with Wistan as their quarry), the monks usher them into a tunnel, ostensibly to escape. It turns out to be a trap: there is a monster deep within the tunnel. After Gawain decapitates it, they all escape but in various directions.
After an encounter with some ominous women, the “dark widows,” Gawain regains some of his memories concerning Axl’s former involvement with King Arthur and the magician Merlin. Edwin and Wistan set out in pursuit of the dragon Querig, while Axl and Beatrice, continuing to seek their son, meet up with Gawain again. As they again re-unite with Edwin and Wistan, both Axl and Gawain recall the original terms: Gawain had been appointed Querig’s protector rather than its slayer, as part of Merlin’s plan to use Querig to spread the mist—a plan that Axl had opposed.
In the battles with the dragon, Wistan kills Querig and Gawain. Axl and Beatrice leave, still looking for their son, as Beatrice's health deteriorates further. With the dragon and mist gone, their memories return, and they at last recall that their son had died of plague. The island where they remembered their son living is actually the site of his grave, to which the boatman will ferry Beatrice.