I am pleased today to present a character spotlight by the delightful authoress, Suzannah Rowntree, from her newest novel, Pendragon's Heir.
Expect awesomeness: she uses the phrase "outrageously swashbuckling" to describe this character. And now, over to Suzannah.
Meet Sir Perceval of Wales!
Born in a cave, clothed in skins, raised far from civilisation, Perceval seems an unlikely candidate for knighthood. But when the wild boy of Wales comes to Camelot to become a knight like his father, he’s quickly hailed as the flower of chivalry, acknowledged as the son of the King’s most loyal knight, and entrusted with the safety of the King’s own daughter.
As a knight of the Round Table, a guardian of Logres against the forces of darkness, Perceval knows he is almost certainly destined for an early death in battle. His new life of adventure, fellowship, and glory is its own reward, however, and the price is one he’s prepared to pay.
But is he prepared to face the evil lurking within Logres itself?
When people ask me who my favourite character from Pendragon’s Heir is, I have to admit that it’s Perceval. I love all my characters, but no one else is as much fun to write about.
As one of two point-of-view characters and the secondary protagonist after Blanche, Perceval was always going to be important to my story. What makes him special, though, is his uniquely extravagant personality. In the original legends, Perceval’s backwoods origins make him a delightful mixture of brashness and naivete. As I fleshed his character out for my own novel, I came to think of him as the unsocialised homeschooler par excellence—extroverted, articulate, idealistic, and completely fearless. He was enormous fun to write, and the best part is, if you read the original legends, Malory’s version or the Mabinogion’s, he’s basically the same character in those as well. Needless to say, this makes reading the legends that much more fun.
I’m grateful that the original, legendary Perceval came with such an interesting character ready-made for me, because I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward writing such an ebullient, swashbuckling fellow. Now that I think about it, I don’t think most people find cocky self-assurance a very heroic trait. If anything, it makes the alarm bells go off in our heads.
But for the medievals who originally invented Perceval, swashbuckling confidence was an obviously heroic trait. Not that they failed to value humility; rather, they saw the two as going hand-in-hand. They were the kind of people who would lop off the head of a serial killer, and then fast and pray for his soul. Less positively, they were also the kind of people who would set off en masse for the Holy Land with little more than a bunch of pitchforks and a whole lot of hope. Meanwhile the eventual hero of the Arthurian romances, Sir Lancelot, is described as “the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies…and the sternest knight to mortal foe that ever put spear in rest.” This was the medieval ideal, a sort of equal flowering of two apparently opposed things: vengeance and mercy, confidence and dependence, meekness and savagery. Such confidence was not always well-placed, of course, and the cry of Deus vult!—God wills it!—was often declared prematurely.
But for all their faults, the medievals were prone to different sins than ours; if they were rash, then at least they were not usually pragmatic, and if their love of fighting often got out of hand, then at least they were not cowards. Almost without realising it, my fun exploring this very medieval knightly character of Sir Perceval became a way for me to explore and understand the medieval knightly culture that birthed him.
“Where may I find your King? I should like to be a knight.”
One of the men behind Lancelot coughed as though smothering a laugh, but Lancelot replied gravely. “I counsel you to go in search of him, sir, for it is the Pendragon’s chief delight to grant such boons to bold men. Yet there are conditions. You must keep yourself either to gentle words or hard blows, and you must defend the weak and poor.”
“I will do these things,” said Perceval with a gesture of easy assurance.
I knew I was facing quite a challenge when I sat down to plan the story idea that would eventually become Pendragon’s Heir. At that point, I had never attempted writing from a male point of view before, and I knew I wanted to do it right. Perceval might be a knight in shining armour, he might be my main character’s love interest, but I also wanted him to be a real character in his own right, a character I wouldn’t be embarrassed about when the time came for my own brothers to meet him!
What I was scared of was writing some unrecognisable paragon, the kind of male character that plagues lady novelists everywhere. I never could believe in Mr Rochester, and I have to admit that even Lord Peter Wimsey has always stretched my credulity. They, and characters like them, seemed written at least partly for wish-fulfilment. I always agreed, with GK Chesterton, that
No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains. She could describe a man coolly; which neither George Eliot nor Charlotte Brontë could do.
I was so concerned about the danger of voodoo-dolling my heroic male characters into my idea of the perfect man, out of all resemblance to actual men, that my natural inclination was to err on the side of the unromantic. Fortunately, somewhere along the way I stumbled across a contemporary author’s perceptive words on what it is that readers really want in their fiction:
Young men want noble things, to slay dragons and rescue damsels in distress, to help widows and orphans and win glory. Young women want even nobler things, to be rescued by a handsome prince on a white charger with a heart of fearless gold and a sword of peerless fire. And they want to win the kind of men who win glory.
Many a young man these days, poisoned by the venom of envy called feminism will deny this, and even more young women. Then the men will go out and read paperbacks about spies or special forces officers who do what knights do, and the women go out and read paperbacks about heiresses kept as wards by scheming guardians who need to be rescued by brooding yet stalwart young barons.
This quote has been a great encouragement to me—sticky-noted, more or less permanently, on the inside of my brain, as a kind of permission to write—well, to write stories about knights. And that, with a good deal of gusto and enjoyment, is what I have done.
He swung into the saddle and gripped his spear with a shout. “Ho! I know you, Knight of Gore! What of the Witch of Gore, your mistress? Does she still send you to do her cutthroat work, as she did on a day I recall, in the castle of Gornemant?”
“And I know you, Welsh swineherd, well enough to weary of your babble. I have a debt to repay. Come, let me teach you how men speak, with steel, not mockeries.”
“It is a tongue I love!” Perceval said, laughing and laying spear in fewter, and striking spurs into his horse.
When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at www.vintagenovels.com and is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, released March 26.
I cannot wait to read this book! Thanks so much for dropping by, Suzannah, and congratulations on your new novel!