The dogs are barking in Camelot.
One can’t call three books a bubble, but it is interesting to note that this year sees two books that tackle the Arthurian legends from a dog’s-eye view. One is Eric Kahn Gale’s The Wizard’s Dog Fetches the Grail, sequel to last year’s series opener The Wizard’s Dog, and the other is Audrey Mackaman’s A Dog in King Arthur’s Court, which kicks off the Cavall in Camelot series. Both series have can’t-lose premises: Just as it’s hard not to love a dog, it’s hard not to love a dog protagonist, and goodness knows, the Arthurian cycle has proven legs, having been percolating in some form or another since the first recorded mention of King Arthur in the ninth century. And our reviewers are enjoying them so far, praising the characterizations of both canine protagonists.
But if these stories are recognizing the doggy inhabitants of Camelot, they are not populating their human casts with characters of color. “Duh,” you might say. I can hear you rolling your eyes right now. Medieval England was not exactly a multicultural hotspot.
Maybe it wasn’t, but that didn’t stop the medieval chroniclers from introducing characters of color to their casts. Wolfram von Eschenbach’ s 12-century romance Parzival features as a major secondary character the protagonist’s biracial half brother, Feirefiz. Sir Palomides, described as a “payinim,” or Muslim, was already an established character in the cycle by the time he appeared in Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur in 1485. And while Feirefiz seems not to have endured into modern times, Sir Palomides quests through T.H. White’s mid-20th-century English glades.
So while the Round Table may have been majority-white, it was not totally so. I hasten to add that these are not paragons of respectful representation—but they are not nothing. If medieval writers could imagine knights of color, so can we. Vicky Smith is the children’s editor.