Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The wife of King Arthur; her Love for Sir Lancelot led to the downfall of the Round Table and the eventual decline of Arthur's kingdom. Guinevere (Gwenhwyfar) was daughter of the King of Cornwall, and was the most beautiful woman in Britain; a more historical application suggests she may have been of Pictish origin (see Guinevere [1991] by Norma Lorre Goodrich). Her role is central to the Arthurian romances. It was Chrétien de Troyes who first introduced the relationship between Guinevere and Lancelot in his court romance Lancelot or Le Chevalier de la Charrete ["The Knight of the Cart"] (?1177) – there was no earlier basis for this in the Celtic tales – and thereby developed a love triangle that swept the Anglo-Norman world. As the stories developed to their final consolidation in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (1485) Guinevere was portrayed first as a seductress and then as a victim, married to a king she could not love but unable to declare her love for Lancelot and, ultimately, raped by Mordred (Modred) when he usurped Arthur's throne.

Guinevere features in most Arthurian fictions, and is the focus of attention in some. In Launcelot (1926) by Ernest Hamilton and The Little Wench (1935) by Philip Lindsay (1906-1958) she is seen as scheming and divisive. Both the Guinevere sequence by Sharan Newman and the Guinevere trilogy by Persia Woolley retell the Arthurian saga from Guinevere's viewpoint, depicting her as a strong-willed individual who nevertheless becomes a victim of both love and power. In Firelord (1980) and Beloved Exile (1984) Parke Godwin contrasts Arthur and Guinevere. The Idylls of the Queen (1982) by Phyllis Ann Karr is an Arthurian murder mystery with Guinevere as the prime suspect.

The nature of Guinevere's role means her presence in fiction is usually to develop a romantic or tragic theme rather than to contribute any plot elements – she is a catalyst rather than a doer: the desire of Lancelot and others to be her champion often results in her being the reason for heroic Quests. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.