(2022) Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran, Headline, £14.99, hrdbk, 76pp, ISBN 978-1-472-29064-9
Chivalry was first published by Neil Gaiman in his 1998 collection of short fiction: ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. It’s the story of an elderly widow who buys what turns out to be the Holy Grail in a charity shop. An amusing and often poignant adventure ensues, as Galaad, an earnest medieval knight comes to claim the cup.
Now released as a graphic novel, Chivalry glitters and glows with the impeccable illustrations of Colleen Doran, who also worked with Gaiman on Snow, Glass, Apples.
I say ‘glitters’ because Doran originally envisaged her work as an actual illuminated manuscript with gold leaf and iridescent colours. These techniques proved unworkable in production terms, but you still get a feel for the majesty and grandeur of her original ideas.
It also comes across as a work of love – Doran waited many many years before having the opportunity to turn Chivalry into a graphic novel. Her depiction of the main characters – Mrs Whitaker and Galaad – are tender and mellow. The attentions to detail are clearly carefully researched, right down to the ubiquitous tea set because of course, the first thing Mrs Whitaker does when Galaad comes to claim the Grail is to offer him a cup of tea.
There are some wonderful moments, where Doran interprets Gaiman’s prose with a single illustration – I particularly liked the ‘not bothered’ shrugs of Marie the charity shop assistant and then her ‘makeover’ after she has met and fallen for Galaad.
Chivalry is a story of realising what is important in life. It makes us consider what we truly treasure and what is the meaning of treasure – is it a memory, a good life, or is it something we want to possess? The contrast between the magical Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail is contrasted delightfully and thoughtfully with the ordinariness of the day-to-day life of a lonely widow who misses her late husband.
It is a short read, but I found myself re-reading it and reverently stroking the pages as I went along. It’s a book that feels like a gift and there are fifteen pages at the end devoted (somewhat indulgently) to a commentary from Doran about the making of the book and several of her original sketches. I had not read the original short story, so each page was a revelation. I’m not sure if I would have been quite so enamoured if it was a story I was already familiar with, but it certainly looks great on the bookshelf.
See also Mark Yon's take on Chivalry.
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