Yvain: The Knight of the Lion is a graphic adaptation of Chrétien de Troyes’s epic poem about King Arthur and his knights. The plot is fairly simple: Yvain avenges his cousin by fighting Sir Esclados. When Esclados dies an accidental death after battle, the maid Lunette convinces Lady Laudine to marry Yvain, as he is clearly a worthy knight for who will fight for honor. Yvain falls in love with Laudine and then leaves her to pursue more battles. When he misses Laudine’s imposed deadline for his return from battle, she closes her heart to him and Yvain is left to fight back for his love as well as his honor.

For the most part, Yvain’s qualities make him a hero in today’s world as much as they did in Arthurian legends. Yvain doesn’t turn away from a fight if he thinks it’s for the right reason. Also, his loyalty to Laudine is mirrored in his lion companion’s loyalty to him, suggesting that loyalty inspires more loyalty (and in the lion’s case, a distinct fighting advantage, too.)

At the same time, author M.T. Anderson and illustrator Andrea Offermann illuminate the characters who are left out from a narrow definition of loyalty. In a society where social capital and jurisprudence are carried out by fighting, women have no option other than to rely on men to represent their best interests. The narrow scripts of fighting, winning, losing, and defending one’s honor that create male heroes are the same ones that imprison females.

Offerman’s settings are surreal and wispy, further emphasizing the ways these stories occupy the imaginations of readers past and present. Some settings are filled with lush greens and reds while others are pale and bleak. The fights are bloody without being gory, and at times the artwork bursts out of panels, gutters, and captions so that the story can tell itself.

Within the story are the stories that the characters tell each other, and these stories are cleverly, if somewhat confusingly, depicted as tapestries. At one point readers see the chained female slaves who are responsible for making these story tapestries. These slaves are robbed of the rewards of understanding or appreciating the expansive artwork they create. Though these female slaves are of past fiction, they serve as a reminder to today’s readers to think about the circumstances of a story’s creation and telling and to be sensitive to the unseen creators whose stories are not told.

I strongly recommend this fast-paced text to mature middle school and high school readers. It has a worthy place in a school library and could be easily included in any unit that covers medieval Europe, myth, heroes, or Arthurian legends.

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
by M.T. Anderson
Art by Andrea Offermann
ISBN: 9780763659394
Candlewick, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: (10+)

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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