You've heard about the Knights of the Round Table, but perhaps a bit less of the Table of Less Valued Knights -- the less-illustrious position of "honour" in King Arthur's hall. It's the place where the elderly, the infirm and the disgraced find their place, dreaming of better days.
This creation -- along with the slightly more esteemed Table of Errant Companions -- is the basis of Marie Phillips' latest ribald tale, as she offers a twist on the classic story of Camelot, giving it a humorous and imaginative new ending.
The Gods Behaving Badly author continues her talent for creating an entirely believable alternate world backdropped by the stories we already know so well. Much like master fairy-tale spinner Gregory Maguire, creator of the blockbuster Wicked series, she doesn't just retell the story from a new point of view, but instead manages to build an entire parallel reality. What she supposes seems not only entirely plausible, but even certain.
The Table of Less Valued Knights opens on the night of the Pentecost feast at Camelot -- a night when knightly careers are made in the service of whatever citizen comes calling for aid. When Edwin, Prince Consort of the Kingdom of Puddock, enters, seeking a knight to find his missing bride, one of Arthur's trusted Round Table knights is given the honour.
But at the Table of Less Valued Knights, Sir Humphrey du Val seethes with envy, having been stripped of his honour and banned from quests. Later that night, Sir Humphrey finds himself in the hall when Elaine, a distressed maiden, shows up in search of her kidnapped fiancé. He jumps at the chance to take on the quest, hoping it will win back King Arthur's favour.
Meanwhile, in a kingdom far away, Martha is a queen on the run from her new husband as she goes searching for her missing brother in disguise. These threads all come together in the novel to offer a surprise ending with numerous laugh-out-loud moments along the way.
Phillips manages to deftly weave in the elements ubiquitous in fairy tales -- the requisite damsel in distress, the ever-present Lady of the Lake, the essential bumbling villain -- without making any of them feel played out. In fact, they add to the hilarity.
She also plays into the stereotypes of typical fairy tale characters, such as Elaine's role as the beautiful blond maiden and Edwin as the tall and handsome prince with the enormous white teeth.
Again, it doesn't feel trite, but rather a necessary element to a proper fairy tale.
Of course, no retelling of a classic fairy tale would be complete without a few modern traits added in. So just for good measure, Phillips manages to tie in a pregnancy out of wedlock, a gay romance and numerous tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendoes with her deft hand at humour.
A light, fun frolic, The Table of Less Valued Knights will keep you entertained throughout and is a must to toss into your beach bag during the final weeks of summer.
Nisha Tuli is a Winnipeg writer.