Garden of the Joy

Joy of the Court

One of Enide's cousins, falling in love with King Evrain's nephew Mabonagrain, returned with him to Evrain's castle Brandigant, where she made him swear to stay with her in the garden where he was knighted and never to leave until some other knight could here defeat him in honest combat. Mabonagrain conscientiously defeated and decapitated every oncomer, placing their heads on sharpened stakes all around the garden.

I suppose this final touch must have been to prove his good faith, to discourage champions from intruding upon his love retreat, or both. Aside from the macabre note lent it by all these staked heads, the garden sounds admirably suited for a hideaway: magically enclosed by nothing but air, it was filled with every kind of fruit, herb, and bird known to humanity, all growing, bearing, or singing the whole year round.

Presumably none of the defeated knights had been told how the adventure called the Joy of the Court came to be, for Erec had to defeat (though not to behead) Mabonagrain in order to learn why they had fought. Nor was any knight compelled to undertake it: on the contrary, the whole castle-town tried to discourage them. Nor - most surprising of all? - did anyone seem to blame either Mabonagrain's lady or Mabonagrain himself for causing all the earlier knights' deaths.

Chrétien explains that the adventure was called the Joy of the Court in anticipation of the joy the court would experience if and when it were finally won (i.e., with Mabonagrain's defeat). D.D.R. Owen points out that very likely there was also a play on the French words for "court" and "horn", seeing that, after defeating Mabonagrain, Erec was obliged to round his victory off by blowing a horn that hung in the garden. The whole episode seems otherwordly in origin. It may also make a twentieth-century American think of the archetypal Fastest Gun in the West and all his eager challengers.

See also
Joy of the Court | The Legend of King Arthur