The Fair Unknown -- or Le Bel Inconnu -- is a character or motif who appears in a number of late medieval romances. In each of them an unknown youth arrives at
Arthur's court and proves himself, after many adventures, to be a worthy knight. In several of these stories the Fair Unknown is the son of Gawain
, variously named Ginglain, Gyngolyn, Gyngelayne, Guingalin, or Wigalois (in the German 13th-century romance of that title by Wirnt
von Grafenberg). Some of the stories have elements in common with Malory's Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney
he stories about the Fair Unknown contain reworkings of themes familiar from the Grail romances, continuing the cycle
into a new generation. In the 15th century poem The Weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame
Ragnall, the poet notes that Ragnelle bore Gawain a son called Gyngolyn. Although the name of the youth is unknown when he first arrives at Arthur's court, he is
eventually revealed as the son of Gawain.
n several of the Fair Unknown stories the motif of the kiss returns: in the verse romance Le Bel Inconnu by
Renaut de Beaujeu, the hero has to undergo a trial in which he is kissed by a serpent. When he succeeds, the serpent turns into a beautiful
woman. Another version of this episode appears in the stanzaic romance Lybeaus Desconus, attributed to Thomas Chestre, written in the late 14th century, and
there is another of these serpent women in the Italian tale I Cantari di Carduino from about the same date.
he Fair Unknown either does not know his own name or he conceals it. In Lybeaus Desconus the young hero has
been, like Perceval/ Parzival, sheltered by his mother from all knowledge of knighthood. Like those
heroes, Lybeaus appears at first to be an unlikely candidate for knighthood but he soon proves his worth.
© Derrick Everett 1996-2019. This page last updated (minor adjustment to layout) --- Wed 1 May 2019 15:35 CET ---