Critique Group – Gareth

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Gareth – by Megan

The sun rose golden over the glen that morning, and set the clouds glowing silver and the grass glowing green. Gareth leaned against the doorpost and watched the slanting sunrays chase the mist away. He strained his ears to catch the jingling of Gawain’s harness, the clumsy trampling of Mordred’s horse through the brush; but the forest had swallowed them up along with the shadows of the night. Even the shadows of the night were fleeing deeper into the trees, and the only sound was the trilling of the carefree birds.

Those birds irked Gareth, as did the sunshine. Why did the whole world have to be happy when he was miserable?

His mother’s voice drifted in from the kitchen. “Gareth!”

He sighed, took one last longing look at the forest and the path that led to Camelot, and trudged back inside with slumped shoulders. Mother was sitting by the fire, spinning wool. She glanced at him and smiled, then turned her attention back to her work. It was marvelous how quickly and flawlessly she did it – how at the touch of her hand the formless cloud of fleece spun itself into a skein of yarn on the spindle. Mother had a way of doing that – of taking wild bunches of things, like wool or boys, and taming them into something new and neat and useful. Now she was even trying to do it with his dreams. Gareth scowled.

“Gareth, have you fed the chickens yet?”

He’d only been up a few minutes. “No.”

“What have you been doing?”

“I was seeing Gawain and Mordred off, Mother.”

“Ah.” She smiled again, her worry-lined face breaking, for a moment, into a shadow of long-lost beauty. She must have been perfectly breathtaking when she was a young woman – as lovely as Guinevere, perhaps.

Of course, it would be much easier to decide whether or not she had been if he knew what Guinevere looked like.

“Hey, Mother,” he began, and paused.

Her dark eyes twinkled up at him for a moment, then turned back to the distaff. “I thought you were going to go feed the chickens.”

“I will – I will.” The words tumbled from his mouth almost without his permission, but the ones he really wanted to say refused to come.

Twigs crackled in the fireplace. Mother looked up again, that knowing smile still in her eyes, her mouth tensed as though to keep from laughing. “Is there something you wanted to ask me, dear?”

Gareth bit his lip. She would be irritated with him. But then, nothing worse could happen then another “no.”

“Can I go to Camelot?” he burst out.

The smile straightened into a frown. “Gareth.”

Oh, not that tone. Gareth squirmed inside. Didn’t she understand he wasn’t a little boy anymore? “Mother, I can’t stay here any longer! I’ll pine away and die if I can’t become a knight!”

The distaff and spindle were set aside. Mother stood up and walked toward the fireplace, the old floorboards creaking under her steps. “Now you’re just being dramatic.” She plucked a basket from the mantelpiece and brought it over to him. She still smiled; but now it seemed harder for her to keep the smile there than to keep it in check. Her eyes sparkled – with tears?

“There.” She pushed the basket into his hands and closed his grasp around it, her cool palm resting for a moment on his itching knuckles. The expression in her eyes softened. “Gareth..”

Gareth looked down. That tone was worse than the other one, because it was impossible to protest against it in good conscience. He gave a rough sigh. “You’ll keep me here until I’m an old man.”

“A little good honest farm work never hurt anybody.” She took his head between her hands and kissed his forehead, then laid hold of his shoulders and gently pushed him out the door. “Now go. Those chickens are waiting.”

They were always waiting. The chickens, the garden, the scullery – everything was always waiting. Gareth kicked the ground and tramped towards the chicken coop.

It wasn’t fair. It really wasn’t fair. Everyone else got to be a knight – everyone but him. Nothing had kept Gawain from entering King Arthur’s service. Mother had been happy to see him go. It was the same thing with Mordred. Mordred got to ride around on his big black horse with a big steel sword just like some hero from a legend, even though he hadn’t done anything heroic in his life. Even Father had been a knight. But Gareth? Ha! Gareth scoffed and walked faster. Mother had to keep him at home to feed chickens and plant gardens, and even – he made a face – wash dishes.

He was probably the only boy in England who got treated like a girl.

The chickens saw him coming and came running, their short legs sticking out with every eager step and their clumsy wings spread out stiff and thick for balance. They acted as though they hadn’t had anything to eat for years. Gareth rolled his eyes, dumped a bucket of corn in the dirt, and trudged for the coop.

He jerked at the door, but it was rusted and wouldn’t budge. Stupid thing. He jerked again. It only groaned a little. With a grunt, he heaved with all his might.

The next thing he knew, he was sitting on the filthy ground, staring at the coop door as it swung wildly on one hinge. Hens clucked in surprise, and a downy gray feather which had been whirled from the coop drifted complacently down in front of his nose.

Gareth made a face. That did it – his life was utterly terrible. He stood up, brushed the damp straw and dust and chicken droppings from the seat of his pants, and tramped into the coop.

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9 replies

  1. I was immediately interested in the idea. A personal story from the perspective of Sir Gareth might offer some new directions for the Arthur legends.

    I am confused by the intent of having him do menial chores. According to common Arthurian legend, Gareth and his brothers were of the royal house of Orkney. In the 15th century telling by Malory, Gareth does first appear as a lowly kitchen boy, but it is a ruse for winning greater glory when he proves himself in battles.

    In this story, why is a prince tending chickens? Is it punishment?
    Or if he isn’t a prince, how is it that two of his brothers are knights? Knights always came from the nobility, because it’s really costly to equip a knight. The king didn’t provide a soldier with weapons. They usually had to make do with their own, which is why peasant levies got slaughtered by noble knights. Modern professional armies are a relatively new invention.

    This initial show of lowly circumstances is a common and effective trope to build sympathy for a character, but given that it’s a character out of established mytho-historical roots, I would suggest either strongly building the world to distance it from the myth, or detailing the reasons for the mismatch of station and labor.

    Bottom line: why is nobility living in pseudo-poverty, OR why are peasants able to attain knighthood? In my opinion, one or the other should be addressed or changed.

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  2. Thanks for pointing that out! I hadn’t realized it was such a glaring plot hole. 🙂 I suppose I’ll have to figure that out.

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  3. I won’t be able to critique for a while. I will try to get to it on Sunday.

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  4. Megan,

    You did a great job with physical descriptions that included sights and sounds. I could see your setting quite well, especially your descriptions of chickens. You really captured them well.

    I would like to see more showing of emotions instead of telling. For example – “Those birds irked Gareth, as did the sunshine. Why did the whole world have to be happy when he was miserable?”

    This tells readers that Gareth is irked and miserable instead of showing those emotions. What does an irked person do? What does misery look like? Let the readers see Gareth act those out and conclude that he is irked and miserable.

    “Now she was even trying to do it with his dreams. Gareth scowled.”

    It seems odd to me that Gareth would pick up on this mature concept and then scowl at it. In other words, if he is wise enough to interpret his mother’s ways, it is inconsistent that he would be foolish enough to be angered by her ways.

    “He’d only been up a few minutes” should be “He’d been up only a few minutes.”

    “The distaff and spindle were set aside.” You stated this in passive voice as if anyone might have set the items aside. Show the mother actively doing it.

    “She still smiled; but now it seemed harder for her to keep the smile there than to keep it in check.”

    I did not understand the above sentence.

    “That tone was worse than the other one, because it was impossible to protest against it in good conscience.” Yet, he then immediately protested.

    “It wasn’t fair. It really wasn’t fair. …”

    This entire paragraph made Gareth seem like a spoiled child. Up until this point, you showed a strong measure of wisdom, but you turned it completely around with this paragraph. His character seems inconsistent to me.

    “Gareth made a face.” This is the second time he “made a face.” I’m not sure what that means.

    I would like to see Gareth have an immediate goal, something other than just moping around and complaining. Maybe he is building something–a training ring or a way to more easily feed the chickens. Show him with some gumption that would prove that he has the stuff that would make characters believe that he is worthy of his hopes. So far, he is just whiny and complaining. He needs more.

    James’s comments are definitely worth noting. The inconsistencies are odd.

    Again, your descriptions are of high quality. Just straighten out the inconsistencies and give readers a reason to cheer for Gareth. I think this can be a cool story.

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  5. Thank you, Mr. Davis! This is really helpful.

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  6. Megan, I love this beginning! You have a strong storytelling voice. Like Bryan Davis mentioned, you’ve also included great sensory details; I could see and feel and hear everything. I also appreciated your action beats amidst the dialogue. Some writers fall into endless dialogue with very little action taking place, but you balanced both quite well.

    I hadn’t thought of the issues James Davis pointed out, but now I do see what he means.

    Aside from what Bryan critiqued, I did notice that the “shadows of the night” phrase was used twice in your opening paragraph.

    “Hey Mother,” he started. –I found the use of ‘hey’ a wee bit modern. I’m unsure of how old the word is. Dictionary.com says it was used as early as the 1200’s, but it also mentions the modern definition of it originated in the 1980’s. So I don’t know whether it needs changing or not. This question reminds me of Bryan’s comments on his own critique not that long ago, when he talked about translating everything into English. (Some commenters had suggested throwing in a few French phrases because the setting was France.) So by the same token, perhaps it’s okay to use “hey.” I don’t imagine you’ll be writing everyone’s dialogue in Old English. 😉 If I’m being nitpicky, feel free to ignore me!

    This was one of my favorite lines, by the way: “Mother had a way of doing that – of taking wild bunches of things, like wool or boys, and taming them into something new and neat and useful.” Fabulous imagery! Comparing unruly boys to unspun wool is a vivid way to make the point.

    Overall, great piece! I really enjoyed it, and I wish you all the best. 🙂

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  7. Megs, you did an amazing job!!!!!!!!!! Might have a little more gratitude from Gareth though if anything.

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  8. Sorry, forgot to post name. Also, I would perhaps have a little less ‘face-making’. It’s good sometimes, but not always. 😉

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