Chivalry by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran
Headline, hb, £14.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
When Mrs Whitaker finds the Holy Grail in a charity shop, she thinks it will look nice on her mantlepiece. She does not expect Sir Galaad, one of King Arthur’s knights, to arrive on the doorstep asking for it. Galaad offers all manner of gifts, each unique and magical like the Grail, in exchange for the Grail, and she rejects them all. Will he ever understand what the Grail means to Mrs Whitaker and find a suitable replacement?
Chivalry is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. Concise and poignant, it follows a retired widow going about her daily life, charting the mundane and routine, such as her dinners and visiting her friends or charity shop. Then Galaad arrives with many amazing things to exchange for the Grail; a mythical sword, the philosopher’s stone, a phoenix egg, an apple that grants eternal youth. Mrs Whitaker treats the whole experience with the same mild no-nonsense attitude as she handles the rest of her life, allowing subtle humour to run through the story.
It is also beautiful because Colleen Doran is so talented; her work is breathtaking. She compliments Neil Gaimen’s words blending fantastical with the every day to create unforgettable panels and spreads. It’s hard to pick a favourite. Mrs Whitaker tells Galaad of her husband, how they met during the war, and the art matches the period’s style. Then on the next double page, the art is romantic and soft as Galaad tells her about his family. These pages contain the character’s histories in snapshots; Mrs Whitaker’s husband, Frank, in his warden’s uniform, their first meeting through a window, their celebration when the war ended, Frank’s funeral. What stands out most on this page is Galaad holding a gas mask, a figure of fantasy, honourable war holding the grim truth of it.
In the end, it isn’t any of the wondrous gifts Galaad offers that makes Mrs Whitaker hand over the Grail; it is the gift he offers without even realising it that wins her over. Connections with other people matter to Mrs Whitaker, what she had with her husband, her friends, even the charity shop staff. She witnesses Galaad playing with the children in her street, letting them ride his horse. He gives up his afternoon, helping her rearrange her loft. He listens to her.
I could go on and discuss how the words and panels are combined to create humour, disappointment, sadness. Or Colleen Doran’s use of bold outlines to draw our attention, or lack of them, which give Galaad an ethereal appearance. Or narrative’s turning point and the personal cost of Mrs Whitaker’s final decision about the Grail. But I won’t because I want you to experience that emotional punch in the gut for yourself without any spoilers from me. The creators’ names alone should reassure you of Chivalry‘s quality. It is a worthy addition to any library.