And moving thro' a mirror clearHang on, I’m about to completely lay waste to Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” in an act of shameless cultural vandalism. If you haven’t read the poem, I implore you to do so now before looking at the rest of this post. That way at least you’ll have encountered it first as Tennyson intended. There are two versions, but for my money the 1842 text is better.
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear…
All right, warnings duly issued, here we go. I was introduced to the poem in an English lesson in my second year at grammar school. My interpretation of what was going on portrayed the Lady as a visitor from another world whose ship had malfunctioned, stranding her on Earth. Seeing Sir Lancelot on her ship’s scanner, she identified his shield as containing some mineral or gem needed to repair the ship, but she could not tolerate exposure to Earth’s atmosphere and died before she could reach him.
I’d pity the English master I inflicted that science fictional analysis on (to the great amusement of the rest of the form) except that he later put me in detention for writing an essay that he deemed obscene. So, you know, screw him. Although come to think of it I suppose that does give me a kind of honorary membership of the oppressed artists’ club, a taste of the crushing fascist jackboot that wants to stamp on every freethinking writer’s face. Hmm. A useful lesson after all, then. Mind you, I’d still be tempted to do what De Milletail does to De Blayac in Ridicule.
Festering schoolroom resentments aside, it struck me that you could turn that interpretation of “The Lady of Shalott” into a fun little scenario for something like Pendragon. If you want to end it in a big fight, she could be a shapechanger or even a (lady) dragon, rather like Al Williamson’s classic EC Comics story “By George”.
fluid link? And if they do find that out, why wouldn’t they just hand it over to her?
Well, they could do that, and thus it's all wrapped up as an uplifting interlude, but my view is that the scenario needs conflict. How about if the item she needs to repair her vessel is Excalibur itself? That’s not getting handed over without a struggle. And to make it more interesting than a head-to-head fight, how about those “webs” she’s said to weave:
But in her web she still delightsAre those artificial constructs based on the people she sees in the scanner? “I am half-sick of shadows” – surely the lament of somebody who’s spent too much time playing on the holodeck. But she could use that web-weaving ability to create a simulacrum of one of the characters – or of Arthur, or Guinivere – to try to trick them into handing over the item she needs. Or she could be attended by a doppelganger of a knight known to the characters, either to establish her credentials or to trigger a feud with the real knight as a distraction.
To weave the mirror's magic sights
The other question is: where is Shalott? Or at any rate, where is the lady/alien/visitor from? In my English class I was envisaging another planet. But maybe she's a time traveller? (That image above by William Holman Hunt strikes me as having quite a steampunk vibe.) Or might she be a Cthulhoid creature? An X-Men style mutant? A phantasmal shadow-version of Morgan le Fay? Over to you.