The tale of Dame Ragnelle has a long history in English literature, part of a tradition of medieval stories in which a woman, cursed into ugliness, regains her looks through a compassionate man’s actions. When King Arthur is given a year and a day to discover what women really want, the hideous dame offers to tell him the secret…if his most chivalrous knight will willingly wed her. Sir Gawain agrees to do so, Arthur is saved, and the Dame returns to her beautiful uncursed self.
But what of this Dame Ragnelle? Where does she come from, and whither the curse? Most variations on the “loathly lady” stories don’t really get into her beyond being more or less a plot device. Jamie Mayo has taken this as an opportunity, and has dissected the legend, fleshing her out and making her a whole. She takes us through the story from the girl’s point of view: from innocent to cursed outcast, to savior of the king and eventually to loving wife.
Ms May is a compelling storyteller, and it is very involving to hear her spin on an old tale. It is interesting, further, to note that even five hundred years ago, men needed to be told that what a woman really wants is the ability to decide her own fate. Perhaps, one day, that wish shall come to pass for us all.