Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Joy of the Court

Garden of Joy, Joie de la Cort, Joy of the Garden, Schoydelakurt

An extremely dangerous adventure in King Evrain’s town of Brandigant. It is found in Chrétien’s Erec and its adaptations. No knight who ever sought the adventure returned alive.

Erec decided to assume the adventure when he came to the town at the end of his journey with Enide, much to the distress of Enide and Evrain. Making his way past a row of heads spiked on spears, Erec entered a wooded area. He followed a path and found a lady (called Elena in the Norse Erex Saga) sleeping on a bed under a sycamore tree. Shortly thereafter, the lady’s knight, Mabonagrain, arrived and challenged Erec to a fight.

After a long battle, Erec defeated Mabonagrain, who gratefully told Erec his story: Long ago, one of Enide’s cousins, falling in love with King Evrain’s nephew Mabonagrain, returned with him to Evrain’s castle Brandigant, where she made him swear to stay with her in the garden where he was knighted and never to leave until some other knight could here defeat him in honest combat.

Mabonagrain conscientiously defeated and decapitated every oncomer, placing their heads on sharpened stakes all around the garden. Since Erec had defeated him, however, he was free. Having won the adventure, Erec blew a horn, thus altering the town of his victory.

The court rejoiced, and King Evrain threw a celebration in Erec’s honor. The ladies of the town composed a song about the adventure called the Lay of Joy.

Aside from the macabre note lent it by all these staked heads, the garden sounds admirably suited for a hideaway: magically enclosed by nothing but air, it was filled with every kind of fruit, herb, and bird known to humanity, all growing, bearing, or singing the whole year round.

Presumably none of the defeated knights had been told how the adventure called the Joy of the Court came to be, for Erec had to defeat (though not to behead) Mabonagrain in order to learn why they had fought. Nor was any knight compelled to undertake it: On the contrary, the whole castle-town tried to discourage them. Nor – most surprising of all? – did anyone seem to blame either Mabonagrain’s lady or Mabonagrain himself for causing all the earlier knights’ deaths.

Chrétien explains that the adventure was called the Joy of the Court in anticipation of the joy the court would experience if and when it were finally won (i.e., with Mabonagrain’s defeat). D.D.R. Owen points out that very likely there was also a play on the French words for “court” and “horn”, seeing that, after defeating Mabonagrain, Erec was obliged to round his victory off by blowing a horn that hung in the garden. It’s odd name may be a corruption of jeu del cor, or “game of the horn”. Wolfram von Eschenbach transformed the name into Schoydelakurt, which he seems to think is a land, once ruled by Mabonagrain and eventually by Erec. The whole episode seems otherwordly in origin. It may also make a twentieth-century American think of the archetypal Fastest Gun in the West and all his eager challengers.

See also
Beheading Game | The Legend of King Arthur

Erec | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Erex Saga | 13th century
Erec | Hartmann von Aue, late 12th century
Parzival | Wolfram von Eschenbach, 1200-1210