Perilous Forest

Forest Perdue, Forest Perilleuse

In the “Forest Perilous, that was in North Wales” lived Annowre, a sorceress who loved Arthur and enticed him to her castle, later trying to kill him when he would not go to bed with her. The attempt was foiled by Sir Tristram and Nimue, and Arthur slew Annowre. This seems to be the forest near Castle Perilous, where Tristram had been blown ashore. Indeed, it is possible that Castle Perilous was Annowre’s stronghold.

The Vulgate speaks of a “forest perilleuse” which seems to have been between Castle Chariot and Bedegraine. This is probably another section of Malory’s Forest Perilous. Since Castle Perilous and presumably Annowre’s section of the woods near the coast, the forest must have been extensive.

Vulgate II and V give this history of the Forest Perilleuse, also called the Forest Perdue, since those who entered it were lost – temporarily, as things turned out. When Gwenbaus and King Bors were traveling to their brother King Ban at Bedingran, they found many knights and ladies dancing in a fine field in the midst of this forest. Looking on was an elderly knight, who seemed to be in charge, and a very beautiful damsel.

Gwenbaus fell in love with the damsel and made up his mind to remain with her. When she wished that the dancing would go on forever, he cast a spell to oblige her, enchanting the place so that the people would go on dancing and all the knights and ladies who loved or had ever loved, on coming by, would forget everything else and join the dancers until the enchantment was broken. After fourteen years, the damsel wearied of dancing and caroling, and Gwenbaus made her a magic chessboard. Eventually Gwenbaus and his damsel both died here, although the enchantment went on.

At length Sir Lancelot came to the field in the forest, where he found thirty rich pavilions. In the center of the field four large pines surrounded a chair on which rested a golden crown, the crown of Lancelot’s father, King Ban, who had left it with his brother Gwenbaus. Many knights and damsels were singing and caroling around the pines. When Lancelot passed the first pavilion, his memory became blank and he joined the reverls; his squire, however, was unaffected and got away. A damsel led Lancelot to the chair and told him he must sit in it and wear the crown to see if he was their deliverer. If he was not, he would have to stay and wait with them. The damsel put the crown on Lancelot’s head, saying that it was his father’s crown. At that moment, Lancelot saw a statue fall and break. All the carolers recovered thier memories. The spell was broken and they were freed.

There appear to have been at least two Forests Perilous, one in North Wales and another probably in southeast Wales. Indeed, I suspect there may have been a number of Forests Perilous, “Perilous” being the sort of adjective which might have been applied as the speaker saw fit.

Perlesvaus names it as a forest near the Grail Castle; the Post-Vulgate locates it between Logres and Gorre; Malory places it in Wales.

The Vulgate Lancelot says that the lord of Bellegarde Castle (or the White Fortress) murdered King Lancelot, Lancelot’s grandfather, by a spring in the Perilous Forest. Lancelot visited his tomb there.

Other locations in the Perilous Forest included the Small Charity Abbey, the Spring of the Two Sycamores, and the Forbidden Hill (Le Tertre Deuee). In the Vulgate Merlin, it is the former name of the Forest of No Return, which was enchanted by Guinebal, Lancelot’s uncle. The Post-Vulgate names it as the forest of Merlin’s imprisonment by the Lady of the Lake.

Knights who experienced adventures in the Perilous Forest include Galahad, Lancelot, Lamorat, Tristan, Meleagant (Meleagaunce), Gaheris, and Perceval.

See also
Castle Dangerous | The Legend of King Arthur
Nigramous Castle | The Legend of King Arthur