Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Perilous Forest

Adventurous Forest, Fir Forest, Forest Perdue, Forest Périlleuse, La Forest Aventureuse, Perilous Grove, Sapine

A name given to several woods in Arthurian romance, it is impossible to differentiate one from the other. It is a location of danger and adventure, often depicted as a mysterious and enchanted forest where knights face various trials and encounters with magical beings. The forest is described as dense, foreboding, and filled with enchantments that can disorient or trap those who enter.

Knights such as Gawain and Lancelot embark on quests through the Fir Forest, encountering supernatural creatures, daunting challenges, and testing their courage and chivalry.

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain ventures into the Perilous Forest to fulfill his part of a challenge presented by the Green Knight. He encounters various trials and temptations along the way, testing his honor and courage. The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, a Middle English romance features Gawain as the central character. In his quest to discover the answer to a riddle, Gawain ventures into the Fir Forest, where he encounters the hideous Dame Ragnell, who holds the key to solving the riddle.

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 (Tristan) and Nimue, and Arthur slew Annowre. This seems to be the forest near Perilous Castle, where Tristram had been blown ashore. Indeed, it is possible that Perilous Castle 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 the Perilous Castle 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 (Bedegraine), 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 revelers; 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 their 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, 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. Perceval, le Conte du Graal, involves the Perilous Forest as part of Perceval’s quest for the Holy Grail. Perceval’s journeys through the forest, facing tests of his virtue and courage.

The Vulgate Lancelot says that the lord of Bellegarde Castle (or the White Fortress) murdered King Lancelot de la Blance Terre, Lancelot’s grandfather, by a spring in the Perilous Forest. Lancelot visited his tomb there. In Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette, Lancelot journeys through the forest to rescue Queen Guenevere, encountering perilous adventures and facing tests of his loyalty and love.

The Tale of Sir Gareth is a romance which appears as part of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Sir Gareth travels through the Perilous Forest on his quest to rescue Lyonors, encountering various dangers and adventures along the way.

Yvain, le Chevalier au Lion includes passages set in the Perilous Forest. Yvain (Ywaine) enters the forest during his quest for knighthood. Yvain faces a series of challenges and tests that are integral to his development as a knight.

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.

I have a note saying that La Forest Aventureuse is “Forest de l’Espine.” Another note that it probably is identical with La Forest Perilleuse Sans Retor and La Forest Perdue. These notes are twenty years old, so I need to find the sources to these notes.

See also
Castel de Harpe | The Legend of King Arthur
Castle Dangerous | The Legend of King Arthur
Fir Forest | The Legend of King Arthur
Nigramous Castle | The Legend of King Arthur

Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell | 15th century
Yvain, or Le Chevalier au Lion | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight | c. 1400
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
Perceval, or Le Conte del Graal | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Lancelot, or Le Chevalier de la Charrete | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Perlesvaus | Early 13th century
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal | 1220-1235