Lady of the Lake

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Lady of the Lake

Nationality/Culture

Romano-British/Celtic

Alternate Names

Viviane, Nimue

Appears In

Tales of King Arthur

Lineage

Unknown

Character Overview

The Lady of the Lake, an enchantress also known as Viviane (pronounced VIV-ee-uhn) or Nimue (pronounced neem-OO-ay), appears in many of the tales of King Arthur. She is remembered best for her relationships with the knight Lancelot and the magician Merlin.

According to legend, the Lady of the Lake lived in a casde beneath a lake surrounding the mystical island of Avalon (pronounced AV-uh-lahn). She raised Lancelot after his father died, and gave Arthur the magical sword Excalibur, which he treasured. When Arthur was near death, she saved him by taking him to Avalon to await a time when his people would once again need his leadership.

Arthur's magician Merlin fell in love with the Lady of the Lake, but she did not return his affection. However, she did persuade him to teach her some of his magic. While the two were traveling together, the Lady of the Lake used the spells she learned from Merlin to imprison him in a tower with invisible walls. (In some versions of the story she traps him in a tree or cave instead.)

The Lady of the Lake was also associated with Pelleas (pronounced peh-lay-AHS), one of the knights of the Round Table. When Pelleas was rejected by Ettard (pronounced ay-TAHR)—the woman he loved—the Lady of the Lake took care of him. She and Pelleas fell in love and were married.

The Lady of the Lake in Context

The British Isles are soggy places surrounded by water and covered with lakes, ponds, rivers, and springs. Naturally, water featured prominently in the mythology of the early inhabitants of England and Ireland.

The Lady of the Lake, though later adopted by French authors of Arthurian legend, appears to be based on older Celtic goddesses associated with water. There are many Celtic water spirits and goddesses, most of them women. Ceridwen (pronounced kuh-RID-wen) was a Celtic goddess who possessed a magic cauldron or kettle. She made a brew with herbs and water that would grant wisdom to whoever drank it. Even more notably, Brigid (pronounced BREED) was a goddess who kept watch over a well (or many wells) from which a prospective king had to drink in order to earn his place on the throne.

Key Themes and Symbols

One of the main symbols of the Lady of the Lake is water. Because she lives underwater, she exists in a realm almost completely unknown to readers, which adds to her depiction as a symbol of mystery and magic. Water was also often used as a symbol of healing, which is illustrated in her treatment of Arthur after he falls on the battlefield.

The Lady of the Lake in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The Lady of the Lake, for being a rather minor character in Arthurian legend, has inspired many artists in various media over the centuries. Most notably, the 1810 poem The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott offered a re-telling of her myth set in a Scottish lake; this poem was the basis of a later opera by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. The tale also loosely inspired the 1944 Raymond Chandler detective novel The Lady in the Lake, which was made into a film in 1947. The Lady of the Lake also makes a brief appearance in the 1981 John Boorman film Excalibur, as an arm that reaches up from the water to reclaim Excalibur when Arthur dies.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, is a main character in Marion Zimmer Bradley's 1979 fantasy novel The Mists ofAvalon, which tells the tales of Arthurian legend from the point of view of several female characters. The novel also explores the clash between Christian and pre-Christian beliefs in medieval England. The novel, which remains a popular title nearly thirty years after its publication, spawned an additional series of novels written by Bradley and, after her death, fantasy author Diana L. Paxson.

SEE ALSO Arthur, King; Lancelot; Merlin

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Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake, an enchantress also known as Viviane or Nimuë, appears in many of the tales of King Arthur. According to legend, she lived in a castle beneath a lake surrounding the mystical island of Avalon. She raised Lancelot and gave Arthur the magical sword Excalibur, which he treasured. When Arthur was near death, she saved him by taking him to Avalon.

Arthur's magician Merlin fell in love with the Lady of the Lake, but she did not return his affection. However, she did persuade him to teach her some of his magic. While the two were traveling together, the Lady of the Lake used the spells she learned from Merlin to imprison him in a tower with invisible walls (in some versions of the story she traps him in a tree or cave instead).

The Lady of the Lake was also associated with Pelleas, one of the knights of the Round Table. When Pelleas was rejected by Ettardthe woman he lovedthe Lady of the Lake took care of him. She and Pelleas fell in love and were married.

See also Arthur, King; Avalon; Excalibur; Lancelot; Merlin.

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Lady of the Lake, in Arthurian legend, a misty, supernatural figure endowed with magic powers, who gave the sword Excalibur to King Arthur. She inhabited a castle in an underwater kingdom. According to one legend she kidnapped the infant Launcelot and brought him to her castle where he lived until manhood. She has been identified variously with Morgan le Fay and Vivien. The poem The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott, is based on a totally different legend.

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Lady of the Lake ★★ 1928

Rare silent adventure film in which an exiled girl saves the king from outlaws in Scotland. Orchestra score. 47m/B VHS, DVD . GB Percy Marmont, Benita Hume, Huddon Mason, Lawson Butt; D: James A. Fitzpatrick.