The Fair Unknown - Another Sheltered Youth

The Fair Unknown -- or Le Bel Inconnu -- is a character or motif who appears in a number of late medieval romances. In each of them an unknown youth arrives at Arthur's court and proves himself, after many adventures, to be a worthy knight. In several of these stories the Fair Unknown is the son of Gawain, variously named Ginglain, Gyngolyn, Gyngelayne, Guingalin, or Wigalois (in the German 13th-century romance of that title by Wirnt von Grafenberg). Some of the stories have elements in common with Malory's Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney.

P. Craig Russell's Parsifal comic

The stories about the Fair Unknown contain reworkings of themes familiar from the Grail romances, continuing the cycle into a new generation. In the 15th century poem The Weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame Ragnall, the poet notes that Ragnelle bore Gawain a son called Gyngolyn. Although the name of the youth is unknown when he first arrives at Arthur's court, he is eventually revealed as the son of Gawain.

In several of the Fair Unknown stories the motif of the kiss returns: in the verse romance Le Bel Inconnu by Renaut de Beaujeu, the hero has to undergo a trial in which he is kissed by a serpent. When he succeeds, the serpent turns into a beautiful woman. Another version of this episode appears in the stanzaic romance Lybeaus Desconus, attributed to Thomas Chestre, written in the late 14th century, and there is another of these serpent women in the Italian tale I Cantari di Carduino from about the same date.

The Fair Unknown either does not know his own name or he conceals it. In Lybeaus Desconus the young hero has been, like Perceval/ Parzival, sheltered by his mother from all knowledge of knighthood. Like those heroes, Lybeaus appears at first to be an unlikely candidate for knighthood but he soon proves his worth.