Such a disarming story. It’s charming, funny and utterly pleasant. But there’s a lot going on underneath – as there is beneath the protagonist’s ‘niceness’.
Mrs Whittaker is an old woman, widowed and living alone, though apparently quite content. On one of her regular visits to Oxfam after picking up her pension, she sees on the shelf for 30p, the Holy Grail. She buys it thinking it will look good on the mantle piece. It will look ‘nice’ she says, as she does about much else.
Shortly after, she is visited by a very gallant Sir Galahad on his horse who has been on a quest to find the Holy Grail for ‘a very long time’, which we can assume means for centuries or longer. She declines to give him it, and so begins a number of attempts by Galahad to offer Mrs Whittaker mythical treasures in return for the Grail. They talk over pots of tea and fruitcake. He helps with some chores. And eventually she accepts the philosopher’s stone and a phoenix in return, as they’d look ‘nice’ on the mantle piece. It ends beautifully with Mrs Whittaker in Oxfam the following week, picking up a strange looking lamp from the shelf but deciding not to take it as she has no space left to display it on the mantle piece.
It’s such a hilarious idea for a story that you smile throughout. And it’s reinforced by the style – so pleasant, everyone is polite and kind, it feels whimsical.
But you can’t help notice that Mrs Whittaker, beneath the platitudes, knows exactly what’s going on – what the objects are, their power, and the desire driving Lancelot beneath his apparent chivalry. She’s wise, experienced, and although it’s never said, she knows that the desire for magical tools is corrupting.
She doesn’t want the bother, though, so she says nothing. Maybe she’s old, done all of that already. Who knows what secrets she hides, or what’s in her past? Everything is described as ‘nice’ – a non-descript word that glosses over and distracts from her probably vast knowledge of the world.
Image from the graphic novel, illustrated by Colleen Doran.