Many readers over the years have asked for a reading group guide to my books. I am happy to announce that I now have one to The Good Knight!
The Good Knight
By Sarah Woodbury
Reading Group Guide
- Gwen is a young woman living in twelfth century Wales, a time nearly eight hundred years before the present. How does Gwen’s behavior play into or defy stereotypes about medieval women? Do you think her portrayal is realistic? How do you think she would behave differently had she not been raised by an itinerant bard? Consider her relationship with her family, with her social “superiors” (lords, knights, princes, etc.), and her participation in traditionally “masculine” spheres, such as her intelligence work for Prince Hywel, or her active role in the murder investigation.
- Women in this story (and in medieval period in general) are almost unilaterally seen as social inferiors. How then do women gain and exercise power? Are there avenues of influence accessible to them which are unavailable to men? Or, are they merely pawns in masculine political games? Consider the examples of Gwen, Cristina (King Owain’s betrothed), and Elen (Hywel’s and Rhun’s sister).
- What is the difference between honor and morality? What does his honor mean to Gareth, and why is it so important him? Does being honorable make you a good person? Consider the example of Cadwaladr’s lieutenant, Maredudd (Chapter Twenty-Five). What does Maredudd’s honor mean to him? Does it mean something different than it does to Gareth?
- Also in Chapter Twenty-Five, Rhun and Hywel each take the life of one of Cadwaladr’s soldiers in cold blood. What does this say about them as princes? What does this say about them as human beings? Was it pragmatic? Was it ethical? Did this act make you see them differently?
- What does it mean to be a good nobleman in 12th-century Wales? Must one be a good person to be a good noblemen? Are there times when the two are mutually exclusive? Consider the character of Owain Gwynedd, compared to that of Cadwaladr. Is Owain a good king? Why, or why not? Is there an argument to be made that Cadwaladr is a good nobleman, or at least an effective one? Is there a difference?
- What role does regional prejudice play in the political conflicts portrayed in this book? For instance, what do the Welsh think of the English? What do the Danes think of the Welsh? Do you think prejudice exists even within different Welsh regions (e.g. Gwynedd and Deheubarth)? Is there any difference along class lines in this matter (i.e. do lords share the prejudices of peasants)?
- Why do you think the dialogue in this book is written in a colloquial style (meaning familiar)? Does the dialogue remind you of the way you would speak? Why do you think the author chose to eschew the “thee” and “thou” style of speech which is often used in portrayals of medieval speech?
- What does this story say about the benefits and problems with the way power is structured in the Middle Ages? Are there problems that arise from the concentration of power into a few hands? How does someone like Gareth, who gained power through effort and personal valor, use power differently from someone like Owain Gwynedd, who was born to it?
- Why does Owain Gwynedd continually forgive his brother, Cadwaladr, and let him off? Do you feel like Cadwaladr consciously abuses this blind spot? What motivation leads Cadwaladr to repeatedly violate his brother’s trust, and why does Owain seem not to care? What does this say about the importance of family among 12th century lords?
- What was Cristina trying to accomplish in telling Cadwaladr that Gwen is carrying Hywel’s child? Why was it plausible to him? When Hywel and Gareth hear of this, what do their reactions say about them as people? Given Hywel’s reputation, do you think Gareth believes Hywel’s denials?