Loreena McKennitt: The Lady of Shalott
Alfred Lord Tennyson published his original version of The Lady of Shalott in 1832, but Loreena McKennitt takes her lyrics from Tennyson’s revised version from 1843. Tennyson is famous for his Idylls of the King, which was a series of poems inspired by Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Although The Lady of Shalott is a tale with Arthurian elements, it is not part of The Idylls of the King. In fact, the poem was inspired by an Italian telling of the story of Elaine of Astolat, and this version has several differences from Malory’s telling. Note too that, although T H White would later combine the characters, this is not the Elaine who was the mother of Galahad.
Tennyson presents a lady who is under a curse: she must view the world only through a mirror, and then weave images of what she sees. This curse was apparently Tennyson’s invention; it can be found neither in the Italian version nor in Malory. It is the element that makes the poem so fascinating. There have been many scholarly discussions over the years about what this signifies. For me, and I think for Loreena McKennitt as well, it is best left a mystery. I do enjoy the irony of one notion though. The lady in her weaving reminds me of the Fates in Greek myth. That would mean that the Lady of Shalott can control every destiny except her own.