The book begins with Guinevere being abducted by Meleagant , who has tricked Arthur into allowing him to do so. While Gawain is searching for the pair, he runs into the then unnamed Lancelot who, after riding his horse to death, convinces Gawain to lend him a horse in pursuit of the queen. Lancelot then speeds after Guinevere. When Gawain catches up to him, Lancelot has worn out his new horse to death just as he did his previous one. Lancelot encounters a cart-driving dwarf, who says he will tell Lancelot where Guinevere and her captor went if Lancelot agrees to ride in his cart. Lancelot boards the cart reluctantly as this is a dishonorable form of transport for a knight.
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This romance marks the first known appearance of Lancelot as a major player in the Arthurian canon, and it also provides the first account of his affair with Guinevere. He ultimately convinces Arthur through trickery to give him Guinevere, and sets out to bring her to his homeland of Gorre as another prisoner.
However, he will not share his information unless Lancelot ride in his pillory cart, which is usually reserved for criminals, and hence brings shame to any who ride in it. Lancelot nevertheless rides in the cart, which brings him much shame and causes confusion amongst many he encounters.
On the way to Guinevere, Lancelot is aided by a number of beautiful women and kindly girls. He encounters hostile and arrogant knights, and must constantly defend his character. Initially, he travels with Sir Gawain , but they eventually part to take different routes to Gorre. Lancelot chooses the faster, more dangerous rouge of the Sword Bridge, which is literally a large sword blade. He arrives in Gorre, to discover that Guinevere is angry with him, for reasons she does not initially disclose.
Rebuked by Guinevere, Lancelot leaves to find Sir Gawain, who attempted to cross a different bridge, and has not been seen. While Lancelot is gone, Guinevere hears false rumors of his death, and decides to show him warmth. By this time, the people of Logres are free to leave Gorre. Returning home, they realize that Lancelot must have been captured. In the meantime, a tournament is organized, over which Guinevere is to preside.
When he arrives at the tournament, wearing unknown armor, Guinevere nevertheless recognizes him because of his valor in battle. To test his identity, she sends a message that he should fight badly, and he complies.
Chrétien de Troyes
Lancelot: Or, the Knight of the Cart Summary