The Buried Giant Summary

Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant

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The Buried Giant Summary

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The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro takes place not long after the core events in legend of Camelot and King Arthur. The Saxons and the Britons are the midst of an uncomfortable peace. The story opens with Axel and Beatrice, both Britons, deciding to go on a journey to find their long-lost son. They can’t remember where he is, when they last saw him, or even really who he is. In fact, everyone in the area seems to suffer from memory problems caused by an unexplained source. Beatrice also wants to visit a medicine woman on the way to find their son, because she has a pain in her side.

Beatrice leads the way because she thinks she recalls the village where they might find their son. However, a rainstorm delays their travels, and they take refuge in some ruins where they meet a boatman. His job is to ferry people from the mainland to an island. He’s haunted by an old widow whose husband left the mainland for the island and never returned. The boatman tells Beatrice and Axel that he can transport couples together only if they can convince him that they are truly devoted to one another. Otherwise, he can take them across individually. They leave to continue on their quest, with Beatrice worrying they wouldn’t be able to convince the boatman due to their missing memories. On the contrary, Axel believes they could convince the boatman to ferry them across the water together.

After leaving the boatman, they continue on to a Saxon village where they find the medicine woman. When they arrive, all is not well. They discover that an ogre attacked a group of fishermen and a young boy named Edwin. Edwin’s uncle was able to escape and report the incident to the village. He hopes that Edwin was only kidnapped by the ogres, instead of killed. Master Wistan, a warrior for the Saxons, goes with Edwin’s uncles to search for the boy. He returns with Edwin, who has been wounded. The villagers, who are pagan, turn Edwin away because they think his wound will turn him into a monster. Master Wistan and Edwin join Axel and Beatrice, hoping that Edwin can live peaceably in a nearby Christian village.

The medicine woman suggests that Beatrice visit Father Jonus, a wise monk who can perhaps help with the pain in Beatrice’s side. However, in order to get there, they have to avoid entering Querig’s lands. Querig is a she-dragon with similarities to the mother of Grendel in the epic poem Beowulf. Beowulf was a Dane who fought Grendel, a monster who was eating King Hrothgar’s people. Beowulf killed Grendel, and was subsequently attacked by Grendel’s mother, who later became a dragon and killed Beowulf.

Along the way to find Father Jonus, Beatrice and company meet with Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew. Gawain is famous for nobly fighting the Green Knight in another poem, produced 300 years after Beowulf, titled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain, like Wistan, recognizes Axel but doesn’t say—or remember—where from or why. However, Gawain pretends he doesn’t recognize Axel when Wistan asks about it. Wistan tells Gawain that he intends to kill Querig, and Gawain tells him that this is his goal as well. When they finally make it to the monastery, Father Jonus examines both Edwin and Beatrice. He informs them that Querig caused the mass memory loss, known widely as “the mist.” Beatrice tells Wistan to go and kill Querig for she wants to recall her son. He leaves to do so, at which point soldiers arrive looking for him and Edwin. A monk leads them to an escape tunnel, except the tunnel actually leads to more danger—a beast that would kill them. Gawain saves them, though, and the group splits up.

Edwin goes back to the monastery searching for Wistan. Axel and Beatrice leave to look for their son. After encountering Gawain again, he leads them into Querig’s territory where he fights Wistan—who has arrived with Edwin—and sacrifices his life to save them from the she-dragon. Wistan then kills Querig. The mist lifts, releasing memories, but there are consequences. Wistan warns that war between the Britons and the Saxons will come again, because they will now remember they’re not at peace. Before the mist erased people’s memories, the Britons had attacked a Saxon village, killing children, women, and the elderly. Axel was involved in the attack, which is why both Wistan and Gawain had recognized him.

Axel and Beatrice return to the boatman. He learns that they are not devoted to one another. Beatrice was unfaithful to Axel. Their son left home and subsequently died, and Axel forbade Beatrice from visiting their son’s grave. Because of this lack of devotion, the boatman decides he cannot take them across the water together, though he agrees to take Beatrice first and come back to ferry Axel over to the island. Though he is meant to wait for the boatman’s return, Axel watches the boatman and Beatrice leave, and then turns and walks away with no desire to follow her to the island.