42 pages 1 hour read

Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Set in Arthurian Britain just after King Arthur’s death,The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel, is told in four parts and focuses on an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, and their journey to find their son. Along the way, they must deal with issues of memory, aging, love, loss and death. While the voice of a narrator frames the novel, much of the story is told from the shifting perspectives of the major characters of the novel. Elements of fantasy dot the landscape of Arthur’s Britain, with ogres, witches, and a dragon playing their parts. The general tone of the setting the elderly couple traverse is one of mystery and buried sadness, as a mist has permeated the lands, causing all people to forget much of their respective pasts.

The novel is best summed up by discussing the detours on Axl and Beatrice’s journey, and the characters they meet along the way. Along their journey, Axl and Beatrice come across a variety of characters that both aid the elderly couple on their journey and hinder them, as well. The first meeting Axl and Beatrice have is with an elderly woman, known later as a dark widow, and a boatman. The elderly woman lost her husband when the boatman ferried him across the water without her. This begins a fear that will continue for Beatrice and Axl throughout the novel: that without their memory, the couple will have no way of knowing that they love each other, and that Beatrice will end up like the widow.

Next, they arrive in a Saxon townembroiled in both suspicion and pagan ritual. It’s here they meet Wistan, a Saxon warrior, and Edwin, a young boy bitten by a dragon. Wistan takes Edwin on to be his protégé, while Edwin struggles with the voice of a mother calling him to rescue her. Axl and Beatrice agree to go with Wistan and Edwin to a monastery, where a wise monk, Jonus, might be able to give them information about both the mist and a pain that has been nagging at Beatrice. Along the way, they meet Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur, who claims to be hunting the dragon, Querig, just like Wistan. The motives of all the characters, however, seem hidden, shaded like the mist that clouds their respective memories.

The monastery proves be just as dangerous a place as the Saxon village, and the group learns that the monks are protecting Querig. The group makes an escape.  Wistan and Edwin separatefrom Axl and Beatrice. Wistan, led by Edwin’s urge to go to the dragon, sets off to face Querig. Axl and Beatrice, meanwhile, meet some children in a stone hut. The children have a poisonous goat that they hope to kill the dragon with by having her eat it. While all of the characters have separated, it seems that they will be heading in the same direction—toward Querig, the she-dragon.

They all meet atop a hill with the same purpose of killing the dragon, which has been causing the mist. Gawain, however, reveals that he is the dragon’s protector. Wistan and Gawain duel, and Wistan kills Gawain. Wistan then cuts the head off the dragon. He tells the old couple that, by doing this, people will get their memories back, including the bad memories of war and death. He warns them that the Saxons will seek revenge on the Britons for atrocities committed in the past.

At the close of the novel, Axl and Beatrice find themselves in the rain, under a tree, with another mysterious boatman. Beatrice is ready to make the crossing to the island to see her son, while Axl is hesitant. Axl does not want to lose Beatrice. Eventually, Axl is convinced to let Beatrice cross the water to the island alone. It’s unclear whether the boatman will ever return for Axl or whether Axl will be waiting for him, if he does.  

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