Thursday, May 02, 2019
Book review: LE MORTE D'ARTHUR - KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE
LE MORTE D'ARTHUR
- KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (1485)
by Sir Thomas Malory.
Reading this took some time - 550 pages of densely packed print!
Please note that the "author" of this work was mainly a translator and editor, who turned an existing body of books, poems and folklore into a prose narrative - probably the first printed novel in English.
So should LE MORTE D'ARTHUR be read as a novel in its own right, or as a collection of legends? I did both. (Malory keeps repeating the phrase "as the French book saith," thus pointing out that he is merely retelling a story.)
There are things about this book that will frustrate a modern-day reader. For example, Malory obsessively details every joust and duel like a nerdy sports fan - it gets repetitive.
But he often rushes through events that are unusual or interesting if they have nothing to do with fights or jousting.
Other details about this book may surprise you. Merlin is killed off very early in the story; the villain Mordred gets very little plot space; the Quest for the Holy Grail just pops out of thin air; the fights are gory as hell; there are no dragons.
One thing in particular strikes me: the heroes are very violent men trying to uphold a code of civility in a fiercely tribal honor culture. They are devoutly religious but their tribal ways clash with Christian ideals, and there's a constant tension between the knight's lifestyle and his faith.
This edition features 19th-century illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, but frankly I don't like them. They are often done in a sloppy manner and most of them have nothing to do with the plot.
Recommended for readers (and writers) who like to study the source material of modern fantasy and popular culture.
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