Day 1210: Le Morte D’Arthur

Cover for Le Morte D'ArthurIt’s time for my review for the latest Classics Club Spin, and the spin assigned me Le Morte D’Arthur to read by the end of April.

If I’d been aware of how long this book is, I might have thought twice about putting it on my Classics Club list. It’s not the length that made it so difficult to read, though, but the repetitiveness of one knight after another getting into a joust and smiting right and left.

I tried hard to finish this book, but after a month of reading it (interrupted by a few other books), I decided to skip to the last two books (out of twenty-one), which deal with Lancelot’s break with Arthur and the end of Arthur’s kingdom. All told, I read about 400 pages.

I actually began eager to read the original of the Arthurian legends or at least as original as we have. The introduction to Cassell’s unabridged edition says that we don’t know the source of the book, although Malory makes many references to “the French book.” The structure of the book suggests that it may be a compilation of every Arthurian story known to Malory, as it is full of chapters about fight after fight. In fact, after a while I pictured Britain, particularly Cornwall and Wales, as seething with wandering knights, who, when they encounter one another, go immediately into battle. I was also struck by how often they don’t recognize each other even when in the same room and presumably out of armor.

There are some sustained story lines, such as the tale of Tristram and La Beale Isoud, and they are interesting, but they’re broken up and sprinkled in among the fights, and of course they too involve fights.

Women are fairly negligibly treated, not surprising for the time despite the patina of chivalry, which is supposed to suggest otherwise. We don’t see much of them or learn what they are like. In fact, Arthur says at the end of the book that he isn’t as upset about losing Guenever as the loss of his knights “. . . for queens I might have enow, but such a fellowship of good knights shall never be together in no company.” Which might give us a clue why Guenever preferred Lancelot.┬áIn any event, characterization isn’t a strong suit of medieval literature.

I would say that this book is best for dipping into rather than trying to read all at once. It is an important work of literature, and sometimes the language is quite charming. However, its form is very foreign to us now and shows us just how far literature has come. (There is a glossary in the back of the version I read, which unfortunately I didn’t discover until the end.)

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Day 325: Over Sea, Under Stone

Cover for Over Sea, Under StoneOver Sea, Under Stone is a charming children’s story with an Arthurian theme. Simon, Jane, and Barney Drew are vacationing with their parents and great uncle Merriman Lyon in a fishing village in Cornwall. While exploring the attic of the old house they rented, the children discover an ancient map of the local coast line. Barney realizes that the map refers to King Arthur.

The children’s parents are befriended by a Mr. Withers and his sister Polly, who invite the entire family to go fishing on their yacht. Jane is reluctant to go, though, and while everyone else is out, discovers a guide book that is similar to the map. It soon becomes clear that the Withers and perhaps other parties are looking for the secret that the documents reveal.

After a robbery, in which the robbers only rummaged through books and documents, the children decide to confide in great uncle Merry. They all figure out that the map and guide book may hold the secret to the Holy Grail. The children and their uncle become forces of the Light, while the others are forces of the Dark.

Over Sea, Under Stone is an entertaining book that should appeal to older grade school and middle school children. As an adult, my only quibble with it is the coincidence that other people suddenly begin looking for the map in the house just after the children find it. However, that is something that most kids wouldn’t think of.

The novel is well written and packed with adventure. I believe it is the first book in a series called The Dark Is Rising.