April 9. Days on Campus is fully in swing!! Balloons are up everywhere and all the pre-frosh are walking around wearing lanyards and there’s a Chinese lion dance performance going on and it’s a bright bright day out and children are running around and people are walking their dogs and students are out sitting around eating lunch and it’s all very scenic.
I personally am sitting on Low Steps obviously blogging but also just enjoying the day; I really should be doing fro sci but I have to clean my room in 15 because my person that I’m hosting is coming soon. I might run and get bubble tea from Lerner but otherwise there’s nothing to do today. Besides watch GATTACA at my fro sci professor’s house this evening but I don’t think I’m going to that.
Are you a fan of Arthurian legend? What are your favorite characters? Do you have fav books about this Legend?
(Oh god, I found this in my drafts folder and I had totally forgotten about it. Mea maxima culpa.)
I am a HUGE fan of the Arthurian legend and have been since I was about five years old and my father first showed me the film version of Lerner & Lowe’s Camelot.
True story: I decided I wanted to be a knight for Halloween that year, but before we went to Toys R’Us and got one of those super cheap plastic sword/shield/helmet costumes, my dad made me a sword and shield out of cardboard and duct tape. I was so excited that I insisted upon carrying both around all the time. Like, to the supermarket. And, in an particular instance of childish folly, the airport.
Now, this was the year 1988 and the airport in question was Port Columbus “International” Airport (it is probably legitimately international now, but in 1988, it had maybe one periodic flight to Toronto, if that). Non-passengers could accompany passengers all the way to the gate. My dad was coming home from a business trip and I wanted to meet him at the gate…with my sword and shield. Because five-year-old reasons.
I suspect, today, it would end in some sort of embarrassing news story involving the TSA tackling a little brown girl. But in 1988, they firmly but politely asked me to leave the sword with them and promised that I could pick it up on my way back out of the airport.
From then on, I was constantly searching for novel versions, although in recent years I’ve shifted my interest to earlier texts, particularly the delightful medieval romances and epics that are utterly full of crack. The Vulgate Cycle gives me life in all its crackfic potential. I adore the Prose Tristan, dodgy as it is. And Thomas Malory is probably my favourite. I can never get enough of Malory. Yes, there are a legion of things wrong with Le Morte Darthur, but I simply don’t care because that is how much I love it.
I’m an inveterate Guenevere fangirl. Always have been. As such, I rather shamelessly ship Arthur/Guenevere/Lancelot. Other characters I really like include Palomides, Morgan le Fay, Lynette, and Galehaut. I’m also quite fond of Iseult, though it depends largely on the version.
Favourite books…hmm, that’s a tricky one. I admit, I haven’t read a lot of modern Arthurian retellings recently because I’ve been really enjoying the medieval ones, but here are a few that come to mind. Some I enjoyed years ago but have not recently reread, so it’s possible that they don’t hold up.
Anon. - The Vulgate Cycle
This is probably an unfair recommendation because the cycle is aggravatingly hard to find and only available in an expensive scholarly edition. However, it is the original prose romance of the Round Table and it is completely on crack. I am not kidding. My favourite bit is where Guenevere is replaced by a double and ends up shacking up with Lancelot in Galehaut’s castle. In the meantime, Arthur and the False Guenevere are back in Camelot, doing their thing, until she suddenly sickens and dies as a result of having usurped the place of the actual Guenevere. And the best part is that the false Guenevere is the actual Guenevere’s half-sister because her father had a bastard daughter who was identical to his legitimate daughter except for a birthmark. Because that is how medieval Arthurian romance works.
Thomas Malory - Le Morte Darthur
As I said above, this was written in the fifteenth century and thus has certain dodgy fifteenth-century views on things. BUT it is nonetheless so good, and I love it completely. I know it was written by a rapist–for Malory, unlike for Chaucer, it’s pretty cut-and-dry–who was in prison and who probably committed a number of other less vicious but nonetheless relevant crimes. I am not here to praise Malory as a human being but to acknowledge his skills as a writer. I love the Middle English as well, but if you’d rather go with a translation, I recommend Dorsey Armstrong’s. It is the full text and she really does understand the story. Too many abridged versions cut the Book of Sir Tristram and the utter insanity of that book deserves more love.
T.H. White - The Once and Future King
I read this many years ago, so my memories are a bit fuzzy and I’m holding out until my daughter is old enough for me to read it to her (alongside The Hobbit, of course). However, I do remember being frustrated with how clear it was that Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot were mutually in love with one another but not actually doing anything about it.
Marion Zimmer Bradley - The Mists of Avalon
The grande dame of feminist Arthuriana. For when it was written, it is groundbreaking. From 2017, it is…frustrating. I loved it in high school, but when I reread it after having studied feminist criticism, I found it frustrating. Morgaine is beautifully drawn, but at the expense of Gwenhwyfar. And the threesome does not go as it should have done, to my mind.
If you’re going to go for this, though, read the book before you see the miniseries. The miniseries was largely disappointing.
Meg Cabot - Avalon High
This is fun and fluffy and delightful. That is all.
Helen Hollick - Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy
Oh, god. These books. I loved these books in high school. I devoured the gritty realism, the ultraviolence, the fact that everyone was horrible except for Gwenhwyfar, who was sometimes horrible but but usually they had it coming. It’s basically Arthuriana meets ASOIAF with all the high points and the flaws. So if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones and possess a certain level of tolerance, this might be the Arthurian retelling for you.
THAT BEING SAID, IT IS TOTALLY TRIGGERY AND I AM NOT KIDDING EVEN A LITTLE.
I reread these books in 2012 as my gym reading (i.e. put an e-reader on an elliptical and force myself to exercise in order to enjoy trashy fiction. Or, alternatively, watch trash TV*). And, frankly, I was appalled at the amount of casual sexual violence. It was everywhere. I still finished the reread, and there were moments where I remembered why I loved it so much, but far too many where I was just ashamed of my high-school self. So, if this is your thing, go for it, but be warned ahead of time, here be dragons.
* I got through six seasons of House M.D. that way. I used to joke that I knew I was nearly finished with my workout if the patient of the week was nearly dead. Now I’m watching Reign. It is going about as well as one might expect.
Guy Gavriel Kay - The Fionavar Tapestry
A few caveats: These are GGK’s first books, so there are immaturities, but I at least enjoyed seeing the early shapes of what would eventually become some of my favourite books of all time. In essence, ages before Lev Grossman did it, Guy Gavriel Kay wrote an epic crossover between Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, Lewis’ Narnia, and the Arthurian Legend. The resulting trilogy has a number of genuinely bang-up moments but also suffers from being too many things at once without fully committing to any one of them. Is it a story about a bunch of college kids transplanted to an alternate universe and forced to take on serious political responsibilities with no preparation (i.e. The Magicians)? Is it about the different races of Fionavar trying to fight a furious god who lives in a volcano while also confronting their own mortality and prejudices? Or is it about Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot awakening after hundreds of years of Faerie sleep and having to deal with both their own unresolved issues and the war to control Fionavar? Yes and no to all three.
So, I recommend it to anyone who is already a fan of Kay’s work, or if you’re a fan of Lev Grossman’s Magicians novels. It is, quite simply, published fanfiction, and I mean that in a wholly positive sense. It made me feel all the things, but it feels like you’re losing a layer of meaning unless you’ve already read the books to which Kay is responding–Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and some various iterations of the Arthurian legend, including T.H. White, The Once and Future King. I enjoyed reading it, but I don’t know if it will end up on my reread list like A Song for Arbonne, Tigana, and The Lions of Al-Rassan.
Persia Woolley - The Guinevere Trilogy
I read these in high school too, but they hold up better than Hollick. Child of the Northern Spring takes a little while to get moving, but I remember the latter two books being very good. Admittedly, it has been some time since I last read them, and I can’t remember where my copies are, but once I find them, I do mean to reread them.
Rosemary Sutcliff - The Sword in the Circle
It has been literal decades since I read this, but I bought a copy for my daughter based on the fact that this book got me in trouble in fifth grade for reading in class. I was so engrossed that my teacher was standing behind me for several minutes before I noticed she was there.
Mary Stewart - Merlin novels
i know that I read all of these and enjoyed them at the time, but if I’m completely honest, I don’t remember them.