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King Arthur Literature

Unread postPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 7:47 pm
by Sun Fin
Piqued by my ongoing re-watch of the BBC series Merlin my interest in King Arthur has resurfaced. Now it might be odd asking a group of people interested in Chinese history about a British legend. However I've often described the 3K as a Chinese equivalent of King Arthur (just one where the history is known as well as the legend) so I'm hoping some of you will also share my interest!

Whatever Arthur may or may not have been in history has long been lost to us. To the extent that I don't even find the quest for "the real Arthur" interesting. If others want to discuss that, feel very free to but by question here is this: What versions of the King Arthur legend have you encountered? Which did you like and which were you not keen on?

My first exposure was Disney's The Sword in the Stone which was always one of my favourite Disney movies! It is based on the opening to White's classic novel The Once and Future King and follows Arthur (or "Wart") as a boy being mentored by the kindly old wizard Merlin. It ends with him pulling a sword from a stone marking him out as the promised king. I loved the figure of Merlin and the idea of this great king but it was just a movie for me.

Later I read Bernard Cornwall's Warlord trilogy, which I absolutely loved. Initially however I enjoyed it as a classic Cornwall novel and not as an example of Arthurian legend. It's very different to classic retellings of the myth as Cornwall strips away all the Medieval knights and castles, placing the characters in the Saxon invasion of the original epics. He strikes a balance between the "real" Arthur but keeping some later additions like Lancelot and Merlin.

However my real interest began when the BBC released it's series Merlin. For a brief period I became obsessed with the myth! During that time I picked up Geoffrey of Monmouth's ‎Historia Regum Britanniae which is the earliest telling of the legend as we'd recognise it now. The author seemed to be writing the book as a history but with so many fantastical elements that our modern minds find it hard to treat that way. Whatever sources he used have been lost but he was the first person to link the legend of Merlin with Arthur, and perhaps make Arthur King instead of a war leader. Most other versions of the legend owe a debt to his work.

I also got two novels into the Pendragon cycle by Lawhead before I lost interest. I'm planning on giving them another go, as well as Le Morte De L'Arthur and The Once and Future King.

Re: King Arthur Literature

Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 3:22 am
by XuanPin
In my experience, the finest literary Arthurian books in English are the following:

Tennyson's Idylls of the King: frequently great poetry, sometimes ludicrously Victorian. The nucleus of this was T's shorter poem, ... te-darthur

which is well worth a look.

I would give Malory a miss. The old English is delightful, and the Beardsley illustrations are beautiful, but it's a fully expurgated translation of the French Lancelot in Prose—all the sex and magic has been excised. There is a full though pricey translation of the Prose Lancelot into English ... is+J.+Lacy

which is the real thing. But that may be more of an investment in time and treasure than you want to make. There are a few more wonders: Wagner's Tristan opera, and Chretien de Troyes' Arthurian poems, and the Arthurian material in the Mabinogion, but these have rather less of what one usually has in mind when on thinks of Arthur.

Finally, I'd give John Boorman's low-budget but high-imagination movie Excalibur high marks as a film version.

Re: King Arthur Literature

Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2019 9:17 am
by Sun Fin
Thanks for the recommendations! I will definitely look into Tennyson's book. I don't think I can miss Malory as his work is the foundation for almost every British writer since, however I might see about getting the prose Lancelot as well though!

Re: King Arthur Literature

Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2019 11:13 am
by XuanPin
Malory is indeed enjoyable for the archaic English. You'll become well familiar with phrases like "they dealt one another many sad strokes " and "he clave him from his brain pan to his chops. " The excision of the Merlin and the erotic content, and the abbreviation of the grail quest, make it a bit dry though.

Oh yes, Wagner's Parsifal is something else not to miss, and any good book on th preraphaelite painters will have many fine illustrations.

Re: King Arthur Literature

Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2019 11:54 am
by Sun Fin
I hadn't realised he cut Merlin out! :o :shock:

I have been wondering about writing my own King Arthur story, written from a Christian worldview, and one of the things that I've struggled with has been what to do with Merlin, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he just got rid of him. :lol: