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Galahad by Paul Newman

erechwydd
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Galahad by Paul Newman

Post by erechwydd » Mon April 9th, 2012, 3:53 pm

(Halsgrove, 2004, 126 pages)

I spent quite a while trying to pin down the genre of this idiosyncratic novel. Eventually I decided on the Polonius-style definition of ‘alternative historical fantasy’, and that’s about as close as I can get.
The narrative – ‘and I swear by the Holy Rood it is all true’ – follows our titular hero from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience. Galahad begins with the intention of becoming a novice monk, but alas, he is assigned to the monastery at Cerne Abbas, where he soon learns that God is not the community’s most prominent member. With his purity somewhat compromised and his religious ambitions thus thwarted, he embarks on knighthood, eventually becoming a knight of the Round Table, sent by Arthur on a quest for the Holy Grail – which is what forms the backbone of this book.
The setting, as my classification above hints at, is a somewhat elastic one. The fantasy label stems not so much from the inclusion of magic – there’s very little – but rather characters and creatures from myth and folk tales: Herne the Hunter, for example. I call it ‘alternative’ because the past it purports to be set in never really existed. Defined in the novel as the ‘Dark Ages’, it’s actually a realm where Iron Age tribes rub shoulders with Roman names and dress, and marauding Vikings – although the milieu is overwhelmingly Medieval, with lots of talk of chivalry, knights charging around in hauberks (well, a bit more than hauberks, actually, but you get the idea), and castles in plenty. Many anachronisms are clearly deliberate (the proto-disco lights, for one); with others it’s harder to tell. Having read the novel before, I was prepared to take it on its own terms in this regard, and by and large that was fairly easy.
There were times, however, when the novel felt a bit uneven. Galahad wasn’t an uninteresting character, but in many ways I preferred his younger self; the older Galahad can be an endearing rogue, but he also has a world-weary cynicism that might have benefited, I feel, from more humour to complement it. That’s not to say that the novel isn’t funny: indeed, I could go further with my earlier definition and try terming it ‘alternative historical comic fantasy’. But that too can be a bit of a hit-and-miss affair: some parts are extremely amusing, whereas elsewhere, the humour can seem forced.
This sort of see-sawing characterises the novel as a whole for me. Sometimes the vignettes which form the tale are entertaining, sometimes they appear strained attempts to make a point or joke; sometimes Newman’s prose tips into cliché, sometimes it’s captivating and innovative; sometimes the dialogue snaps, sometimes it’s banal; sometimes Galahad’s ‘philosophical’ asides are tedious, sometimes they’re interesting; and sometimes the characters seem flat, whilst at others they’re appealing. I do wonder if tighter editing may have been beneficial here. Closer proof-reading would certainly have been so: there are numerous spelling issues (the Dylfric/Dyfric switching is enough to make your head spin), word muddles (e.g. ‘Father’ instead of ‘Farmer’), omissions, and repetitions, including one several lines long.
‘[T]his book’ says Galahad, ‘should appeal to all, from swineherds to archbishops’. Well, when I first read it back in 2008, I really enjoyed it. Now it’s a bit of a curate’s egg for me. In some places it definitely seems a bit off – but there are parts that are excellent. And as a final comment: I think it’s testament to Newman’s ability that, even though I knew the ending, it was still as poignant for me as it was four years ago.
A quirky reworking of the Grail Quest with some enjoyable elements. And disco lights.

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Post by annis » Mon April 9th, 2012, 9:15 pm

Sounds intriguing! I haven't come across this one, but might be tempted to track it down.

The name Galahad is supposed to have derived from the medieval Welsh "Gwalchavad" - does anyone know the meaning of the name? "Gwalch" is hawk, I think, and also appears in the alternative name for Gawain, "Gwalchmai".
Steven Lawhead makes Gwalchavad and Gwalchmai twins in his Pendragon Cycle.

By the by, but I'm reminded that I must try and find time to read Cowper Powys' novel Porius, though it's a bit of an opus- might have to wait till I retire - put it on the bucket list and hope I don't kick said bucket before I retire :)

erechwydd
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Post by erechwydd » Tue April 10th, 2012, 12:00 pm

Hi Annis,

I'd say it's definitely worth a read if you can get hold of it. I think it's probably not too well known as it was published by quite a small press...I only found out about it because the author was (at one time) local.
'Gwalch' is indeed the word for 'hawk'; I'm afraid I don't know anything about the 'havad' element, though. Celtic scholar Rachel Bromwich dismisses this derivation for the name rather summarily and backs Albert Pauphilet's suggestion that the name actually derives from 'Gilead', so it is 'useless to look for a Celtic prototype of this name'. Nothing like telling it like it is. :rolleyes:
May I ask what you thought of Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle? I've been wondering about reading it for a while, but I'd be interested to get others' opinions on it first, especially as I believe he's pulled a lot of disparate elements (e.g. Merlin, Atlantis, etc.) together in it.
Porius has been on my reading list for a while too. I'm waiting until I've built up some more wrist strength. :p

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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Tue April 10th, 2012, 12:11 pm

I'm always interested in Arthurian novels. Collect them or names of them and try to read what I can, though I don't as much as I would like. This one sounds interesting; hadn't heard of it.

Re the Lawhead books, I enjoyed the first three, the original trilogy, and read them roughly when they came out. He wrote two more in later years and all the comments said don't read them, they are very poor, and very inconsistent with the original three. I gave in and read them and regretted it. By all means, read the trilogy (Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur) but avoid the last two (Pendragon, Grail) like the plague.
I thought his idea of tying in Atlantis with Merlin and Arthur worked really well and was very original (though I've subsequently discovered he wasn't the first to link the two legends).

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Post by erechwydd » Tue April 10th, 2012, 7:01 pm

Thanks for the heads up about the Pendragon Cycle, Sweetpotatoboy. I'll definitely think of giving the trilogy a go...I'm curious to see how he's woven Arthur and Merlin and Atlantis together. I seem to have been a bit Arthur-focused recently (finished Sword at Sunset in February); I have a few novels of other time periods waiting, but I'm interested in reading more Arthurian stuff too. Is there anything you'd particularly recommend?

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Post by annis » Wed April 11th, 2012, 4:01 am

I'd agree with SPB on the Pendragon books- not Lawhead's best. My Lawhead favourites are Byzantium, the Celtic Crusades series (I have a soft spot for those Culdee monks- clearly Lawhead does as well as they appear here and there in his books) and his Robin Hood trilogy - a Welsh RH was a novelty.

Don't Marion Zimmer Bradley/Diana Paxson use the Atlantis link in their Avalon books?

Where to start with Arthurian books? I'm a fan of Guy Gavriel Kay and I recall his Arthurian series fondly (Summer Tree/The Wandering Fire/Darkest Road), also Robert Holdstock and AA Attanasio, and although it's often panned, Victor Canning's Crimson Chalice. The rest of Canning's Arthurian novels are forgettable, but Chalice is amazingly evocative.

If anyone has a spare 20 years or so, Trivium Books provide a terrific listing of Arthurian titles which I'm just looking at as a reminder.
http://www.triviumpublishing.com/articl ... urian.html

Aha- I'd nearly forgotten Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books (YA) :)
Last edited by annis on Wed April 11th, 2012, 4:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by fljustice » Wed April 11th, 2012, 3:28 pm

[quote=""annis""]Don't Marion Zimmer Bradley/Diana Paxson use the Atlantis link in their Avalon books?[/quote]

Yes, Diane Paxson wrote the chronologically earliest book in the series The Ancestors of Avalon, published in 2004, but it drew on an earlier Bradley fantasy novel The Fall of Atlantis.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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erechwydd
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Post by erechwydd » Wed April 11th, 2012, 4:55 pm

Thanks for the recommendations, Annis, I'll definitely check some of those out. Don't know all that much about Lawhead's Robin Hood trilogy, although I love the way he reimagined the name in Welsh. :D So maybe that's another one to go on the list... :rolleyes:

[quote=""annis""]If anyone has a spare 20 years or so, Trivium Books provide a terrific listing of Arthurian titles[/quote]

That's some listing! :eek:

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Post by annis » Wed April 11th, 2012, 6:24 pm

I nearly forgot Parke Godwin's Firelord- another old favourite. I also enjoyed Godwin's take on Robin Hood as a post-Conquest Saxon freedom fighter.

One caveat with my choices is that I read most of them many years ago, and I'm finding now that old favourites don't always stack up when I re-read them now.

I've always thought there's a lovely irony in the fact that the Normans kings spent so much of their time trying to defeat the Welsh, but were nicely subverted by the mish-mash of Welsh mythology that they eagerly adopted to legitimise their kingship :)

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Post by erechwydd » Wed April 11th, 2012, 8:22 pm

I know what you mean, Annis, about old favourites. Galahad was like that for me - I loved it back when I first read it (it was among the first historical novels I got hold of), but I found it didn't quite match up to my expectations this time around. Anyway, you've given me a fair few novels to consider. :)

[quote=""annis""]I've always thought there's a lovely irony in the fact that the Normans kings spent so much of their time trying to defeat the Welsh, but were nicely subverted by the mish-mash of Welsh mythology that they eagerly adopted to legitimise their kingship :) [/quote]

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. :p

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