Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

King Alfred according to Bernard Cornwell

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

King Alfred according to Bernard Cornwell

Postby Carla » Thu August 28th, 2008, 6:28 pm

Anyone else here read Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred series, set at the time of King Alfred's war against the Danes (Vikings) - The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, Lords of the North, Sword Song?
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Thu August 28th, 2008, 7:08 pm

Yes, I love this series! I enjoy all Bernard Cornwell's work, but I think the Saxon Chronicles are amongst his best, and I have a theory that his sense of personal connection to the period gives these stories an extra dimension.
There's quite a bit of controversy over his portrayal of King Alfred as something rather less than the traditional heroic ideal, but my take is that we are seeing KA through Uhtred's eyes, and Uhtred and the king have an uneasy relationship, whereby they need each other, but don't particularly like each other.
I wrote a brief review for Margaret's Historical Novels info site playing devil's advocate and exploring this idea.
http://www.HistoricalNovels.info/Last-Kingdom.html

Now I'll sit back and wait for the fallout!
Last edited by annis on Thu August 28th, 2008, 7:19 pm, edited 3 times in total.

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

Postby Carla » Fri August 29th, 2008, 11:04 am

"annis" wrote:There's quite a bit of controversy over his portrayal of King Alfred as something rather less than the traditional heroic ideal, but my take is that we are seeing KA through Uhtred's eyes, and Uhtred and the king have an uneasy relationship, whereby they need each other, but don't particularly like each other.
I wrote a brief review for Margaret's Historical Novels info site playing devil's advocate and exploring this idea.
http://www.HistoricalNovels.info/Last-Kingdom.html

Now I'll sit back and wait for the fallout!


No fallout from me. I read your review over at Margaret's site a little while ago. I agree that we see Alfred through Uhtred's eyes, and as Uhtred can't abide Alfred that's not going to be a very attractive portrayal :-) I don't have any problem with that; to an aggressive young warrior raised in pagan Danish ways, Alfred may well have looked like a priest-ridden wimp. What I miss is being able to see Alfred through other people's eyes. Not everybody could have seen him as Uhtred does, or they wouldn't have fought for him and he'd have faded away as king of the frogs at Athelney. I want to understand what other people saw in Alfred that made him worth fighting for when all seemed lost. I think that's an inevitable effect of the first-person point of view (which is one reason I tend to get on better with third-person novels).

I also miss the interplay between the all-action warrior and the cerebral strategist that Cornwell did so well between Sharpe and Wellington in the Sharpe series. Sharpe can be a maverick warrior hero without needing to belittle Wellington. There again, Sharpe is in his thirties by the time of the Peninsular War, so he's rather older and more experienced than Uhtred.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria

Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009

Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords

Website: http://www.carlanayland.org

Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sat August 30th, 2008, 3:30 am

As I see it, Uhtred’s opinion of Alfred is formed when he is a brash and arrogant young warrior, full of the confidence in his own superiority which so often afflicts the young! Unfortunately he seems unable to progress beyond that initial impression. Uhtred is in some ways a limited person; he is clever and brave, but with him it’s “all about me”; he’s impatient and not given to introspection.
And it is true that in the Saxon stories we don’t see King Alfred through anyone else’s eyes.

I enjoyed reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Last Light of the Sun” as a counterpoint to the “Last Kingdom”. In Kay’s novel King Alfred is portrayed as a much more fully rounded person; charismatic, formidably intelligent and utterly ruthless where necessary, all qualities which he must have in fact possessed in order to put his mark on England to such an extent within his relatively short life time. The establishment of an extremely effective administrative infrastructure was particularly remarkable, especially given that it remained pretty much in place for centuries, right up until the Norman Conquest. Even then many aspects of Alfred’s system continued to be employed by the Normans. In his book “In Search of the Dark Ages”, Michael Wood makes the point that the information required for the Domesday Book could never have been collected without it.

It will be interesting to see if Uhtred ever overcomes his ingrained intolerance towards King Alfred. It may be that in time he will find it easier to give his wholehearted support to King Alfred’s redoubtable daughter, Aethelflaed – a possibility mentioned on the old HFF.

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

Postby Carla » Sat August 30th, 2008, 9:18 pm

Yes, I'm finding Uhtred a rather limited character, especially considering he's the narrator. He'd be fine in a third-person narrative where I could get to know several characters, but if there's going to be a single narrator I prefer them to be someone who likes seeing other people's points of view. I have high hopes for Aethelflaed, when the series gets to that stage. She was a remarkable lady, and Cornwell is quite clearly setting her up to be a major character later on. I think somewhere he's said he sees her as the heroine of the entire series.

I have a feeling that some of the shires of Alfred's day survived right up until the local government reorganisation in the 1970s, which would be nearly a thousand years! I haven't checked which ones, though, so don't quote me on that. William the Conqueror must have been thrilled to discover he'd acquired a kingdom with an efficient method for running itself and paying its taxes.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria

Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009

Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords

Website: http://www.carlanayland.org

Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sat August 30th, 2008, 11:00 pm

I have not read this series tho my DH has it and need to. I have read the Arthur series; does this one take place before or after? With Uther, I'm thinking before?

User avatar
Grasshopper
Scribbler
Location: Moore, OK, USA

Postby Grasshopper » Sat August 30th, 2008, 11:58 pm

Love this series. It may be better than the Arthur series, but at least equal, IMHO.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sun August 31st, 2008, 1:16 am

Ash, the setting for the Arthurian "Warlord" series is post-Roman Britain, probably fifth century BC, so earlier than the "Saxon Chronicles" featuring Uhtred, which are set in the ninth century.

Note: I've just checked, and I see that BC says that the sixth century BC is the time frame for his "Warlord" books.
Last edited by annis on Sun August 31st, 2008, 2:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sun August 31st, 2008, 1:38 am

Carla, the thought of Alfred's administrative infrastructure lasting for a thousand years is pretty mind-boggling. I knew that many aspects were still in use for a very long time, but hadn't realized just how long.
Alfred's Code also formed the backbone of the English legal system which went hand-in-hand with the administrative system. His successors added to it and it evolved into the body of Customary Law which was the basis of Henry 1's landmark Charter of Liberties.
You can't help but be impressed by his achievements (even if Uhtred isn't)!

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sun August 31st, 2008, 2:19 pm

Thanks, Annis. I had forgetten how early the Arthur series was, its been awhile and I've read so many of them.... Since my memory is poor, its a good reason to reread them! (tho I want to finish the Archer series and the Saxon series first)
Last edited by Ash on Sun August 31st, 2008, 2:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.


Return to “Early Medieval (until about 1000 A.D.)”