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Arthurian Literature

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Location: Nova Scotia, Canada

Arthurian Literature

Postby Kailana » Wed August 27th, 2008, 8:03 am

One thread that was popular on the other forums in this section was Arthurian literature. So, I thought I would start the ball running again over here by starting a thread.

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Postby Cerridwen » Wed August 27th, 2008, 6:53 pm

I am quite a fan of Arthurian novels - Bernard Cornwell's is brilliant, I love Mists of Avalon too and also Nancy McKenzie's.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu August 28th, 2008, 1:46 am

for me, nobody beats Mary Stewart's four-novel set:
The Crystal cave,
the Hollow Hills
the Last Enchantment, and
the Wicked Day.

For you Marion Zimmer Bradley fans, it seems Evangeline Walton's goddess-themed rewrite of the Welsh Mabinogion legend cycle has dropped completely into out-of-print obscurity, but I remember them as excellent books:
Island of the Mighty
The Children of Llyr
the Song of Rhiannon
Prince of Annwn
(an afterthought and not so well done as the others.)
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Thu August 28th, 2008, 1:48 am, edited 1 time in total.


Postby Cuchulainn » Thu August 28th, 2008, 1:51 am

Bernard Cornwell is one of my favourite contemporary author and can do no wrong in my eyes, but I think his Warlord Chronciles are among his weakest works. The concept was good, but they never grabbed me.

Right now I'm reading Merlin which is the second book in Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon cycle, which is a retelling of the Arthurian legend. I really enjoy and appreciate Lawhead's take on the legend. I like the fact that he incorporates the legend of Taliesin into the legend, and I also particularly like the fact that he follows the legend as is told in Wace and Layamon. Also, I find Lawhead's unabashed, but completely undogmatic Christianity, very compelling.

I can think of two other retellings that I really never got into: T.E. White's "Once and Future King" and Jack Whyte's "the Saxon Shore"

I didn't like the Once and Future King because it is too fantastic. I think I would have enjoyed it if I read it when I was much younger, though, maybe in the 10 - 14 year range.

The Saxon Shore is the first part in a series, but I couldn't even finish Saxon Shore. The concept was good, right down to Excalibur being crafted from a meteorite, and Camelot being a left over Roman settlement, but the writing was so dry and square, with repititious cadences and uninteresting language, that I just couldn't finish it.

I guess among the old tellings, Malory can't be topped, Chretien De Troyes isn't as gripping, and Wace and Layamon are more interesting than enjoyable.

I always get the sense that there are all kinds of other existing tales and tellings of Arthur, but I'm not sure where you would find them. If you read the notes and such to various editions the editors always seem to be talking about a fairly large tradition with characters who are more prominent at some periods than others (an example of this is Cornwell's Derfel who doesn't appear in later tellings of Arthur). I wish I had more time to get into the history of the legend.

I keep calling it a legend. Is it more correct to call it a myth?

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Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA

Postby Margaret » Thu August 28th, 2008, 7:55 pm

I second MLE's recommendation of the Mary Stewart and Evangeline Walton novels. I'm not a big fantasy reader. For me, the fantasy often obscures the history, and many fantasy authors are not particularly good at developing depth in their characters. But I loved the characterization of Merlin, especially in The Crystal Cave, and of Mordred in The Wicked Day. I've read and reread these novels.

The Evangeline Walton novels are pure fantasy in one sense, but they are extremely faithful renderings of real Celtic myths and legends. For people interested in how the pagan Celts thought and how they viewed the world, these make valuable reading. Too many authors of Arthurian novels and novels set in the pagan Celtic world create plots revolving around a great battle between absolute good and absolute evil. A pagan Celt would never have thought in these terms.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri August 29th, 2008, 12:39 am

I'm glad you liked Walton's books too, Margaret! But I'm not sure I agree with the absolute good and evil theory. The first of the series I read (1970, I think) was the Children of Llyr, which centers around the birth of twins into the world, (Nissyen and Evnissyen) one representing pure good and the other pure evil.
As I recall, despite the best upbringing possible, Evnissyen was rotten to the core and plunged his family and two nations into war just for the hell of it. So as not to give spoilers, I won't go into his twin as the redemption-figure, but that was the essence of the novel.

I think the choice between doing right and doing wrong is a human universal that informs the stories and creeds of all cultures. What fascinates me is not the differences, but the similarities.

Though I will agree that Walton's hero Gwyidion from Island of the Mighty is a tremendously complicated heroic figure indeed! I loved the way she presented him. But I liked Manawyddan in the Song of Rhainnon best. Sorry to say, but Pwyll, Prince of Dyvedd, was a bore, mostly a foil for a lot of (yawn) philosophical preachyness. Too much even for my teenage neo-pagan stage.

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Location: Winter Haven, Florida

Postby donroc » Fri August 29th, 2008, 1:10 am

My favorite of all Arthurian tales is the one I read as a boy and have again over the years -- Scribner's 4 volume Brandywine edition of Howard Pyle's story of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.. They are illustrated by Pyle and his student disciples.

The Story of King Arthur and his Knights
The Story of the Champions of the Round Table
The Story of Sir Launcelot and his Companions
The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur
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Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.


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Location: Australia

Postby Melisende » Fri August 29th, 2008, 1:42 am

Love Mallory - also loved Tennyson's Idylls of the King.

Would not recommend Victor Canning's The Crimson Chalice (hated it!)
"For my part, I adhere to the maxim of antiquity: The throne is a glorious sepulchre."

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Location: London, UK

Postby sweetpotatoboy » Thu September 4th, 2008, 12:17 pm

There were two series of Arthurian novels that I started reading a few years ago but couldn't get on with at all. I was wondering if anyone else tried them and what they thought of them.

The first one was by A. A. Attanasio. I think the series was called Arthor, and the first book was The Dragon and the Unicorn, which was the only one I read. It was plain weird. Any real linkage to the Arthurian series was tenuous, though presumably the series was going to develop more in that direction. The main thing it brought to mind was some of the Norse legends, which doesn't by itself seem a bad idea in terms of Arthur, but it was written just way too fantastically with little clear plot or recognisable characters. Stream of consciousness more than anything resembling conventional storytelling.

The second one was by Haydn Middleton. It was called the Mordred Cycle and the first book was The King's Evil. I may even have read part or all of the second book, The Queen's Captive, but gave up after that. Also just plain weird, though more readable than the Attanasio. My recollection is that there was very little plot as such - just strange goings-on and ramblings.

Did anyone else ever read these books?

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Location: Oklahoma

Postby nona » Sat September 6th, 2008, 8:56 pm

didn't Rosalind Miles write a few books on Arthur and others? maybe I have the wrong author.

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