28 August 2009

Recent reading: The Arthurian handbook

The Arthurian Handbook The Arthurian Handbook by Norris J. Lacy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The stories of King Arthur are among the most enduring legends in English literature, not to mention French, German and other literatures as well. As the authors note in the preface to the second edition, "in the period 1990-95, and in English alone, well over eighty Arthurian novels and even more short stories were published, and the flood shows no signs of abating."

The authors do not claim to be able to record every title in this flood; to do so would be to make the book nothing more than a bibliography. They concentrate on the more important and significant works.

But the point of such a book is that one is quite likely to come across references or allusions to the Arthurian legend in books that one reads, and so some familiarity with the main features of the legend are useful, and this is what this book provides. It has chronologies of the main works published, including non-literary works, like painting, sculpture, film and more. If gives family trees of Arthur (all different) from the major works. And it gives a brief description of the various works that convey the Arthurian story. At the end there is a glossary, giving the names and roles of the main characters, and their various forms, and the way they are portrayed in various works.

I've read about the Arthurian legend in several books, and allusions to it in several others. One is C.S. Lewis's That hideous strength. The Arthurian element is obvious in the case of Merlin, but for a long time "Mr Fisher-King" quite escaped me.

I tried reading Malory and Tennyson's versions, but found it difficult to see the wood for the trees. This book helps one to follow the thread through the longer works, and also points out some of the inconsistencies. Sir Kay is a villain, or at best a bumbling jobsworth in some versions of the story, but in others, as Sir Cai, he is a hero.

So I've found it a good read, and I'll be going back through it to make notes before I take in back to the library.

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1 comment:

James Higham said...

Lacy's the way to go, eh?


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