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Saturday, May 07, 2016

Some More Arthurian Novels!

Yesterday I wrote about three classics in the field of modern Arthurian fiction. The Once And Future King, The Sword At Sunset and Mary Stewart's Merlin novels are, in my opinion, the definitive novels in their genre - the Malory/fantastical, the straight historical and the historical with a touch of fantasy. If you can think of any others that you consider classics, feel free to comment below.

But there are other very good Arthurian novels. I already wrote a post about Parke Godwin's Arthurian novels, Firelord and Beloved Exile here. That was in my sad tribute to the late author. He was an American who could write wonderful stories about British heroes - he also wrote two amazing novels about Robin Hood. I loved Godwin's Arthur. He was a decent person as well as a good king and when he knew about what Guinevere had done, he understood completely the stresses she'd been under, as Queen, a job that was a lot more than doing embroidery with the ladies, and anyway, she dumps her lover fairly soon. The only thing he's angry with her for is the murder of Morgana, who is, in Firelord, a gentle woman, a tribal chief, who had committed the crime of having a child with Arthur(not incestuously), something Guinevere couldn't do, after a disastrous pregnancy.  But Guinevere is a princess of a tribe that gives its high priestess a lot of power and she is strong willed. And she has her own novel, Beloved Exile, in which the irritating Elaine, Ancellius/Lancelot's wife, has her kidnapped and sold to the Saxons, an experience which helps her learn about becoming a strong but compassionate person. Anyway, read the post.

Bernard Cornwell's trilogy was pretty amazing too. In that version, Arthur can't actually be king because he's illegitimate, so he is Regent for the rightful heir who is, unfortunately, the truly awful Mordred. He stays Regent for a very long time, precisely because his nephew is just not fit to be king.

In this version, he's supposed to marry a sweet young heiress when he meets Guinevere, a poverty-stricken princess, at the engagement party - and elopes with her. Fortunately, the sweet young heiress, who is a wonderful person, ends up with Arthur's friend, a Saxon brought up by Merlin, and narrator of the novel.

Lancelot is an arrogant man who thinks a lot of himself and looks good in armour, but isn't much of a fighter; all the hard work is done by his brother Galahad. He hires poets to write poems in his praise.

Guinevere only sleeps with him as part of a ritual to Isis which will, she hopes, cast a spell to make her husband king. She doesn't even like him let alone love him.

I won't reveal the ending of the trilogy, but it's fantastical and it's - different.

There is, of course, the classic Mark Twain novel, known as either A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court, or A Yankee At The Court Of King Arthur - forgot that one yesterday. I have a first British edition from 1889, under the latter title. In it, Hank Morgan, an American, is whacked on the head and wakes up in King Arthur's England. He is captured by a passing knight and taken to the court, where he manages to save his life by bullshitting about a solar eclipse he knows is coming. After that, it is complete and total bullshit while he makes an enemy of Merlin, whom he considers a phony (although at the end, you discover he isn't quite the fake Hank thinks he is). He gives himself the title of The Boss and proceeds to set up a modern society in sixth century Britain. He falls in love, gets married and... well, read it if you haven't.

There are quite a few modern novels in which King Arthur connects with the present.

In Arthur, King by Dennis Lee Anderson,  Arthur must follow Mordred into World War II to retrieve Merlin's diary. Merlin is living backwards(as in The Once And Future King) but his diary only goes as far as the end of World War II. Merlin tells him that he can get him there, but he will have only three months. He finds himself in a plane about to crash - fortunately, only into a pond, where water nymphs help him out. He meets and befriends an American volunteer who has joined the British air force before the US joined the war - one who comes from Connecticut, allowing an ongoing joke about it.  And he has to learn to be a pilot very quickly, though he never does get the hang of landing. Mordred, of course, is across the Channel with the Nazis...

There were a few glitches in this, but on the whole I found it delightful. It was very filmic in style and I would love to see a film version some time.

Peter David, who is nowadays writing comic books/graphic novels, did a couple of Arthur-in-modern times novels. The first one was Knight Life, in which Arthur returns after centuries and find himself in New York. The Lady of the Lake hands him back his sword in Central Park, covered with rubbish. "Never again!" she declares. He finds some of his knights, reborn. He finds Merlin who(yet again) has been living backwards and is now an eight year old boy.

Arthur has to get a job, but what? The current royal family isn't going to let him take over and in the US, he has to be elected. Merlin sets up fake records for him and the team starts the project of having King Arthur stand for election as Mayor of New York. There was a sequel, in which he has become President, though I didn't think it as good as this one.

And then, of course, there are Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising novels. She has more or less set up her own Arthurian canon, but it's powerful. Merlin is still around, head of the Old Ones, a bunch of long-lived people who are fighting for the Light against the Dark. And in modern times, he's not a Gandalf-like guy with long hair and beard in a star-speckled robe. He is a well-known scholar and archaeologist, who calls himself Merriman Lyon. Even people who don't know who he is, he's just an ordinary 20th century person. To the Drew children - at least till they find out - he's Great Uncle Merry, who had known their mother as a child. And even then they go on calling him Great Uncle Merry. There's more, but spoilers.

Plenty more novels including Peter Dickinson's Weather series, but I won't go into them here - there are too many! I won't even include C.S Lewis's novel, as I'm not fond of it.

I know - I've left out Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, but that's another one I'm not fond of. I hate, hate, hate what she did to my dear Arthur! She turned him into a wimp.

So, do you have any favourite Arthurian novels?

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