Book Review, Holy Grail, King Arthur, Lancelot, Pellinore, Questing Beast, T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Given the buzz with King Arthur (if you haven’t seen the newly-released trailer for the upcoming movie, be sure to watch it today because it looks amazing) right now, paired with the fact that I finished reading a King Arthur book about a month ago, I thought it would be a good time to expound some thoughts on this book. I’ve read a fair number of pieces of Arthurian fiction, although I am a long ways from calling myself an expert or a scholar in Arthurian lore.
I was surprised, honestly, as the book progressed beyond the first part (Arthur growing up and eventually drawing the sword from the stone) to the last (Arthur’s final days). For a book on King Arthur, there was a lot more Lancelot and Guinevere than I had expected (part 3, being the largest, revolved around those two) and part two was mainly about the Orkney clan and Pellinore/Questing Beast. Certainly these things are all part of the Arthurian lore, and are equally important, but the title would have led me to expect a lot more about Arthur and his time as king and his conquests.
Speaking of Arthur, he is certainly put into a bad light in this one with the Lancelot/Guinevere affair, being in the know but never “actually” catching them in the act so able to keep from dealing justice on his friend and his wife. It plays him out as a willing accomplice to the whole ordeal, which happens fairly early in his marriage and continues on until they are all late in their lives. I couldn’t help but be disappointed in how White portrayed Arthur as an adult. Or how White made Pellinore a mockery with the Questing Beast, and how White had it so Arthur was telling a young Mallory, at the end, to write these stories down (and thus explaining the origins of Le Morte D’Arthur).
In spite of these things, there are two things that White did exceptionally well. The first was the dealings in the first part of the book. Arthur’s training with Merlin, and the shifting into various animals to gain experience in different traits he will need as a king. This is wonderful fun to read, and fans of the Disney cartoon Sword in the Stone will recognize some of the events along the way. I also was impressed by Lancelot. I know, I just complained about the lack of Arthur. But there were times when I found myself amazed that White, a self-proclaimed atheist, had so much Christianity rooted in Lancelot as well as the quest for the Holy Grail. And it was actually portrayed well, the sort of portrayal you would expect to find from a practicing Christian. The whole grail quest section was, perhaps, the area that stood out above the rest of the book and was worth reading the whole thing for that section alone. If I am ever graced with a chance at trying my hand at a Holy Grail retelling, this will be the first place I turn for inspiration.
So overall I did enjoy reading this book, and it is certainly deserving of a place on my bookshelf and in any Arthurian collection. It was a long read at a slow clip, but well-worth the time invested. It might not make a top 5 appearance on the best Arthurian fiction that I’ve read, but it was a fun experience that has me eager to dive back into Malory and Tennyson again, and into de Troyes for the first time.
What is your favorite Arthurian story? Favorite Arthurian author?
**For today only (7/25/2016) you can get a copy of King of Ages: A King Arthur Anthology on your Kindle for free. Be sure to grab a copy and leave a review!