I recently started reading The Once and Future King by T.H. White due to a recommendation by someone on this forum. I’m not that far into it and have been enjoying it so far. But I heard rumors that it’s based largely upon Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. I’m wondering whether I should read that first? Any thoughts?
White is a good enough place to start. Then you can read the story from Merlin’s point of view by Mary Stewart. And then there’s John Steinbeck’s version. And Jack Whyte’s complete retelling of the Arthurian legend with Arthur as a Romano Celt.
And then there’s Bernard Cornwell’s very dark Arthur.
Sir Thomas Malorey’s medieval version is based upon the French legends of Arthur and ignores the Saxon/Briton issue. This is a high chivalry story and then you can go back and trace it to Geoffrey of Monmouth, etc.
The first time I read the legend was in Collier’s Junior Classics which my mother passed down to me from the '30s. I read Mary Stewart’s version when I was a teenager and then went on to T. H. White. I like Steinbeck’s version and love what Jack Whyte did with the story.
T. H. White is as good a place as any to start. Be sure and read the Book of Merlin which brings things to their culmination.
I don’t think it matters which you read first. But Malory is the standard version (kind of like the KJV among English Bibles). As Brotherhrolf says, Malory’s work is in turn based on earlier French romances (the only one I’ve read is the Quest for the Holy Grail, which I highly recommend)–and then there are the Welsh versions in the Mabinogion, and so on, and so forth. The medieval English poem “Gawain and the Green Knight” is wonderful. The Arthurian corpus is vast and there are all sorts of fun branches to explore.
Another modern retelling is Berger’s Arthur Rex. I don’t think Berger manages the delicate balance between serious and comic as well as White does–both books have an odd mixture of the two, but Berger’s is more serious, and so when he does lapse into wry parody it seems weird. But it’s a good book IMHO.
Got that one too. Forgot about it. So, if you bring up the Mabinogion, then you’ve got Evangeline Walton’s great series and then if you bring up Evangeline Walton you have to bring up Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles.
There is just a whole slew of Arthurian based stories. If you want to project it to the future there is Patricia Kenealy’s Keltiad which is science fiction. You could probably push the boundaries and read Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series too.
In short, like Edwin says there are all sorts of branches to this story - most of which are fun to read…and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about Joseph of Arimithea or the black cauldron which is in Alexander’s and Walton’s books.
Then you could be really silly and watch Monty Python’s Holy Grail but then I’d have to make you a Trog.
Thanks for the input.
I guess I’m not interested in making a career about reading everything King Arthur. I just wanted to read a base account so I could be familiar with the stories. I got enough books in the queue already!
Malory. It’s difficult for modern readers, but not too difficult, and it’s one of the great classics of English literature (not to make it seem scary or anything!).
start with TH White if you just want to know the legend, and the milieu that spawned the legend. If you want more Eng Lit, read Mallory, if you want a good summary of the actual historical Arthur, the stories by Mary Stewart are based on the little we know of him.
While a few cheap shots at Christianity are in it, I like Bernard Cornwell’s (Richard Sharpe series) arthurian trilogy–very authentic
DON"T read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon–its a man-hating, ulta feminist cant and pro-neo pagan to boot
And also very dark in its outlook unlike Jack Whyte’s
The first book of the Mists of Avalon was published in 1979 which was in the heyday of radical feminism. I have never seen the series as being man-hating or particularly pro-neo-pagan. Patricia Kennealy’s Keltiad is, however, both strongly feminist and pro-pagan (she claims to have married rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix in a pagan hand-fasting ceremony. But at the same time you have Katharine Kurtz’s Deryni books which are highly Catholic (Latin abounds in her books) and involve the use of magic.
That is what is so fascinating with looking at the spectrum of Arthurian legend. It can range from the gritty roots of the story in history (the collapse of Romano-Celtic Britain in 410 AD) to the whole chivalric knights in shining white armor legend. T H White is probably your best bet.
Warning! It is quite possible to become addicted to the Arthurian legends. Edwin, Annie and myself bear witness to this.
excuse me? I find it hard to accept that someone with that opinion actually put in the time to READ all 900+ pages of it…
Mists changed my life. And I am not man-hating, feminist or neo-pagan.
Mists is told by the threee women in King Arthur’s life, his mother Igraine, his sister Morgaine and his wife Genivere. I admit it is harsh in places, but generally speaking I believe life was harsh in those times and a woman’s life perhaps more so. It is NOT written in the style of chivalry and piety like the earlier accounts. It covers the time period when the old pagan religions were on their way out and Christianity was triumphing, and I found the ending especially poignant and edifying.
It is my favorite non-religious book of all time and has been since I first read it in 1981. I even have a leather bound copy of it.
Won’t get an argument out of me on this.
Mists is an okay book and I think does a C+ job presenting the characters of the women in the legend, but it is not much about the Arthurian Legend, not really historically accurate (not that it is possible to be very historically accurate since there is so little real historical evidence). a good read, but does fall into some anachronisms, common among feminist authors, of attributing modern feminist attitudes, actions and thoughts to women in another time and culture. I think it is best at showing the conflict between Roman and Celtic-Brittanic culture which was still a factor in not only British political and cultural history, but in the British (and Irish) Church of the day.
I couldn’t read the whole thing, though I tried twice. To me the women in this telling of the story were all such screw-ups that they personally caused Arthur’s fall. How could that be feminist? Igraine didn’t have enough love for her husband AND her children, so the kids had to go. Vivian was so consumed with power that she pushed her main pawn, her own niece, out of her control. And Morgaine was so devoid of maternal instinct that she just walks away from her own child, hoping everything turns out all right for him, and he ends up killing Arthur.
Come to think of it, it is a totally feminist book. Thank God those days are behind me.
Gertie, Mists needs to be read within the context of the time it was written and within the context of the Arthurian mythos. You can disagree with the context and the outcome but, in the final analysis, it is nothing more than an addition to the telling of the Arthurian legend and highly reflective of the culture and time in which it was written. That’s the wonderful thing about myths and legends - each generation can interpret them…my Campbell is showing…
Shoot, while I have read all the Arthurian books recommended here, I have to admit I got on this thread because I was hoping it was about King Arthur FLOUR.
Made in Norwich, VERMONT!
The ONLY possible flour a serious baker. . .heck, anybody baking. . .should ever use. Ever.
But now I will have to take out Mallory again just for the fun of reading it!
DW would agree with you in both regards. KA is the only flour she will even consider using and I can reach out with my left hand and take Sir Thomas off the shelf.
If you can find it, you can also add the Merlin TV miniseries from 1998 to your list. It starred Sam Neill as Merlin, and had Martin Short in it as well. Pretty good telling, I thought.
Howard Pyle wrote a wonderful 4 volume series of books for young people, based on Malory.Pyle was an artist who began writing after illustrating books for other authors for some years.
I have recently re-read them, and they are even better than I remembered them…They were written just over a hundred years ago, and were the last thing Pyle wrote before his death around 1903 or so, as I recall. (It is quite haunting to read his postscript to them, where he speaks of not knowing when he began, if he would live to finish them).
These books are now back in print, by Dover Books…Don’t be fooled by the “young people/children” label; these are seriously well written…and have the author’s origianl art all intact.
Funny!!! You are absolutely right about King Arthur Flour, which we finally have available in my local S.W. Alabama grocery store (native Yankee, transplanted.) Their “white whole wheat” flour is wonderful - healthy and light in texture.
Now, back to the real point…all this Arthurian Legend talk brings back lovely memories of my first reading, about 4 decades ago, of Malory, followed by White and then Stewart and anything Arthurian I could get my hands on. My senior paper in high school was on Guenevere (or Guinivere, should you prefer) and I could not wait to take the wonderful “Arthurian Legend” course then offered at Boston College. I’ve spent many delightful hours reading various takes on the legend. May the OP derive as much pleasure as I have!
I’ll admit, I couldnt finish the tome–got about half way through it and gave it up as same-old same old MZB–had forced myself through some of her Darkover works where even the off-planet males seem to devolve into *Gor *(John Norman–don’t ask) wanna-bee’s.
Far as I’m concerned for MZB, her only readable books were Hunters of the Red Moon where her brother the late Paul Zimmer consulted and the sequel, The Survivors she co-wrote w/ Paul. Evidently she decided a balanced, non-sexist male character wasnt so implausible after all