The Arthurian bug has bit
I have two book shelves full of Arthurian legend books, which I started collecting when I was 12. The Mary Stewart books are my favorites with T. H. White very close behind. I also loved The Buried Giant.
Hi Colin, I'm pretty sure you'd dig "The Crystal Cave" by Mary Stewart.... Arthurian legend retold from Merlin's perspective, with Merlin as engineer/polymath, as opposed to pointy/metal-hat-wearing- magic-peddler. Love your work!
I’m sure you are already well ahead of me, but Simon Armitage ( PL here in UK ) has published a new translation of the Alliterative Morte Arthure ( written around 1400). Published in the UK by Faber. Part of my current ‘ to read’ stack :-). Wonder if others have already read and enjoyed or struggled with it ?
I’ve read the once and future king before, but had to check out that Naxos version to find the differences, after last months CMMS-RR. It’s pretty different actually. I’m glad to have been through both versions now. As for recommendations of Arthurian stories I would suggest the Warlord Trilogy (at least the first one for sure) by Bernard Cornwall. Rumor has it they’re (whomever they are) making it into a series...I wait with tepid excitement.
My favorite Arthurian retelling is the four-part series by A.A. Attanasio that begins with "The Dragon & Unicorn." (The first one is actually pre-Arthur and follows Myrddin/Merlin's exploits with Uther and Ygrane; there are three sequels which deal with Arthur himself.) They're wonderful because they work on multiple levels; following the earthly issues of the characters while also frequently stepping into the worlds of the gods -- and in these books, the Norse, Celtic, and Judeo-Christian gods are all fighting for space and attention. Highly recommended.
I’m stuck in a bit of a reading rut (which happens when I’m overwhelmed by the world)- back into The Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett. They are my comfort books- and it’s great because there’s always something new to get- a new joke or word play or concept that I missed the last time I read them.
Trying to read all these suggestions but want to add: A fave of mine, Susan Cooper’s 5 book series, The Dark is Rising. How to describe . Modern return or settling of Arthur .
Mists. So good. Try The Crystal Cave and sequels by Mary Stewart too.
Colin, hoping you have a couple minutes to enjoy the KEXP 50th anniversary party today! Thx.
Love the status quo comment about war. My mind connected that piece with something I learned about forests recently, that the healthiest ones burn to create new growth. I saw a healthy partially burned forest next to one that hadn’t burned in centuries because European homesteaders did not let it burn and that forest is uninhabitable by animals and very unhealthy. That really stuck with me.
A few Arthurian recs of different flavours & vintages, that may not be as readily well-known as Stewart's Crystal Cave (which I loved):
- TO THE CHAPEL PERILOUS by Naomi Mitchison (1955): a gorgeous slippery short novel where two contemporary news reporters are enmeshed with the Grail story & finding their way through it. I feel like I'm on a one-woman mission to make the world remember Mitchison, who lived to be 101 & wrote 90 books & was a friend of Tolkien's who read LOTR in manuscript, etc. Probably hard to find but if Mitchison interests you, TRAVEL LIGHT is much more easily available (& the superior book imo)
- THE WINTER PRINCE by Elizabeth Wein (1993): Also very short, Mordred-focused, very tender/intimate/sinister. I haven't read it in over a decade but it made a deep impression & casts a long shadow.
- SPEAR by Nicola Griffith (2022): a novella reimagining Percival as a young woman in a subtly magic-infused & historically grounded 6th century Britain; atmospherically feels kin to THE BURIED GIANT.
- SWORD STONE TABLE (2021), edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington, an anthology of short stories by divers hands engaging with & transforming elements of the mythography.
- ONCE & FUTURE (2019-), an ongoing comic series by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain, which is a really fun meta tumbling through patterns of stories emerging to eat us alive.
I am loving the "two-hour knight duel" motif going on here—particularly in regards to middle-grade graphic novel bookshelves. Brutal business getting their attention! I'm going to try use this phrase in the coming days, and I'll report back if it goes somewhere.
I'm tickled pink to hear you've added Tolkien's Fall of Arthur to your list. That's a swift kick in the arse inducement for me to finally read it. His other Arthurian business I'm aware of is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (happily, a verse translation!). He apparently also translated/adapted stuff from the Edda, Beowulf (sadly, a prose translation), and some other medieval English poetry I know nothing about. I'm especially eager to see his treatment of Arthurian stories since my only experience of them is The Sword in the Stone (1963 Disney film, not White) and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (skip all other translations and go for Martin Shaw's brilliant retelling). I'm going to be teaching Beowulf and Gawain, and deciding on a translation/retelling is harrowing.
Where do you stand in your pronunciation of "Gawain"? That's always been a pebble in my shoe.
I highly recommend Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Trilogy which begins with The Winter King -https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/68520.The_Winter_King
Cornwell wrote, amongst other things, Sharpe (adapted for television starring Sean Bean) and the Uhtred novels (adapted as the Last Kingdom, currently on Netflix).
The Winter King is now being adapted for television - https://bad-wolf.com/productions/the-winter-king/
I love the Arthur stories but Bernard Cornwell added grit and realism. They're some of my favourite books.
Mists of Avalon is such a lovely book. I started reading the whole series last summer but discovered that MZB has a pretty horrifying history… couldn’t stomach it. may want to check it out.
You’ve made me want to read Arthurian myths now!
(I apologize in advance for the essay)
So glad to see you've caught an interest in Arthur! Your music is a foundational part of my appreciation for folklore and myth of all sorts, and after a very long and twisting path of getting into everything Arthurian, I can say that y'all helped me to be all the more appreciative of the stories. Though it was far from my first introduction, I started reading Malory's works, then transitioning into White's, while overwhelmingly bored at work some summers ago, and share many of your same sentiments about each. I've started reading Mists as well, and have liked it immensely.
Now, seizing the rare chance of a solicited Arthurian recommendation, I'll circle back to what originally got me hooked on Arthur: a Japanese visual novel (think virtual grown-up picture book). While only dedicating a modest portion of the story to it, the visual novel Fate/stay night manages to present far and away the most tragic, and human, take on Arthur's story and character. On the slim chance you exhaust the other media and literature you have on hand and yearn for more Arthur, I would absolutely recommend it.
Thanks for keeping us in the loop!