Books 1 to 5 are now read and I’m on track, but only because I’d started this book ages ago and had already read to Book 4. I may fall behind but I’ll do my best not to.
|Merlin Taking Away The Infant Arthur
I may have said before in some of my comments that this book was not what I expected. And what did I expect? Well probably something more similar to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where there is a quest, but an element of seriousness to it. Arthur’s knights seem to meander around looking for a quest, often stumble onto some odd happenings, hack and stab and kill some other knights or perhaps spare their lives. I’m not sure what has unsettled me about this read. Is it because Malory tells and tells and tells, but never shows? Is it the very ignoble behaviour mixed in with the gracious knightly behaviour? Is it because the story is related in a very serious tone but somehow it metamorphizes into something that is somewhat comical? I’m not really sure yet.
In any case, the story begins with Uther Pendragon coveting the Duke of Cornwall’s wife, Igraine. Pendragon makes a bargain with Merlin that if he will give him Igraine, he, in turn, will give over their first born child to Merlin. Of course, that child is Arthur, the one who pulls the sword from the stone and becomes King of all Britain, and also creates the order of The Kings of the Round Table.
|” … and when they came to the sword that the hand held,
King Arthur took it up …”
N.C. Wyeth 1922
What follows is the various adventures of his knights, with Arthur making appearances here and there. Other knights, especially wicked, dark knights, grumpy knights and average day-to-day knights, play prominent roles in the tales, where Arthur’s knights usually kill, maim or become friends with their opponents. Various ladies make appearances as well.
|The Beautiful Lady Without Pity
Arthur Hughes 1863
It was rather disturbing when Sir Gawaine managed to behead a lady while she was trying to protect her knight, but perhaps more shocking was Arthur’s slaughter of the innocent children born on May Day because of a prophecy that one born on that day would be the cause of his death.
Encouragingly, the plot began to pick up in Book 5. Emperor Lucius of Rome has come to demand tribute from Arthur. After a long and bloody battle, Arthur is victorious. As he prepares to send the bodies of Lucius and many of his senators back to Rome, his words to them sent shivers down my spine:
And I suppose the Romans shall be ware how they shall demand any tribute of me. And I commend you to say when ye shall come to Rome to the Potestate, and all the Council and Senate, that I send to them these dead bodies for the tribute that they have demanded. And if they be not content with these, I shall pay more at my coming, for other tribute owe I none, nor none other will I pay. And me thinketh this sufficeth for Britain, Ireland, and all Almaine, with Germany. And furthermore I charge you to say to them that I command them upon pain of their heads never to demand tribute of me ne of my lands.