Ah, Arthur. Who was he? Did he really exist? Was he a resistance fighter, or a true king? Or were the tales really stories of a “Cave” Arthur, a legendary leader that predates history? I don’t care, actually. I just love the tales and all their glorious retellings. My first introduction to Arthurian legend was through the novel The Once and Future King by T.H. White, like so many other readers. I read this wonderful account of King Arthur when I was a young teen, reading an ancient paperback that threatened to lose its cover before I finished it.
At university, I explored Arthurian tales in my classes, reading Chretien de Troyes’ romances, and the histories of the Venerable Bede and Geoffrey of Monmouth. After graduating, my mind was blown by the brilliant reimagining of Arthur through Morgan le Fay’s POV as told by Marian Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon. That novel gets a place of honor on my permanent bookshelf in the sky.
Then Bernard Cornwell’s novels (The Warlord Chronicles) appeared on the scene, and I was once again amazed at the way another author could take these legends, put them in a blender, and come out with a completely different atmosphere, making different thematic choices and focusing on different pieces of the legend. I thought it couldn’t get any more interesting than Bradley’s amazingly powerful Arthurian women, but Cornwell’s dirty, gritty stories just as powerful, and you can smell the manure – and the magic.
I just enjoyed reading The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, an Arthurian interpretation for a young adult audience. Crossley-Holland sets his tale in 1199, on a lord’s estate close to the English-Welsh border. The narrator of the tale, Arthur, is the second son of Sir John. He’s thirteen, not very good at tilting or swordsmanship, but has a gift with words. Merlin, a mysterious man who resides on the estate, gives Arthur a stone of obsidian, and cautions him to never mention it to anyone. Arthur discovers that this stone gives him visions, where he sees another thirteen year old boy named Arthur, whose story strangely echoes his.
The story was very well told. Crossley-Holland takes the Arthur of legend up to the momentous sword in the stone moment, leaving room for a few more novels which I think I may have to read. My only complaint about the novel is that Crossley-Holland’s chapters are so short – at the most 3 pages – that the narrative feels choppy and jumpy. I wish he had taken the time to extend some of the chapters, exploring the emotions in a deeper fashion.
I think the book I need to add to my book bank is Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, but I’d love some additional suggestions. Are you a reader of Arthurian fiction? What would be on your Arthurian reading list?