Arthurian Literature

Today’s book suggestion is one I’ve passed on to friends numerous times. It ‘s an old book and not at all my typical style. Most of my friends know I am not a fan of the romance genre, but, though this book is romance, I somehow found it enchanting –kind of a fluffy fun. Perhaps it was the topic, Arthurian legend, one of may favorites, that drew me in. This book was like the crispy, torched sugar, all crunchy and sweet on top of the rich and delicious creme brulee that other books on the topic provide.

Guinever’s Gift by Nicole St. John was published in 1977. I told you it was old. The characters live a similar love triangle to that of Lancelot, Arthur, and their beautiful queen. The protagonist marries a colleague of her deceased father, an artist and scholar whose historical specialty is King Arthur. She is intrigued and excited by his talent and mystery, But she is haunted by nightmares of a cliff and a death and King Arthur. Sounds a little corny, yes? But oh so much fun.

Another, much more serious and exciting book in which the characters play out the Arthurian legend is The Lyre of Orpheus by, in my humble opinion, the most brilliant Canadian author ever to put pen to paper, Robertson Davies. Davies wrote trilogies, and this book is the third in The Cornish Trilogy. One must read all three books to appreciate the depth of the work. Be prepared, though, for the need to research the historical, religious, and literary allusions as you read. I think Davies had more knowledge in his pinky toe than I shall I ever have even if I study my whole life.

So, these are two works I would recommend if one enjoys Arthurian legend and fiction. Ah, but there are those of us who actually like poetry as well! Yes, the rhyme, the meter, the abundance of figures of speech titillate and consume. The absolute best poetic treatment of Arthurian legend is Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. There is nothing better. Read them all. Love them all. Tennyson also wrote my absolute favorite poem of all time, “The Lady of Shallott”. It isn’t part of the Idylls, not sure why, but it is amazing. Not only does it show the lure and wonder of Lancelot; it also explores the predicament of the artist. Should the artist isolate himself from society and produce images and words that show the life he’s seen only through a mirror, only from a distance, or should he be seduced by the world and become so consumed by it that his art dies? By the way, this incredible poem was put to music by the wonderful singer Loreena Mckennitt on her cd The Visit. It is one of my favorite songs, especially if I am depressed about my writing.

Finally, if you don’t know King Arthur intimately, go read The Once and Future King, Morte d’Artur, and  Lancelot of the Lake. I promise you will not be disappointed.

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