Friday, August 19, 2016

Le Mort d'Arthur

Severe Spoilers Ahead

Le Mort d'Arthur is a long book written by Sir Thomas Malory and published in the year 1458.  It combines many of the legends of King Arthur which had already been written and combines them into a seamless narrative which stretches from the birth of the famous king until his death and the fall of Camelot.

This is an absolute must if you are looking to have a complete understanding of the tale.  It is very long and challenging to read, but it has details and intricacies you won't find anywhere else.  I personally love the archaic style and it is one of my favorite things about it.

Younger readers should be warned that there are some intense things happening throughout the story including adultery, incest, and murder.  This is definitely not for the faint of heart.

The story starts out with the tale of how Arthur was conceived.  When I first read this story, I was definitely not expecting so many of the characters to be behaving in such repulsive ways like Uther does when he takes Igraine to be his wife and I certainly did not expect heroic Arthur to be in a relationship with his sister!  I quickly learned that things are not always as perfect as they seem in the kingdom of Camelot and that there is a lot of intrigue about the castle.

Arthur does not actually ascend to the throne for awhile but when he does we are immediately introduced to some of his knights and told of their quests.  We meet the tragic brothers Balin and Balan as well as read the story of Tristram and Fair Iseult.  Later on we get to read about the Quest for the Holy Grail, perhaps the most famous of the King Arthur stories.

My favorite knight is Galahad because he is completely pure.  He is the son of Launcelot and Elaine yet he is the most respected and perfect knight.  Alas, he leaves the story very quickly once he has achieved the Grail.

The story of Launcelot and Guinever is another popular one.  I dislike both characters, but I find Launcelot's character to be very interesting.  The fact that one rebuke from Guinever sends him wandering the woods for years shows how weak the actual character of the brave knight is, yet he still "loves" her and saves her several times over.

Most of the time I am extremely frustrated with Launcelot and Guinever since they selfishly indulged in their desires without thought of Arthur and Camelot.  In some adaptations, however, Merlin warns Arthur that Guinever is destined for someone else before Arthur marries her, but he does it anyway because of his desire.  This makes it seem like less of Guinever and Launcelot's fault, though in the end, you always have a choice and they certainly made the wrong one.

Eventually Launcelot's love of Guinever causes him to kill Gaheris and Gareth which greatly angers Gawain and in turn, Arthur has to do something about it.  The entire conflict is exploited by the evil illegitimate son of Arthur, Mordred.  He even goes so far as to take Camelot and comes close to forcibly wedding Guinever.

The story ends with Arthur's death, Guinever's enrollment in a convent and Launcelot's mourning.  My favorite quote comes at the very end of the book:

"...not displease God, for he knoweth my intent.
For my sorrow was not, nor is not for any rejoicing of sin, but my
sorrow may never have end. For when I remember of her beauty, of her
noblesse, that was both with her king and with her, so when I saw his
corpse and her corpse so lie together, truly mine heart would not
serve to sustain my careful body. Also when I remember me how by my
default, mine orgule and my pride, that they were both laid full low,
that were peerless, that ever was living of Christian people, wit you
well, said Sir Lancelot, this remembered, of their kindness and mine
unkindness, sank so to mine heart, that I might not sustain myself.
So the French book maketh mention."

I really recommend this book and I have never met anyone else who has read it, so I would love to chat about it online!

You can get this book online for free with an easier translation here.
A fantastic lecture series on the book can be found here.

Have you read Le Mort d'Arthur?  Were there any parts that were confusing?

Are you going to endeavor to read Le Mort d'Arthur?  What are you expecting at this point?

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