Recounting the final days of Arthur, this thirteenth-century French version of the Camelot legend, written by an unknown author, is set in a world of fading chivalric glory. It depicts the Round Table diminished in strength after the Quest for the Holy Grail, and with its integrity threatened by the weakness of Arthur's own knights. Whispers of Queen Guinevere's infidelity with his beloved comrade-at-arms Sir Lancelot profoundly distress the trusting King, leaving him no match for the machinations of the treacherous Sir Mordred. The human tragedy of The Death of King Arthur so impressed Malory that he built his own Arthurian legend on this view of the court - a view that profoundly influenced the English conception of the 'great' King.
Sitting quaint in my favourite used book store, this tiny book ( at only $1.99) was just waiting for the right person to pick it up and give it a chance. I’m so glad I did!
The Death of King Arthur, is the famous king's tale written by an unknown author - ‘but most probably a Frenchman from Champagne, writing around 1230-35.’ This in itself got me so curious, that I just had to read it- if not for the story but at least for the flavor of reading something so old. I love the feeling of period writing because it really sets the mood for the piece. This one did not disappoint.
In The Death Of King Arthur, we read about all the great knights: Lancelot, Sir Gawain, Hector, Mador… Not only do we get the exciting battles fought for principle and reputation, there is so much gallantry, respect, honor and chivalry that make this book a precious piece of literature. Arthur’s beautiful Queen is at the center of this story, causing much dilemma between both Arthur and Lancelot.
The book is straightforward and although there are no flowery parts or picturesque moments or scenes, in its purity, this story does not need embellishing. What a refreshing read! Seemingly told by the author, as though he were narrating, I came to accept abrupt changes in the story that simply went like this: For example,
‘And now the story stops telling of Bors and his company, and returns to Lancelot…’
As strange and cut-off as this may seem, something that would never work in today’s writing, but considering the source and the time, it still works perfectly in this novel.
All I can say is that I really enjoyed reading this amazing tale, although simplistic in its form and told in such a straightforward manner, The Death of King Arthur managed to capture my interest and my heart. It made me remember why it is that I love Penguin Classics so much. Simply beautiful.