Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table

by Keith Baines (Rendition)

Other authorsRobert Graves (Introduction)
Paperback, 1962



Call number




Mentor (1962), Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages


Presents the epic story of King Arthur, the wizard Merlin, his Knights of the Round Table, the sword Excalibur, and his tragic and poetic death, in a prose translation of the classic legend, featuring an introduction by acclaimed poet Robert Graves.

User reviews

LibraryThing member andreablythe
I know Le Mort d'Arthur is supposed to be a great classic and the definitive Arthur, but damn it, I'm 377 pages in and I can't do it anymore. It is just too much of the same flipping story over and over and over and over again. And not just the same story (knight jousts with knight), but almost the same exact wording with each battle.

The only thing to have sparked my interest in about 200 pages was this line: "The King Arthur overtook her [a false lady and sorceress], and with the same sword he smite off her head, and the Lady of the Lake took up her head and hung it up by the hair to her saddle-bow." THAT is pretty damn awesome, but it's also just one line out of all those 200 pages, and it made me long for a Lady of the Lake story, not more and more of these knights smacking each other around and talking about how knightly and courtly they are because they are big strong men who can politely knock another guy off a horse.

I am so wonderfully wroth at this book that I'm about to come at all of these damn knights like thunder and smote them down with their own damn lances. (PS. If I never see the words "wroth", "smote", or "came together like thunder" again, it will be too soon.) Seriously, don't these guys have anything better to do than run around the forests or hang out a bridges and joust with each other? Isn't there farming or something to be done? Anything? Please? I mean, I'll read about the wheat in the fields at this point.

Did I also mention that it's over 900 pages? Well, it is, and apparently this is the SHORT version. The other version is in like three volumes or something. Since it's getting the point that I'm starting to hate Arthur and his knights, I need to just put in the towel and read something — anything — else for a while.

Right now, I'm really looking forward to rereading Simon Armitag's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, because I need something to remind me why I used to love Arthurian stories so much.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I agree with the reviewer who said this is not for the faint of heart, and few general readers are going to find this a great read. If you're looking for an absorbing, entertaining read with characters you can relate to and root for, you're absolutely, positively in the wrong place. Read instead Arthurian novels such as T.H. White's The Once and Future King or Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy. There are countless other such novels inspired by this material worth reading, and I've read a lot of them.

But I did find it interesting at times going through this, one of the ur-texts as it were of Arthurian legend. There are other, earlier works of Arthurian literature: Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain (1136), Chrétien de Troyes's Arthurian Romances in the 12th century and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival in the 13th century are among the most notable. But Malory drew from several sources, so much so he's often described more as the "compiler" than the author of the work. I own a edition in two volumes that comes close to 1,000 pages. So this is an exhaustive resource of all sorts of facets of the legend. The story of Tristram and Iseult is here, for instance.

And this is a medieval work, so it's imbued with its assumptions and attitudes. Obviously a source of outrage to some reviewers, and even by the standards of the time, comparing this to how women are treated in say Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales--well, women don't come off well here. Misogyny abounds. And knights are held up as paragons who commit a lot of heinous acts and just plain WTF. A lot is repetitive and a slog--as one reviewer put it too much is "joust, joust, joust." And this was written about half-way between Chaucer and Shakespeare. With the spelling regularized it's quite readable, much more so than unmodernized Chaucer. But with those that choose to preserve the archaic words, that means wading through words such as "hight" (is called) and "mickle" (much). And there's just so much that can be excused by, well, "it's the times"--I found plenty of medieval writers who were wonderful reads, and just plain more humane: Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer. I can't see Malory as their equal--not remotely. But as a fan of Arthurian literature and someone fascinated by the Middle Ages, this did from time to time have its fascinations.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
While I can appreciate it's standing as the English epic and the beauty of its prose, the key moments are disarrayed within a relentless series of encounters between incredible knights. Homer and Virgil are more believable and more touching because they are more human. Were I to recommend the death of Arthur, I would probably specify portions that avoid the action-movie feel of endless jousts. The opening sets the foundation of Arthur (Excalibur, Mordred) and is the only part involving Merlin. Perhaps a few sections in the middle regarding Sir Beumains, Sir Tritram, and the Lady Isoud would also be included. The last few hundred pages finally bring out a plot, showing the conflict between Lancelout and Arthur -- and the tragic result. If one wants to understand the nature of the knight errant, they might read just a few chapters to get the idea.… (more)
LibraryThing member MrsBond
The first time I read this I was a college student immersed in literature. I loved the language and imagery, truly felt transported to another time and place. With this second reading I see James Bond. Arthur roams the countryside, bedding/leaving damsels, fighting/killing whatever gets in his way, getting himself wrapped up in conspiracies and evil plots, all without losing his smirk. OK, maybe Malory doesn't mention the smirk, but you know it's there.… (more)
LibraryThing member tronella
I listened to the Librivox audiobook version, but the age of the text makes it pretty hard to follow in places, so I went back and reread some chapters at My favourite parts of this were the parts I didn't already know (basically the whole Lancelot and Guinevere business and the grail quest) -- I think the best section is the bit where King Arthur is bored doesn't feel like paying taxes so he fights the entire Roman Empire, and then when he's defeated everyone and is in charge of everything he just goes home.… (more)
LibraryThing member Pondlife
I've known about this book for a long time, but had always assumed that it only covered Arthur's death based on the title. I recently became interested in the Arthur story again after reading The Queen of Air and Darkness, so I downloaded Le Morte d'Arthur from project gutenberg.

This version uses modern English spellings, but the text can still be a bit difficult to follow because of the old usage of some of the words. A dictionary that includes middle english usage is helpful as there are quite a few false friends. I found the late middle english interesting, but I can imagine that it might not be to everyone's taste.

You can see where Monty Python got the ideas from some of their Holy Grail sketches from, because some of them like the Black Knight obviously come from this book. I found that quite a few of the knights escapades had a bit of a monty python quality to them, like the knight who accidentally chops off a woman's head and gets told something like "Arthur will be mad at you for that".

Some of the exploits of Arthur and his knights are chivalrous, but many are not. They certainly can't claim the moral high ground.
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LibraryThing member k8_not_kate
Having adored T.H. White's "The Once and Future King" in high school, I figured I would read this classic treatment of the Arthurian legends and enjoy it as well. Unfortunately, Malory's work was far less entertaining. Sure, I expected prose from the 15th century to be a harder to get through and denser than White's 20th century treatment, but "Le Morte D'Arthur" barely has an actual story. Malory gives us a series of very repetitive events and makes it difficult to identify with or even care about the main characters. I did give the book three stars, though, almost completely on the strength of the first chapters that go over Arthur's rise to the throne and the final chapter recounting his legendary death. These are worth reading and are very good. Overall, though, if you are looking for a more meaningful and entertaining telling of the Arthurian legends, go to White.… (more)
LibraryThing member drewandlori
The mother of all Arthurian legends. Not the easiest reading, and extremely repetitious at points, but worth it if you like King Arthur stories. The ending chapters on the fall of Camelot are incredible.
LibraryThing member SaraPrindiville
Very long, but as usual interesting that something written so long ago is still relatively current.
LibraryThing member JeffV
Malory was a medieval author who wrote the first recorded account of the largely mythical King Arthur. It is largely an account of the 100 knights of the round table (or "table round"). Unfortunately, these stories are rarely interesting (except maybe for graphic descriptions of quality kills) and it really gets tedious. The stories we commonly associate with King Arthur have their seeds here, but are fleshed out derivatives, it's hard to see the story we're all familiar with. Perhaps Malory was a minstrel and these tales made for good song, but for read, they are dull, dull, dull.… (more)
LibraryThing member dreamingtereza
An absolute childhood favorite - I took my Malory (and my thesaurus) everywhere! I fear I wore out a few copies before I acquired this sturdy hardcover.
LibraryThing member Joybee
I barely got halfway through this book. While the stories are fun, the language makes for a slow, difficult read.
LibraryThing member Elizabeth.Michele
despite the difficult language (this is an untranslated version) very good read.
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
"The Beast with the Hair on". The spelling is regularized but that's the only concession made to the modern reader. The Tales are unorganized, but that's part of the fun. Also we should consider that Malory's organization differs from our personal one because he was writing for his own time. A great read, which rewards rereading. I know Ive been back to it several times.… (more)
LibraryThing member MorgannaKerrie
An essential Arthurian Legend text.
LibraryThing member richard_dury
A reworking of existing tales by Sir Thomas Malory about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table. Malory interpreted existing French and English stories about these figures and adds original material (e.g., the Gareth story). Malory's actual title for the work was The Whole Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table, but after Malory's death the publisher changed the title to what is commonly known today. "The Death of Arthur" originally only referred to the final volume in the complete work. (Wikipedia)… (more)
LibraryThing member LibraryLou
Classic tale of King Arthur and his Knights, read it at Uni, and want to read it properly without studying it to enjoy it more.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Very difficult, monotonous reading. Lots of smoting and brasting. Surprising source of subsequent Arthurian legends which bear little resemblance to Malory's work.
LibraryThing member tommi180744
This Edition is based on Caxton's text: It therefore very largely contains the original detailed content - alterations have been confined almost entirely to spellings and a little grammar.

This is the 'Romance' as conceived by Malory; every human strength and frailty explored through a tale of fair and foul maidens bestowing favours and demanding submission from manly counterparts, valiant and timid knights gripped by purity of motives and the basest of desires, the noble pursuit of mystical religious objects, considerable magic worked for good and bad, lived folk-lore, and at its core a legendary great King whose moral reputation, avowed love and sincere loyalty for his fellows in the face of every sort of affliction, assault and treachery survives unsullied to the present day.

Be he real or imagined - Arthur - is one of the greatest characters ever written down in the English language - with his gallant, chivalric recruits to the Round Table, their strong-willed female companions and array of adversaries the range of all future English Literature (and much for Europe and modern America) is given a riveting basis for its later global success.

It is said (by many) Cervantes' Don Quixote was the first modern novel - I disagree - 'The Death of Arthur' in my estimation has that significant role.
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LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
Keith Baines' edited version of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur renders Malory's compendium of Arthurian legends into modern idiom. Malory's Arthur and Knights of the Round Table would likely appear strange to those familiar with the Arthur stories from Tennyson's Idylls of the King and T.H. White's The Once and Future King. In Malory's 15th-century retelling of the traditional legends, the knights frequently behead those they best in jousting, beget bastards on various ladies, and regard chivalry more in its original meaning of horsemanship rather than the later Victorian ideals. That shouldn't alienate those who come to these stories from their later reworkings, as Malory seems to set his Arthur in all times, blending elements from 500 C.E. through the 1100's.
The stories overlap at times, but, for the sake of ease, Malory divides them into eight books: The Tale of King Arthur; The Tale of King Arthur and the Emperor Lucius; The Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake; The Tale of Sir Gareth; The Book of Sir Tristram of Lyoness; The Tale of the Sangreal; The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwynevere; and Le Morte d'Arthur. All of the books fit together to make one larger narrative, though The Book of Sir Tristram of Lyoness (a retelling of Tristan and Iseult) stands alone and could serve as its own book. While the story of Tristan and Iseult likely predates the Arthurian legends, by Malory's time it had been incorporated into that body of work (after it had likely influenced the relationship of LLancelot and Guinevere). The strongest books in the series are The Tale of King Arthur, The Tale of the Sangreal, The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwynevere, and Le Morte d'Arthur.
If looking for an edition of Le Morte d'Arthur to serve as an introduction to the larger Arthurian tradition, Baines' translation is a serviceable work.
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LibraryThing member scottjpearson
King Arthur’s mythic Round Table – with Queen Gwynevere, Sir Launcelot, and the famous sword Excalibur – resounds through England’s history. They might be fable, or they might have a historical root. Either way, they make for a good telling and national myth. Sir Thomas Malory recorded these tales in book form in the late fifteenth century, and Keith Baines adapted these for modern languages in the mid-twentieth century. Their storytelling power remains full of intrigue and drama.

Be forewarned that these stories contain much conflict and fighting. They tell of a day where knights maintained the social order, and these knights maintained order amongst themselves by a code of honor. As abundantly repeated, Sir Launcelot was the most noble of these knights, second only in greatness to his son Galahad. The honor of knighthood achieved some level of eternality for these chaps and encourages the reader to aim for similar levels of greatness.

But this was no tranquil knighthood. These knights courageously entered into drama-filled situations and sought to resolve them honorably. Malory’s records delineate many of these dramas. In an era and country ruled by royalty, knighthood symbolized a nobility for the common man. (Unfortunately, in this era, women were excluded from such honors.) These tales form a founding myth of the English people, where in the absence of a democracy or a republic, the ambitious sought to serve the king – and by the king, the people.

Readers of this work should understand that this founding myth forms as much a part of British culture as the founding myth of the Revolutionary War does for the American people. Indeed, Great Britain still is subject to a heredity (though constitutional) monarchy which allegedly traces its origin back to Arthur. Hence this work provides many political, historical, and cultural insights in its contribution to literature.

Students of England or Western civilization will certainly benefit from studying this work. Also, generally educated readers will likely benefit from enhanced understanding of the unique British people. But philosophical understanding is not all there is. Readers will also find these stories entertaining as adapted by Baines into a fluent, modern tongue. They harken the human heart back to an era of chivalry and romance. This era may have never existed in history exactly as told, but it certainly dwells still in our hearts. Understanding that romance of honor will continue to benefit the modern reader if she/he chooses to spend their time seeking after Camelot.
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LibraryThing member jshillingford
Beautiful, oversized hardcover edition of this classic work. Learn the story of King Arthur as is was first "recorded." Highly recommended!
LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
This is one of those books I'm glad I read, but it got old, fast. Its a classic for western literature, and its the inspiration for so many early modern fantasy writers. Unfortunately, I didn't like it. Between all the kings and knights, the countless jousting matches, and really unlikable characters, it I had a hard time reading this. Of course, the stories are drawn from oral tradition, the author, Malory, pretty much made up whatever he wanted and for late 15th century, nobody much cared about accuracy.

As for characters, the only one I really .liked was Nyneve, who locked Merlin up in a caver for following her around (Merlin deserved it).
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LibraryThing member AlanSkinner
I think I read this over and over when I was a child, and when I came back to it as an adult, I still loved it. These tales are an ingrained part of western culture and are still a weather value for the rough winds of our morality.

Of course Mallory's tales of Arthur are a fifteenth century re-modelling but what glorious new dressing has been added. Each tale is a short story in its own right, and each combines effortlessly to create the picture of heroes and a kingdom in which people mattered, in which civilisation was something to strive for and not something to endure.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for Arthurian tales. They still delight and captivate me (all except the recent film version with Clive Owen and Keira Knightly) and I'm glad they do. We all know right and wrong is more complex than in Mallory's tales, but at least he makes living up to even simple choices filled with hurdles and pitfalls. Maybe that's why they work, because every hero wears his failings as openly as he wears his sword and shield.
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