BY DANIEL T. GOMES
AN EPIC ACCOUNT OF AN EQUALLY EPIC LEGEND
The epic retelling of the Arthurian legend in the
form of Le Morte d’Arthur has immortalized not
only its author, but the very legend of Arthur and
his valiant Knights of the Round Table as well. It contains
everything a great fiction book ought to have – adventure,
love, chivalry, danger, betrayal and a sprinkle of magic –
and as such Biblion is proud to honor one of the first and
finest works to be printed in Great Britain.
Let us go back to a land of kings and queens, of mighty battles and jolly feasts; of knights both valorous and cunning, of lovers both faithful and treacherous. Let us go back to Camelot. Let us go back to the time of King Arthur.
Le Morte d’Arthur is an invaluable account of the adventures surrounding Arthur and his loyal knights, written by a mysterious Thomas Malory and published posthumously by the renowned printer William Caxton circa 1485. With an exceptional amount of detail, Malory’s masterpiece draws the reader to a mythical era, where fantasy and historicity blend seamlessly to produce a magnificent work of medieval fiction.
In this lengthy compilation of adventures and tales, we see the rise and fall of Arthur and everything in between. Malory depicts numerous events that have made the Arthurian legend so iconic, including Arthur’s retrieval of Excalibur, Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot and the quest for the Sangreal (Holy Grail). While much of the book surrounds the mythical King of Camelot, Malory writes extensively on characters both great and small; this is true with several of Arthur’s knights who play a more humble role in the king’s court but are well developed nonetheless. Their adventures are pivotal to the plot’s progress, which culminates in a great battle between Arthur and his “nephew,” the usurper Mordred.
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Despite its many years, Le Morte d’Arthur remains an influential work as one of the foremost sources of Arthurian lore. It has shaped our perception of the legendary adventures surrounding the Knights of the Round Table and their king, and to a lesser yet still significant extent, it has had an impact on fantasy/historical fiction, the likes of which cannot be replicated. It is true the book has not aged all too well – its cadence and Middle English roots working together to make it feel detached from the contemporary reader – but with the right mindset, one can learn to enjoy Malory’s legacy and to see it as the classic of medieval literature it really is.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
One of Malory’s most persistent motifs in Le Morte d’Arthur is the characters’
humanity. Although they are nobles called to uphold higher moral standards,
the knights and ladies of the realm – including our most honorable King
Arthur – are still human beings prone to act on their feelings and instincts.
Yet these actions do not go unpunished, no matter who perpetrates them.
Malory’s masterpiece is shaped by consequences to wrongdoing, and even the
most chivalrous and pure can’t escape the rule. The affair between Guinevere
and Lancelot creates a catastrophic rift between King Arthur and his beloved
knight; Merlin’s lust for the Lady of the Lake ends with him trapped under a
rock. Perhaps the most determining example of this is Arthur’s instance of
accidental incest with his half-sister Morgause, which results in the birth of
Mordred. Arthur tries to have Mordred killed right after his birth in Herodian
style, but the baby survives and comes back several years later, infiltrating
Arthur’s court and eventually usurping his father’s throne. Ultimately, Mordred
is Arthur’s undoing, as the two clash in an epic final battle where Arthur kills
his son, but not before the latter can mortally wound his incestuous father.
Cause and effect are the weavers of Malory’s tapestry, and they prove
themselves worthy time and again in this book.