King Arthur By The Book

Scott Farrell comments:

I’m often asked for recommendations of books about chivalry and the epic adventures of King Arthur and his knights. While I enjoy talking about my favorite King Arthur books, when I saw that acclaimed librarian Nancy Pearl provided just such a list in her bibliophile’s compendium Book Lust, I knew I had to share her recommendations with Chivalry Today readers. (After all, when a librarian has her own action figure – complete with “amazing push-button shushing action,” — she definitely commands respect!) It’s the perfect summer reading list for chivalry fans.

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Summer Reading for the Round Table

PearlEver since Thomas Malory wrote his 14th century epic Le Morte d’Arthur, the legend of King Arthur has been a powerful draw for readers of all ages, so it’s no surprise that writers, too, have found it to be a rich lode of inspiration and subject matter. Authors have taken a wide variety of approaches to the legend, from the traditional view of Arthur and his (Knights) of the Round Table as exemplars of medieval life and chivalric customs, to interpretations of the historical Arthur, to fantastical novels of witchcraft and white and black magic. In other words, there’s an Arthur for every age and taste.

Once you read Rosemary Sutcliff’s romantic and well-researched Sword at Sunset (one of my very favorite novels), in which an all-too-human Arthur leads his fellow Britons in a fight to the death against the invading Saxon armies, knowing full well that a loss will mean the coming of the dark and the end of civilization, you’ll never be able to picture Arthur in any other way.

T.H. White’s quartet of Arthurian novels, collective entitled The Once and Future King, inspired the Broadway musical Camelot. The Sword in the Stone — aimed at young readers and filled with sly humor — opens the series. It introduces the young orphan Wart, who innocently pulls the famous sword Excalibur from the stone in a churchyard and becomes the High King. In The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle In The Wind, the tone grows darker, as White depicts a world in which even the most chivalrous knights and powerful wizards are unable to change their fates.

The Arthur legend is also the basis for other historical series, such as Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles, including The Skystone; The Fort at River’s Bend; Uther; and others; Sharan Newman’s Guinevere; The Chessboard Queen; and others; and Rosalind Mile’s Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country; and Bernard Cornwell’s darkly realistic series of men at war during the Dark Ages, The Warlord Chronicles, including The Winter King; Enemy of God; and Excalibur.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley is one of the most enduringly popular novels about King Arthur. Bradley retells the legend from the viewpoint of the major female characters: Arthur’s mother Igraine and his half-sister Morgaine, his wife Gwenhwyfer, and the Lady of the Lake, Vivian. The central conflict here is religious — between the matriarchal Druidic beliefs and the more patriarchal, newly influential Christianity.

Although Stephen R. Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle was set in Camelot during the Middle Ages, his Avalon: The Return of King Arthur posits a rebirth and return of Arthur in the modern world.

©2007 Nancy Pearl

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About the Author: The New York Times calls Nancy Pearl “the talk of librarian circles.” Readers can’t get enough of her recommendations while bookstores and libraries offer standing room only whenever she visits. Since the release of the best-selling Book Lust, in 2003 and the Librarian Action Figure modeled in her likeness, Nancy Pearl has become a rock star among readers and the tastemaker people turn to when deciding what to read next. In 2004, Pearl became the 50th winner of the Women’s National Book Association Award for her extraordinary contribution to the world of books.

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