Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights

As a constant student of history and literature, the stories of King Arthur and his Court have always been interesting in both of my favorite areas of study.  The stories of Arthur portray a society of early England that we know very little about while providing the reader with captivating stories that have withstood the test of time and have resulted in countless depictions in television, movies, and various books.  When reading, it is utterly apparent why these tales have been popular among a wide variety of readers, as their many action/fighting scenes appeal to male readers while the chivalrous/romance scenes appeal to to female readers.

I enjoy history and literature so much, that in college I made them my major and my minor respectively.  When studying history, I decided to focus on European history and spent a lot of time researching and writing about the Middle Ages and was especially captivated by the idea of chivalry.  Chivalry, of course, is a central theme to The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights and is still a popular idea in the minds of many hopeless romantics today.  What I found in my studies is that chivalry as it is represented in the stories of Arthur is not remotely close to what true chivalry was.  I remember reading that knights were more apt to rape a damsel in distress than to rescue her from it.  The idea of chivalry and romance was a popular idea with noble women in the Middle Ages who hired musicians and storytellers to come into their courts and entertain them with stories of love and romance (which is something that they lacked in their own lives).

Now that I have gotten my historical rant out of the way (and that was the condensed version; the long version is my 46-page senior seminar paper), I can get into what I thought of the book.  As far as entertainment is concerned, The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights is phenomenal.  There is a reason those stories have lasted for over 1,500 years.  The book is not one story in and of itself, but rather a collection of short stories and legends about various members of the Round Table.  Due to this format, a reader is not left hanging or wondering what will happen next at the end of a chapter because the end of any particular chapter is the end of that story. 

While this allows for a variety of stories to be told and characters to be introduced, it is not the best format to have good character development.  Many knights, such as Sir Bors, were extremely captivating and I would have loved to have seen more of them in the stories that were included in this work, but I was not able to see them develop much at all because none of the stories were really connected in any way.  There are many stories about Arthur and his knights that were not included in this volume, so it would not be impossible to find more information and more stories on any of the characters, but that kind of defeats the purpose of reading.  The point being that if one is looking for a book in which a connection with the characters can be made, The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights is not for you.

That being said, it is certainly a book worth reading.  The legend of the quest for the Holy Grail is a timeless classic and was incredibly enjoyable.  In all the stories, though, the reader needs to just accept that there are going to be certain events that just happen to occur to keep the heroes alive.  For instance, Sir Lancelot will be fighting and almost be beaten, but then out of nowhere will come Sir Gawain who had been two days behind him at the beginning of the story to save him.  Things that would not possibly happen in real life happen in these stories.  That is part of what makes them so interesting; readers are constantly in suspense as to what might happen to help the heroes overcome insurmountable odds.

This was definitely a quality read, and any lover of history, literature, or romantic stories will enjoy it.  I must warn you, though, that the final chapter is about the war between Arthur and Lancelot and the Death of Arthur, so do not expect a happy ending to the book.

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