Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur isn’t exactly in the Top Ten. However, James Salter listed “The legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”.
The Top Ten has this to say about it “These are the stories that gave us Camelot, the Round Table, and the search for the Holy Grail. Versions abound but the best place to start is with Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur”. So that’s what I did.
Sir Malory lived during the 1400s. The book I read said the following about him in introduction:
“Sir Thomas Malory led a life of adventure, much of it seemingly discreditable to his chivalrous ideals. He inherited an estate at Newbold Revell in 1433 and, three years later, served at the siege of Calais with a train consisting of a single lancer and two archers. In 1445 he became a Member of Parliament for Warwickshire, yet in 1450 not only tried to ambush and murder the Duke of Bucking ham, but broke into Coombe Abbey, where he robbed and insulted the abbot. He was also charged with forcing one Henry Smyth’s wife, stealing cattle on a large scale, and highway robbery. For these misdemeanours he served eight periods of imprisonment and twice escaped–in July, 1451, swimming the moat of Coleshill prison; in October, 1454, making an armed breakout from Colchester Castle. In 1462 he fought for King Edward IV against the Scots and French, but presently went over to the Lancastrian rebels. In 1468 the King excluded him from a general pardon, whereupon he appears to have been imprisoned at Newgate until his death three years later”. And all I could think of “Wow. What a badass”. He wrote Le Morte d’Arthur while in Newgate. He didn’t make up the tales, but used several sources from France and England.
I’ve never read much of the original myths surrounding King Arthur.
Some things I noticed:
Merlin almost seems a comical figure in Malory’s writing. He pops up in tales in the beginning of Arthur’s life. He prophesies everything that is to happen. Then Arthur ignores him, and the stuff happens. Finally, Merlin allows himself to be shut up in a cave by Nynaeve. The Lady of Avalon gives Excalibur (which is not the sword in the stone, but the 2nd magical sword for Arthur) and then quickly gets killed off.
It made me wonder if Malory downplayed the magic part of Arthur and his reign due to its “unchristian” nature, or if the magic part has been “upplayed” in the centuries since for a variety of reasons (definitely makes a more interesting tale to think of Merlin as being so much more).
Also, Arthur’s relationship with Morgawse seems…odd. In one tale she’s plotting to kill him and take over Camelot. Then a few tales later, she’s happily dining with him to celebrate her son Gareth’s knighthood and marriage.
The woods in England during Arthur’s time must have been strange and busy places. Knights looking for adventure are always running into dwarves and weeping ladies. Dead and alive knights. Knights needing killing. Knights needing rescuing. The way the woods sound in these tales is like, “I have to go into the woods to take a piss. Oh wait, in the five feet I entered in, I encountered three dwarves, one noble woman in need and two weird knights challenging me”.
I highly recommend if you read Malory’s tales, to find the translation done by Keith Baines. He’s taken it from “…many grete strokes, and for the moste parte every stroke Accolon gaff wounded him full sore. And always King Arthur loste so much blood that hit was marvayle he stode upon his feete, but he was so full of knighthode that he endured the payne. And his swerde braste at the cross and felle on the grasse among the bloode, and when he saw that he was in grete feare to dye” to English easier for your eye and brain to go across, since it’s a bit more modern.
Also, while details are not gone into in many cases, there is a LOT OF SEX happening in Malory’s tales. Launcelot and Guinevere spent many hours together as lovers do, both during the day _and_ at night *wink wink nudge nudge*. Also ladies everywhere are always falling down to offer “comforts in all ways” to the knights that end up staying at their castles for the night (the castle is usually the 10th or 11th step into the forest, just a hour away from the other castle).
I read most of the tales of Arthur in Baines’ translation (or modern rendering? I don’t know what to call it for sure, since it was already in English), and will continue to read.
However, it was Malory’s tales and the concept of chivalry and all of the events Malory has occurring that helped inspire Don Quixote, so I might move onto that next to bring you my thoughts next time on Don Quixote and his windmills!