Sunday, October 16, 2011

King Arthur in Literature and Cinema

Pretty lofty sounding title for a post about books and movies, huh?  That's what I'm going with today, so if you're here for pretty pictures you can give this post a pass : )  So let's jump in.

Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
Ok, this is a cheat...I don't remember much about it.  I had to read excerpts from it when I was a freshman in high school and haven't read it since, but this is the seminal King Arthur tome upon which most subsequent retellings are based.  Well, this and Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which I haven't read yet.  It's in my Amazon cart though, does that count for something?

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
I know that MZB's King Arthur story told from the women's points of view is much-beloved by many, but personally I didn't much care for it.  I bought the book when I was in high school and couldn't get through it, so resold it to the used book store from whence it came.  Then a few years ago I bought it again at the same used book store (wouldn't it have been funny if I'd gotten my old copy back?) and finally read the whole thing, although it was still a slog for me.  This book is told mostly from Morgaine's point of view, and she is a great three-dimensional character and much better than the normal "evil witch, end of story" characterization she usually gets.  On the other hand, Guinevere and Arthur are total wimps and I *hate* the stories where Gwen is a wimp.  There's an entire series that starts with this book, but I didn't bother to read it; to be honest I think I might have sold this one back to the used book store.  Again.

The Child Queen and The High Queen by Nancy McKenzie
I first found these two novels in Wal-Mart when I was in high school and picked them up on a whim, and this is probably my favorite Arthur tale.  It's told first-person from Guinevere's point of view and covers her life from childhood to fall of Camelot.  Not a lot of magic, although Merlin is here, but the characters are well-written and Guinevere is a likable heroine.  You can now get both novels in one book, The Queen of Camelot, and there's a sequel about Galahad, The Grail Prince, that I haven't read yet and now resides in my Amazon cart.  And now I'm sad that the other two books are in storage and I can't re-read them...hmm, maybe I should pick up new copies of them anyway, they were kinda worn out last time I saw mine ; )

Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey
I own this book but haven't managed to read the whole thing yet.  Mercedes Lackey had been one of my very favorite authors for years, but lately I think she's been concentrating too much on quantity and not enough on quality.  She's also in dire need of a better editor (I should figure out how to get into the book editing biz).  Reserving judgment until I get through it, although I doubt it will be my favorite.

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
I just bought this a few weeks ago and haven't gotten very far into it, but I can tell this is going to be the 12-year-old boy reader's favorite version of King Arthur.  Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, becomes king, and sets up the Round Table in the first dozen pages, and then commences the tales of various knights who sally forth to do battle against the forces of evil and rescue fair maidens.  Seems like it'll be long on action and short on character development.

The Keltiad Series by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison
These books were like King Arthur in space, and altogether kind of strange so I'm not surprised they're out of print.  I got mine at a used book store (I do so love used book stores, can you tell?).  Instead of being set in Britain, the books take place on several planets in a region of space claimed by the Kelts.  The author uses a lot of Welsh-ish words that sometimes made things hard to follow, but I did like the Aeron stories.

Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn
So this isn't a direct retelling of the King Arthur tale, but more like a reimagining of it with new characters and new magic, and rather unfortunately a cover that makes this look like a bodice-ripper romance novel (it has romance aspects, but it is first and foremost an epic fantasy).  Arthur in this one is Prince Rohan, and his wife is Princess Sioned, who is also a Sunrunner, which means she can weave sunlight and moonlight to communicate with other Sunrunners and she can call fire.  This is one of the coolest magical systems I've come across in a lot of fantasy reading ; )  The cast of characters is quite large, but there's a helpful list at the back and all the people are pretty clearly characterized and have fun names (I love the name Camigwen, tell me that's not too weird).  There are three books in the Dragon Prince series, followed by another three in the Dragon Star series, and I've read them all more than once.  In fact, these are among the relatively few books I have with me rather than being stuck in storage.  Highly recommend these six books.  Unfortunately Ms. Rawn's more recent offerings (Spellbinder and its sequel, which I didn't read) I felt had way too much sex and cursing and not enough good story or likable characters.  Blecch.

Let's move on to movies, shall we?

The Sword in the Stone
This movie is based on the first section of T.H. White's book The Once and Future King (which I have also read), and if you haven't seen it then you are obviously not a Disney nut like I am.  The animation isn't slick and clean like more recent movies such as Princess and the Frog (which I think I like better every time I rewatch it) or even The Little Mermaid, but the story is great and Merlin always cracks me up.  The movie ends right when Arthur is crowned king, so there's no Round Table or Guinevere, but still a wonderful movie (although my favorite Disney movies are Sleeping Beauty {for Maleficent!!}, Mulan, and Robin Hood).

First Knight
Ok, I read some reviews on Amazon and this gets flack from the Arthurian purists but I still love it.  C'mon, King Arthur is played by Sean Connery, how can you not like it?  So it's a bit of a May-September romance between him and Julia Ormond, but that's often the case in Hollywood (and real-life medieval marriages for that matter).  No Merlin, no Mordred, but Guinevere does get kidnapped (common theme in Arthuriana) and there's lots of sword fights.  Point of interest:  in this tale, Guinevere hails from Lyonesse, which is a mythical kingdom bordering Cornwall that sank into the sea, so it's kind of like a Cornish version of Atlantis.  I wanna rewatch this movie sometime soon (right after The Princess Bride).

Mists of Avalon
I know I gave the book an unfavorable review above, and the movie suffers from the same weaknesses, but it's still kinda fun to watch on occasion.  Sure, it's clunky, but the costumes are always fun to look at and Julianna Margolies, Anjelica Huston and Joan Allen are all terrific to watch.  Shoulda taken their show on the road and forgot about those Arthur and Guinevere wimps.

This is a musical, and is rather slow-paced, but the songs are fantastic.  Get the soundtrack with Julie Andrews as Guinevere, it's beyond compare.  We read the script for Camelot when I was a freshman in high school and even sang along with the soundtrack (I had a most excellent freshman English teacher).  I still listen to the soundtrack fairly regularly; some of my favorites are "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight", wherein Arthur is terrified at the prospect of marrying someone he doesn't even know; "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" where Guinevere, also afraid of their arranged marriage, thinks longingly of the simple joys of "a knight pining so for me, he leaps to death in woe for me" and various other kind of violent things (but it's funny); "Then You May Take Me to the Fair" in which Guinevere convinces three of Arthur's knights to challenge Lancelot to duels because she doesn't like him; and "Guinevere" where the queen is on trial and Lancelot rides in to save her and war ensues.  LOVE the soundtrack, you should buy it now.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Oh yes, I did so totally include this movie in a compendium of Arthur books and movies.  This has to be one of the most-quotable movies in history and its utter silliness is intoxicating (they may have been intoxicated when they made the movie).  This was the first movie that Lee and I watched when we got our TV and Blu-Ray player set up (after Lee blew up the Blu-Ray player and then fixed it).  Lee kind of just tolerates it, but I love it.  We are the knights who say...NI!!!  Bwahahahaaa!

Star Wars, the Original Trilogy
This is totally the King  Arthur story but with a happy ending.  Don't believe me?  Try this on for size.  Luke Skywalker is King Arthur; he's raised in the backwater of the galaxy by his aunt and uncle and eventually gets a magic sword.  Princess Leia is Guinevere in her warrior queen guise; she gets abducted (as in many of the Arthurian stories) but is as much a part of her own rescue as any of the others are.  Han Solo is Lancelot, and in love with Princess Leia but since she's Luke's sister this time it's okay (am I giving away too many plot points here?!).  Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda are Merlin 'cause they're all magical and stuff, and the Force is kind of like the Holy Grail.  The rest of Rogue Squadron are like the Knights of the Round Table.  The two Death Star battles are like Arthur's battles, Badon Hill (his first decisive victory against the Saxons) and Camlann (his last battle, only in Star Wars, the good guys win).  And the Ewoks are...blinking.  Hmm.  Still not sold on the BluRay for Star Wars...but I really wanna go watch the original, original one even though I just watched it last week.  I could watch the original trilogy every day and not get tired of it.  If you're curious, The Empire Strikes Back is my favoritest favorite Star Wars movie, despite the fact that the Rebellion pretty much gets beat up for the whole movie.  It's got the funniest one-liners and the budding romance between Han and Leia.

I think I've yammered long enough on here, I'm gonna go watch a movie : D


Giffysk8s said...

I totally love this post!

I, too, read several versions of King Arthur et al, but that was soooo many years ago that I am sad to tell you that I don't remember many details from them all. But you have convinced me to read The Queen of Camelot and The Grail Prince, as I know I have't read them. At least I can remember something, ha ha.

I totally agree with you about The Sword in the Stone. I have watched that movie too many times to count. My boys totally loved it when they were little. They may have outgrown it, but I have not. :) And what's not to like about First Knight? Now I want to watch it!

I remember seeing Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Rick back in high school, I think. We saw it at a drive-in, lol! (My kids don't even know what a drive-in is, though we take them when they were but wee little lads.)

Star Wars. What more needs to be said? We just bought all 6 movies on BluRay, as our original DVDs have disappeared and most likely reside with one of our sons. We have watched Episodes 1-4. Episode 5 is my fave, too! Anyway, I like the totally awesome parallels you made between SW and King Arthur tales.

Now I want to watch movies and cross stitch! BTW, have you ever stitched anything Star Wars?

This is totally off topic, but today I am going to make pumpkin Whoopie Pies! Are Whoopie Pies on your "I Love Pie" list? They remind me of my childhood, though I've never had a pumpkin one. But I do love anything pumpkin. Hope these taste as good as they did when I was 10.

Giffysk8s said...

I am laughing at the mile-long comment I just left. I probably should have emailed all of that to you. Sorry for hogging up your blog! :)

Tanya said...

Ooo! Thanks for the book suggestions! With my kids in school all day I had hoped to get to read
Also, nice point on Star Wars. I'll have to share that with my SW-obsessed son who does not like Sword in the Stone. ;)

Melissa A said...

The Child Queen, The High Queen, and the Dragon Prince books sound really interesting to me. I will have to put them on my never-ending list of books to read!

I loved The Mists of Avalon--I'm surprised you didn't like it! I have also read a couple of the other books in MZB's Avalon series which I really enjoyed too. The Firebrand, which is her retelling of the Trojan War from Kassandra's point of view, was a great book that I would definitely recommend.

Love, Mel