Thursday, April 10, 2008

I thought I would put up a post on the Arthurian books I have read and enjoyed with some recommendations seeing as Becky is hosting an Arthurian Challenge here. It is a genre of books I particaruly enjoy, both fiction and non-fiction. I love mythology in general and my favourite are the stories and tales of King Arthur, the knights, Merlin, Morgan Le Fey and Guinevere. I think because I am English and live over here still they have a particular pull to me. I have also made a point of visiting a few sites associated with the myths like Glastonbury (the possible site of Arthur and Guinevere's graves), Cadbury Castle (a medieval hill fort that was a possible site for Camelot), Winchester (another possible site for Camelot) and Tintagel (the place where Arthur was coniceved by Merlin's trickery).

One of my favourite series on Arthur is Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles (The Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur). They are more battle focused with the story being told by Dervel who is one of Arthur's champions. Dervel is a Saxon who was taken in by the British and has earned a name for himself fighting for Arthur. It does have some of the magical side of the tale as well, but be prepared for blood and guts galore!

Another essential series is Mary Stewart's Merlin series (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day). They follow Merlin from a young boy and discuss his childhood and role in the story. The final one tells the story of Mordred and was written at a much later date than the first three and is not quite as good. Many other re-tellings use her stories as a basis for their mythology.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley was a book I fell in love with. It is not the first in the series, but is the only one about Arthur and the others. It tells the tales from the viewpoint of the women in the story, mostly by Morgaine Arthur's half sister. I loved the magical sides of this book and it was the first to tell a different side to Morgaine and look at her motivations and feelings. It has a lovely Pagan feel to the novel.

Other series I have read and enjoyed are:

Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle (Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, Grail). The first was my favourite as it told of the fall of Atlantis and sets up the story nicely. It is similar to the Bernard Cornwell books in that it focuses on the battles, but I felt that the later books don't live up to the promise of the earlier ones sadly. It was nice to have one told through the eyes of Bedwyr though who seems a neglected knight in other tales. Personally I found this series a little too Christian in focus, but that may appeal to other readers.

Rosalind Miles Guenevere novels (Queen of the Summer Country, The Night of the Sacred Lake, The Child of the Holy Grail were enjoyable as well. They tell the tale from the viewpoint of Arthur's wife, Guenevere. She isn't always portrayed too favourably in The Mists of Avalon and this was a good counter balance to that which explained her version of events in more detail.

The Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie (originally sold as two seperate books, I have the version with both in one) was another tale of Guinevere. It used the Mary Stewart books as a background and then told a tale over the top of them and sadly it does not better them.

The Mabinogian is a book of Welsh myths and tales which was Arthur in the background of a couple of them when he is King. Worth reading if you have a love for folk lore and mythology, but not just as an Arthurian read.

The best thing about the different re-tellings is that they use different versions. Sometimes Morgan is a temptress and evil, sometimes she is a pawn in anothers game and in others she never sleeps with Arthur. Others choose whether Guinevere is faithful to Arthur or not by sleeping with Lancelot. Yet others have Merlin as a powerful magician and others don't really involve him much in the tale. I have many more I hope to read and my list may get added to depending on time (I hope it's ok to read more that 12 books Becky!).

What I would really love to read is a tale based around The Lady of the Lake who is a favourite character of mine. Besides the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson little is written about her as a character in her own right (besides some in The Mists of Avalon). If anyone knows of anything or can recommend something please let me know.


DesLily said...

i liked Mary Stewarts books.. read them a loooong time ago.. also read The once and future king and merlin by T H White.. excellent books all of them

Ana S. said...

Thanks for this post! It hadn't occurred to me that The Mabinogian would count. The Mary Stewart series will be on my list.

I wanted to visit Glastonbury so badly, but there wasn't enough time. Ah well, I'll be back :P

Kim L said...

You mentioned the Pendragon Cycle-that was a series I enjoyed quite a bit, although I agree with you, the later books aren't as good.

Good luck with the challenge. It sounds like fun although I don't have any more room for challenges at the moment.

Robert Treskillard said...

Thanks for sharing your list!

I dropped by because you mentioned Stephen Lawhead, who is one of my favorite authors. In particular, I think his "Song of Albion" series is one of the best out there. Not Arthurian, though.

Have you read Jack Whyte's series? Interesting take, and very realistic, but not very magical.

I myself am working on a series of books based on the legends and myths of King Arthur. I am currently about 80% of the way through my first book (draft #1), and have two sample chapters online.

Here is a link to my site if you are at all interested in checking out my work.

A warning though since you weren't sure you liked the Christianity in Lawhead--I am writing from a Christian perspective as well, and show the conflict between the two world-views.

I do, however, have a lot of interesting stuff about the Druids based on my research, and the real conflict is not with the Druids but with a magical stone.

Sadly, my sample chapters don't get that far into my text--it's a lot deeper than I could present in that number of pages.

Thanks again for your post!

Susan said...

I love your reviews, very true to the books! I've read many of them - I read Mary Stewart books as a teenager - like you I prefer the first two. I've picked them up, meaning to reread them at some point, since they were my introduction to King Arthur too. I've always remembered how Merlin was given the poisoned peach by his uncle, and he sees the wasp die and throws it away, and it's tied up with his magic (a vision he has?)....I tried reading the Mists of avalon, but unfortunately it was right after i had my first son, and I got to the point they take the baby away from her and I couldn't read any further, and I've never been able to pick the book up again, even though it's a classic!
I haven't read the other series, so now i have some titles to look for....thanks very much for the reviews, and i hope it helps more people find Arthurian novels.
By the way, there is a new fantasy coming out based on the Lady of the Lake, but I came across a review and don't remember the title. I'll let you know if I recall it, but there is one out there now.
Have you read "The Morte D'Arthur" by Thomas Malory, which is the main cycle of Arthurian myth from the middle ages through to Victorian times? It's from this that come the Knights of the Round Table and all their adventures, as well King Arthur and Guinevere. One of the original source materials.

Becky said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I'll be sure to bookmark it and use it as a reference when I plan my trips to the library! My problem? I try to check out too many at a time! Anyway, thanks for the recommendations :)