Tuesday, January 8

Allan Massie: Arthur the King

This book offers a retelling of the legend of King Arthur. Surely I don’t have to outline the basics of the Arthurian legends do I? Do I?
As to this version it is best summarised by the author’s Prefatory Note:
This version purports to be a translation of a narrative written by the medieval scholar and astrologer Michael Scott for his pupil, the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
I saw this and thought I was in for an interesting new twist on a favourite tale; certainly this is an approach I had not come across before. I was to be disappointed.
So disappointed in fact that I stopped reading half way through and I only made it as far as I did because of my love of the subject and a, misplaced, hope that things would improve once the story settled in to itself. When I suddenly remembered part way through a chapter that I needed to clean out my linen press and put the book down to do it I knew there was no point picking it up again.
The twist offered is indeed a new one but interesting is a matter of opinion. The story, to the point I read, was barely recognisable as an interpretation of the Arthurian legend.
While I am sure that there was just as much brotherly love of the Greek variety during the dark ages as there is now, it took such a prominent place I felt the author was pushing an agenda. This wouldn’t have been too bad on its own but the only hint of such manly attraction in the canon of legend is between Arthur and Lancelot, not between every man and boy present (okay I may be exaggerating there but only a little) and it got in the way of what little was happening.
Which brings me nicely to what I see as one of the greater failings of this work: the pace was beyond slow, it was glacial. It wasn’t helped by the extensive author intrusion which, to be fair, one would expect from a narrative. Again, on its own this wouldn’t be a problem but if the author chooses to tell a story in this style they should at least attempt to do so in an entertaining manner. If it was the author’s hope to capture the true feeling of a rambling storyteller then he has succeeded admirably but entertaining it wasn’t.
I find it hard to believe that anyone could take the elements of such a fascinating subject and render such a dull piece of work from them but Arthur the King is proof positive that it can be done-Lynn

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