beware, there be spoilers: Le Mort d’Arthur volume 1 by Thomas Malory

We are getting rather deep into 2021 and I am still working through the first book of the 2021 reading project. I’ll admit that Malory is (a bit) longer than I’d thought, but it’s an interesting journey so far (and there is still volume 2 ahead of me).

We have encountered some of the main characters of the Arthurian mythos. This includes the many knights of the Round Table, though I’ll admit that I hadn’t realized (or remembered) that Sir Tristram was such a major character; but then, one of the reasons for this reading is to back, read and fill in those gaps in my knowledge. We have encountered, though only very briefly, the Questing Beast, and Merlin has been imprisoned in his cave.

There is a lot of jousting. Every time two knights meet, it seems that there is an obligatory joust, followed by a sword fight on foot, since of course the knight who remains on their horse after the joust must then meet his dehorsed opponent on foot, in the spirit of knightly fairness.

There is so far remarkably little magic. Arthur has Excalibur, but another aspect of Excalibur that I think is less known, is that whoever holds the scabbard of Excalibur does not bleed. Given the jousting and sword fighting, this is a remarkably handy property for a scabbard to have.

One of the things that struck me early, and continued to strike me (like a jousting spear into my carried shield) throughout volume 1 is the economic madness of a society which seems to exist only to support knight who seem only to wish to joust and fight, fight and joust, and occasionally rescue the fair damsel imprisoned by the evil knight.

I know that this isn’t the point of Le Mort. We see here the exploration of knights and perhaps the creation of the culture of chivalry. But for me, this reflects a sensibility that is so embedded in modern fiction, including much science fiction, that has become part of what I enjoy in my reading.

I like the worlds of stories to make sense in themselves, and I like the stories to make sense in their worlds. With Le Mort, it makes sense in its world, but its world doesn’t make sense, however much we might like a joust.

So I’ll keep reading. I’m curious to see whether this relatively early (I haven’t done the research to know if this for instance is whether the Arthurian mythos begins) telling of Arthur contains in volume 2 the quest for the Holy Grail, which has become the canonical Arthurian story.

And in the back of my mind, I’m wondering; am I misremembering or did Monty Python neglect poor Sir Tristram?

~ by Jim Anderson on 22 April 2021.

One Response to “beware, there be spoilers: Le Mort d’Arthur volume 1 by Thomas Malory”

  1. When I read Kari Sperring’s SERPENT ROSE I was arrestingly reminded how much of Malory’s Arthuriad is about young men hitting each other. Hard. For fun and love and the glory of doing it. T. H. White turns this into football (or possibly cricket) on horseback and with lances. Psychologically, this looks like a picture of abuse: if you cannot receive or give tenderness and affection, then if they are hitting you at least it shows they care about you and are paying attention to you…

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