beware, there be spoilers: Le Mort d’Arthur volume 2 by Thomas Malory

So, let’s get this out of the way here at the beginning: King Arthur does indeed die at the end. But I’m not sure that actually counts as a potential spoiler.

What I hadn’t expected, though, is that Sir Gawaine would be the bad guy, the unforgiving wedge between Arthur and Lancelot, the final nail in the coffin for the whole saga.

Another thing I hadn’t expected was how relatively small a part the quest for the Sangreal, the Holy Grail, plays. It happens in volume 2, but it is an inconclusive quest, though it does contain the end of Galahad. And though I didn’t take notes, I seem to remember it was Galahad who pulled the sword from the stone, but this wasn’t the act that created the King.

There are small things that happen in passing, that saddened me with their lack of future appearance. Glatisant, the questing beast tracked by Sir Palomides, and we never get to know Glatisant. Perhaps this is just the version of Le Mort that I chose.

But one of the deepest lasting impressions that this left on me, weirdly, is the economics of knighthood. Being a knight is expensive: there is the retinue, the weaponry (and all of the very many jousting lances), the armour, the horse, the castle back home.

We come across battles involving thousands, tens of thousands of knights, and one hundred thousand die in the climactic battle between Arthur and Mordred that ends the saga. The sheer cost of knights and knighthood (and yes, I am taking into account the possibility of hyperbolic inflation on the part of the author) must have seemed a doomsday device of sorts, this giant machine that consumes everything it encounters so that it can perpetuate itself.

It’s tempting to speculate on the current incarnations of this doomsday device of knighthood, but that’s something perhaps for another time. I’m beginning to wonder, though, whether part of the reason we, the collective we, sometimes find ourselves caught in these cycles of consumption for no clear purpose, is that the collective we has no clear purpose. But that’s not a rabbit hole for today.

But I will need to speed up my reading; I did make my through the Tales of 1001 Arabian nights a couple of years ago, and it’s now taken me half a year for Malory. And this is only the first 2 on this list of 100. To work!

~ by Jim Anderson on 30 June 2021.

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