Tuesday, February 11, 2014

King Arthur

For years, I have had only the faintest knowledge of King Arthur and the legends surrounding him. Faint concepts of the Round Table, a bunch of knights, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Gawain and the Green Knight (which I checked out a few years ago and never read) swirled around in my mind, and I was content to leave it at that.

I can't say I didn't have good reason. Along with King Arthur are several fantasy elements, and almost all the adventures are strange to say the least, and contain some form of magic or plain bizarre in them. So I'm glad, in a way, that I didn't get to know it sooner. I did pick up Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur when I was 15 or 16 and promptly set him down again after a few chapters, and that wasn't such a bad move either. I think I was a little too young then, and even now I'm still properly leery of it.

However, thanks to the encouragement of Suzannah and her sweet gift of a copy of Roger Lancelyn Green's King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, I have gradually expanded my knowledge of Arthurian legend, and though it is still sketchy at best, his book was the perfect place to start--a charming, biblically based, and gently written tale of Arthur and his realm of Logres.

For those of you who like Tolkien, Roger Lancelyn Green was part of the Inklings group with Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and a lot of other distinguished fantasy authors. That further served to increase my excitement, because what better group of beta readers could he have had? And even though all of them had widely differing shades of theology, he was with several men who believed in the truths of Scripture (however varied those beliefs) and were passionate about incorporating those beliefs into their fiction.

A promising foundation.

Three days after I received it, I finished Green's book and was quite pleased with it. And it is my pleasure to introduce King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table on the blog today.

The Book 
When Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone, he issues in a Golden Age of goodness in Britain. Arthur is high king of Logres, the bringer of good, assisted by his knights of the Round Table to champion every cause of justice and punish every wrongdoing.  This book explores the rise of Arthur's various knights as they conquer pride in themselves, learn humility and the true cause of chivalry, and commit themselves to advancing God's Kingdom upon earth. All cast in rollicking episodes of  jousts with knights, damsels in distress, fiery dragons and impregnable strongholds of evil.

But in spite of their conquering evil, Merlin warns Arthur that his holy kingdom will not last forever. The golden age of Britain will pass, however long and happy in the meantime. And it is not from the threat of Saxon invasion that they finally crumble, but a slow and tragic compromise within the Round Table itself.

My Thoughts
Roger Lancelyn Green's book is perhaps the perfect look at Logres simply because it's written for children. In that I don't mean it's childish; oh no, any adult would be edified by reading it. But it's simply and beautifully painted, and it had just about as much of Merlin and Morgan as I could handle without getting uncomfortable--which means not very much at all. :) It may not fully explain all of the plot elements that Arthur's legends have, but I had the advantage of Suzannah as my trusty guide through all of it, so I had not only the legends themselves but also a lengthy and informative conversation on the meanings, the themes, and where it all fits into Scripture. Our rousing debates readied me to think through this book when it came my way, and you can check out Suzannah's review of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table here.

There were so many good legends; the chivalry to ladies was a joy to read about, and though the ladies themselves were not always as courteous as they should have been to their knights, the self-sacrifice that often turned into love on the part of the men was a beautiful picture of the relationship between men and woman. My favorite knight of all is Sir Perceval, a young knight out of Wales who had a prominent part in the Grail Quest, the son of Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnell. The legend of Gawain and Ragnell was also a pleasure, as well as Sir Gareth the Kitchen Knight, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the legend of Geraint and Enid.

Two legends stick out in my mind as the best, however. One for its adventure, and one for its absolutely fantastic moral themes.

Balyn and Balan is certainly a tragic tale; but it stands out in my mind. Not only is their legend the source of Tolkien's dwarf, Balin, in The Hobbit, but their tale is one of the greatest heart-wrenchers in the entire book. It made me think of The Silmarillion through the entire thing--a man who, through his own rashness, killed innocents and wounded kings, struck the Dolorous Stroke that turned the Holy Grail into a shadowy thing of legend, and finally committed the hapless deed of dueling his own brother to the death without knowing who he was. Go read it for yourself; and tell me if it doesn't go the deepest and strike the hardest and stay the longest of all the legends in the book. There are many other happy and successful missions, but they all read like fairy tales, and this one read like real history.

My other favorite legend--which I enjoyed so much that I put 'LOVED' in the notes I took as I read it--was "The Adventures of Sir Bors de Gannis" in the section on the Holy Grail. It's the best illustration of what can happen when a character refuses to give way to situational ethics.When they choose not to compromise, but instead do the right thing, no matter how it hurts, the Lord can deliver them when they do so. This is a truth that many people don't believe today. Often when confronted with two seemingly conflicting problems, we think we have to choose the urgent cause--but Bors de Gannis chose the right cause, and realized an intrinsic truth--that neither cause was really in his hands, and the Lord could make them both come out as He saw fit even if Bors could not work deliverance in both of them. Go read the legend; it's the last word on the subject, and I was almost dancing with happiness while I read it.

But there is one thing that this book is worth reading for, even if you're not into Arthur. This book is a beautiful illustration of the Church on earth. The knights all have strengths and weakness, just like every Christian, and their strengths and weaknesses have consequences that shape their lives and influence the work they are able to do to advance the holiness of Logres--just like our sins and triumphs affect the work we do for Christ. And in the end, it's a crack in the foundation that brings Logres toppling down, just like it's compromise in the church and not standing on the Word of God that brings down our effectiveness in the world today.

A great many parallels to our journey on earth; and though I'm not completely sold out on Arthurian legend yet, I have found a couple of good sources that I enjoy, Green's book definitely being one of them. This book is a biblically sound look at sin and its consequences, virtue and its reward, the cleansing and reformation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

I highly recommend King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, by Roger Lancelyn Green, as a worthy introduction to Arthurian legend.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

6 comments:

  1. Ahhhh! *dance* What an excellent review of one of my favourite books! Oh, I know the bit you mean with Sir Bors. I always loved that part :D.

    H'mm, I wonder what the other source is that you enjoy. No, I don't. Charmed to know that Perceval was your favourite in this book too. ;)

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    1. Oh indeed he was. :) He acted so much like his good old self. :D But I find I liked Gawain especially well too, as well as some of the others. The only one I didn't like as much was Tristram; I think I would have up to the point where he and his lady love start meeting secretly, but after that he took a sad fall in my esteem of him.

      I forgot to tell you: Kay cracked me up all the time, he was getting knocked off his horse so much. :) And I didn't know he was Sir Ector's son! That was a neat bit, though I'm surprised Sir Ector couldn't pull off better training for him!. ;)

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  2. I loved how you got this book! ;) :D
    Sounds like an excellent tale...I enjoyed seeing you eat it up! Those legends sound delightful! ;)
    Love,
    Sister

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    1. You kept good secrets. :P For months! I was so surprised! :D

      Someday you'll enjoy them, too. ;) <3

      Love,
      Sister

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  3. Oh! I must get this book... I've never heard of it before, but like you, I have been quite ignorant of the Arthurian Legend, Merlan, and of the Knights of the Round Table. It befuddles me because there are SO MANY references to Arthur's legends in literature. For Christmas, Mary bought me a copy of Rosemary Sutcliff's novel 'The King Arthur Trilogy', and hope to try it out soon (it is Sutcliff after all and for children!) But this one sounds really good, and if the author be of the Inklings, it should be good ;).

    But oh dear! Balyn and Balan sounds heart-stirringly close (perhaps too much so) of the tale of Turin as well!! :'( *sob* Have you read 'The Children of Hurin' by Tolkien yet, Schuyler? You should (the story is briefly told in the Silmarillion'). It is totally gut-wrenchingly tragic... but also beautiful.

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    1. This is definitely a great book to check out for an introduction to Arthurian legend, and it has the classic Inklings flavor, which I know you would enjoy. :)

      I have not read 'The Children of Hurin', but it's on my list for this year. I'm debating on whether to read that or Unfinished Tales first, but I haven't decided yet. Balyn and Balan is certainly on a level of that tale's tragedy, from what I've read of it in Sil, but fortunately it's not as long, so it can be gotten through.

      It wounds deep in the reading of it, though. :'(

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