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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Excellent King Arthur Novel

Yolen, Jane (2003) Sword of the Rightful King.  Orlando:  Harcourt

     Okay, I admit it, I am a sucker for a good King Arthur story.  Whether it is TH White's sometimes silly  Once and Future King,  Sir Thomas Mallory's seminal Morte d' Arthur,  Goeffrey of Monmouth's apparently historical  History of the Kings of Britain, Tennyson's Arthurian Poetry, or any number of wonderful versions that have come since, I tend to like them.  In fact, when the royal baby was born this past weekend, I was hoping against hope that they would name him Arthur (and then we could watch him restore England to her former glory -- though hopefully without the oppression and subjugation of other peoples).  Instead they named him the same name as the tyrant the Americans sought independence from.  Sigh.) Anyway, somehow, I missed this book when it came out -- and that is a shame, because it is really very good.
     In this version, Arthur is already king when it begins.  He is a good and just king, but although he has consolidated power from the British chieftains, the young empire is still vulnerable to attacks from within and without.  Arthur rules the kingdom, but his subjects still do not see him and love him as their king.  So the wizard Merlinnus devises a test involving a sword and a stone. But the Evil Morgause would love to mess up Merlinnus's plans -- possibly through her sons who are serving as knights of the round table, but whose loyalties are uncertain.  On top of all this, throw in Arthur's squire Gawen, who has secrets that Arthur and Merlinnus cannot guess at and you have the makings for a fine story.  This one moves quickly, keeps you turning pages, and has adventure, intrigue, action, and even some surprising romance toward the end.  It is a very satisfying book.
     I don't think this one is ideal to study in a class.  It has plenty of interesting themes -- but I think to study it  in class would kill any enthusiasm kids will have for it.  Instead, put it in you classroom library and let them discover it on their own.

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