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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

English legend in a fantastic new graphic novel, a classic fantasy novel, and a new weekly comic magazine!

I have always loved the legend of King Arthur.  Books like T.H. White's The Once and Future King and John Stienbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights first caught my imagination with tales of bravery and good versus evil and intrigue and so on.  Recently I stumbled upon some versions of the King Arthur story that I had not read before.

Anderson, M.T.; Offermann, Andrea (2017) Yvain: The Knight of the Lion.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Image result for yvain the knight of the lion

Opening Lines:
"I shall speak of love
and of hate
It is truely a marvel, but I tell you
hatred and love may live cramped together,
crouching in the same heart."

I'll confess -- M.T. Anderson fits in a fairly exclusive category of mine.  When I see a book with his name on it, I buy it without hesitation.  Many are familiar with his book Feed or perhaps the two book Octavian Nothing series.  Others may have encountered his delightfully absurd humor/adventure books about Jasper Dash and his friends (including Whales on Stilts, Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware, and others.)  Nonficioin readers may have enjoyed his more recent Symphony for the City of the Dead which describes the life of composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the part he played in breaking the siege of Leningrad during World War Two.  Anderson is a remarkably versatile writer.

But I never could have guessed that he would write this graphic novel.  In Yvain, Anderson takes a nearly eight hundred year old poem by Chretien de Troyes and, working with artist Andrea Offermann, turns it into a remarkable adventure that will grab the imagination of a new generation of readers.  The story concerns Yvain, one of the knights in King Arthur's court, who rides out to avenge his cousin's honor, enters a strange land, and accidentally kills the king of that land.  When he falls in love with the grieving queen, he sets out to prove his honor and win her hand.  What follows has all the magic, heroic battles, intrigue, and excitement that I remember from reading Sir Thomas Mallory's Morte d'Arthur.  

Offermann does a nice job with a style that reminds the reader of tapestries and illuminated manuscripts, but also showcases Yvain's strength and skill in battle, and insecurity and confusion when he realizes he has done wrong.

There is a bit of violence here, but nothing excessively gory.  My guess is that this book is best for fourth graders and up. Although there are some heroic female characters, the book may appeal slightly more to males than females. There is nothing here that would cause any reasonable person to challenge the book.

Did I mention that Yvain rescues a lion from a dragon and the lion becomes his companion?  What could be cooler than a knight in armor going into battle with a lion at his side?

Lawhead, Stephen R. (1989) Arthur.  Westchester, IL:  Crossway.

Image result for arthur stephen lawhead

Opening Lines:

"Arthur is no fit king.  Uther's bastard, Merlin's pet, he is lowborn and a fool.  He is wanton and petty and cruel.  A glutton and a drunkard, he lacks all civilized graces.  In short, he is a sullen, ignorant brute
     "All these things and more men say of Arthur.  Let them.
     "When all the words are spoken and all the arguments fall exhausted into silence, this single fact remains: we would follow Arthur to the very gates of hell and beyond if he asked it.  And that is the solitary truth."

I cannot remember if I read Lawhead's trilogy when I was younger.  I suspect I did.  I can't remember even the slightest scrap of it, though.  So when my friend Kris loaned it to me, I decided to give it a try.  Lawhead has two earlier books in this trilogy: Taliesin and Merlin.  I skipped to the third book because I wanted to read of Arthur.

And that is what I got.  Here is the story of Arthur from the time he pulls the sword form the stone to his rise to power and eventually his fall.  This version concentrates on the battles and how Arthur's mastery of military strategy allows him to win battles in which he is greatly outnumbered or disavantaged.  Lancelot does not appear in these pages, nor does his infidelity with the queen Guenivere (here she is named Gwenhwyvar).  In fact, Lawhead's version of the queen is much more interesting that the usual version -- in which she is a vision of beauty blessing the various knights who battle over her favor.  Here she is a fierce Irish warrior queen, and nearly a match for Arthur on the battlefield. All the other elements of the legend are present though.  I found myself despairing when Arthur's kingdom began to fall apart, and then delighting in the conclusion in which the once-and-future part of the story is nicely hinted at.

This is some pretty thick reading.  I would recommend it for high school students, though I imagine a determined middle schooler could make it through.  There is some sexuality obliquely described here, plenty of violence,, and some mild cursing (see the opening lines above).  Seasoned readers of fantasy, though, will take it in stride.  This is a good classic to have on hand.

This last one isn't a book at all.  It is a magazine series.

 Image result for the phoenix comic

You see, long ago in the forgotten mists of time, there used to be magazines like Dynamite and Pizzazz (in the US)  that featured short stories and comics and other things that were interesting for grade school kids.  Then those magazines vanished.  And while their spirit survies to some extent in Mad Magazine and American Girl Magazine and the like, these things are not the same.

 Then, as if from a forgotten planet or a dimension beyond human understanding, a British company has begun publishing The Phoenix.  It comes out once a week and features puzzles and some non-ficiton features, but mostly it is a series of serialized comic stories.  Each story develops in each issue, but then ends on a cliff-hanger, so that the reader has to wait it out until the next week's issue arrives.  Features like Lost Tales, Mega Robot Bros, and the Adventures of John Blake will grab elementary school reader's attentions.  I could not tell from the website whether it is possible to subscribe int he US, but the word is that they are working on a deal with Scholastic to distribute it in the US.  Feel free to check it out on thier website and, if you wish, leave them a note encouraging them to make it available throughout the globe.

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