Arthur (was Re: Help wanted: arthurian novels)

mecha godscylla mechagodscylla at
Sat Sep 27 14:33:39 EDT 2003

Pardon the delay in replying - my family was visiting this week and it was 
very hectic.

Minnow wrote (snip):

“Drabble's (1985) *Oxford Companion to English Literature* you will find "He
is a relatively late development in the English Arthurian tradition, not
appearing at length before the 14th cent., although the story of his love
for Guinevere is the subject of Chretien de Troyes' "Lancelot" (c 1170s)"
-- perhaps Drabble thinks Chretien de Troyes wasn't really an *English*
writer?  (Thinks: maybe Drabble has a point.  Troyes, Suffolk?  Troyes, nr.
Birmingham?  Nah; not in my gazeteer...)  Harvey's earlier edition (1937
second edition) of the same work starts the entry "Launcelot of the Lake,
appears only late in the series of English Arthurian romances, though he is
the subject of a great French prose-work..."  So one can see why Elise
might get the idea that "late" and "Launcelot" are linked, if she consulted
the standard sources for information on English (as opposed to French)

Just so!  But my concern did not have to do with my own feelings or 
preferences regarding canon or folklore, but with my willingness to go along 
with what the author of whatever fiction work I am reading, in this case 
Cornwell’s Arthur retelling, seems to be setting out to do.

In this instance, it seemed to me that Cornwell’s jumping off point for his 
retelling was the question, “What if Arthur was a real figure in post-Roman 
Britain, a warlord/or dux bellorum who fought the Saxons?”  And then he was 
off from the starting gate telling this story, envisioning this ‘what if,’ 
at a ripping pace.

Half way through, along comes Lancelot.

“What his *he* doing here?”  I asked myself.  “I didn’t think it was that 
kind of story at all.”

Actually, it’s lucky this question came up.  It was my husband who gave me 
these books, and I don’t think I ever mentioned to him why I left off 
reading.  I was explaining my curious notions to him the other day, and it 
led to a renewal of my interest in re-reading and finishing the books.

“It’s not that I don’t like a story that, for example, sets out to ask, 
‘What if they had steam power and railroads in Ancient Rome?’  That’s fine.  
I’m all for the asking and answering of that question and any number of 
others.  But if the ‘what if’ question is, ‘What was it like to be 
Claudius,’ then I am irked if, half way through, it is revealed that there 
are steam engines and railroads in this story.  I feel as if the author is 
switching horses in midstream.”

“But Cornwell addressed this very question of Lancelot being in his story in 
his Afterword,” said my husband.

“There’s an Afterword?”

“Yes, he wrestled with that very thing and explained his reasons for 
including Lancelot.  And besides, he has Lancelot as a Bad Guy.  He’s a 

“Really?  Darling!  How long have we foolishly misunderstood each other?  If 
only I had confided sooner!”

And here I draw the veil across this scene of domestic amity, renewed and 
refreshed, and all thanks to Robyn’s students.

“It is my personal opinion that Elise has some justification for her view.
I do not say, as she does not, that this view must be shared by everyone….”

I wouldn’t think of suggesting it.  Nor am I even suggesting that an author 
should not switch horses in midstream, only that this reader might not 
finish the book.

“obDWJ, she doesn't use Lancelot in *Hexwood*.  She has Bedevere, Bors,
Arthur, Merlin, Morgan Le Fay, a good selection of the Old Gang, but not
Lancelot.  He simply wouldn't fit, would he?”

He’s not part of her ‘What if,’ is he?


“I don't: that would be for DWJ to do -- she says, Wulf is Wotan/Odin, and
why shouldn't she put him in if she wants to, since he seemed to fit like
pounds shillings and ounces?  (I forgot to ask about Fitela because they
came and demanded blood from me at that point and we got distracted.)”

That’s just it – it’s just a question of fit.  If the author knows it fits, 
whether by intuition or through reason or some mixture of the two, then it 
will come through in the work, and that’s enough for me to enjoy the story.  
And since my days of studying literature are behind me, enjoyment is my 
prime motive.



P.s. hope your thrombosis is sorted, Minnow.


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