Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights - John Steinbeck

King Uther falls in love with the beautiful Igraine who is married to one of his Dukes. Merlin has the power of insight and does everything he can to ensure that Uther and Igraine come together. From their first coupling they produce a baby boy who will one day become the greatest King and bring peace to the land. Merlin has him taken away and brought up in Wales though. When Uther dies Chaos rules the land until Arthur is of age to come forward and take on his rightful role as King of England.

I think I have been raving about this book for a while now but in case you have missed all that Steinbeck re-wrote Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. This was the first book he read and loved and it gave him a new insight into reading. Before that he hated books (thank you Steinbeck's Aunty). He wanted his sons to read and enjoy it and so wrote this version. I haven't read Malory so I honestly couldn't compare how good a job he did. I can only say that I liked it. The book was published after he died. Despite starting it in the 1930's he never did finish it and didn't edit any of what he did write. No one quite knows why he gave up on it. For me the editing part didn't really matter as I enjoyed it regardless. It just seems such a shame that he didn't finish re-writing the other tales. Instead it finishes with the first tale of Sir Lancelot.

As to the stories themselves, I loved them. Full of chivalrous knights, damsels in distress, noble quests, fellowship and of course magic here and there. The Knights are oath bound to protect all ladies and if a lady should ask a favour of the Knight he must do it or face dishonor. Poor Lancelot was irritated greatly by this as everyone always wanted his help, being the greatest Knight in the world you can see why. He even voices his irritation to one fair maiden but still does his duty. They must also accept all challenges or face dishonor. In a lot of instances the Knights joust, one wins and the other admires him for his strength and ability. The start of a very beautiful friendship. It did seem that many Knights set up pavilions all over the place just to have the chance to fight someone. Quests are a way for the Knights to prove their honor, especially if they need to clean their name or prove themselves to their King. Arthur's nephew did this to prove he wasn't as treacherous as his mother Morgan Le Fay. So much sexism in there but I couldn't help but love it.

As for King Arthur himself he proves himself in battle over and over as he tries to prevent uprisings. He relies on Merlin quite a bit in his decision making (foresight is a wonderful thing) and becomes a little bit lost when Merlin is no longer there. I liked Arthur and I would have liked more stories of him and his infamous sister. However, I enjoyed reading about the exploits of his Knights more as they battle giants and evil. Morgan Le Fay could easily become one of my favourite characters. She isn't mentioned much at the start but she quickly grows to hate Arthur and is jealous of his right to rule. Although she is happy for a man to rule she wants to be the one pulling the strings.

The only character I didn't like was the fickle Igraine. She says no to Uther and lets her husband know that he is after her and that they had better run off. Not knowing that her husband is dead she then sleeps with Uther who is disguised as her husband. When she realises her husband is dead she marries Uther and when she discovers the truth of that night she is relieved and then moves on with her life. I can't imagine anyone else being happy with Uther's antics.

I've read that although Steinbeck hadn't planned to he did flesh out the tales quite a bit. He humanised them and made the characters rounder. As I said I haven't read the original so can't compare but it seems to me to be a good thing. I enjoyed the characters and maybe I wouldn't have quite so much if Steinbeck hadn't added his magic touch. I very much enjoyed the book and I will definitely be reading more Arthurian tales in the future (Mark Twain's looks interesting).

I read this as part of the classics challenge which is hosted by Katherine of November's Autumn.
I did this months prompt so if you want to learn a wee bit more about Steinbeck you can see my post here.

Lastly a wee reminder that I am giving away a copy of one of my favourite books, The Eyre Affair, to sign up for it all you have to do is leave a comment here.


  1. When I was about 13 or so, our English as Home Language teacher would spend the last 15 minutes of every class reading to us about King Arthur and his knights. We all hated it. She thought she was Margret Thatcher and had the most annoyingly artificial 'Queen's English' I've ever heard and due to her I've been put off knights since. I swear, even reading your review all I could hear was her voice.

    I do want to give it a try because they are interesting tales, I just need to get rid of that voice in my head. It's weird how easily some things are spoiled.

  2. I can understand why that would put you off. I've been put off reading books before because and actor I dislike has played the main part in a film. It's daft but there is always that worry that I will picture the actor (much like you hearing that teachers voice). It's such a shame she spoiled it for you.