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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sword of the Rightful King: A Novel of King Arthur

You might think that there's nothing new to tell in the story of King Arthur. The story has been told so many times, by so many good authors. T. H. White's The Once and Future King is a splendid piece of literature. Part of it was the basis for the Disney movie, The Sword in the Stone. White's work is deeper (and longer) than most children's literature. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Mists of Avalon, a work which was, like White's, well received, and considered important. I confess that I have never read it, although I have seen parts of the movie based on the book. Stephen Lawhead wrote the Pendragon Cycle, based on the story of King Arthur. The earliest books that I read about King Arthur were those of Howard Pyle (who also illustrated his work). Pyle's The Story of the Champions of the Round Table is available from Project Gutenberg. That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis, used Merlin, Arthur's friend, mentor, and wizard, as a character in the twentieth century.

I recently read the book with the same title as this post, by Jane Yolen. (Orlando: Harcourt, 2003) Sword of the Rightful King is aimed at, and classified as, being for younger readers, teenagers, I guess. No matter. I liked it. As usual, I don't want to give away the plot, but I will say three things about the book. It is well written, and well deserving of the awards it has received. Even though I had read the book some years back, I had trouble putting it down. There is a character, Gawen, who plays a major role, although no character of that name appears in any of the other books about Arthur, so far as I know. (Lest there be any doubt, Gawen is not Gawaine. Gawaine is present and accounted for in Yolen's book.) More about Gawen becomes clear toward the end of the book. Thirdly, Yolen has the sword in the stone appear after Arthur has already become king, not, as in most other treatments, before he becomes king. In these other books, Arthur becomes king because he is the only man (or boy) who can pull the sword out of the stone. In Yolen's book, he is also the only man (or boy) who can do this, but he solidifies his kingship by doing so.

It shouldn't be difficult to find a library with a book by Yolen. She has written nearly 300 books!

Thanks for reading.

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