As Witch Week 2017 approaches, with this year’s theme of Dreams of Arthur, I want to ask for recommendations of your favorite Arthurian literature. Whether ballad or epic poem, fantasy or historical fiction, humorous or tragic, what version of the legend of Arthur and his knights has caught your imagination? Which authors have you found most successful at transforming it into something new and original?
In my own reading life The Dark Is Rising series made a strong impression on me as a child, though the Arthurian legend is not really in the foreground. The character of Merriman Lyon (Merlin) definitely stood out for me, as a figure of mystery and magic, along with the highly atmospheric, historically rich settings in England and Wales.
A very different version of Merlin is found in The Once and Future King. I loved it as a child as well, but recently I tried to reread it and couldn’t get much past The Sword in the Stone (which was still wonderful). Anyone else have this experience?
Historical novelists continue to ring changes on the legend, bringing it into a more realistic mode. Stewart’s Merlin series, starting with The Crystal Cave gives a rational explanation for much of the magic in the tales; and Elizabeth Wein’s alternative view of Arthur’s family, particularly Mordred (no Merlin in this version) goes into a very unusual direction in The Winter Prince and its sequels.
Glimpses of Arthur can be found even in more contemporary settings, as in The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies, which centers around the rediscovery of an Arthurian opera by Henry Purcell, and the intrusion of its age-old themes into a modern Canadian university. In his 1930 “supernatural thriller” War in Heaven, Charles Williams places a search for the Grail in a small English parish and surrounds it with a bizarre mixture of good and evil characters.
From the acerbic satire of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which skewers both the romanticized past and the prosaic present, to the mind-bending fantasy of Diana Wynne Jones’s Hexwood, in which other worlds collide with our own — truly, this is a legend that can fit seemingly any number of interpretations.
What else should be on our reading list this year? From October 31 to November 6, all are welcome to post about the theme and link up here at ECBR, or just visit to see what others are reading and writing about. As in previous years, November 5 is readalong day — please vote in the poll below to determine what book we should read together. I’m listing several titles I personally have not read and would like to, but feel free to add others using the write-in option.
Thanks for your suggestions!