Le Morte Darthur (The Death of Arthur) by Sir Thomas Mallory was my latest project.
The book was subtitled ‘The Hoole Book of Kyng Arthur and of His Noble Knythes of the Rounde Table’. Yes, I read it in Old English, or, apparently, an early form of modern English.
It was a terrible, terrible decision.
In my defence, I thought it would be neat to hold a little piece of history in my hands, i.e. one of the earliest written and most comprehensive collections of Arthurian legends. I’m uncertain if the book was representative of how people talked back in the days, or simply how books were written, but you may rest assured that I’m really glad I wasn’t living in 1469.
You see, actually reading Le Morte Darthur wasn’t difficult – it was the content that was absolutely excruciating.
Let me give you an example of a paragraph in part one, ‘Fro the Maryage of Kynge Uther unto Kyng Arthure that Regned Aftir Hym and Ded Many Batayles’. The following excerpt is exactly as it appears in the book, but with modernised spelling (courtesy of yours truly, I’m rather wonderful like that).
And so they went home and unarmed themselves, and so went to supper. And after supper the three kings went into a garden and gave praises to Sir Kay and to Sir Lucas the Butler and to Sir Gryfflet. And then they went into council, and with them Genbaus, brother to Kings Ban and Bors, a wise clerk; and also went Ulphuns, Brascias and Merlion [Merlin]. And after they had been in their council they went to bed. And in the morning they had Masse, and to dinner [breakfast] and so to their council, and argued about what was best to do.
You probably hate me now, right? I mean, it was like reading a story written by an eight-year-old – “and then this happened, and then this, and oh! What do you mean the details of how often meals are served aren’t vital to the tale?”
I don’t know about Malory, but when I read a book, it’s mandatory for there to be some character development or, at the very least, characterisation. Also a few setting descriptions wouldn’t go amiss, and, while we’re at it, I prefer my plot to be more than a bullet pointed war chronology that happens to be written out in prose form.
I admit I only read about one third of part one and gave up – The Death of Arthur indeed. From now on, I’m going to stick to Wikipedia for my Arthurian legends, and to BBC’s Merlin for my regular hit of shenanigans committed by a prince and his secretly-a-sorcerer manservant.
Fun Fact: Sir Thomas Malory, or, at least, the man that academics seem to agree on as being the most likely to have written Le Morte Darthur, was actually a criminal. He went to jail a bunch of times, for stealing, raping, extortion etc. What I want to know is: how is it possible for a man steal 335 sheep in one day?!