Finding a book to read that properly matches the mood I’m in is an Olympic sport.
Having just read Beren and Luthien, shortly followed by Ivanhoe and Men of Iron, I felt a deep hankering in my soul for more books containing saccharinely perfect characters and the word “quoth.”
(As can be expected, few modern books live up to this standard.)
My eyes alighted on a compilation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s King Arthur stories, and with a cry of triumph, I snatched it from the shelf. Because what, I ask you, could possibly be more good and wholesome and saccharinely perfect than the honorable knights of the Round Table?!
(This is the part where people who’ve already read the book start coughing into their sleeves.)
To be fair to myself, my only exposure to King Arthur was an illustrated guide I stumbled across when I was eight and made the error of mistaking for a picture book. I managed approximately four pages before coming to the story where Gawain hangs the lady’s severed head around his neck by her hair.
Yes. That happened.
Needless to say, eight-year-old Sarah didn’t finish the book. And was also psychologically scarred for the rest of time.
(But did she learn her lesson? Clearly not, as this post bears evidence to.)
Since then, my only point of reference for the King Arthur story came from cheesy rip-off fantasy books. I retained a vague understanding that the original didn’t end as well as Disney would have you believe, but, y’know. The glorious love between King Arthur and Guinevere! The noble Sir Lancelot! Chivalry! Heroism! Honor!!!
Thus began my disillusionment arc.
Before we get into this, I’m going to make three statements for the sake of the Arthurian nerds (and for the sake of my bodily safety at the hands of aforesaid Arthurian nerds):
1.) I understand these are Rosemary Sutcliffe’s retellings and not the actual King Arthur legends.
2.) Despite appearances, I got more out of the stories than what I’m about to harp on. But saccharinely perfect morals-of-stories are boring. (Unless they contain the word quoth.) Therefore, I woke up and chose violence. Literally. Refer to Example A — Gawain and Severed Head.
3.) There aren’t really spoilers in this post, but considering the story has been around for 600+ years, you should probably already know they all die. Oops.
With those disclaimers out of the way, if you’re one of my three friends who went to college specifically to study the legends of King Arthur, please don’t kill me.
Let’s begin with this gem I found in the preface explaining what the book is about.
Innocent little fool that I am, I believed her. Then I kept reading. Only took about ten pages. I came for knights and dragons and chivalry but instead I got—
MERLIN HELPED UTHA PENDRAGON DO WHAT TO IGRAINE????
Apparently consent is not a thing when you’re king.
That was the end of my pretty fantasies about chivalry.
But did that stop her?
Gentle reader, it did not.
Thus commenced Stage #2 of Sarah’s Arthurian disillusionment arc. AKA “The Point Where She Almost Threw the Whole Thing Out.”
But I am a hard-headed Polish idiot and we do not back down from a challenge. Or from Margawse doing icky things, apparently.
Guys… Lancelot is secretly a middle-school girl in disguise…
He’s not like other boys…
Me when the creepy old men at Walmart start flirting.
I have no idea what this smells like or if it even smells pleasant (unlikely), but every single female in this entire book smelled like it which prompted this text to my mom.
She couldn’t understand why I was so enraptured with sweat and deodorant
Were they even trying with these names?
Fair words, dear sir, but read only a little further and—
Sir Lancelot, at forty-five years of age, releasing his petty inner teenage girl. (Who isn’t like other girls, mind you.)
He… he named his spear… Ron…
1.) What is a Rood.
2.) Shouldn’t these people, I dunno, ASK WHAT THEY’RE SWEARING BEFORE THEY SWEAR IT??
Case in point.
I live for Gawain randomly letting rip a Scottish accent and then never doing it again. Stunning continuity.
Ah yes, I too look to my digestive organs for insight on complicated moral decisions.
This kid’s insults are truly inspired.
I will allow a brief interruption in my fest of mockery because this line made me shed a tear.
Thus concluded book #1, The Sword and the Circle. I was feeling a bit mentally unstable at this point. To give a brief summary—
• Sir Lancelot is not like Other Boys.™
• All women are either seductresses or evil seductresses and somehow we should be able to tell the difference.
• These guys’ spears do nothing but break.
• Despite having the entire story named after him, Arthur had a disappointing lack of screen time.
• There was only one instance of quoth. I felt cheated.
And thus, I moved on to book #2, The Light Beyond the Forest. No one told me it was about a heretical cup. I discovered this necessary bit of information too late.
Is this Benedict Cumberbatch?
New vocabulary word, kids.
Dude, this is like, soooo coolth.
Unsurprisingly, she was an evil seductress. Except she wasn’t. Because of the weird heretical cup.
And HOW, pray tell, is this supposed to help ANYTHING?
Don’t you just love when the chapter title is a spoiler.
So… a disembodied arm just… floated… into the room… and these guys merely nodded and smiled at it like a museum display…
Little kids when they’re trying to get out of something.
Signs you need therapy, 101.
And thus concluded The Light Beyond the Forest. I was 500 pages into this thing and determined to stick with it to the end, regardless of my rapidly diminishing sanity. For an entire week my mind was consumed with nothing but shattering spears and disembodied arms. It was creepy.
Enter The Road to Camlann, where we are reacquainted with an old and trauma-inducing nemesis:
I have never related to her sons so much as in this sentence.
This forest has been spending too much time with Sir Lancelot.
He did what.
Then everything descended into death and chaos and I lost the will to live, let alone mock. Which says a lot about the ending of The Road to Camlann.
And so my foray into Arthurian legend came to a rough and dreary close, during which I witnessed more weak spears and evil women than I ever care to read about again. If you’re a fan of incessant jousting, gore, infidelity in mass quantities, names like “Bleoberis” or “Sir Gryflet le Fise de Dieu,” and potentially heretical drinking vessels, this book is definitely for you.
For the rest of you — or should I say, the sane ones…
The two instances of quoth aren’t worth the amount of cut-and-paste jousts you have to suffer through first.
Thus concludes Book Roasts, Volume 1. Stay tuned for more. This will be an ongoing series.