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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Idylls of the King - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Read for the TBR 2008 Reading Challenge

I’ve been hung up a bit on my TBR Challenge reading, because I've been totally hung up trying to get through the Idylls of the King. I picked this up back in the days when I was reading anything Arthurian that I could get my hands on (about a decade ago). It’s sat on my shelf because unlike pretty much all of the other Athuriana I’ve read, it’s poetry. As I’ve mentioned before, I have problems getting through poetry. I’d actually rather go back and read Le Morte d’Arthur than have to read this again. Nothing against the book, just a measure of my own inadequacies in poetry appreciation.

I wanted to read this because I’d seen that it’s considered to have formed the basis for many of the modern interpretations of Arthur. (I think, since it’s been a while since I read anything Arthurian extensively, and I don’t have the time or energy to track down my sources.) There is certainly a feeling that Arthur is almost Christ-like in the story, that he can do no wrong. Guinevere is pretty much seen as evil incarnate. (Lancelot seems to come out of that relationship on a slightly less evil footing. Terribly unfair, really.) The treatment of Tristram and Isolt is particularly moralizing.

I probably enjoyed the story of Merlin and Vivien the most, partially because it’s there. That’s one relationship I’d like to see more written about. There are certainly some stories out there, but no where as much as the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot spread, for instance. (The interaction between the Merlins and Ladies of the Lake in The Mists of Avalon is probably the most satisfying treatment I’ve seen, but I’d like more.) Tennyson’s version is an interesting reflection on the power of youth on age.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, because I’m a terrible judge of anything venturing into the poetry genre, and cannot be trusted to adequately rate such things. I did after all, have to bribe myself to finish the book by not allowing myself to start the newest Darkover book until I was done. I can only hang my head in shame and hope the poetry gods forgive me.

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