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The Death of King Arthur (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 29 Apr 2004


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (29 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442557
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.4 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 475,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

The author of The Death of King Arthur is unknown, though it is generally thought he was a Frenchman, probably from Champagne writing around 1230-35.

James Cable was educated at Exeter and Nancy Universities and holds a Ph.D. in Old French. He was subsequently a lecturer in French at London University.


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First Sentence
After Master Walter Map had put down in writing as much as he thought sufficient about the Adventures of the Holy Grail, his lord King Henry II felt that what he had done would not be satisfactory unless he told about the rest of the lives of those he had previously mentioned, and the deaths of those whose prowess he had related in his book. Read the first page
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Geoff Sawers on 4 April 2011
Format: Paperback
By contrast to `Lancelot of the Lake' and `The Quest of the Holy Grail,' this concluding part of the great 13th century Lancelot-Grail cycle is a simple and direct tale. The supernatural elements have all but been stripped away, and it proceeds quite logically to describe the decline and fall, not just of King Arthur himself, but of the whole world that he had attempted to build. The worm in the flower is of course Lancelot and Guinevere's love affair; it is the harvest of a tragedy sown many years before.

Some years ago, a man called Jean Frappier came up with the idea that, whilst the Lancelot-Grail cycle could clearly not have been written by one man, it did however have an architect; someone who planned the whole thing out, before allowing different people to complete the various sections. It's an attractive idea. There are many threads that run throughout the work, and yet the differences of style are startling. The `Quest' was clearly written by a deeply religious author (someone with a Cistercian background has been suggested, though other people finger the Knights Templar) and has a strongly devotional feel, and yet the `Death' abounds in references to God that border on the flippant. It also has more conversation, and more psychological insight than the previous sections; the melancholy tone of the closing chapters particularly give it an astonishingly modern feel. At the very end, Sir Bors - one of the only survivors of the calamitous final battle - invites the people left behind to CHOOSE whomever they would like as king; the days of chivalry are over for good.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 16 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback
This tragic medieval saga is a tale of love, adultery, jealousy, treachery, revenge and death.
The adulterous love between chivalry's most valiant knight, Lancelot del Lac, and King Arthur's wife, Queen Guinevere, provokes a series of suicidal wars between chivalry's finest, noblest, most courteous, most honorable knights and their factions: `no man ever became deeply involved in love who did not die as a result.'
It is an anti-war tale: `battle, how many orphans and widows you have made in this country and others!' `Where will the poor people ever find pity now?'
And what is the use of all this pride? `But such is earthly pride that no one is seated so high that he can avoid having to fall from power in the world.'
At the end, `we can see all our friends dead before us.' `It was to lead to the destruction of the kingdom of Logres ... lands remained devastated and waste.'

Of course, the anonymous author is sometimes too sentimental, too Christian. His battle descriptions are now and then stereotypic. Nevertheless, his story written in a direct, simple, unadulterated and positive style is one of the highlights of medieval literature.
Not to be missed.
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Format: Paperback
I'm quite surprised that I've become interested in Arthurian literature. I started off with Malory of course and thought that my interest would end there. I have however read a couple more since.

Before I read this book I read 'The Quest of the Holy Grail' which was interesting and would've gained about three stars I guess. 'The Death of King Arthur' follows on from 'The Quest' and is purportedly written by the same author, Walter Map. However the style of 'Arthur' is markedly different from 'Quest' as it is crisp, clear and feels very modern. This may be due to the translator of course but it reads very much like a modern novel, although with a medieval feel. Indeed, James Cable, the translator states in the introduction, 'It is difficult to see how the story could be better structured and motivated.'

So the story is pretty much about the tensions that develop between Lancelot's and Arthur's camp and all ending in a battle between them. Well, not quite, Arthur lays siege to Lancelot in Gaul, Lancelot & Gawain joust and fight all day. After the conclusion (I won't reveal too much of the plot) of the bout they go off to fight some more battles.

As mentioned in the introduction of the book, it should probably be called 'The Death of Lancelot' as he is the main character and ends with his death rather than Arthur's. And with the death of Arthur and Lancelot comes the end of the Arthurian era.

A thoroughly recommended book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Moving Close to the Tale 8 Mar. 2005
By Donald Gow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While "The Death of King Arthur" is the shortest romance in the entire Lancelot-Grail cycle (formerly known as the "Vulgate Cycle" and a principal source of Sir Thomas Malory) it is also one of the best suited to modern tastes. Unlike the earlier segments of the cycle (the Lancelot or the Quest of the Holy Grail particularly) it does not underline its themes through endless variant repetitions that irritate the modern reader. Instead, the plot is remarkably linear and focuses on the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the disastrous consequences that their affair wreaks on King Arthur and his entire kingdom.

Because it was originally written as a sequel to the Lancelot and Grail portions of the cycle, certain knowledge is assumed for the reader. The reader is assumed to know that Arthur is the King, that Lancelot is his boldest knight, and that the Round Table is recovering slowly from a long and very destructive Grail Quest. Without the lengthy process of interlacing adventures between Lancelot and Gawain or Bors and Gareth, it can be difficult for the true weight of the story to come across to the uninitiated.

Cable's translation is workmanlike and readable, and serves as a worthy introduction to this classic tale until such time as the recent English translation of the entire cycle (Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, edited by Norris J. Lacy) is available in an affordable paperback series. (I bought the hardback at an exorbitant price per volume myself.)
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Beautifully Tragic 23 Aug. 2007
By GG Gawain - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I could not put this book down once I began to read. The story begins after the Grail Quest, when the King recounts all those who were lost. The loyalty King Arthur feels towards his knights, living or dead, is moving in comparison to today's vacuum of leadership. The complicated love affair between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere is unsettling because as one reads, the unraveling of Camelot is slowly exacerbated by their innocent yet treacherous passion for each other--including the King. King Arthur's self denial of the love affair is touching and stretches faith to its limits. But one can't help take both sides because the story is so well rounded from all points of view. Compared to other translations such as Keith Baines, of Signet Classics, this James Cable translation by Penguin is superior because it keeps the arcane language used in the period, thus capturing the flavor of the times, whereas Baines seems to water it down.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Pretty good 11 Jan. 2014
By Summer Peila - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not the easiest read, but fantastic when you sit down and put some effort into figuring out exactly what's going on. There's a lot of depth that you don't see at first glance.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great 6 April 2011
By Seris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fantastic and although at first glance rather simplistic novel, the plot continues to thicken and weave around the growing and eventually provoking character development.

Penguin Classics FTW.
Arthur who? 31 May 2014
By E.J. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I'm a King Arthur junkie and always have been. When we watched "Camelot" in seventh-grade English, I was the only one that didn't groan the whole way through. I love retellings of the story, but if "The Death of King Arthur" is anything to go on, the originals must not be my thing. Aside from some nice moments and good buildups at the beginning, this book was one badly translated, battle-heavy headache.

My least favorite thing about the book, though, is that it isn't even about Arthur - it's about Lancelot. And that would be fine if Lancelot wasn't so annoyingly perfect. Sure, he had a fling with the queen, but he also is the handsomest man, the most virtuous knight, and the best fighter in Logres, and none of the characters, even his enemies, will let us forget it. I stopped counting the times where a character said, "If only Lancelot were here! He'd know just what to do!" Good grief. Arthur was even made an indecisive wimp in order to make Lancelot better by comparison; his "swoons" were another thing I stopped counting in disgust. Girls fainting are bad enough; we don't need guys falling prey to it too.

There were also too many names and descriptions of battles for my taste. Did we really have to hear how valiant everyone was in battle, how many knights they killed and in what way they killed them? I could hardly keep track of who was whose son or cousin or half-brother, and mixing in similar details for the enemy knights just made it worse. Maybe I was just confused because of the awkward language - the translation wasn't clear in many places, and I had to read some sentences two and three times before I got what they were trying to say.

As whiny as I sounded above, I'm giving this book two stars rather than one, and here's why: "Death" did a pretty good job of outlining exactly why the Round Table split. There was the requisite case of mistaken identity that appears in almost every Arthur story, but who would have thought that Guinevere was tried for treason because of a fruit? There are also some sweet moments early on, like the sad fiasco of Lancelot and the pretty maid whose favor he wore. But unfortunately, those weren't enough to save this book. Since the story is accurate, without too much magic or superfluous romance, purists might like it. I just didn't.
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