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Idylls of the King (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 26 May 1983

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (26 May 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140422536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140422535
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 35,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in 1809, the son of a clergyman. His only occupation was as a poet and he was made Poet Laureate in 1850, accepting a peerage in 1883. He is most known for In Memoriam, a speculation on mortality. He died in 1892.

J.M. Gray has been an editor, schoolteacher, university lecturer and author. He is also a published poet, under the name Martin Gray.

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These to His Memory - since he held them dear, Perchance as finding there unconsciously Some image of himself- I dedicate, I dedicate, I consecrate with tears -These Idylls. Read the first page
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Rotgut VINE VOICE on 3 Oct. 2008
Format: Paperback
This hugely impressive work of poetry, although based on Malory's epic "Morte d'Arthur" and other early books, does not, in truth shed much light on the "Arthurian" Age, but it is immensely revealing about the Victorian era.

In these poems, Arthur is an English gentleman rather than a Dark Age Celtic warlord, or even a medieval ruler. But this approach serves to illuminate what was best about the Victorians, decency, courage, self belief. It is fashionable to knock the society of England in the Nineteenth Century as being repressive, dictatorial, even hypocritical. Tennyson's poetry, along with the work of authors like Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson show, largely, a positive side to the time.

My only regret with "The Idylls" is that the shorter poem by Tennyson on the subject of Arthurian romance, the cracking "Lady of Shallot" is not included in this book.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Mar. 1999
Format: Paperback
This is the story about Arthur and the tales of Camelot. Obviously. But for those of you who don't know more than what you've seen on TV or the movies, read this book. Read about Balin and Balan, read about Elaine, read about Guenivere. It's so much more fulfilling to search them out and to find them, than to have someone splash their character on a screen for you. My favorite stanza in the entire book is when Arthur talks about commitment. Commitment to his cause, to life, to God, to everything: "Arthur sat Crown'd on the dais, and his warriors cried, 'Be thou the king, and we will work thy will Who love thee.' Then the King in low deep tones, And simple words of great authority, Bound them by so strait vows to his own self That when they rose, knighted from kneeling, some Were pale as at the passing of a ghost, Some flushe'd, and others dazed, as one who wakes Half--blinded at the coming of a light."
Awesome isn't it?
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Favager on 3 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of Tennyson's master works and a key element in Arthurian literature but it has not stood the test of time that well. It seems dated, the separate stories only partly constituting an epic whole, and in parts the sense of the narrative is somewhat obscured by the language. Unlike Malory's medieval masterpiece or some of the earlier French poems and prose of the Matter of Britain this Victorian offering fails to inspire or move in the 21st century. No doubt this is heresy to lovers of 19c Romantic poetry but for me it was a chore rather than a pleasure to read. Yes, there were some good sections but if you want the real thing try the Penguin Classics Death of King Arthur - genuinely tragic. This edition is good value for money and has the complete text but the notes are not that helpful.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 38 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Tennyson squares the Round Table 15 April 2005
By A.J. - Published on
Format: Paperback
Based primarily on Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur," Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" is an epic poem comprising twelve loosely connected episodes narrating the adventures and romances of the knights of Camelot. Even in the Victorian era King Arthur had a secure place in the popular imagination, so Tennyson's poem, published in sections over roughly a fifteen-year period, was warmly received. Because it is bookended by dedications to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, whom Tennyson perhaps viewed as quasi-Arthurian figures just as Virgil exalted Augustus Caesar, it carries the authority of an accepted British cultural document.

Tennyson recasts the individual stories of the knights in his own poetic vision, and in some instances invents his own anecdotes or contributes his own details, merging chivalric imagery with post-Romantic lyrical beauty. As an Arthurian medium, Tennyson's verse is much more readable than Malory's cumbersome prose (a forgivable style owing to Malory's time, but difficult to appreciate nowadays unless you have a taste for the archaic). As irresistibly dazzling as a hyperbole like "The wood is nigh as full of thieves as leaves" is, there is much more to the "Idylls" than linguistic elegance.

Arthur is nearly a Christ-figure, and his knights are not unlike the apostles: "[F]ollow the Christ, the King,/Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King--/Else, wherefore born?" the idealistic Gareth rhetorically asks his mother just before journeying to Camelot to fulfill his dream of joining the Round Table. Knighthood is a mission in life, a devotion to the service of God and the king (or King, to use the Christian allegory). In the Arthurian milieu, knights represent the highest, most virtuous ideal of mankind, though in practice they occasionally fail, falter, and face moral dilemmas that help to build character. Such conflicts also compel the poem, for an infallible knight hardly makes for interesting reading.

To be sent on a quest is not a chore but an honor of which a knight must be deemed worthy by Arthur. Prove yourself inept, and he won't even send you to the McDonald's drive-thru to pick him up a Big Mac. Whether rescuing a lady from a castle guarded by evil knights (Gareth), delivering a diamond as a prize to the winner of a joust (Gawain), searching for the Holy Grail (Galahad), or even properly disposing of the sword Excalibur upon Arthur's death (Bedivere), a knight is expected to obey and succeed.

The vicissitudes of love often pose ethical challenges for the knights and provide the most memorable scenes of the poem, as adultery, jealousy, and betrayal set the stage for turbulent drama. The illicit affair of Lancelot and Guinevere, Arthur's wife, the tragic story of Elaine, the peasant girl who pledges her love to Lancelot, the punishment meted out to Tristram by his uncle Mark for the seduction of Isolt, and Pelleas's amorous pursuit of the hellion Ettarre, are the essence of legend.

The tale that somehow haunts me the most is that of Merlin and Vivien, which ominously takes place in a forest just before a storm. The petulant Vivien disparages Arthur's knights and tries to coax a love spell out of the ancient but apparently still libidinous wizard; having achieved her objective as the storm breaks, she runs away from the beguiled and sleeping magician as the uttered word "fool" echoes through the trees--a very poetic representation of lust subduing and fleeing wisdom.
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
The music of legend... 20 April 2001
By Ilana Teitelbaum - Published on
Format: Paperback
If Malory's "Le Morte D'Arthur" is the backbone of Arthurian literature, Tennyson's "Idylls" are its flesh and blood. In this extraordinary epic poem, Tennyson has transformed Malory's automatons to living and breathing characters, and infuses the legend of King Arthur with passionate intensity that had hitherto been absent. In addition to this, for the first time King Arthur's story, told in its immensity, becomes something more than a dry cataloguing of events or an excuse to have knights and derring-do: underlying "Idylls of the King" is a vision of tragedy and destiny only vaguely hinted at in Malory.
Admittedly, this is not the easiest thing in the world to read, but simply reading major parts is worth it, without necessarily following the story of Tristram or other such details. Most interesting in this poem is the relationship between Guinevere and Lancelot, which is complicated and sometimes dark. Tennyson's characters are complex beings, complete with inner shadows and desires which sometimes conflict with the ideals put forth by Arthur's "Table Round."
Since it is after all Tennyson, the language is breathtaking, though one familiar with his other poetry might be slightly regretful, as I was, that it occasionally lacks the power of his other poems. Perhaps this is to be expected, given the length: and since it is Tennyson, less powerful than his other work is still marvelous.
Some may be irritated by Tennyson's moralistic streak, which is hard to ignore, as well as the distinct parallels with Christianity which the poet introduces from time to time. The idea that women somehow embody all sin certainly makes an appearance here, as Guinevere is sometimes portrayed almost as evil incarnate.
Nonetheless, with its almost mystical undertones, beautiful language and psychological complexity, "Idylls of the King" is worth checking out, whether you are a fan of King Arthur or Tennyson; it is an epic which combines emotion and the magical, life and the legendary.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An epic Arthurian Romance 16 April 2003
By bixodoido - Published on
Format: Paperback
This lengthy poem about King Arthur's court is written in grand epic style, in the spirit of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Paradise Lost, and drawing on these and other great epics. Tennyson follows many of the traditional epic conventions here--the epic similes, the epic quests, etc. But this work is not wholly an epic, it is rather more of a Romance. The book is divided into various sections, each dealing with a knight (or knights) of King Arthur's court. The adventures they encounter are various and only remotely connected, but there is a back story to each. Something is going on behind the scenes. The first part of the book deals with the rise of Arthur, and of the glory of his kingdom. The second part focuses on the gradual decline of his influence, and culminates with the King's discovery of Lancelot and Guinevere's affair.

This is one of my favorite Arthurian romances. Tennyson's verse is beautiful and vivid, and his story is both compelling and easy to follow. No study of English Romanticism would be complete without Tennyson, and this is one of his finest works.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By K. Jump - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For Tennyson, the Arthurian legend was an evolving love affair that lasted throughout the poet's life, and the "Idylls of the King" is the ultimate offspring of that enchanted love. Composed of a dozen individual yet interlinked story-poems, the Idylls span the whole of Malory's opus from Arthur's glorious rise to power to his fog-shrouded and mysterious death, "lest one good custom should corrupt the world." But Tennyson humanizes Malory's stories and infuses the whole with an almost Shakespearean aura of tragedy, redefining many of the legendary tales with a new level of gravitas unmatched before or since. The Idylls include:
* The Coming of Arthur, introducing the Age of Camelot
* Gareth and Lynette, a variation of the popular "Fair Unknown" theme and one of Arhturiana's most beloved stories as well as perhaps the one which most perfectly embodies the golden values of chivalry
* The Marriage of Geraint, taken from the works of Chretien De Troyes, who called the titular knight "Erec"
* Geraint and Enid, a lovely tale of marital trust
* Balin and Balan, one of the grimmest and bloodiest of all Arthurian tales, about the struggle between decency and monstrousness within us all
* Merlin and Vivien, the sorcerer's swan song, and the most believable portrayal of the amoral Vivien, too often given a pass by other writers, which I've seen
* Lancelot and Elaine, a tale better known as "The Lady of Shalott,"in which Tennyson's love for the magnificent yet benighted Lancelot of the Lake shines through
* The Holy Grail, narrated by Sir Percivale, and the most powerful depiction of the Grail Quest there is
* Pelleas and Ettarre, one of my favorite Arthurian tales from Malory and elsewhere, though Tennyson's retelling is a major downer that foreshadows the coming collapse of King Arthur's utopia, and features a Sir Pelleas both nobler and darker than Malory's abused but redeemed knight
* The Last Tournament, a bleak but serendipitious version of the Tristram (Tristan) saga, and which brings the Pelleas story to an ugly close
* Guinevere, focuses on the discovery of her adultery with Lancelot and the ensuing breakup of Camelot, culminating in a heartrending dialogue between King Arthur and his fallen Queen
* The Passing of Arthur, the climactic book of the whole saga, in which King Arthur confronts the traitor Modred, strikes with mighty Excalibur one last time, and Sir Bedivere delivers the King's sword up to the Lady of the Lake
Taken as a whole, the Idylls are perhaps the greatest artistic achievement in all of Arthurian literature. They are not the whole story however, and in fact Tennyson seems to assume his reader is already intimately familiar with Malory's book, so I would recommend newcomers to the legend do their homework first. The Idylls do have a strong, pervasive Christian backbone, much to Tennyson's credit, which automatically puts his work on a far higher moral plane than Bradley's "Mists of Avalon" and some other contemporary versions of the story. Moreover, Tennyson does not shy away from the full weight of Guinevere's sin; what she does to both Arthur and Lancelot--and hence to all of Camelot--is awful. But charges of misogyny are unfounded; both the poet and Arthur himself--as illustrated in the King's moving last words to his estranged wife in the nunnery to which she has fled--hold out hope for the Queen's salvation, and therefore unavoidably so does the reader. Ultimately, Tennyson's vision of glorious quests, thundering tournaments, Christian valor, doomed love and a hard destiny is perhaps the most heartfelt and stirring of all Arthurian literature, and certainly the perfect companion piece to Malory's own immortal magnum opus. Beautiful, timeless, and endlessly inspiring, the Idylls will entertain and enlighten us for generations to come.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The gorgeous afterglow of Romanticism 22 Feb. 2006
By William Timothy Lukeman - Published on
Format: Paperback
The eloquence of several previous reviewers is proof enough of this volume's poetic power. And while I agree with the hesitation of many over the staunch Victorian morality which infuses the poetry, I find myself admiring it all the same, without necessarily agreeing with it. Here is a man's deeply felt vision, a statement of his times, drawing upon the lush sweep of the English Romantics & tempered by the frowning propriety of his own world. It's a complex & delicate balance, which should collapse of its own paradoxical weight ... and yet, the fusion works superbly, resulting in some of the most stirring & beautiful narrative poetry ever written. Tennyson's lyric gift is rich, evocative & fluent. In addition, he brings remarkable psychological nuance & insight to his work. In many ways, it's a summation of his age, a farewell to an older world whose values are worth remembering & preserving, as a darker age dawns. And in the end, above all else, it's tremendously readable! Highly recommended!
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