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The Pendragon Legend [Paperback]

Antal Szerb , Len Rix (translator)
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

31 Aug 2007
At an end-of-the London season soiree, the young Hungarian scholar-dilettante Janos Batky is introduced to the Earl of Gwynedd, a reclusive eccentric who is the subject of strange rumours. Invited to the family seat, Pendragon Castle in North Wales, Batky receives a mysterious phone-call warning him not to go...Antal Szerb's first novel "The Pendragon Legend" (1934), set in Wales is a gently satirical blend of gothic and romantic genres, crossed with the murder mystery format to produce a fast-moving and often hilarious romp. But beneath the surface, the reader becomes aware of a steely intelligence probing moral, psychological and religious questions.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pushkin Press; New edition (31 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1901285898
  • ISBN-13: 978-1901285895
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 277,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Antal Szerb was born in 1901 into a cultivated Budapest family. He obtained a doctorate in German and English Literature and was a prolific scholar, writing numerous books on drama, poetry and literary history, including the still-influential "History of World Literature" (1941). His first novel, "The Pendragon Legend", pub­lished in 1934, is set in London and Wales. "Journey by Moonlight" appeared in 1937, followed in 1942 by "Oliver VII" and "The Queen's Necklace". Szerb died in the forced-labour camp at Balf in January 1945.

"A writer of immense subtlety and generosity, with an uncommonly light touch which masks its own artistry. His novels transform farce into poetry, comic melancholy into a kind of self- effacing grace ... Antal Szerb is one of the great European writers" Ali Smith

"Szerb is a master novelist, a comedian whose powers transcend time and language, and a playful, sophisticated intellect" Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

Product Description


Szerb was fluent in German and English and greatly interested in unusual religious beliefs. His knowledge of Rosicrucianism and the occult informs this often very funny book, which takes many affectionate potshots at the period's popular fiction. Szerb, who produced a history of English literature, knew his Shakespeare, Blake and Milton, but also the frothier writings of John Buchan, Edgar Wallace and P G Wodehouse. --PAUL BAILEY The Independent

The novel shoots back and forth between London and Wales; and, quite astonishingly, there is not a false note in it. (...) Szerb is a master novelist, a comedian whose powers transcend time and language (again, thanks to Rix for his tender approach to the source material), and a playful, sophisticated intellect. (...) There is so much in this book that it is impossible to summarise, except to say that it is a romp, but one which romps within itself; it has fun with the conventions, and has fun with having fun with them, too. It is an absolute treat, deliciously ludic, to be read with a big smile on your face throughout. --NICHOLAS LEZARD The Guardian

Szerb belongs with the master novelists of the 20th century. PAUL BAILEY Daily Telegraph -- May Szerb's entry into our literary pantheon be definitive. ALBERTO MANGUEL Financial Times -- A writer of immense subtlety and generosity, with an uncommonly light touch which masks its own artistry. His novels transform farce into poetry, comic melancholy into a kind of self-effacing grace. Can literary mastery be this quiet-seeming, this hilarious, this kind? Antal Szerb is one of the great European writers. ALI SMITH -- Szerb, however, aware that gothic literature had long become its own parody, played his story for laughs. The result is a dark tale of spiritual quest told in the style of the Marx brothers. --ALBERTO MANGUEL Financial Times

From the Publisher

A new translation into English of a classic of Hungarian Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff 8 Dec 2008
By AJ-99
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is tremendous fun, quite unputdownable. A young Hungarian in 1930s London is invited to an isolated castle by a mysterious aristocrat and becomes caught up in murderous conspiracies, spooky goings-on and the search for the secrets of the Rosicrucians.

It's both thriller and comedy, and by turns genuinely funny and genuinely gripping and eerie. A lot of the fun comes from the narrator's bemused but affectionate Mitteleuropean take on the English types he encounters. The characters are lively and there's an agreeable sense of the author being a sophisticated mind on holiday.

I hate to sound moronic but someone should probably turn this into a film; or better, tone down the somewhat gruesome ending and make it into a BBC Christmas drama. Hugely enjoyable.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pendragon Legend 19 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is simply a wonderful read. We follow Hungarian scholar, Janos Bakty, from his studies at the Reading Room of the British Museum to the family seat of the reclusive Earl of Gwynedd. Apparently, this novel was based on a year that the author spent in England and his bemused reaction, and affection, for the country shines through. The real story begins with the hero meeting the Earl and being invited to study the rare volumes in his library. After this introduction Bakty meets, he thinks by chance, a fellow traveller to the castle and is also warned by telephone not to go. He is concerned about this warning, but also feels ashamed when he admits as much to a friend, who considers such considerations less than manly. Things become more and more bizarre as the book continues - for the Earl is in danger. There is a great cast of characters in this novel, which manages to be serious and also mocking at the same time. Every time Bakty steps into danger we want to stop him, but the twists and turns of the plot are so delightful that you also never want it to end. Bakty is based on the author and his gentle nature and the ironic humour aimed at his own failings make you delight in his company. It also makes it more tragic that this man, who created such joyous and intelligent literature, was killed in a Nazi labour camp. His work means he will never be forgotten and I am certainly grateful that I have discovered his books.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gothic mystery with tones of occult and comedy 15 May 2008
The Pendragon Legend is an Hungarian novel from 1930s, but the story isn't particularly Hungarian. A Hungarian researcher and bibliophile János Bátky is introduced to the Earl of Pendragon and is invited to study the books in his exquisite library. Bátky soon learns that getting involved with the Pendragons can be dangerous: he is threatened by mysterious forces and many strange events happen at the Pendragon manor. Antihero Bátky is an outsider who gets drawn into quite a mess.

The story is a strange mixture of gothic horror story and light comedy. The Earl Pendragon is a gloomy old gentleman and the history of the family features legendary characters. Rosicrucianism plays an important role in the story. The Finnish publisher advertises the book as Da Vinci Code published 60 years before Dan Brown's novel. This is advertising, of course, but the books belong in the same genre.

The Pendragon Legend is a charming story. It's not high literature, but the plot is clever, Bátky is a lovely lead character and the story has a good vibe to it. I also enjoyed the old-fashioned atmosphere of the 1930's England, and the translator did a good job capturing that in the language used. The Pendragon Legend is a tasty mystery with flavours of horror and occult. (Review based on the Finnish translation.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read 17 Feb 2010
If you can imagine PG Wodehouse with a gothic twist, this gives you an idea of this book. Great 3-dimensional characters, evocative descriptions of Welsh countryside, and some gems in terms of the writing/translation. Quite an unusual book but enjoyable to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars charming 28 Aug 2011
It was a true delight find this author - in an age where unlikeable heroes and villains abound the undulating charm of the characters was a true pleasure. Similarly, the obvious love affair between the translator and his subject has created a wonderfully fluid read. One of the tragically lost masters of the 20th century? HIghly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent goth occult mystery 26 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A well woven tale drawn in atmospheric mists and mysteries from secret societies and legends of a land's history. Delicious.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully daft 7 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an engagingly daft story, delightfully told. The Hungarian author seems to have fully absorbed his pre-war London and North Wales experiences, and in this gleeful send up of gothic horror and whodunit genres uses them to conjure up a 1930s Britain that is ridiculous, a plot that is farcical and a host of characters that is totally preposterous. As well as Ealing comedy baddies there are murders, red herrings, creepy ruins, mad-cap chases, 'Allo 'Allo disguises, Wodehousian breakfasts and a slightly deranged aristocrat descended from a Rosicrucian. Don't even try to fathom the bit about the lunatic gnome. The translation seems impeccable though my copy had a repeated typo whereby it was uncertain whether we were talking about "Llanvygan" or "Llangyvan". Recommended for anyone who likes improbable plots, black and white comedy films d'un certain age, or just wants to see how a talented author could turn his hand to well-crafted slapstick.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!
When I read this book, I had assumed that it was by a modern, (that is, written within the last 30 years), author. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Dave
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor
Very gothic in nature. Stilted with an unassuming story line that is too unbelievable to be true, but with no hint of fantasy fiction to make it palatable.
Published 6 months ago by ali100
4.0 out of 5 stars A curious delight
This isn't the greatest of Szerb's books (that is "Journey By Moonlight", an absolute must read, also translated by Len Rix) but it's a hoot nonetheless. Read more
Published 7 months ago by MediaMan
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and highly original
A highly original, hilarious and virtuosic novel about an academic who finds himself caught up in an unlikely sequence of events involving attempted assassinations of an Earl,... Read more
Published 9 months ago by M. F. Cayley
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard going
Normally finish books quickly couple of days,this one is hard going.I don't know if i can stand another reading any more.
Published 10 months ago by TIM EGAN
4.0 out of 5 stars Hints of the past
Creates the atmosphere of a bygone age. Sometimes it is a bit ponderous, typical of the writing of the time, more telling less showing as the mantra goes about todays writing, but... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Beady
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure about this one
I'm still in the process of trying to read it. Hopefully I'll get to the end, but am not certain. So far, it's a bit rubbish!
Published 10 months ago by Joystick
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it
I felt the end didn't quite live up to the first half - but an enjoyable read and I would like to try this author again.
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
I could give a description of the plot etc but I wont!
Excellent read-quite funny at times and simply brilliant!
I would recommend this with no hesitation. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Bookdude
5.0 out of 5 stars Agatha Christie meets Dan Brown?
Brilliant read with enough in-depth character building to easily identify with both the unwitting hero and the supporting characters. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mr. R. J. Long
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