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The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table [Paperback]

Rosemary Sutcliff


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Book Description

Nov 1994 King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
A retelling of the adventures and exploits of King Arthur and his knights at the court of Camelot and elsewhere in the land of the Britons.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin Books; Reprint edition (Nov 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140371494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140371499
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,045,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
In the dark years after Rome was gone from Britain, Vortigern of the narrow eyes and the thin red beard came down from the mountains of Wales, and by treachery slew Constantine of the old royal house and seized the High Kingship of Britain in his place. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Sutcliff's Best! 7 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Rosemary Sutcliff's adaptation of the King Arthur legend is truly a unique and inspiring work, told in a highly descriptive yet very concise format. It is not only powerful and thought-provoking, but creates a sense of the ancient and medieval time it owes its existence to. Starting years before Arthur comes to power, Sutcliff tells the story of young Merlin and how Arthur came to be, following him through his rise to High King, the meetings of such brave and infamous knights such as Lancelot, Tristan and Gawain, right up to just before the quest for the Holy Grail begins. Sutcliff not only tells the traditional and time-honored stories, such as the sword in the stone, but also adapts other variations of the quests that individual knights took upon themselves to maintain peace and honor in Britain. For example, although he may not have actually been a knight of the round table, Sutcliff tells the tragic and romantic story of Tristan and Iseult, the ironic tale of Beaumains, and the humorous story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, all of which reflect the honor and love which bounded King Arthur's kingdom together. This book easily stands alone, but simultaneously lays solid groundwork for the next two books, The Light Beyond the Forest and The Road to Camlann, two other excellent books written by Sutcliff on the rise and fall of Arthur. By taking her stories to a level above just the basic story-telling, Sutcliff also helps put King Arthur's place in history into perspective and gives an excellent reason for retelling this timeless legend again for this day and age. The book is really a medieval romantic story at heart, but has enough battles and swashbuckling adventures to keep readers more interested in action than a rambling story hooked. I would recommend this book to those who have never read a King Arthur book in their life, to those who might know the story by heart, and anyone in between those two categories, because it is an excellent way of reacquainting ourselves with the days of princes and knights, of villains and dragons, chivalry and fair maidens, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The Sword and the Circle and the other two books in the trilogy truly deserve a place all their own among those stories about the knights of the round table. Reading through it page by page, I truly felt drawn into a dim and room, lit by a crackling fire while the wind howled outside, listening to the voice of an excellent story-teller speak of a bygone age and long-dead heroes.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Adventure About King Arthur and his Knights 24 Mar 2000
By "stubbz" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Sword and the Circle is a great book about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The story begins with how Arthur actually became king. The story then continues on with adventures of Arthur and how he assembles his Knights of the Round Table. The book tells about the many quests of Arthur, his knights, Guenever, and Merlin, the magician. During the story Arthur adds many knights to his group, but none stand out more than Gawain and Lanccelot. I enjoyed this book and thought it was very well-written. This book is very exciting and full of adventure. I had a hard time putting this book down because it told so much about the journeys of the knights, such as the mystery between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The book was also quite interesting and gave adequate information and detail without having excessive writing. This book kept me interested because it was so in depth and full of fascinating information, such as the feelings Sir Lancelot was forced to hide from others. The only negative aspect about the book was that it jumped around between characters. I had a little difficulty following what each character was doing, so I had to look back in the book to see what was happening. I would definitely recommend this book because it is an epic story of adventure that people of all ages would enjoy.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars English teacher struggling to teach this book 25 Oct 2008
By Darnell Schmoe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I am teaching Sutcliff's The Sword and the Circle to a 7th grade class. I do find the descriptive language incredibly beautiful, and I like how thorough the collection is. However, I'm finding that this book is entirely too difficult for my 7th graders (and they are a bright bunch of kids). I'm frustrated that this book is marketed to such a young audience, because I think it would be more appropriate for high schoolers and for adults. (The Sword and the Circle in the 5th grade?! I'm glad I'm not teaching that class!)

Does anyone know of a collection of Arthurian legends that is well written, but more appropriate for a younger audience? I want my kids to get excited about legends, not to find them grueling and tedious.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A review on "The Sword and the Circle" 24 Mar 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book "The Sword and the Circle," is about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. King Arthur is a young man who was crowned King of Britain at an early age. He is a brown haired boy with a slight build, who became king at age 15. He is a king and courteous perosn. He was given the Round Table and 100 good-trained kinghts as a gift from Queen Guenevere's father. This book is mainly about King Arthur and his knights. It is based on the stories of the adventures the kinghts go on. Every chapter is a different adventure for a different person in the story, but all the small chapters are connected by being part of the "brotherhood," the "knights and King Arthur." I thought one very interesting part was when King Arthur went out on his own adventure and was challeneged for a jousting by a knight. King Arthur could not defeat the knight, so the knight gave the High King a chance to live. The deal was if King Arthur could find the answer to a riddle, by the next year, then he would live, but if he did not find the correct answer, he would die. I really enjoyed reading this book because it was very exciting, and it was hard to put the book down. I thought the characters in the book were really admirable. They were fun, and their personalities made the book thrilling. I found the story magnificent because the charaters were always going on exciting adventures. They would always come back to King Arthur's Court and share their story with everyone. It was fascinating to learn that King Arthur invited strangers into his castle. He trusted everyone, and anyone that needed shelter was invited to come into the castle. In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and I think anyone would if they like adventures. It was a great book!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I Am Your True Knight, Forever..." 4 July 2009
By R. M. Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There are countless retellings and adaptations concerning the life and times of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and I'm not even close to having read all of them. Therefore, it's impossible for me to say that Rosemary Sutcliffe's version is the definitive Arthurian retelling. However, it's certainly one of the best. Told in Sutcliffe's graceful prose that is both epic and intimate when need-be, and the tricky subjects like incest, adultery and bloodshed are conveyed without being either too prudish or overly graphic.

This first installment in her "King Arthur trilogy" is thicker than the next two books combined, and Sutcliffe draws on a wide range of sources with which to build her own narrative. Beginning with Merlin's boyhood and his activities at Tintagel, Sutcliffe goes on to the circumstances of Arthur's birth as outlined in Geoffrey Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain, giving us her account of his birth, fosterage, and eventual crowning when only just fifteen.

From Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur she brings in the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guenever, Arthur's struggle to establish peace in Britain, and the forming of the Knights of the Round Table.

From this point, Sutcliffe moves into several other stories concerning the Knights of the Round Table, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (the most famous translation by Tolkien: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo) the Kitchen Knight (also one of my favourite picture books by Trina Schart Hyman: The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur) and perhaps the best rendering of the tale of Tristan and Iseult there is (it almost deserves to be its own book).

Merlin and Morgan le Fey drop out of the story surprisingly quickly, and most of it is concerned with knight's errands and love stories, most of which can be read out of order, for this is not a novel so much as it is a compilation of stories. It can be rather difficult at times to keep track of all the interwoven stories that double-back and twist about and get steadily more complex as each chapter goes on.

"The Sword and the Circle" is followed by two sequels, "The Light Beyond the Forest," which recounts the search for the Holy Grail, and "The Road to Camlann" which concludes the trilogy with the destruction of Camelot and the disbandment of the Knights of the Round Table. I'd recommend tracking down the three-in-one version: King Arthur Stories.

The amount of story that Sutcliffe is trying to get across means that characterization beyond broad brushstrokes is minimum, and often motivation is completely lost, but what she still manages to skillfully convey the depth of human emotion that is so prevalent in these legends: the longing for the divine, the pain of love, and the mindlessness of hate. Arthur is perfectly portrayed as a man who rises to status of beloved ruler not through physical prowess, but his strength of leadership and his ability to create peaceful resolutions. Yet I got the sense that Sutcliffe was more interested in Lancelot, what with his twisted face and passionate heart. There are probably more pages dedicated to him than any other character in the entire trilogy.

She also crafts the unforgettable images of Arthurian legend that seem to be known to everyone: the sword in the anvil in the churchyard, the white hand in the lake clutching Excalibur, the hall of the Round Table, the byre of Elaine floating down the river outside Camelot, Merlin sleeping under the Hawthorn tree...the list goes on, and all of it is encapsulated in her rendering of medieval Britain: the dark forests and cool lakes, standing stones and mysterious wells, castles and hermitages.

Sutcliffe has created a very "pure" vision of the Arthurian story, in comparison the revisionist treatments that many authors use on the legends today (usually by giving them a feminist slant). But here we have a sense of the original story, much like the retellings/compilations by Roger Lancelyn Green and Howard Pyle, in which the knights: "take oaths that always they would defend the right, that they would be the true servants and protectors of all women, and deal justly in all things with all men, that they would strive always for the good of the kingdom of Britain and the glory of the kingdom of Logres, and that they would keep faith with each other and with God."
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