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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon 8 July 2004
The earlier rendition by Keith Baines of Mallory's classic work, 'Le Morte d'Arthur', went out of print, but the demand was such that there was bound to be a press that would pick it up. All hail to Signet for doing so here! They have taken the old text and reprinted it, practically as a photo-stat. Even the pagination has remained the same, but the print face is a bit cleaner than the older copy in a side-by-side comparison (I purchased the Signet edition, thinking it was a revision, when I already had the older Baines edition -- they are the same).
Sir Thomas Mallory was a great one to write the adventures of King Arthur and his knights - a knight himself, he led a life of intrigue and adventure, albeit not one that always lived up to the ideas of chivalry he penned at the heart of the Arthurian legends. Mallory did not invent Arthur; he is one of the principle medieval chroniclers, having time (he was in prison with nothing else to do, after all) to set down in prose stories he'd heard throughout his life. These were popular tales, not always told in the same way with the same details, as is true of most oral legends and transmitted stories, much to the later frustration of scholars and readers. The earliest printing of Mallory's stories had his authorship suppressed by Caxton, one of the better-known publishers of the time.
The earliest Arthurian legends date back as far as the late Roman times in Britain. Controversies abound, but many have settled on a late Roman or Romano-British general named Arturius - however, given the linguistic nature of the name (it is derivative of ruler or leader), it is impossible to know if this was in fact a name or a title, and the legends may be compilations of the acts of many leaders bearing the name. There was also a Welsh leader with the name/title Arddu, 'Dark One', who is sometimes conflated into Arthurian legend. Arthur was celebrated in the pre-Norman times for the order and stability he represented; Arthur was celebrated in post-Norman times for his campaigns against Saxons. Arthur continues to be an intriguing character, today reminiscent of ancient mysteries as well as pagan and new age ideas as well.
In any event, Mallory doesn't attach specific dates to his tales. The book actually consists of many tales. The first is entitled 'The Tale of King Arthur', which introduces the figures of Merlin, Gawain, Uwayne, Pellinore, Morgan le Fay (the Celtic war goddess Morgana, dressed up as Arthur's sister) and others, and includes the sword-in-the-stone event. While this text has been modernised by Keith Baines, there are certain crucial lines left in Mallory's English, including this most famous one:
Whoso pulleth oute this swerd of this stone and anvyld is rightwys kynge borne of all Brytaygne
Following this tale, Mallory includes many of the famous tales in Arthurian legend as stories more or less complete in themselves, but still linking to the other tales. 'The Tale of Sir Lancelot du Lake' is a knight's tale indeed, with no fewer than twenty horseback duels back-to-back. 'The Tale of Sir Gareth' is a similar spirited tale, less well known. 'The Book of Sir Tristram of Lyoness' makes Tristram and Iseult, famous by other writers as well, into lovers, this time with a more happy ending than usual. The lesser known 'Tale of Arthur and Lucius' describes battles and skirmishes with the emperor, but never really captured popular imagination.
Mallory saves the best for last, with three major tales - 'The Tale of the Sangreal', the Holy Grail; 'The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwynevere'; and finally, 'Le Morte D'Arthur'. The tale of the Holy Grail continues into the present day in various fashions; here is contains strange glosses of the Old and New Testaments, as well as a good number of miracles, as one would expect from the Grail. The last tale, the death of Arthur, is probably the most famous, and the best written.
Even though an English knight, the courtly fashion was after a French design for many centuries after the Norman conquest, and this French influence in notable in the stories, from their titles to their plots and characterisations, including the places Mallory uses.
Keith Baines eliminates a lot of needless dialogue from his rendering here, but keeps the plot lines and sequence of action with integrity from earlier manuscripts and recited tales. His translation compares favourably with others, becoming a fairly standard text for good reason. Robert Graves (of 'I Claudius' fame) provides an appreciative introduction to the text. Baines himself was a poet; however, this text, accepted somewhat reluctantly, is probably his best known work.
Arthur lives on into the modern world and beyond. Baines' edition gives it life to carry on, and Signet makes it available.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 1999
When I began to create the curriculum for a British Literature course at the boarding school I work at, I realized the resources I was given to use only briefly mentioned the adventures of King Arthur and his knights. Medieval literature is one of my favorite subjects, and I didn't feel it was right for students to be robbed of the experience of reading this classic work. Malory wrote this classic work during the War of the Roses, a civil war that tore England apart. Through his prose, Malory hoped to resurrect the vision of a perfect medieval world. Keep this in mind when you read this book, and try to place yourself in the medieval era. You won't be dissappointed!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2014
Absolutely greatest and most detailed work about King Artur and his Knights and Merlion! Sir Thomas Malory is the best author ever written on the subject! One warning all book is written in Late Middle English so a deep language knowledge is appreciated for good reading!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2009
amazing book, various short stories of the legendary king arthur. I very much enjoyed this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2013
This is a decent copy with reasonable size print. The paper is not very good quality but it's good to have the entire thing in one volume and the font is a decent size and easy to read.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2010
Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur " is perhaps the best-known version of the Arthurian legends in English. Despite the title, "the death of Arthur", the work does not deal solely with King Arthur's death but rather with the whole of his life and reign. The error appears to have originated with Malory's first publisher William Caxton who applied the title of Malory's final section to the entire work. The book retells some well-known stories from French and English sources, such as the Sword in the Stone, the Quest for the Holy Grail, the romance of Tristan and Isolde, the adulterous love between Lancelot and Guinevere and the death of King Arthur at the hands of the traitor Mordred. One of the book's eight sections, the Tale of Sir Gareth, appears to be Malory's own invention.

The identity of the author is not precisely known. During the time it was being written, during the 1450s and 1460s, there were at least six men named Thomas Malory living in England, but most (although not all) modern scholars attribute the work to Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire. This individual lived from around 1413 to 1470, so would have lived through the latter part of the Hundred Years War as well as the Wars of the Roses. He appears to have been a colourful character who served as an MP for Warwickshire but also served time in prison for various offences including rape and robbery. There is an irony if such a man was indeed the author of Le Morte D'Arthur, as one of the work's major themes is how one might reconcile two of the great preoccupations of the Middle Ages, love of God and love of violence.

There is some doubt as to whether King Arthur ever existed, and to judge from Caxton's preface there were some people who had doubts about his existence even in the 1400s. Malory, however, presents his work as though it were the true story of a real historical figure who lived about a thousand years before his own time. The work is, however, anachronistic in that the society which Malory describes bears a much greater resemblance to that of the fifteenth century than it does to that of the fifth. Malory even makes reference to cannon, even though firearms were only introduced into Europe about a century before his birth. (Mind you, the only character who actually makes use of guns is Mordred. Perhaps Malory saw them as the coward's weapon.)

Indeed, the whole work is based around an anachronism. Although fifth-century societies had warriors, they had no concept of the institution of knighthood or chivalry, something which grew up in the later Middle Ages. This institution may have developed in an attempt to reconcile warfare with Christian ideals. In "Le Morte d'Arthur" these ideals are represented by the Pentecostal Oath sworn by the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur makes his knights swear that they will only fight in a righteous cause, show mercy to defeated opponents, uphold justice, fight against oppression, protect the poor and weak and respect the chastity of women.

A key concept in the book is "honour"- except that Malory generally does not use this Norman-French loanword, preferring the native English "worship", with all its religious connotations. A knight can gain worship by mighty feats of arms, provided they are performed in a worthy cause. A knight will lose worship if he fights in an evil cause or if he fights unfairly, such as by striking an opponent who is wounded or unhorsed.

Yet despite this note of idealism, Malory's vision is at heart a pessimistic one. The only knight who wholly lives up to these ideals is Galahad, who is rewarded with a vision of the Holy Grail but dies young. Galahad's father Lancelot, in other respects a paragon of knighthood, is deemed unworthy because of his adultery with Queen Guinevere, and most of the other knights fall a lot further short of the ideals expressed in the Pentecostal Oath than does Lancelot. Even Arthur himself, although initially presented as a beacon of hope, is far from being an idealised monarch- he fathers a child, for instance, by his own sister. It is the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere which leads to the civil war which devastates the kingdom, to the downfall of the Round Table and to the death of Arthur. Malory was doubtless inspired to write these passages by the civil war which had devastated England in his own lifetime and his message is clear; idealism is doomed to failure by human weakness.

My comments are based upon the Wordsworth edition which modernises the spelling and punctuation but otherwise leaves the text as it was first published by Caxton. The modern reader's main problem with the work is unlikely to be Malory's language- there are only a handful of unfamiliar vocabulary items, and the Wordsworth edition provides a helpful glossary of these- but his long-winded prose style and tendency to repeat himself. Apart from the Holy Grail sequences, which are more like an extended religious allegory, the narrative tends to fall into a very familiar pattern- Knight A rides out, meets Knight B, fights with him, overcomes him and then moves on to a fight with Knight C, which is described in similar terms. Even Malory's similes become repetitive- two knights fighting are generally likened to two wild boars hurtling together, even though these creatures had been extinct in England for around two hundred years at the time he was writing. Malory's passion for informing us exactly how many knights Lancelot or Gawaine unhorsed at some particular tournament recalls that of the football anorak who can recite by heart all Sheffield Wednesday's results from the 1956-57 season.

Some modern editions abridge the text, and I can understand why. "Le Morte D'Arthur" may be the best-known work of English-language Arthurian literature today, but as another reviewer has pointed out "well-known" does not always equate to "widely read", and I suspect that most readers today will owe their familiarity with the story to a modern retelling. The original, at least in its unabridged form, will probably be of most interest to those with an academic interest in the development of English literature.
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on 29 December 2013
Remembered it from school and decided to try it. Took a while to get into as it's written in archaic English but once on the roll it's difficult to discard. Don't expect fireworks but there's plenty of jousting, etc, which may seem repetitive; but there's plenty of intrigue to go with it. Super for those who like tales of knights in shining armour rescuing maidens locked away in castle towers, for this must be the 'Daddy of them all'. For perhaps the first printed work ever published in the English language it's well worth the 75p layout.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2013
Fantastic edition for students, really helpful. I would highly recommend it to anyone studying Malory. Norton critical editions never fail me!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2011
This must surely be the definitive account of King Arthur and his knights. At first some of the archaic words need to be looked up in the glossary but it's not long before tales of valour, treachery, gore and adventure come spilling off the pages. A very worthwhile buy.
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on 8 April 2015
Really good value. The tales are good to read (though maybe spread them out a bit, they're quite heavy going at times). The font is minuscule though, so if you struggle with reading vision I recommend a strong magnifying glass.
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