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King Arthur and his band have been transmogrified over the years even more than has Robin Hood. From a Romano-British war-chief to the parfait gentil knight who appears to live in those tall castles of Les Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berri. Peter Ackroyd's recasting reminds me immediately that this is a book for menopausal knights, written in an age where the knight was less one who pricked forth and broke a lance for Christ and more an administrator and official.

Looked at from a distance the whole chivalric construct has serious internal inconsistencies. There is the religious fervour on the one hand (a very formal Christian impulse). But on the other hand there is the old Germanic warrior cult, it matters little whether Sir Lancelot is right, he's simply going to beat you. A consideration of importance in an era when duels were an essential part of relationship counselling. On the...er...third hand there's the women, one minute they are the object of platonic love and the next in bed with their knight. This is the world of Les Rois Maudits where duty points one way and desire the other. The Death of Arthur covers these inconsistencies by usually disregarding them; a good answer for its audience. But occasionally even the bone-headed knights spot the problem. In an age where (post Black Death) there was great ferment and a great consumption of fermented potables the heightened emotion of these inconsistencies comes through.

A fine reworking of an old classic, but like in the Iliad there's an awful lot of fighting. And if you were hoping for something magic then I have to report the general style is that of reading football results (Sir Lancelot 10, Barbarians O) but that was much as I imagine it sounded to the original readers. And you do need to try to get Monty Python out of your head.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have been an enthusiast for the Arthurian legends ever since reading Roger Lancelyn Green as a child, and I have enjoyed many of Peter Ackroyd's previous books so was looking forward to this very much. Sadly it was a considerable disappointment. It is an abridgement and "translation" of Malory's Morte d'Arthur, but I am afraid that it doesn't really capture Malory's spirit, nor the high, myth-like drama of the tales of magic and flawed heroes.

Ackroyd's prose is generally very flat which robs these odd stories of their magical air, so that much of the book seems like a series of rather similar vignettes involving knights jousting, enchantments and deceptions, ladies whose virtue is in peril and so on. The Quest for the Grail and the Death of Arthur do work better, but still failed to grip or involve me in any way. Part of the problem is a noticeable inconsistency in language - a real surprise from such an accomplished writer as Peter Ackroyd. For example, in the same paragraph at the start of the Quest for the Grail we get Arthur saying in a flat modern vernacular "...you have come close to killing me by making that vow..." and then "Why should I not grieve?" - two wholly different styles. A few pages later Galahad says "I await your return with interest," which sounds more like the close of a modern business letter than a knight talking to a loved friend who is going to mortal peril. I'm afraid it just didn't work for me.

I am sorry to be so critical of a book I expected to like very much, but it's not a patch on Malory's original. This will do as a serviceable summary of Malory for reference, but for a really involving (if eccentric and personal) re-working of the Arthurian legends, I'd recommend T.H. White's fabulous The Once And Future King.
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I didn't enjoy this re-write and I didn't feel that Peter Ackroyd added anything to "King Arthur", if anything he subdued it by flattening the dialogue and adding modern alternatives. The Arthurian Legends aren't easy to read, they take time and patience, because they're hundreds of years old and written to reflect a life so completely different from the one we live today. By moving away from that concept Peter Ackroyd has slowed down, altered, the flow of what is an absolute classical piece of literature and, in my own humble opinion, there are better "King Arthur's" on the market than this one.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 December 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There have been so many works of art and fiction based on the legends surrounding King Arthur over so many generations, that you think there has to be something there that is quite unique - to have inspired so many people and to have stood the test of time. We have "Merlin" on prime time Saturday night television - so there can be no denying the continuing hold of the legends.

Therefore it seems a worthy exercise to try to update these texts for our times and it needs no excuses or justifications - these are stories that still hold us fascinated.

Having failed to get into Malory many years ago, I felt this was the ideal opportunity to explore what it was that inspired previous generations. The actual language has been simplified and made very easy to read - there are no problems with understanding - the ideas are laid bare with nothing preventing us.

Nothing that is - apart from the lack of what we take for granted in most fiction that we read today! So what stands out is that we learn nothing about these characters - Arthur is a hollow shell and we understand nothing of his motivations or his ideas. Each person is thrown at us with no description or explanation - they just are.

Secondly - we have no clear story line or arc - it's almost like a shopping list of battles and quests. None of it makes sense, but maybe here we gain an insight into a culture where all of these characters were already well-known and if we are honest - we do know all about these characters, as we have seen them portrayed endlessly.

We also know that these stories had a part in shaping the early history of Britain. So the task is to see that we have an oral tradition passing on the events that were important to people then - the events that shaped them. We learn about places like Carlisle and Winchester - how they are steeped in pre-history.

In passing we learn about the customs and morals of that time - when Knights had a code of honour that we still understand and its implicit morality. How they revered women as "objects" to inspire, but also to be valued for their virtue - the first "trophy" wives!

All in all - it's a very different world to our own and so despite the easy language, this is not an easy read - plus, it's dull and dry in places. But I found that I was fascinated by all the references that fit in with other works of fiction I have read. From Tennyson to Neil Gaiman, there are so many of these, that it keeps you reading to discover what the original text said about a particular character or incident.

I have given this 4 stars as I feel privileged to have the chance to read this in an easy format and because of the resonances it has with all of my own history and what I have read before. If it wasn't so caught up with all of this - I would say it's not a very good book - it has little to recommend it to the new reader who comes to this for the first time - if such a person can exist?

Is there anybody who hasn't already heard about Arthur, Merlin, Guinnevere, Lancelot etc. ? So is there anybody who won't be at least slightly interested to see where all of this came from?

Even if you don't like this book or enjoy it - this is the best chance we currently have to try to understand where all this comes from and for those of us who are British - the kind of culture we came from. Comment Comment | Permalink
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I have been an enthusiast for the Arthurian legends ever since reading Roger Lancelyn Green as a child, and I have enjoyed many of Peter Ackroyd's previous books so was looking forward to this very much. Sadly it was a considerable disappointment. It is an abridgement and "translation" of Malory's Morte d'Arthur, but I am afraid that it doesn't really capture Malory's spirit, nor the high, myth-like drama of the tales of magic and flawed heroes.

Ackroyd's prose is generally very flat which robs these odd stories of their magical air, so that much of the book seems like a series of rather similar vignettes involving knights jousting, enchantments and deceptions, ladies whose virtue is in peril and so on. The Quest for the Grail and the Death of Arthur do work better, but still failed to grip or involve me in any way. Part of the problem is a noticeable inconsistency in language - a real surprise from such an accomplished writer as Peter Ackroyd. For example, in the same paragraph at the start of the Quest for the Grail we get Arthur saying in a flat modern vernacular "...you have come close to killing me by making that vow..." and then "Why should I not grieve?" - two wholly different styles. A few pages later Galahad says "I await your return with interest," which sounds more like the close of a modern business letter than a knight talking to a loved friend who is going to mortal peril. I'm afraid it just didn't work for me.

I am sorry to be so critical of a book I expected to like very much, but it's not a patch on Malory's original. This will do as a serviceable summary of Malory for reference, but for a really involving (if eccentric and personal) re-working of the Arthurian legends, I'd recommend T.H. White's fabulous The Once And Future King.
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This is a rather interesting idea for a book. Peter Ackroyd has decided to update Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur for the modern age, retelling the life of King Arthur in a language and style accessible to today's reader. Frankly, having myself struggled with Malory's language and (let's be honest) sometimes excruciatingly turgid prose, I think this is an excellent and laudable idea. Some of the tales herein are a part of our national identity and cultural heritage; their inspiring majesty should be available to even the most casual reader.

So, it's a great concept for a book, and one which I felt an author of Ackroyd's skill would have no trouble pulling off. But there are a couple of flaws in this work. The first is the brevity of each episode. There is little room for description here, it sometimes reads like a list of who fought who and who slept with whom, with little or no detail to bring the characters or situations to life. Ackroyd has perhaps sacrificed a little too much in order to keep the book to a certain length. I feel he could easily have doubled the length of the book, giving more description while still fitting his aim of keeping it short and readable.

Secondly there is the slightly inconsistent style of language. There are passages which are just amazing - the opening words describing Uther as a `Dragon in wrath as well as in power' is a god example. But Ackroyd mixes this with a flatter, more vernacular style. If he had stuck to one or the other it would have been ok (and even better if he had stuck to the high style), but the mixture of the two often jarred slightly.

Those points aside, this is a book that does what it sets out to do quite well. It is very readable, and gives a casual reader an accessible way of getting to grips with the best known of the Arthurian legends without having to plough through seemingly endless and almost incomprehensible medieval writings. I fairly zipped through it, and though much of it is a bit too list like for my taste, there were episodes written in such a way as to really capture the imagination. I can see this appealing to a wide range of more casual readers, and may encourage them to dig further and explore the magical realms of the original, which can only be a good thing. The minus points are only enough to bring it from being a great book to a good book, so on balance three stars in total.
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on 22 November 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Fact: Peter Ackroyd is an amazing writer. I've read all his fiction - from his first novel `The Great Fire of London' onwards - and a fair bit of his huge non-fiction works (on London, Venice, Albion, the Thames), together with three of his enormous literary biographies. The variety and sheer quality of his output is quite simply astonishing.

Another fact: There have been more words written about the Aurthurian legend than practically any other single topic in Britain. These include novels (Robert Holdstock, Stephen Lawhead, Marion Zimmer Bradley and M.K. Hume among many others, have each produced a series of books on the myths), academic treatments, straightforward re-tellings of the myth, screenplays, a TV series or two, stage plays, musicals and great poetry - including Mallory's 'Le Morte d'Arthur' from which Ackroyd derives his material. The list goes on. Question is: do we really need a new account?

Judging from this volume, not really. While it's written with clarity and is an intelligent read, I was disappointed at the flat re-telling and the occasional use of anachronistic language. And even though Peter attempts to throw new light on well-known episodes (while introducing ones I haven't come across before), he simply didn't make it interesting enough for me. It's not bad - how could it be? - but it's not great either. And that's the point.

Perhaps Ackroyd is over-stretching himself with the sheer volume of words he's producing these days. Slow down Peter!

If I were to recommend one book about the Arthurian legend it would be T.H White's immortal single volume classic `The Once and Future King' (originally published as four separate novels). In White's masterwork the legend is brought to life so beautifully and vividly and with a freshness that no-one else has come close to matching since its publication.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a rather interesting idea for a book. Peter Ackroyd has decided to update Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur for the modern age, retelling the life of King Arthur in a language and style accessible to today's reader. Frankly, having myself struggled with Malory's language and (let's be honest) sometimes excruciatingly turgid prose, I think this is an excellent and laudable idea. Some of the tales herein are a part of our national identity and cultural heritage; their inspiring majesty should be available to even the most casual reader.

So, it's a great concept for a book, and one which I felt an author of Ackroyd's skill would have no trouble pulling off. But there are a couple of flaws in this work. The first is the brevity of each episode. There is little room for description here, it sometimes reads like a list of who fought who and who slept with whom, with little or no detail to bring the characters or situations to life. Ackroyd has perhaps sacrificed a little too much in order to keep the book to a certain length. I feel he could easily have doubled the length of the book, giving more description while still fitting his aim of keeping it short and readable.

Secondly there is the slightly inconsistent style of language. There are passages which are just amazing - the opening words describing Uther as a `Dragon in wrath as well as in power' is a god example. But Ackroyd mixes this with a flatter, more vernacular style. If he had stuck to one or the other it would have been ok (and even better if he had stuck to the high style), but the mixture of the two often jarred slightly.

Those points aside, this is a book that does what it sets out to do quite well. It is very readable, and gives a casual reader an accessible way of getting to grips with the best known of the Arthurian legends without having to plough through seemingly endless and almost incomprehensible medieval writings. I fairly zipped through it, and though much of it is a bit too list like for my taste, there were episodes written in such a way as to really capture the imagination. I can see this appealing to a wide range of more casual readers, and may encourage them to dig further and explore the magical realms of the original, which can only be a good thing. The minus points are only enough to bring it from being a great book to a good book, so on balance three stars in total.
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on 15 September 2015
I tremendously enjoyed this book which I decided to read having enjoyed Ackroyd's History of England series. I can't comment on its likeness or faithfulness to the Mallory version but the original obviously dictates the structure of this book. There is real power and poetry in this version and the second book, the legend of Tristan and Isolde, and the last book were the three standout sections for me.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
King Arthur and his band have been transmogrified over the years even more than Robin Hood. From a Romano-British war-chief to the parfait gentil knight who appears to live in those tall castles of Les Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berri. Peter Ackroyd's recasting reminds me immediately that this is a book for menopausal knights, written in an age where the knight was less one who pricked forth and broke a lance for Christ and more an administrator and official.

Looked at from a distance the whole chivalric construct has serious internal inconsistencies. There is the religious fervour on the one hand (a very formal Christian impulse). But on the other hand there is the old Germanic warrior cult, it matters little whether Sir Lancelot is right, he's simply going to beat you. A consideration of importance in an era when duels were an essential part of relationship counselling. On the...er...third hand there's the women, one minute they are the object of platonic love and the next in bed with their knight. This is the world of Les Rois Maudits where duty points one way and desire the other. The Death of Arthur covers these inconsistencies by usually disregarding them; a good answer for its audience. But occasionally even the bone-headed knights spot the problem. In an age where (post Black Death) there was great ferment and a great consumption of fermented potables the heightened emotion of these inconsistencies comes through.

A fine reworking of an old classic, but like in the Iliad there's an awful lot of fighting. And if you were hoping for something magic then I have to report the general style is that of reading football results (Sir Lancelot 10, Barbarians O) but that was much as I imagine it sounded to the original readers. And you do need to try to get Monty Python out of your head.
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