Volume II of Le Morte D Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory s powerful and elegaic version of the Arthurian legend, recounts the adventures of Sir Tristram de Liones and the treachery of Sir Mordred, and follows Sir Launcelot s quest for The Holy Grail, his fatally divided loyalties, and his great, forbidden love for the beautiful Queen Guenever. Culminating in an account of Arthur s final battle against the scheming, deceitful Mordred, this is the definitive re-telling of the Arthurian myth, weaving a story of adultery, treachery and ultimately in its tragic finale death. Edited and published by William Caxton in 1485, Malory s moving prose romance looks back to an idealised Medieval age of chivalry, drawing on French and English verse sources to create an epic masterpiece of passion, enchantment, war and betrayal.
The text of this edition is based on Caston's original printed, with modernized spelling and punctuation. This volume also contains notes and a glossary.
Sir Thomas Malory was a knight in the fifteenth century, who, while imprisoned, compiled the collection of tales we know as Le Morte D'Arthur, translating the legend of King Arthur from original French tales such as the Vulgate Cycle.
I'm reminded of the self-referential quote from William Goldman's masterpiece The Princess Bride:
"Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles."
Goldman may as well have been writing about Le Morte d'Arthur, which includes pretty much everything on this list.
I'm glad Penguin* published this book in two volumes, so that I can give four stars to the first half (which is a little generous, if anything), and five to volume two. Taken as a whole, an amazing piece of literature, and perhaps the definitive version of the Arthurian story. While there is a continuous plot to the entire saga (although not always in chronological order), it's broken up into various nearly stand-alone sections, each with its own heroes and storylines. Volume 2 has most of the better episodes, including the great character-driven stories like the Tristram saga and the story of Launcelot and Guinevere, and the eerie, metaphorical story of the Grail Quest.
My favorite story was the tale of Sir Tristram. I particularly enjoyed the rivalry of Tristram and Palomides, who is probably my favorite character in the entire book, and a welcome surprise (since I wasn't familiar with him in advance).
What I enjoyed most about Le Morte d'Arthur are its complex and realistic characters (while the heroes may have superhuman strength and endurance, they exhibit realistic personality flaws and believable motivations). I also liked the way the individual tales were linked together into a cohesive unit, with events and decisions causing repercussions that ripple along throughout the rest of the saga.
The female characters aren't always very well-written, which is perhaps not surprising given the age and theme of the work, with most of them falling into the general categories of damsel in distress, conniving temptress, mischievous sorceress, sacred virgin, or unfaithful wife. But there are some good surprises here, including stories in which the damsel rescues the knight, rather than the other way around, and there are a few female characters with some depth, such as Maledisant.
The other thing that bothered me were the spoilers and anticlimaxes--the places in which Malory gives away the ending (or an important part of it) midway through the story, or else at the end of an episode casually mentions that our hero later gets slain by so-and-so. These sorts of things would never fly today, but of course Malory was writing at a different time, for a different sort of audience (one that would likely already be familiar with these stories, having heard other versions of them).
*I didn't actually read the Penguin version, so I'm not sure where Volume 1 ends and Volume 2 begins. This review covers the text from the beginning of the Tristram story.
I had heard about him, but I never knew much except faint stories. I officially got to know the character when I had to read "Elements of Literature" as part of my undergrad course called "A Survey of British Literature". I realized there are tons of adaptations and works of literature out there pertained to revising these legends and stories. So, since 2009, I've been fascinated with the whole idea, but never found the time or access to physical copies to read them. Until this December!
King Arthur, his court, and I initiated a long journey this past December 2020. I'll be reading some of the most notable adaptations and revisions and I'll share my agenda with you after I finish, just in case someone needed a chronological reading Arthurian plan!
There is no need for me to write how much I enjoyed Malory's account. So, I'll briefly go over things I noticed:
Malory writes matter-of-factly. In other words, he does not try to elongate the scenes with long descriptions, stretches of emotions, or exaggeration. If a knight loses a limb, it does not turn into a tragedy, it becomes a a limb lost in battle and the knights already expected it, so the reader should too! To me, the pithiness of his language makes for more realistic, life-like and solidly emotional scenes.
This observation is one of the reasons I enjoy medieval literature so much. I encountered unexpected little details in the warp of these chivalrous stories and legends. My serious-saga- reader mentality does not allow me to imagine funny or real-life details in the heart of this serious story. However, Malory somehow changed my whole opinion about long legends. Little comments such as how love was much different back then and Malory didn't know what Launcelot and Guenevere were doing behind closed doors (Like kids, love our time wasn't like yours now, and this is what, still fifteenth century?).
Finally, I need to name my favorite chracters, because I feel I owe them. I've lived almost one month with them. Dame Elaine of Corbenic who is King's Pelles's daughter, Elaine of Astolat (Fair maiden of Astolat), and Sir Palomides. There is something really faithful, true, and unheroicly human about them. To me, they are the real characters; so belonging to this world and now, yet so piously in love and magnanimous.
Part two of Malory's collected tales is even better than the first. By the time a reader reaches part two, they presumably had enough time to become more accustomed to the language.
Also, the second part is more story-full and lots of things tend to happen, or at least many of the 'big' things we all know from popular culture (the Guinevere-Lancelot plot, the Mordred plot, the betrayal of Arthur and his death, etc.)
Loved the Maledisant character as a more atypical female char (not evil sorceress / temptress, nor damsel in distress), but playful / teasing strong lady.
My only tinge of sadness regarding the book is the fact that I realized that my ability to emotionally feel the story is dampened by the English style. I know some of these stories and they can move me as archetypes / cultural references for an entire host of European lore. But here, I can read them and be intellectually interested in some of the details involved, but I'm not personally moved. I'm sure this is due to the old style of writing and the the bluntness inherent in it.
What can I say about Le Morte d'Arthur that I didn't say in my review of part 1?
I had to sort of force my way through it, as an essential part of my Arthurian reading. Still, I find that it wasn't worthwhile, really. I had thought it would give me insight into modern Arthurian stuff, which seemed to have little to nothing to do with most of the lays I had read. Someone said that most things are based on Le Morte, so I thought I'd check it out.
I think most things are based on things based on Le Morte. It's just so tediously written. I wonder it did well on first publication. Sure, the really good Arthurian stuff was all in French, but c'mon, Chaucer did some translating back in his day - was there no one more skilled than this punter in the 15th C to bring the French Arthurian romances back home to England? I mean... it's as bad as I'm saying, kids. He summarizes. He's formulaic. It's prose so you wonder why he can't describe things a little more interestingly. He even has a few "Except that wasn't Gareth, it was Gawain, my bad" lines. It's like listening to someone badly re-tell a story.
This is the way that Arthur ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
Two volumes, almost 700 pages of relentless jousts, avoiding horses, mighty buffets (that's knights groaning under sword strokes rather than tables groaning under the weight of scotch eggs and pork pies), ladies dying for love, dwarves, more tournaments, spears breaking, the quest for the Holy Grail, page upon page of listing Knight's names, further tournaments and knightly adventures featuring jousts, Arthur and Mordred meet in possibly the smallest chapter of the two volumes, and promptly die within a couple of paragraphs. Underwhelming is not the word.
There are some fascinating textural and historical devices through the whole work: It was one of the first books published by Caxton, and despite some debate who actually wrote it, it is accepted the Malory that did write it was stuck in the Tower of London during the Wars of the Roses. Consequently there is huge amount of betrayal and conflict between various Knights of the Round Table. Alliances are made and broken within a blink of an eye, often over trivial slights, and people are wounded or die as a result, which must have been a pretty accurate representation of life at the time of the Lancastrian and Yorkist struggle.
Also, given the weight of popular culture behind the legend of Arthur, the Grail takes a relatively small section of the whole, and some of the Knights we know and love turn out to be darker and more brutal than the rosy presentations we have know, particularly Gawain, whereas Lancelot comes off much better, which is odd as it's quite clear he's been copping off with Guinevere.
I have to say this is one of those books I've wanted to read for years and years. I've searched the second hand book shops the length and breadth of Blighty trying to find a matching pair in eager anticipation of something as beautiful and gripping as Gawain and the Green Knight, only to get massive list of Knights' names, far too much avoiding of horses and a lingering sense I've sorted of wasted all those years.
I found, when I started reading it, that this volume was more difficult than the first. I awarded it to the fact that the first third of the book is a continuation of a the story about Tristram. I didn't really know much about this knight before reading "Le Morte", but I still don't find his story all that intriguing. I feel like it was, perhaps, just another rendition of the love triangle between Lancealot, Artur and Gwen. Only this time we have zero qualms about rooting for the adulterer.
Once I had gotten through Tristram's story, the second 2/3rd picked up for me. I have previously read "The Once and Future King" and many of the stroies in that book (at least the meaningful ones, for me) showed up. Even so, it was still quite a drudge to get through everything. I want to learn more about the Arthurian legends, and this seemed like a good place to start. However, it was a long hard road, and a bit unsatisfying when it all boiled down.
For me, the most redeming factor, and the thing that kept me going for all 53 chapters, was reading about the final showdown between Arthur and Mordred. The last bit about what became of Lancealot and Gwenivere was also a nice addition. All and all, it was worth it for me. But I think that if you are interested in the adventure and romance that this legend conjures up in our modern minds, try something else.
I lived in an apartment building in 1989 that had a book swap on every floor. I was traveled each floor mining for literary gold-- and found it with this book. I love this book, it goes into detail on King Arthur and the knights of his court. It tells the major and minor story lines. I go back to it often.
Imprescindible para los obsesionados con los ciclos artúricos, la mejor novela escrita acerca de Arturo. Compleja, enrevesada, monumental... La acción se describe morosamente, a veces no avanza... Sin embargo, es atrayente y sugestiva.
This was a struggle. The story of Arthur and his Knights has changed a lot in the retellings down the centuries, which is probably the only reason the legend is still looked on fondly.
Because honestly this was hard to stomach. The heros of the story were serial liars and adulterers, who feel back on might makes right more times than I can count. A man praised for seducing and sleeping with anothers wife, another man worshipped as righteous for kidnapping a woman and forcing her to submit to his desires after she repents her seductress and evil ways.
What. The. Fuck? These are the heroes of legend people are supposed to think of fondly?
There was some irony in the quest for the grail, that all these righteous and noble knights were universally unworthy and called out on their sins.. but that this is seen as a tragedy and only made those sins (lets be honest. usually it was basically the sin of lusting after and then raping a woman) more noble in the eyes of the story and just. Fucking. Yikes.
Did not age well.
Similarly.. Over the two volumes I expected a little bit more King Arthur in the legend of King Arthur.
I had to force myself to finish this book, and just having this book on the go sucked the joy out of reading for *months*. Im glad to know a little bit more about the classics, but now every time I think of all the new retellings with how noble everyone is supposed to be.. im going to have a bad taste in my mouth.
I think Librivox is a phenomenal idea, but the first part of “Le Mort d’Artur” was very irregular, some readers were phenomenal, other’s weren’t. More importantly, there was very little consistency in how names were pronounced, and I dare say, in the versions of the text they were following. Thus, for the second part I went for consistency and got Frederick Davidson’s version. He is not my favorite reader, but he does a good job. That is, until female characters show up. I do not think it is an easy job for a man to read women. However, if all you do is give them a “silly girl” voice , it is a disservice to the book, which mind you does not champion the cause of ladies, fair or not. Between the two volumes, it is clear to me that although “Le Mort d’Artur” is certainly a book meant to be read aloud, it is not a book to be read to while cooking, house working, or walking. First world problems: too many books, too little time.
Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur is for me the most evocative and enthralling version of the Arthurian legend, it is the definitive version.
This Penguin edition was published in two volumes. Each volume containing between 450 and 500 pages. The whole book is split into 21 books, the first volume featured the first 9 books this second volume contains the last 12 books. It features Lancelot’s quest for the Holy Grail, his affair with Guenevere and cumulates with Arthur’s final battle against the treacherous Sir Mordred.
Book X, the first book here, is at 184 pages the longest book in the series. It concerns mainly Sir Tristram de Liones but as with all the stories it does digress quite a bit. As with the first volume there is plenty of action, if the knights aren’t engaged in war they are usually jousting and there is quite a bit of jousting in book X! The complex relationship between Sir Tristram and Sir Palomides begins to develop here too. From there the story moves on in book XI to Sir Launcelot but does return briefly to relate the conclusion of Tristram and Palomides in book XII. The pace now increases as we encounter spitting dragons, serpents and magic. Launcelot becomes, through enchantment, embroiled in a love triangle between Queen Guenevere and Elaine. The affair has a negative effect on him driving him into madness. Elaine is the daughter of King Pelles cousin of Joseph of Aritmathea. It is Pelles who introduces Launcelot to the Sangrail, the Holy Grail, in which he prophecies will break up the round table. There’s more fantasy here, it’s more of the romanticism you’d expect from Arthurian legend. This is one of my favourite parts of the whole book, I loved Sir Galahad’s story and Sir Lancelot’s realisation that he may not be the chivalrous knight he thought he was as he hears the harsh words of a hermit:
‘Now take heed, in all the world men shall not find one knight to whom Our Lord hath given so much of grace as He hath given you, for He hath given you fairness with seemliness, He hath given thee wit, discretion to know good from evil, He hath given thee prowess and hardiness, and given thee to work so largely that thou hast had at all days the better wheresomever thou came; and now Our Lord will suffer thee no longer.’
At which Launcelot promises to repent:
‘all that you have said is true, and from henceforward I cast me, by the grace of God, never to be so wicked as I have been, but as to follow knighthood and to do feats of arms.’
However he struggles to adhere to his repentance. Launcelot is one of the most powerful and complex characters in the Arthurian stories. His affair with Guenevere is compassionately dealt with by Malory, in a rare narrative aside he contemplates their affair:
‘Wherefore I liken love nowadays unto summer and winter; for like as the one is hot and the other cold, so fareth love nowadays; therefore all ye that be lovers call unto your remembrance the month of May, like as did Queen Guenever, for whom I make here a little mention, that while she lived she was a true lover, and therefore she had a good end.’
As the story unfolds religion becomes an important element in the story and the knights who seek the grail are subject to attacks from the devil as they learn that jousting isn’t the only battles they will have to win to achieve there goal. We also learn, through flashbacks, from Merlin the significance of the round table and the relevance of the Holy Grail. The story of the Sangrail is at the centre of Arthurian legend. Malory uses this as an analogy of the failings of the Britain he lives in stating ‘the Grail will never return to Britain because too few people believe in it.’ In this Le Morte D’Arthur’s tale of a declining empire is as relevant to Britain today as it was in Malory’s days. As well as this Le Morte D’Arthur is a story of love, faith, loyalty, adultery, murder and selfishness as well as selflessness, it’s a tale of religious morality and an adventure story.
The downfall of Camelot can be attributed to many things, everyone has a hand in it. The lustfulness of Guenevere, the disloyalty of Lancelot, hatred and ambition also play a part. Each small act that leads to all the blood and destruction could’ve been avoided if individual actions had been different, people could have turned away, but they don’t. There is many lessons to be learned from this tale.
The last battle when it comes is on such a scale it overshadows all the battles before it with over 100’000 dead! Despite the sad end to Arthur’s story Malory leaves us with a little hope:
‘Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross. And the inscription on his gravestone was:
‘Hic iacet Arthurus, Rex quondam Rex que futurus’ - ‘Here lies King Arthur, once and future King’.
There are many updated versions of Malory’s book including the highly recommended Once and Future King by T.H. White. However every book ever written about Arthur since Malory owes a debt to him. Malory tells the whole story from the conception of Camelot through to its downfall and he brings the complexities of the story and all the main characters into sharp focus. The versions I have read focus on it from a literary point of view and do not tap into the complexities and symbolisms of Malory.
Initially reading this can seem a daunting task, the complexity and dense symbolism aside the archaic style can seem a huge obstacle especially considering its length. This penguin version is split into two volumes but still needs to read back to back. I found though once I got into the rhythm of the prose that it actually added to the charm. This is admittedly my second reading, I first read it about 40 years ago and back then I did struggle with it, but it made an impression on me and I knew one day I would return to it. It is the a masterful work and is one of my favourite books of all time.
Considering Volume II as a separate book from Volume I, which it is, it is far better than volume I, and that book was superb. This is mainly due to the fact that Volume II has the Holy Grail, Guenevere and Lancelot’s affair and the jaw dropping emotional ending.
A few short words cannot express how much this book meant to me and how much the teacher who I had to read it for meant. This book holds the secrets of the universe, of our society, of our pursuit of lonliness and comradery at the same time. If you want to find the cyclic nature of our society check here, if you want to find your character flaws, check here. If you want to see the world in a whole new way, read...esp this one. Thank you Professor Lynch...RIP!
Having read the first part of Malory's Morte D'Arthur earlier this year I had, of course, to finish the story. This second part of Malory's account of the life and death of King Arthur contains the story of Sir Tristram (continued from the first volume), the story of the Sangreal (AKA the quest of the Holy Grail), the story of the love affair of Launcelot and Guinevere, which leads into the break up of the Round Table and the death of Arthur in the final battle with his son, Mordred.
As with the first volume I found myself with mixed feelings about what I was reading. The story is written in wonderful fifteenth century English which feels like it would read aloud well and the events are highly colourful. There are scenes of humour, such as when Launcelot, sleeping beside a pool of water, gets shot in the backside with an arrow by a passing deer hunt (book 18 chapter 21). On the other hand there is a deal of repetition, especially if a tournament happens. Malory just loves his tournaments and describes them at great length. I found myself skipping over some of those, as well as some of the stories, like the conclusion of the Tristram story. Others got me wondering exactly what was going on. The quest for the Sangreal (AKA the Holy Grail) is somewhat surreal and really quite destructive - the quest disrupts the kingdom for a full year and results in the death of many knights, including two of the three who achieve the quest. Somehow I don't think that a truly holy object like the Grail is meant to be would do that.
Of course, this is all fiction and is meant to entertain and not to be true to life. Entertaining it certainly is, but I did find reading to be something of an effort. The language is part of that. Though enjoyable in small does it was sometimes an effort to read a lot in one go. Also contributing to the "putdownable" nature of the book was the way it was divided into a large number of short chapters so if ever I tired of reading I would quickly come to a convenient place to stop.
Rating this book is as hard as reading it. Of course one has to put it into context, considering that it was written when writing was a very rare occurrence, so it must be viewed with very backward eyes.
That said, it is a grand work, which collects all previous written and unwritten stories of the Arthurian cycle and gives them some sort of order.
This book teaches many things about the Arthurian cycle, the most important of which is its chronological impossibility. The stories are set around the fourth or fifth century, but everything is written in a historical context that corresponds to the Middle Ages. This is not surprising, considering how little people in the Middle Ages knew about the previous centuries.
In reading this book, one discovers a completely different world, where altruism and good manners are paramount, where strong men cry and swoon from sorrow (even three times in a row), where there are gentle young damosels wandering alone in the woods, where a lie can be determined by a duel. In general, it is very interesting, if one can put the necessary effort into reading it.
Sometimes, however, it is a bit repetitive, such as when tournaments occur one after another and all the fights are described (generally in the same words, such as "the two fighters feinted and foined for more than an hour as if they were wood that is was marvel to see"), or when long rosters of knights doing something are listed extensively. Furthermore, it is somewhat confusing because some of the characters change names now and then.
I would not recommend this book to anyone who is not ready for a big effort and is highly motivated in discovering the origins of chivalric stories and (later) fantasy.
Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur is one of the most important Arthurian works ever published. This is not to say, however, that it is a fun read. By the time you finish volume 1, you begin to sense a very formulaic approach. This is less of a narrative and more of a catalog of Arthurian tales. Very often Malory is guilty of skipping the fun bits of the story (the phrase, "and he did many glorious deeds of arms" comes to mind) while presenting some of the less interesting bits in excruciating detail.
While Le Morte d'Arthur is hardly as fun as Idylls of the King or The Once and Future King, those works would not exist without it. It is the Arthurian equivalent of Holinshed's Chronicles. It's not a thrilling read, but it does provide the basis for several substantially more thrilling takes on the tales.
After something of a slog through Volume I, this is where things get good. All the stories of any importance are here, from Lancelot falling for Guinevere hardcore, to his one-sided and doomed romance with Elaine, and most of all the surreal Grail sequence, in which the best knights are sent into a metaphysical "spiritual wasteland" where their own sins become their surroundings and enemies. Ending with a "Six Feet Under" style montage of character deaths and a dreamlike description of Arthur's pseudo-funeral at the hands of witch queens of ambiguous intent, this volume contains all the drama and mysticism that the meandering Volume I often lacked.
King Arthur, or should I say, Arthur the King, dies in this volume. A small boy approached me when I was a child and handed this book to me, much like Excalibur, the sword of the ancient wisdoms, was handed to Arthur by a a watery trout. I don’t eat fish, I’m a pescatarian. There’s nothing fishy about this manuscript, except the fact that it was written in prison—I mean Princeton University Press—I mean prison. Arthur has come and will come again, so say the devout lords. TEMPLAR KNIGHTS UNITE.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Getting so bored with the constant jousting and macho showing-off (didn't T H White compare it to an obsession with cricket batting averages?) Then you come across this: "So on a day a little afore the month of May, Sir Tristram chased an hart passing eagerly, and so the hart passed by a fair well. And then Sir Tristram alit and put off his helm to drink of that burbly water. Right so he heard and saw the Questing Beast come to the well. When Sir Tristram saw that beast he put on his helm, for he deemed he should hear of Sir Palomides, for that beast was his quest".... Love it.
roughly the first third of this volume is the conclusion of the tristram/beale isoud story, which gets pretty tedious with the tournament scenes involving various combinations of our heroes getting knocked off their horses. it picks up a bit with the quest for the grail, featuring a lot of weirdness, and the final act with launcelot betraying arthur is probably the best. the funniest scene is probably launcelot getting shot in the ass by an arrow by accident
A very good read--if you happen to have a good command of Middle English, Old French and Church Latin, which are sprinkled liberally throughout.
The main thing I noticed is how many of the characters are literate. They are constantly writing letters to each other, causing things to be recorded by clerks, reading books, and so forth. Didn't remember that from the first time I read the book back in college.
I liked vol 1 better. Vol 2 has more of the well-known stories... the grail, the Lancelot love triangle, and Le Morte D'Arthur. But the moral point is layed on thick in the second vol, and it distracts from the story too much for my liking.
Very handy and well done edition of the classic Arthurian legends. This book is not for the feint at heart as it is written in old english, but once you get through that roadblock there is a power to the tales that starts to shine through.
A bit better than book #1. Worth a read just to say I've done it. Other than that, probably any "modern"--within the past 200 yrs---writer has probably covered the legend of King Arthur and his knights in a more exciting way. But this IS the original English language version. (?)