Title: The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
Author: John Steinbeck
Summary: The first book John Steinbeck read as a child was the Caxton Morte d’Arthur, and he considered it one of the most challenging tasks of his career to modernize the stories of King Arthur. “These stories are alive even in those of us who have not read them. And, in our day, we are perhaps impatient with the words and the stately rhythms of Malory. I wanted to set the stories down in meaning as they were written, leaving out nothing and adding nothing.”
Review: Warning. I am a nerd. So while I loved this book immensely, people who generally read my reviews might feel differently about this book than I do, since Arthurian history is one of my passions. So I wouldn’t trust my word for it on whether or not any reader of this review will end up liking it as much.
That much being said, this was one of the best books I have ever read in my life and after having read it, I feel like a person who’s been living in a cave and has just now first seen the light of day. It was that good. Steinbeck so…perfectly captured the Arthurian tales, taking the originals and modifying them so anybody could read them without having to battle their way through Mallory’s old English. It was stupendous and breathtaking, and I would recommend it immediately to anybody looking for something to read in the historical fiction genre.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- Being one of the biggest Arthurian nerds I have ever encountered, I’m always thrilled to find that a renowned author has the same sort of love for the ancient tales as I do. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck did not let me down with this one. I was surprised to find, reading his personal preface, that the man actually hated words, books, and everything they stood for before being introduced to Mallory as a child! I must say, for someone who grew up hating words, he sure has a talent with them. Steinbeck’s words flowed so smoothly and powerfully–I was surprised how jam packed this book was with powerful quotes. He captured the essence of these characters so perfectly that part of me wishes he would have rewritten all the Arthurian legends!
- I understand I can’t give too much credit to Steinbeck alone for this book, since the stories are not his alone. There are too many massive amounts of authors and writers and historians who all contributed to what these stories are, and how grateful I am to each and every one of them! The morals of each story, individually and as a whole, and the way it captures the ideals of knighthood and the moral codes lived by in the time period is so perfect, and honestly, I just wish everyone could love these stories and see how masterful they are. And not every story focused on Arthur alone–the main characters switched from Arthur, to Merlin, to Morgan le Fay, to Lancelot, to Ewain, to Gawain, to Marhalt, to Kay, to Ector–it kept you intrigued and wanting to know exactly what was going to happen. Though, admittedly, if I had to choose a favorite out of this bunch, I’d go with Gawain, Ewain, and Marhalt. (Although mostly because I realized the Gawain from BBC’s Merlin fits the original Gawain to a T.)
What I Didn’t Like:
- This isn’t really a downside, at least for me. However, some people might, gasp!–find this boring. I’ll admit, there are lots of details, and it even took me a week to sift through three hundred pages of Arthurian deliciousness. It’s heavy stuff, I won’t deny. So if you don’t like lengthy passages that might seem unimportant to the story, or lots of details, I’d advise you to stay away. However, for those of us obsessed with Arthur–it was beautiful.
- This is my one real complaint. I understand this is supposed to “modernize” Arthurian mythology, but–the use of words like “chatterbox” that obviously were not around in the fifth and sixth centuries of the world is not okay with me. Steinbeck should have tried to keep it mostly in the realm of their world and not bring in thing specific to our day and age. It took away the reality of the story and I had a hard time picturing even characters like Gawain calling certain damsels “chatterboxes”. Or Lyonel’s teenage friends for that matter–acted too much like teenagers from our time and while I’ll admit, I don’t know any teenagers from the 600s, I’m pretty positive they didn’t “evaluate and vote on the size of the damsel’s bosom”. Maybe they did. I don’t know, but it just felt kind of strange to read.
Overall: If you feel prepared to tackle it, run to this book right away. I’m so glad to have read it, because it’s seriously beautiful and poetic and natural, all at once, and helped to further immortalize beautiful and stories that are so sentimental to so many of us. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat if you’re willing to give it a try, although I don’t recommend reading it if you aren’t a fan of details or long passages. Chances are if you made it through Eragon, you’ll love this! Recommended to anybody of any age, as long as you’re ready to tackle it!