Le Morte D'Arthur, Part I

Here's the first check-in post--how are you all doing with the first chunk of Le Morte D'Arthur?  I found it to be pretty fun most of the time.  Malory is editing some very long French adventures down into what he must have felt to be more digestible chunks, and for medieval adventures they're not so long.  Parzival, for example, was much wordier.

There sure are some weird things in here though, aren't there?  Here are some incidents that caught my eye.

Book I, chapter 27:  Arthur learns from a prophecy that a child born on May Day will be his doom.  Like Herod, he stages a slaughter of the innocents by requiring all the children born on May Day to be sent to him, whereupon he puts them all in a ship and sends them off to die. !!!  I was really stunned by this story and would like to know just where Malory got it (besides the Bible, obviously, but I don't think Malory was the inventor here).  Inevitably, Mordred is the one baby who survives the shipwreck.  WHAT a bizarre story to put into an Arthurian tale.

Oddly, the story says that "some were four weeks old, and some less."  So they are all infants, but surely if they were all born on May Day they would be exactly the same age?

Book IV, the Tales of the Three Damosels:  Sir Gawain's part in this tale is really pretty strange, don't you think?  First he refuses his damosel's advice (rightly, as it turns out) and she just walks off.  He meets Sir Pelleas, who tells his tale of woe about the lady he loves who doesn't love him back* and Gawain promises on his honor to get her to love Pelleas.  Then he goes off and makes a stab at the job, but ends up seducing her himself!  In the ensuing mess, the lady is properly punished for not loving Pelleas, Pelleas gets a better lady, and no one seems to mind all that much about Gawaine's behavior.

*We could have a whole long post about consent issues in this book!  Suffice to say that Malory seems to feel that if a knight likes a single lady and he is a knight of prowess, the lady has no good reason not to give him her love and should be punished for her orneriness and being so rotten.  I'm sure it was a very common attitude.  Ick.

Book V: the Tale of Arthur's War With Rome: You have to kind of love this.  The Roman Empire demands tribute, and Arthur's reaction is not only that he will never pay tribute, but: "I have understood that Belinus and Brenius, kings of Britain, have had the empire in their hands many days, and also Constantine the son of Heleine, which is an open evidence that we owe no tribute to Rome, but of right we that be descended of them have right to claim the title of the empire."  And off they all go to conquer the entire Roman Empire.  Arthur is crowned Emperor and then trots back home to Britain, never to think of Europe again.

One notable thing about Malory's Arthur is that he isn't always what we would consider to be a paragon of knightly virtue.  He's only mostly a paragon.  I can't believe that anyone back then would have thought that slaughter of the innocents episode to be OK for a king.  And another thing Malory has Arthur doing is committing more outright adultery than usual.  Before he marries Guenevere, he sleeps with at least a couple other women, both of whom are married, and produces children both times.  Most writers, in my experience, try to avoid things like that, or smooth over them--they'll have Morgause hide her married status, or something.

Change of schedule:  I was going to have us read Books 6-10 in the next two weeks, but I've just realized that Book 10 is huge, and Books 11-15 are quite short.  My two-volume set has no table of contents, and I thought that Book 10 ended with volume I, which it does not.   So I am hereby officially changing the schedule: we will read Books 6-9 in the second half of October and 10-15 in the first half of November.  Or, feel free to break 10 up into two chunks to make it easier; whatever works for you is fine.  See you on Halloween for the discussion!

Well, I'm late with this post already and I'd better stop typing.  It turns out to be a truly crazy week for me and I didn't get to this as soon as I wanted to, but that's the beauty of book blogging--there are few rules and it's all voluntary, and so it doesn't matter all that much that I am 12 hours late.  Now tell me about your progress!


  1. I have kept up but only because I'd already started months before! :-Z I'll do my best to try to stay on track but it's going to be a crazy month for me until mid-Nov. I am enjoying the book more now though. Here's my post: http://cleoclassical.blogspot.ca/2014/10/the-morte-darthur-read-along-update-1.html

  2. That's why I put in extra time! Now I'm quite worried because I just now figured out that book X is HUGE. I thought it ended at the end of my first volume, but it goes well into the second volume. Darn book doesn't have a table of contents...

  3. OK, executive decision: the schedule needs changing. Check the edited post for news.

  4. The slaughter of the innocents was shocking! And also a lot of women he slept with, with one of them just like half a page after announcing the Guinivere was his all-time love.. Men! -_-

    I've just finished book 2, but I hope to catch up during the read-a-thon!


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