In the beginning I estimated 15 pages a day to finish Malory (or Maleore)’s Morte Darthur along with Jean and Cleo (http://howlingfrog.blogspot.com/2014/08/its-morte-darthur-readalong.html). Fell a bit behind, and needed to read 20 pages a day, then 25, then 30. It wasn’t looking good. My fellow readalongers were full of encouragement and if not for them, I probably would have set the blasted thing aside long ago (saving dozens of hours, but I won’t think about that now, that way lies madness). But then just when all was looking darker than dark… a funny thing happened. Either Malory learned to write or I lost my mind. Not quite sure which, but once past book ten, he actually offered stories which held some interest and not just the same old fight between differently named knights I’d read a thousand times.
First, we finally got to the tale of the Holy Grail or Sangreal as it was known. While not the world’s most gripping story and Galahad is a bit of a stiff, but then so’s his old man, it was, finally, a story. The fights still occur, but they’re in aid of something. Sir Galahad, Sir Percivale, Sir Bors and Sir Lancelot (among lesser knights) all go off in search of the sangreal which is never quite explained. It was brought into England or Logris by Joseph of Arimathea, just a few years back, and then for some reason, Solomon’s wife enters into it and makes a nice boat to transport them all. Sir Galahad gets to know Sir Lancelot a bit, which is nice. It’s a strange story. Percivale’s sister joins them and then offers her blood to save some random woman who can only be saved from a dreaded curse by the blood of a young woman as pure and well-born as Percivale’s sister. Why? Who knows! But we have a goal now and it’s not just a lot of knights accidentally killing their brothers because they never, not once, ask each other’s names before fighting. The Sangreal seems to be the blood of Christ not the cup or whatever it’s in and it seems pretty clear that England has not lived up to its standards, so its going home. Can’t blame it. Only 3 1/2 pure knights in the whole place. Pretty poor, really.
But then there are still a couple hundred pages left, which surprised me. And we learn more about Lancelot and Gwhenever. She’s rather annoying. He shows up disguised with another woman’s sleeve on his helmet and she’s all ‘you don’t love me any more!’ Don’t worry, Gwen, Lance is the Ice-Man. Let’s the Lily Maid care for him as no woman has ever cared for man and then he offers her a pension. Ouch. Dude, she wasn’t looking for a job. I realize he can’t love her, but it seems just cruel to let her nurse him for ages when he didn’t care two hoots for her. But back to my earlier point, Malory is now telling stories and they’re pretty good. And who ever guessed “The Lusty Month of May” is straight out of Malory? But then, we get to Arthur again. Arthur, who basically hasn’t been the center of attention for 800 pages is now back center stage. Things are going pretty well. Everyone’s back from the Sangreal quest who’s coming back. He’s got the greatest bunch of knights ever. They hangout and joust for fun. Nothing says fun like getting knocked off your horse with a spear, apparently. And then, trouble. Snake in the garden Sir Agravaine and his brother Sir Mordred are thinking ‘The King should be told the Queen is sleeping with Lancelot.’ No no no, says everybody. Things are going great. Life is nicely balanced. We’re all friends, let’s not rock the boat. Not really clear what Agravaine is hoping to get out of this, but he’s set. He’s rocking the boat. So now Arthur’s in a bind. They have to be caught in flagrante because essentially the law is – in cases of treason, each side calls a champion and winner is right. A painfully stupid law, but there it is and Lancelot is top of the heap. No one can beat him. So, they have to be sneaky. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wades through the 900 or so pages to get there, so suffice it to say Arthur and Lancelot are now on opposite sides. Neither really wants to be, which leads to some absurd moments war-wise, but Gawaine won’t let them make up. And here’s the thing. Gawaine’s not king. Arthur is supposed to be king. But does he make any decisions for himself? Does he think of the good of the country and put it above Gawaine’s personal vendetta? No, he does not. Basically, when it comes to making a decision he does whatever Gawaine wants to do. And when that includes leaving the country, he hands the reins over to… Mordred! Good choice! How many people in the country? You could not have chosen worse, Arthur. You are a moron. But that was the whole problem with inherited power wasn’t it? Nobody had to be qualified. They just assumed somehow God or DNA was going to solve everything. You went with your son, even if he was totally evil. It’s a mess.
But here’s the main point, which you probably guessed if you’ve read this far. I finished! w00t! I did it! It’s like the reading equivalent of an ultra-marathon. 1131 pages long. Much of it extremely repetitive and yet, somehow it never stopped being compelling. Or maybe that was not wanting to let down the other two people on the planet who’ve read the whole thing. Really, folks, just pick up TH White. If you do make your way through this behemoth, drop a comment. It’s like a small, exclusive and yet pointless club we belong to. This sucker qualified as a chunkster (should count as two chunksters!) and a Arthurian Lit challenge entry. Sadly, it was written just a wee bit too late to be my Pre-Printing Press entry. In fact, it was one of the first books printed in England.