September 4th, 2006

Le Morte D'Arthur

So I came up with this idea a while back for a King Arthur novella. But I figured it would be a good idea to read Thomas Mallory's Le Mort D'Arthur before I try to blindly reinvent the wheel. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was and is. But . . .

Dear God, the language! Thee this. Thou that. He brast his spear. Me soar repenteth. Methinks the language be killing me! And the damn thing is a slightly oversized hardcover weighing in at 900 pages. Sob. But I kept reading, telling myself that fighting through this edition would help enrich my own version, because I would be able to pick out useful details.

And I was right. I've been jotting down notes as I go along and I'm now up to page 350 or so (of the book, not my notes). I've even gotten used to the language. And then it happened. I came up with so many cool little ideas from reading this murdeous book that I started wondering how I could possibly fit it all into a novella. "Uh-oh," says I. "Methinks a volume of considerble heft be thrust upon me to compose."

So suddenly I find myself with a novel of an idea. But that struck me as fine, because I'm more of a novel boy anyway (said the assistant editor of a short story magazine). So all of the short stories percolating in my head get put to the side in one fell swoop. Keep my inventory out on the market, sure, but other than that it was TIME TO FOCUS ON THE NOVEL. If I was going to do this I wanted to immerse myself in the world of Arthuriana.

And so far so good. Many of the ideas for the novel are becoming clearer as I read further into Le Mort, which is as I expected it to be. But oh my dear God, as interesting as many parts of this book are, this thing is driving me crazy. And it has nothing to do with the language anymore.

Mallory's edition of King Arthur is like a precursor to today's soap oprah . . .people falling in love with their soul mates only to marry someone else 50 pages later . . .knights trying to kill each other only to become best friends 25 pages later . . .knights sleeping with earl's wives only to be friends with such earls later and make them lords of islands . . .and the redundancies! How many goddamn mythical swords are there? But this is like a soap oprah also, as the same ideas become rehashed over and over.

So this is a bit frustrating. But the book is also quite eye opening. I've read my share of Arthurian literature . . .none of it is like this. The majority of the characters are terrible TERRIBLE people. Many of the Knights of the Round Table were or are murderers and thieves. When he was young King Arthur slept with almost any woman he came across. And he had a son besides Mordred! (say what?) Many of the women in the courts are very promiscuous, which goes against how they're normally portrayed. And don't even get me started on Tristam, who is absent in most of the retellings of the Arthurian legend.

But as I kept reading I came to realize something. If you tried to portray THIS Camelot the reader would never believe you. He'd roll his eyes and say "Yeah right. This guy doesn't know what the hell he's doing." Because the behaviors of many of these people with their warped mixture of barbarism and chivalry is so different from today's norm. Sometimes I feel like I'm reading about chickens running around with their heads cut off, because their logic makes so sense by today's standards. And yet people were eating this up with a spoon back in the day!

It's really quite fascinating . . .and the level of detail becomes frightening when you start taking notes. So now I find myself faced with the challenge of reinventing the Arthurian legend, but not in the manner of one of those dime-a-dozen garbage paperbacks. I've too much respect for the genre to go that route. It becomes a very delicate balancing act. And I'm loving the challenge! I love how the plot threads are snaking out in countless directions only to come together as I keep reading, only to snake out again because I've read further along. And I still have more than half the book left to read!

But I don't think I'll ever be able to look at the King Arthur mythos the same way again. All the warped and twisted stuff we know about--Mordred, Lancelot/Gwenevere--is really just the tip of the iceberg. These people are SCREWED UP.

Writing this book should prove lots of fun. :)