Even in resolutely secular, ‘dun-coloured-realist’ Australia, the Arthurian motif has appeared, in both fantasy and mainstream novels. Now Australia’s top fantasy author tackles the Once and Future King on his own turf-the turf of the borderlands between myth and history. This non-fiction exploration of the doomed and dooming Arthur, those closest to him and the images of him, reveals Sara Douglass’ deep knowledge of the area, and her historian’s understanding of the Middle Ages in particular. She does not gush about Arthur-indeed, in many ways it could be said that her King has very heavy feet of clay indeed. But she is true to the complexity and the shifting nature of the legend, and the ways in which it has been interpreted and re-interpreted over the centuries.
Douglass’ analysis of character is interesting and thought-provoking, and remind us very much that Arthurian romances were not only magical journeys, but also some of the first ever psychological ‘novels’ (in fact in French, a novel is still called ‘un roman’: the novel certainly does not date from the 18th century).
As well, Douglass thoroughly examines the attempts to place Arthur in history, and the quasi-spiritual cult surrounding him, both in medieval times and now, and concludes that though Arthur should not be portrayed as saviour, it is indeed the legend, and not some never-to-be-proven historical ‘real man’, that is of deepest importance to the culture: a conclusion with which I absolutely agree.
Readers note: a ‘romance’ in medieval terms was a narrative written in one of the Romance languages-ie those influenced by Latin, rather than in Latin itself. These romances were popular literature written in the common tongue, and the true ancestor of modern fantasy.
©2000 Sophie Masson / Eidolon. To read the full review on the Eidolon website please click on this link.