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The Death of King Arthur Paperback – Apr 30 1972

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (April 30 1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442557
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #614,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

The author of The Death of King Arthur is unknown, though it is generally thought he was a Frenchman, probably from Champagne writing around 1230-35.

James Cable was educated at Exeter and Nancy Universities and holds a Ph.D. in Old French. He was subsequently a lecturer in French at London University.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
After Master Walter Map had put down in writing as much as he thought sufficient about the Adventures of the Holy Grail, his lord King Henry II felt that what he had done would not be satisfactory unless he told about the rest of the lives of those he had previously mentioned, and the deaths of those whose prowess he had related in his book. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Moving Close to the Tale March 8 2005
By Donald Gow - Published on
Format: Paperback
While "The Death of King Arthur" is the shortest romance in the entire Lancelot-Grail cycle (formerly known as the "Vulgate Cycle" and a principal source of Sir Thomas Malory) it is also one of the best suited to modern tastes. Unlike the earlier segments of the cycle (the Lancelot or the Quest of the Holy Grail particularly) it does not underline its themes through endless variant repetitions that irritate the modern reader. Instead, the plot is remarkably linear and focuses on the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the disastrous consequences that their affair wreaks on King Arthur and his entire kingdom.

Because it was originally written as a sequel to the Lancelot and Grail portions of the cycle, certain knowledge is assumed for the reader. The reader is assumed to know that Arthur is the King, that Lancelot is his boldest knight, and that the Round Table is recovering slowly from a long and very destructive Grail Quest. Without the lengthy process of interlacing adventures between Lancelot and Gawain or Bors and Gareth, it can be difficult for the true weight of the story to come across to the uninitiated.

Cable's translation is workmanlike and readable, and serves as a worthy introduction to this classic tale until such time as the recent English translation of the entire cycle (Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, edited by Norris J. Lacy) is available in an affordable paperback series. (I bought the hardback at an exorbitant price per volume myself.)
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Beautifully Tragic Aug. 23 2007
By GG Gawain - Published on
Format: Paperback
I could not put this book down once I began to read. The story begins after the Grail Quest, when the King recounts all those who were lost. The loyalty King Arthur feels towards his knights, living or dead, is moving in comparison to today's vacuum of leadership. The complicated love affair between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere is unsettling because as one reads, the unraveling of Camelot is slowly exacerbated by their innocent yet treacherous passion for each other--including the King. King Arthur's self denial of the love affair is touching and stretches faith to its limits. But one can't help take both sides because the story is so well rounded from all points of view. Compared to other translations such as Keith Baines, of Signet Classics, this James Cable translation by Penguin is superior because it keeps the arcane language used in the period, thus capturing the flavor of the times, whereas Baines seems to water it down.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
King Arthur in French prose June 15 2013
By E. Strickenburg - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was surprised to find this book on a reading list for medieval French literature. King Arthur belong to British folklore, no? As I did some digging, I found that the tales from Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain (which incidentally was written in Latin, not English) travelled the channel into French literature, to be taken up by writers such as Chrétien de Troyes. It was at this point that the warrior king reclaiming Britain from the barbarism of the Picts and the Scots succumbed to the pressures of the French courtly love tradition and became the tragic, somewhat weak-willed king of the later tales. It was the French who added characters such as Lancelot and elements such as the quest for the grail.

This particular volume, written anonymously in the 13th century is significant because it is the first prose telling of the Arthurian tales. All previous versions had been in verse. This book covers only the fourth section of the story, beginning after the knights' return from the quest for the grail. It serves as a sequel to other volumes written by Chrétien de Troyes.

The tale itself was familiar to me, but nonetheless enjoyable. Tournaments, secrets, wounded knights, scorned lovers, fire, battles, and tragedy. I've never particularly cared for Lancelot as a character and prefer versions where Arthur is the hero of the story, as opposed to this one where Lancelot takes the pedestal of heroism throughout. Overall I found it to be an engaging read, and particularly enjoyed reading the sections about the Lady of Shalott, the poem by Tennyson being one of my favorites.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Pretty good Jan. 10 2014
By Summer Peila - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not the easiest read, but fantastic when you sit down and put some effort into figuring out exactly what's going on. There's a lot of depth that you don't see at first glance.
Arthur who? May 31 2014
By E.J. Jones - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'm a King Arthur junkie and always have been. When we watched "Camelot" in seventh-grade English, I was the only one that didn't groan the whole way through. I love retellings of the story, but if "The Death of King Arthur" is anything to go on, the originals must not be my thing. Aside from some nice moments and good buildups at the beginning, this book was one badly translated, battle-heavy headache.

My least favorite thing about the book, though, is that it isn't even about Arthur - it's about Lancelot. And that would be fine if Lancelot wasn't so annoyingly perfect. Sure, he had a fling with the queen, but he also is the handsomest man, the most virtuous knight, and the best fighter in Logres, and none of the characters, even his enemies, will let us forget it. I stopped counting the times where a character said, "If only Lancelot were here! He'd know just what to do!" Good grief. Arthur was even made an indecisive wimp in order to make Lancelot better by comparison; his "swoons" were another thing I stopped counting in disgust. Girls fainting are bad enough; we don't need guys falling prey to it too.

There were also too many names and descriptions of battles for my taste. Did we really have to hear how valiant everyone was in battle, how many knights they killed and in what way they killed them? I could hardly keep track of who was whose son or cousin or half-brother, and mixing in similar details for the enemy knights just made it worse. Maybe I was just confused because of the awkward language - the translation wasn't clear in many places, and I had to read some sentences two and three times before I got what they were trying to say.

As whiny as I sounded above, I'm giving this book two stars rather than one, and here's why: "Death" did a pretty good job of outlining exactly why the Round Table split. There was the requisite case of mistaken identity that appears in almost every Arthur story, but who would have thought that Guinevere was tried for treason because of a fruit? There are also some sweet moments early on, like the sad fiasco of Lancelot and the pretty maid whose favor he wore. But unfortunately, those weren't enough to save this book. Since the story is accurate, without too much magic or superfluous romance, purists might like it. I just didn't.