Image from Amazon
As a keen Arthurian enthusiast (I do love my myths and leg-ends) as soon as I saw this collection of Arthurian tales on my local library catalogue I jumped at it. I knew- from a few afternoons spent milling around the amazing Myths and Legends section of London’s Watkins Books– that its author, John Matthews, is an expert scholar in Arthurian lore. What this man doesn’t know about King Arthur and his knights, I don’t want to know. Interestingly, he is also married to Caitlin Matthews, who’s a well-known scholar in the Celtic tradition herself.
Illustration by Pavel Tatarnikov from here on Pinterest
The book itself is a slim volume- seemingly crying out for a hardback edition- but it more than makes up for its size with its scattering of lush, dreamy illustrations that are at once vividly detailed and yet blurred with rich, velvety colour. (As you can tell, I was a fan.) To me they were remininiscent of the jewel-like colours and intricacies of medieval manuscripts, especially with each tale’s letterhead, or of the gold-leaf layered works of Gustav Klimt. Each tale itself was well-told- full of action, description and a startling, unexpected poignancy- for example, Sir Pellinor’s doomed journey to find the so-called ‘Questing Beast,’ and the needless, painfully-passive death of Luned, Lancelot’s would-be lover.
A few minor details irked me- for example, it didn’t seem to know whether it was aimed at adults or children, with scant references to Queen Guenevere’s infidelity, or Lancelot’s love for her (probably far from chaste, despite what the book says, and just read Chretien De Troyes’ Knight of the Cart for a better example.) Also, sometimes the spellings seemed so archaic they bordered on obscure- King Mark of Cornwall becoming ‘King March of Cornuaille,’ for example, and Ireland becoming Eriu. Probably all fairly accurate spellings for the time, but a little unwieldy, if not difficult to pronounce. All in all though, a fascinating collection with lovely artwork- so much so that I can’t give it any less than 10 out of 10- I only wish it had been a little longer, and a little more detailed.
Overall rating: 10 out of 10!