Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Hard Going

I made reference to my reading of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur back in December, and not in any terribly enthusiastic way. I've now finished Book 7, and am approaching the end of the first volume in the two volume Penguin edition, and I can't honestly say I feel any more enthusiastic now. Time was when I would have abandoned a reading that's proved so unrewarding, but in my dotage I somehow feel obliged to actually read from cover to cover works that I've embarked on. I suppose this has something to do with trying to do justice to the work or writer rather than taking the easy way out, but I'm sorely tempted to give up on matters Arthurian.
The problem is that, as far as I can tell, Malory is all surface. His characters don't have character. They simply do stuff, much of it violent, for no particular reason other than because that's what they're in the stories to do. So what you get is a lot of baldly narrated action, often repetitive in nature, to no obvious end. A bit like an Avengers movie in which lots of sort of impossibly heroic stuff is going on for no good rhyme or reason.
Admittedly, there is a certain pleasure to be gained at the level of style, if you like that sort of thing (and I do.) The convoluted syntax has a kind of poetry all of its own. Take the opening sentence of Book 8, the bit I'm up to: It was a king that hight Meliodas, and he was lord and king of the country of Liones, and this Meliodas was a likely knight as any that was living. There's something hypnotically rhythmic going on here and phrases like a likely knight have a kind of charm about them. But I'm wondering whether I couldn't just enjoy this in small doses. Page after page becomes somewhat wearing. Also the edition I'm reading employs modernised spelling and some alteration of archaic forms. It's a lot easier to read than the original, but some of the stylistic charm is lost.

Anyway, I've had my moan, so it's back to the book. I just remembered that I paid nearly fifty dollars for the two paperbacks way back when and I'm going to get my money's worth, even if it's not worth it.

No comments: