**spoiler alert** If you haven’t read Arthurian legends in full and do not wish to know the details beforehand, please be warned that this review is f...more**spoiler alert** If you haven’t read Arthurian legends in full and do not wish to know the details beforehand, please be warned that this review is full of ‘spoilers’. I suggest you read older sources like Malory's first to understand all of the jokes in this book first.
I finally read White’s The Once and Future King in full. It felt like reaching a height I had set my eyes upon since more than 20 years ago, and it left me in a watery-eyed elation. I still remember the day I found a copy of simplified version of the Arthurian legends in my dad’s drawer – he had used the book when he learnt English. Ever since then, the legends have always been a part of my life, although I’m not the kind of an obsessed person who can recall everything about the object that she greatly loves every time. I always need to consult my sources and my notes here and there.
Anyway, returning to the book. I have read the first part of TOAFK - The Sword in the Stone (TSITS) - several years ago, and I have watched the Disney’s version when I was a kid. Although when looking back again at the animation, armed with the knowledge of the original text, I dread the way the Disney team had made Kay regress to his notorious stereotypical self of being an evil, big bad bully of a brother. I still love Merlin, his song, and Archimedes, anyway.
TSITS is a feeling-good read, with all the charms and the magic and the funny bits, but the latter parts (or should I call them books?) - The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind were oftentimes brutal and off-handedly cold blooded in being realistic – a reality that is sprinkled everywhere with magic, where unicorns and dragons are talked of so casually as if they’re real. In fact, White made his story as if it’s history, stating that it was the Plantagenets and the Capets that were imaginary. Deliberate anachronism makes TOAFK a delightful read, while the Arthurian ‘internal jokes’ will make those who know chuckle amusedly. The last part of the book was especially contemplatively dark.
What makes TOAFK so special is the way White gives depth – gives flesh to the characters. I have mentioned above about his Kay. The day I read how Kay cried because he felt like he’s been unjustly treated by Merlyn was the day I knew I’d love this Kay forever – despite his well-known mischief. I love White’s Arthur so much. I think he managed to trace the development of Arthur’s character well, beginning with his early education with Merlyn and ending with old, plain Arthur looking back on everything that he’d done and what turned out of them.
And I even think I understand his Lancelot. I don’t know when I started disliking Lancelot. Oftentimes I look at him with contempt. But White explained, analysed Lancelot’s character growth – a young boy who trained so hard to be Arthur’s best knight, who felt jealousy towards the young queen who he thought had robbed Arthur’s love from him – but ending up being the lady’s (not so) secret lover while still thinking that he’s done no treachery to the King. At the end I still dislike the figure called ‘Sir Lancelot’, but I have seen another side of him. The same thing goes to Guenevere. The portrait of the lady was so strong, so compelling, you can’t help but admire her even a bit. She’s not just the damsel in distress who tore nations and friends, although still some of her words and actions in TOAFK made me feel like tearing my hair out of my head in disbelief.
And Elaine, the lady who bore Lancelot his son Galahad, was given even more importance than ever, more sympathetic characterization. She’s no longer a mere weak lady who just pleaded for Lancelot’s love and then committed suicide. You can even forgive her for the tricks she did to Lancelot to win his heart.
I also love the way White portrayed the Orkney brothers, my favourite bunch of knights of all. At first I was wondering what was the importance of the sadistic slaying of unicorns done by the four older brothers in The Queen of Air and Darkness, but it became apparent in the latter parts. Gawaine is still adorable, speaking with his Scottish accent and living with his mistrust of ‘the Southron’ cowards. And Gareth, ah, fair and beautiful blue-eyed Gareth! So lovely, so tragic! I almost cried when Gawaine remembered his little brother, how his hair was almost white when he was small... Tragic also was Mordred, the victim of her mother’s dark affection, the boy who was not supposed to be born, and who was meant to die as soon as he saw the world, but survived and wrought his wrath. Yet I cannot hate him.
And of King Pellinore and his kin! The king, the comic relief, the nice soul that makes us laugh with his silliness. It’s just too sad there’s not much to say about the lovable Aglovale in the last book except for his death. And Percivale, dearest Percy, which we were told, was as gentle and kind-hearted a person as his father had been – I knew you’d be granted the sight of the Holy Grail and that was the end of your life, and White gave me more reason to mourn for you even more although you’ve never really appeared in the book, only in the conversations held by other people.
White paid homage to Malory here and there. Sometimes he didn’t bother explaining anything that had been elaborated in great details by Malory (for instance, who unhorsed who in a tournament, whom in turn was unhorsed by who...). He even just advised us to read Malory for such details. He used different methods to tell the tales from different angles, including conversations of people about things that have happened. Somehow, this method works. We know about Percy this way. But the most amazing feat this method succeeded in was in bringing about the figure of Galahad. Just like Percy, he never did really appear in the book, except as a baby. But we learnt about him from the other knights who talked to Arthur about the Holy Grail quest – about how such a stuck-up, self-righteous, unmannered person he was, so inhuman – but then Lancelot summed up the explanation in a very simple question: Why should an angel be a human? Thus the strong presence of Galahad, oft-said the character that mirrors Jesus, was felt without he himself being really there.
Some questions still hang in the back of my mind, though. I have never felt comfortable with the way some writers, or at least their characters, treat Guenevere and ladies like Morgause differently. It is clear that Guenevere has cheated her husband, two-timing him for years and years, yet most people still did not think bad of her. She’s still their chaste queen, and even Lancelot dared to lie in front of the King, that they had done nothing wrong of the romantic sort. But it was wrong for strong-willed Morgause, portrayed as a witch like her sisters, to take lovers as she willed. Or was it that the Queen and the Commander did not think what they did was wrong? Was it the question of Guinevere’s for Lancelot (and for Arthur) was pure love, while Morgause’s for anyone was not? White was just following the pattern set by the former (Medieval?) writers, and it was not for him to do fairer to the female characters than he’d already done. Many more recent interpretations were more sympathetic to the ladies.
And this is just my guess, but World War II, maybe both World Wars, shadowed this book. Not only a new take of the Arthurian legends, this book is also a contemplation of the human nature and the great wars, of the question about whether it’s right to defend Right against Might using Might. Tears blurred my eyes as I read Gawaine’s last letter to Lancelot, and when Arthur thought deeply about what his deeds had come to. It was the most emotionally gripping version of Arthurian legends I’ve come across. (less)
This book is about confusion: the confusion of the Londoners as a comet approached the city closer and closer in the middle of the 18th century; the c...moreThis book is about confusion: the confusion of the Londoners as a comet approached the city closer and closer in the middle of the 18th century; the confusion of Sabian Blake, who knew more about the sky-dragon, thanks to a dangerous book of secret knowledge sent to him by a mysterious person. And the readers are supposed to be confused too: characters appearing suddenly from alleyways, doing their own things, seemingly unconnected with the other events in the book, and then fleeting away as if they don't have anything to do anymore with the plot, and then appearing again under disguises, to the point that I wonder just who is the main character actually.
Yes, it's a maze, or perhaps - since a maze is supposed to make people get lost while a labyrinth is not - a labyrinth that will finally lead us to an exit, where finally we have enough light to make sense of everything.
At the beginning, the book was pretty blatant though, describing the protagonist Blake as a scientist and a Cabalist right on the first page, instead of letting us find it out gradually. This rather spoils the fun of getting the truth about our hero (for lack of a better word); it's as if he is just thrown to our face and we just have to digest the fact that he is everything as he is described.
After a few chapters, the book begins to take pace, and that's when everything gets really exciting, with creatures lying in the dark ready to leap at you, and the world sliding into disgrace, to be conquered by a harlot.
Enticingly, menacingly dark, and violent but not vulgar, the book is a fascinating blend of history, science, religion, and magic, although I wish Blake's status as a scientist/Cabalist could have helped him more. In this book, he was just more like a pawn, a lost sheep struggling with his science only to know that there were things more beyond his grasp; and how it hurt his pride so much to find out that what he had thought as things he'd done by his profane human might were actually some kind of divine help. Instead of just swinging his swords now and then, it would be more in-line with his character if he used some scientific or esoteric knowledge he had to at least save himself. Something like, say, Horatio Lyle would do.
What some readers may be concerned about Wormwood is the lack of morality shown by the characters, although this poses no problem for me. They gave out to temptation, greed and anger; nobody, even Blake with his conscience to try and save Londoners, is squeaky, glitteringly clean or innocent. Abram Rickards surely lacked morality, laughing while stuffing exploding crystals into the 'stink hole' of a beastly creature - but, for what he was, that's just what was expected of him. And that is what makes him memorable.
A precious addition to the bookshelves of people who love fantasy.(less)
1) This review here may contain what you may consider spoilers. But since I think most people have known how the popular leg...moreOkay, so here's the thing:
1) This review here may contain what you may consider spoilers. But since I think most people have known how the popular legends of King Arthur end anyway, I don't consider what I write as really spoilery.
2) This was written centuries ago. So even if you have the (modern?) conviction that knights are brutal, fierce creatures, no need to ask why the knights portrayed using the high-medieval approach swoon half-to-death because their beloved ones passed away, or why men kiss each other's mouths etc.
This book is the last part of the Vulgate Cycle, Arthurian legends as written by unknown author(s) that hid their identity behind one Walter Map. Which was impossible because Map has died before the first part of the cycle (the Lancelot prose) was written.
What is amazing to me about this prose is how rich the characters are. Many of us tend to simplify the Arthurian legends as: 'Arthur, the king guided by Merlin, and his queen, Guinevere, who committed adulterous act with Lancelot' - an ordinary love-triangle and high fantasy story.
But The Death of King Arthur of the Vulgate Cycle is none like that. The webs that tangle the characters are so complicated, and supernatural elements were largely kept out of it.
I'd like to focus more on Gawain. Many modern adaptations tend to 'forget' or give less importance to this character, once so loved and held with high esteem by authors and readers alike, shifting the focus more on Mordred, since apparently we need to have a blatantly evil character, an archenemy, to hate or to explain and understand. But Gawain, and his other brothers besides Mordred, are important elements of the older myths. It was Gawain's wrath on the death of his brothers in the hands of Lancelot and his kin that drove him to push King Arthur to wage a war against Lancelot, thus leaving Camelot in the care of Mordred - who took the chance to usurp the throne and, at least he hoped to do so, Guinevere.
Gawain loved his uncle, his brothers, and also Lancelot; even when his own brother Agravaine started to blow the news about Lancelot/Guinevere affair, he wouldn't have it; he believed in Lancelot so much that he begged his uncle not to pay heed to such vicious rumour. Even when he knew that the news was nothing but the truth.
(You may disagree with Gawain here. What does 'being loyal to Arthur' here mean? Is it like what Agravaine believed, revealing Lancelot and Guinevere's adultery to the King? Or hiding them like Gawain and Gaheriet - also known as Gaheris - did?)
But then came a chaotic event when Lancelot tried to rescue Guinevere from punishment. His cousins killed Agravaine and Gareth (Gawain's third younger brother), and Lancelot himself accidentally slay Gaheriet. This drove not only Gawain mad, but also Arthur, since he loved his nephews so much. Thus the war between Lancelot and Arthur began.
(As for Lancelot, the medieval logic may once more escaped me, but I don't understand why he still thought that he hadn't wronged Arthur so much that he deserved the war, although he had slept with the queen. Somebody help explain this to me please.)
All in all, this Vulgate version of the Death King of Arthur is a monumental reading for all Arthurian enthusiasts and scholars. And the translation made me enjoy the reading even more, so I recommend this version to readers.(less)
I don't always agree with Tolstoy's interpretations or conclusions, but this is a thoroughly-researched book that can offer some new interesting insig...moreI don't always agree with Tolstoy's interpretations or conclusions, but this is a thoroughly-researched book that can offer some new interesting insights about the greatest wizard of all.
Will Stanton was recovering in a Welsh village from hepatitis; he felt like he had forgotten something really, really important, but he couldn't reall...moreWill Stanton was recovering in a Welsh village from hepatitis; he felt like he had forgotten something really, really important, but he couldn't really remember what... until he met Bran Davies, a boy drained of all colours, except for his tawny eyes. And then Will remembered: a prophecy (that the Old Ones found in Greenwitch) mentioning a raven boy and a dog with silver eyes.
A raven boy... with white skin and white hair, but eyes unmistakably raven.
After Cornwall in Greenwitch, now we get to see Wales in depth - yes, including the chips. One of my favourite part was when Bran tried to teach Will how to read Welsh names correctly (including Bran's own name).
This book - a Newberry winner - does not shy away from violent death, and the death indeed sent me almost crying. It portrays human beings' naked emotions too - of someone who's always been taken as a freak all his life, of someone who has loved too much, of someone intent on hurting others.
Now Arthur de Gornatore has joined the English troops sent to wage a crusade against 'the Saracens' to recapture Jerusalem. Or at least, they were mean...moreNow Arthur de Gornatore has joined the English troops sent to wage a crusade against 'the Saracens' to recapture Jerusalem. Or at least, they were meant to head for Jerusalem.
The crusaders are stuck in Venice, being unable to pay for the ships they have ordered to the Venetian Doge. The Doge said that he would reconsider their debts if the crusaders would help the Venetians recapture Zara, a Christian city across the Adriatic. Arthur begins to doubt the real intention of people who say that they willingly join or support the Crusade.
Arthur, now knighted, has to face the grim truth of war(crusaders throwing a little Christian Zaran boy over the wall to his death just because he annoy them? What in the name of Jesus?), the Crusade (he meets some Saracens and they're as human as he is), his personal affairs (his blood-father still as mean as he has always been, Lord Stephen who to him is like a real father gets trouble because he tried to help Arthur to find his mother), and the parallels of his life with King Arthur's in his seeing stone (I still dislike Lancelot, a lot).
I like the way the books in this series are made in the form of Arthur's diary. The chapters are short, the content concise (how can you write so much when you're in the middle of a campaign?) How this ends is also rather unusual - you'll expect Arthur and his friends reach Jerusalem, have battles with the Saracens, and in the midst of the war the main character realises what being a human is, you know, the usual plot - but I will say no more. You need to read the book to understand why it is such a good one.
And I'm still wondering what happens to Gatty. I think I must buy the companion book about Gatty, yes?(less)
Wales, meskipun merupakan bagian dari United Kingdom yang di Indonesia jamak disebut ‘Inggris’ (meski sebutan itu kurang sesuai), sebenarnya berbeda d...moreWales, meskipun merupakan bagian dari United Kingdom yang di Indonesia jamak disebut ‘Inggris’ (meski sebutan itu kurang sesuai), sebenarnya berbeda dan harus dibedakan dari Inggris (England). Bangsa Wales telah menghuni daratan Britania sebelum suku-suku bangsa lain berdatangan dari Eropa daratan dan ikut menjadi penghuni pulau tersebut. Uniknya, meskipun bahasa Wales tergolong rumpun Indo-Eropa bersama sejumlah bahasa lain seperti Sanskrit, Yunani, dan Inggris (sepupu dekatnya), ternyata berdasarkan uji genetik, bangsa Wales ternyata lebih dekat dengan bangsa Basque yang menghuni sebagian Spanyol (Jones 2003: 191-192). Bahasa asli Wales diperkirakan telah lenyap sejak lama dan sebagai gantinya, bangsa Wales telah ‘mengadopsi’ bahasa Celtic yang kini dikenal sebagai bahasa Wales.
Namun, perkembangan bahasa Wales bukannya tanpa hambatan. Sejak masa pemerintahan Richard II (1367—1400), bangsa Wales dan budayanya telah ditekan sedemikian rupa oleh para penguasa Inggris. Bahkan berdasarkan peraturan yang dikeluarkan tahun 1846, orang-orang Wales tak lagi diperbolehkan menggunakan bahasa ibu mereka. Peraturan itu jelas sangat aneh, apalagi karena sebagian besar orang Wales saat itu hanya bisa berbicara dalam bahasa Wales dan tidak mengerti bahasa Inggris. Anak-anak Wales yang ketahuan berbicara dalam bahasa ibu mereka di sekolah diberi hukuman memalukan oleh guru-guru hasil didikan Inggris.
Sedemikian besarnya dampak represi selama berabad-abad tersebut sampai-sampai pada tahun 1990-an, hanya 20% orang Wales yang menguasai bahasa asli mereka, meskipun jumlah itu terus meningkat berkat kondisi yang semakin bebas dan rasa nasionalisme yang semakin mengental di kalangan bangsa Wales (Gilbert et al. 1999: 55—60). Tergerusnya bahasa Wales dalam kurun waktu pelaksanaan represi tersebut berakibat pada hilangnya sebagian naskah kuno Wales.
Untunglah, masih ada sebagian naskah yang tidak saja mengagumkan dari segi isi namun juga nilai historisnya yang selamat dari ‘pembantaian sistematis’ terhadap kebudayaan Wales. Salah satunya adalah kumpulan kisah yang disebut ‘Mabinogion’, yang bentuk aslinya sebagian merupakan puisi dan sebagian lain merupakan prosa, dan pada zaman pra-tulisan merupakan bagian dari tradisi lisan. Usia bagian-bagian Mabinogion barangkali telah mencapai 1400 tahun atau bahkan lebih.
Nama ‘Mabinogion’ yang dikenal sekarang sendiri sebenarnya merupakan salah kaprah. Menurut para ahli, yang dikutip tim penerjemah Mabinogion dalam Kata Pengantar edisi Everyman, istilah ‘Mabinogion’ (bentuk jamak dari mabinogi yang kira-kira berarti ‘kisah atau hikayat orang muda’) hanya bisa digunakan untuk mengacu pada keempat buah kisah dalam Mabinogion yang berpusat pada hikayat sang pahlawan Peredri. Keempat buah kisah itu—Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, dan Math—disebut ‘Cabang-Cabang (Branches) Mabinogion’.
Sementara penggunaan ‘Mabinogion’ untuk menyebut kumpulan sebelas kisah kepahlawanan (termasuk keempat Cabang) seperti yang ada sekarang pertama kali dilakukan oleh Lady Charlotte Guest. Ia menerjemahkan berbagai manuskrip kuno Wales dan menyertakan sejumlah kisah Wales lain selain keempat Cabang dalam ‘Mabinogion’-nya. Hasil terjemahannya diterbitkan dalam tiga volume pada kurun waktu 1838—1849. Sebagian dari kisah-kisah yang dirangkumnya dalam Mabinogion merupakan sumber-sumber tertua legenda-legenda Arthurian (berkaitan dengan Raja Arthur dan para ksatrianya). Kisah-kisah kuno itu dipercaya menjadi ‘ilham’ bagi legenda-legenda Arthurian yang berkembang di Eropa (antara lain berkat karya-karya Chretien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried von Strassburg, dan Hartman von Aue) dan pada akhirnya di kalangan bangsa Inggris keturunan pendatang dari Eropa daratan (antara lain berkat karya fenomenal Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur). Kita pun kini lebih mengenal legenda-legenda Arthurian sebagai legenda romantik seorang raja Inggris, bukan Wales.
Kisah-kisah dalam Mabinogion dinilai sebagian ahli bersifat onosmatik, yaitu dongeng yang dimaksudkan untuk menjelaskan nama-nama tempat yang sebagian masih dipertahankan di Wales hingga saat ini. Namun dua orang peneliti, Alan Wilson dan Baram Blackett, menganggap serius Mabinogion sebagai sumber sejarah yang cukup layak dipercaya mengenai masa lalu Wales. Mereka menelusuri nama-nama tempat dan peristiwa yang tercantum dalam Mabinogion untuk membuktikan bahwa legenda Arthur sebenarnya menceritakan sejarah bangsa Wales, bukan Inggris. Tak heran jika tempat-tempat bersejarah dalam legenda Arthur, misalnya Caer Llion atau dalam versi Inggrisnya Camelot, semestinyalah berada di daerah Wales.
Wilson dan Blackett juga beranggapan bahwa kisah-kisah Mabinogion merupakan alegori dari peristiwa-peristiwa yang nyata terjadi. Misalnya, dalam Culhwch and Olwen, King Arthur dan para ksatrianya memburu babi jantan liar bernama Twrch Trwyth beserta 9 anaknya. Menurut Wilson dan Blackett, yang dimaksud dengan babi jantan itu adalah Gormund, Raja Vandal yang pernah menyerbu Wales bersama 9 panglima perangnya. Babi jantan sendiri merupakan binatang suci para dewa Vandal dan Saxon serta sering digunakan sebagai simbol oleh bangsa-bangsa tersebut (Gilbert et al. 1999: 327—328). Bagi orang-orang seperti Wilson dan Blackett, Mabinogion pun menjadi sarana relevan dalam usaha meluruskan sejarah bangsa Wales.
Bagaimana dengan di Indonesia? Hari demi hari, semakin banyak bahasa daerah yang lenyap karena tidak ada lagi yang menguasainya. Padahal banyak naskah tradisional yang belum diterjemahkan (ke dalam bahasa Indonesia atau bahasa lain yang masih digunakan secara luas), dan banyak pula kisah yang belum dituangkan ke dalam bentuk tertulis. Sungguh sayang kiranya jika kisah-kisah itu hilang; karena seperti Mabinogion, tidak saja sebagai sarana penyampaian nilai-nilai dan etiket kemasyarakatan yang dianut oleh suatu (suku) bangsa tertentu (lihat Tolstoy 1985: 38), kisah-kisah itu bisa jadi juga merupakan rekaman sejarah. (less)
Well... the content is, just like many other Arthurian books, highly arguable, and there are times when you wonder whether the authors are not pulling...moreWell... the content is, just like many other Arthurian books, highly arguable, and there are times when you wonder whether the authors are not pulling things too far or plainly joking, but I quite enjoyed this book and the theories presented in it.(less)