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Books Read in 2017-2018 > Idylls of the King - Spoilers

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message 1: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 3979 comments Mod
Please use this thread to discuss the book freely!


message 2: by Lia (new)

Lia I like how in the beginning (Dedication), readers are already told he’s gone. It really is a “cycle” — “in the beginning is my end” sort of tradition.

“the Powers who walk the world
  Made lightnings and great thunders over him,
  And dazed all eyes, till Arthur by main might,
  And mightier of his hands with every blow...”


This made me LOL, only because Tennyson wrote a short, amusing poem about Thor. In case if anybody wants to know what his Thunder says:

What Thor Said to the Bard Before Dinner

Wherever evil customs thicken
Break through the hammer of iron rhyme,
Till priest-craft and king-craft sicken,
But pap-meat-pamper not the time
With the flock of the thunder-stricken.
If the world caterwaul, lay harder upon her
Till she clapperclaw no longer,
Bang thy stithy stronger and stronger,
Thy rhyme-hammer shall have honour.

Be not fair-spoken neither stammer,
Nail her, knuckle her, thou swinge-buckler!
Spare not: ribroast gaffer and gammer.
Be no shuffler, wear no muffler,
But on thine anvil hammer and hammer!
If she call out lay harder upon her,
This way and that, nail
Tagrag and bobtail,
Thy rhyme-hammer shall have honour.

On squire and parson, broker and banker,
Down let fall thine iron spanker,
Spare not king or duke or critic,
Dealing out cross-buttock and flanker
With thy clanging analytic!
If she call out lay harder upon her,
Stun her, stagger her,
Care not for swaggerer,
Thy rhyme-hammer shall have honour.


We shall see if Tennyson “hammers” his rhyme honorably in the Idylls.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Lia wrote: "I like how in the beginning (Dedication), readers are already told he’s gone. It really is a “cycle” — “in the beginning is my end” sort of tradition.

“the Powers who walk the world
  Made lightni..."


Wait...You've lost me here. Is:



“the Powers who walk the world
Made lightnings and great thunders over him,
And dazed all eyes, till Arthur by main might,
And mightier of his hands with every blow...”


in the Dedication? Because I don't see it. I thought the Dedication was to Prince Albert?


message 4: by Lia (new)

Lia Sorry Bryan, I should have posted them in separate posts, or used more line breaks. My comment in the first paragraph refers to the Dedication, the first quote is from Book 1.

The Dedication was to Prince Albert, but I'm pretty sure (or I like to think) these lines also applies to the King

The shadow of His loss drew like eclipse,

Darkening the world. We have lost him: he is gone:
We know him now


Also, "we know him now" -- I wonder if that alludes to Tennyson's Ulysses, in which the titular character complains about his people ("the hoard") know not me. Tennyson's Ulysses laments he's just a name to his people; here, Tennyson declares "we" (the hoard?) know him now.


message 5: by Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (last edited Jul 01, 2018 08:31PM) (new)

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Lia wrote: "Sorry Bryan, I should have posted them in separate posts, or used more line breaks. My comment in the first paragraph refers to the Dedication, the first quote is from Book 1.

The Dedication was ..."


Okay--I see now.

I'm thinking that Tennyson saw Albert as the kind of person who embodies an Arthurian code, so I would agree there's probably a lot of parallelism.

I've just started--read the Dedication the other day. I'm also reading through Littledale's Essays on Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. About the Dedication, though Littledale doesn't reference that line specifically (We know him now), he does mention two events--when Albert helped prevent war between the United States and England in 1861 when the US stopped a British mail-steamer and seized passengers on the grounds they were Confederates; and his efforts which ensured the success of the Exhibition of 1851--as examples of how "men saw the true greatness of his character when he had passed away".


message 6: by Lia (new)

Lia Thanks for sharing that Bryan, I didn't know the context. I've skimmed through the poem once and it seems his depiction of King Arthur would fit the praises in the Dedication, but I didn't know about Prince Albert.

I agree with the parallelism remark, Tennyson also wrote about writing Ulysses to push himself to cope after the death of his friend Arthur (!) Hallam. It seems he wrote about mythological characters as a way of structuring / memorializing contemporary events.

Edit: Though, I should add, Tennyson had been working on Idylls for a long time, Prince Albert already owned a copy and asked Tennyson to autograph it when his health was failing. So whatever parallel Tennyson imposed was after the fact, he (probably) didn't write the Idylls with the Prince in mind.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments I read The Coming of Arthur last night--I'm glad I had Littledale's notes, though I didn't find it too rough. What's noteworthy to me (though not surprising, given the Victorian setting,) is that Tennyson reworks Mordred's story so that he is merely Arthur's nephew, rather than his son from an incestuous (though unknowing) relationship with his sister, who I knew best as Morgan la Fey. Tennyson renames the sister Bellicent, and Mordred's just a bad kid (which we get a glimpse of when he listens at the door after his mother has told him to get lost.

This robs the Arthur/Modred story of about 90% of its power, to me.


message 8: by Ian (last edited Jul 02, 2018 10:29AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Lia and I have been kicking back and forth various free resources for reading Tennyson, as in reliable study guides. He isn't as hard to follow as, say, Shakespeare and other Elizabethans, but he did address some Victorian issues, and in nineteenth-century language.

Two books that are available free through the Internet Archive (archive.org -- see below) are by contemporaries of the poet:

(1) "The Growth of The Idylls of the King," by Richard Jones (1895), 168 pages.
https://archive.org/details/growthidy...

Tennyson worked on the sequence of poems from the 1840s, made a last major revision in 1885 (adding an entire Idyll), and apparently emended the text up until his death in 1892, and Jones helps keep track of, among other things, why critics kept (and keep) disagreeing about what Tennyson said, and his evident intentions. It can probably be consulted when such issues come up -- it includes a list of changes between the earlier texts and the 1894 printing, on which Tennyson had apparently done some final proofreading and editing.

Don't expect anything profound, but I have found it useful.

(2) "The Idylls of the King in Twelve Books," edited by William J. Rolfe, 1897. 437 pages (according to Adobe Reader).
https://archive.org/details/idyllskin...

This is a big line-by-line or section-by-section commentary with the complete text. It seems to have been issued in two parts, with separate pagination. The archive.org copy had the two bound together, and the sudden jump of pagination back to "1" can be disconcerting (for me, anyway). It explains a lot that would have been helpful to Tennyson's nineteenth-century readers, but isn't much help if the meaning of words has shifted over the following century-plus.

This is awkward to handle, but could be used as a reading text if you don't want to pay for another copy.

For those not used to the Internet Archive, it is maintained by the Library of Congress, and offers a multitude of media resources. The interface is fairly simple, but one usually has to scroll down to select download types (EPUB, Kindle, etc.) for a text you want. I always go with a PDF, as the automatic conversions to other formats tends to leave lots of garble to sort through. The links I provided should take you to the exact title and a preferred copy (uploads sometimes are of damaged books, or of poor quality).

(If anyone wants clearer instructions to work with the whole site, just ask: I don't want to belabor the obvious here.)

We've found an annotated edition that addresses Tennyson's vocabulary and figures of speech for the benefit of modern students, free in some formats, but it may have some problems. I'll address that later, rather than have this become an enormous post.


message 9: by Ian (last edited Jul 04, 2018 10:56PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Bryan wrote: "I read The Coming of Arthur last night--I'm glad I had Littledale's notes, though I didn't find it too rough. What's noteworthy to me (though not surprising, given the Victorian setting,) is that T..."

Malory, Tennyson's main source, used the incest version, which had become standard long before his time, but there are even older versions in which Mordred is just Arthur's trusted nephew. (In the very earliest Welsh sources, "Medraut" is just an enemy, with no hint of kinship or prior good relationship.)

{Correction: my summary was too concise. I should have said that Medraut is named someone who died in the same battle as Arthur, without indication of whether or not they were on the same side: later, he is an opponent, but one who, like Arthur, tries to avoid conflict, and with no hint of kinship.}

I don't know if Tennyson was aware of this {background}, but it is quite possible. He had clearly done some research on the question. The odd name name of Bellicent for Mordred's mother is genuinely medieval, being found in the Middle English poem "Arthour and Merlin," a really obscure source (although Tennyson might have found it in scholarly works, without consulting the 14th-century-Kentish original).

For those also doing T.H. White's "The Once and Future King," White uses a third character for the role of the mother, one he found ready-made in Malory.


message 10: by Lia (new)

Lia Bryan: I've also read about that, it seems the removal of incest and father-son feud was heavily attacked by his contemporary critics. The gist of it was that this transformed a high epic tragedy into some kind of domestic tragedy. IIRC Tennyson's response was that he didn't set out to write an epic (hence "Idylls".)

I understand the genre association, but I'm wondering what's the significance for you -- how would incest and generational conflicts make it more powerful for you?


message 11: by Lia (new)

Lia Thanks Ian, I'm very slowly getting through the materials, if you come across anything noteworthy, I hope you'll share with us. Victorian "diction" is just far removed enough that I think the supplementary materials themselves can make interesting conversation topics.


message 12: by Lia (new)

Lia Ian wrote: "I don't know if Tennyson was aware of this, but it is quite possible..."

It seems he was aware, in his notebook he drew some kind of genealogy tree, but ultimately decided not to include the incest component. I don't have the book with me right now (it's locked away on "reserve," I need a knight to rescue that demosel book from castle-perilous) but I'll post a snippet if I can find it again.


message 13: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Follow-up to Message 8 (above)

For those finding Tennyson's Victorian vocabulary, grammar, or figures of speech daunting, Nook and iBooks offer, FREE, Barbara Bedell's "eNotated Idylls of the King."

This is a complete text (see below) with short linked comments, and the material was originally aimed at undergraduate college students, to judge by the biographical information on the editor.

The interface is a bit quirky (i.e., not standard), but it works with a little practice.

For those who are interested, Nook is available as an app on several platforms: I'm not sure which are current, but it includes MacOS and iOS (Apple), and some versions of Windows and Android.

iBooks is, so far as I can tell, iOS and MacOS only (sorry).

The book is also offered on Amazon at $1.99. I presume most of us use a Kindle app on the appropriate platform, if not a Kindle eReader or Fire tablet. But I'm not urging anyone to rush out and pay for it -- I haven't used it long enough for that.

Kobo used to have it for sale too, I think, but I have not been able to call it up today, so it may have been dropped. Or my memory is wrong.

So far I haven't found any obvious mistakes in the annotations, but the cover gave me considerable pause. It gives the date of "Idylls" as 1874.

That was the date of a major revision by Tennyson (portions were first published in 1842!), but the last big change came in 1885. Copyright information within the e-book indicates that it *is* using the completed 1885 edition, and it contains the Idyll added in that year, so, despite the cover, the text should be reasonably standard.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Lia wrote: "I understand the genre association, but I'm wondering what's the significance for you -- how would incest and generational conflicts make it more powerful for you?..."

There are three things I thought of when you asked this question--actually, some of this had been going around in my own head, because I when I realized that I instinctively was feeling a little short-changed by Tennyson's version, I thought, 'What...you need incest to make this a stronger story?'

First of all, all this is subjective--so if anything I happen to write after this sounds like I'm advancing a fact, it's not, other than being factually the way I feel about it.

Much of the stories revolving around the knights involve only the highest ideals--chivalry, platonic love, ethical behavior. Incest, being one of the truly awful elements of human behavior, tends to balance out the highest with the lowest, and it gives the story arc a wider dimension.

It also introduces an element of fate that elevates Arthur from a legendary figure into a demi-god-like figure, like a personage from Greek myth. The first figure that pops into my mind is Oedipus, of course, but it's less the similarity to any particular figure as it is the idea of tragedy as the Greeks wrote about it.

Lastly, and which may really only be a function of the other two, it instinctively pricks at whatever it is that resonates in me when I read about myths of this sort in the first place. I don't do much in the way of studying comparative mythology, but in the Jungian sense, I wonder if the coupling of taboo with a king or chief that has been a good king for the people doesn't correspond to inner states within ourselves. I know it might sound funny to cite the movie Excalibur here, but in the climactic scenes, when Arthur and Mordred finally meet, there's a feeling of sadness, yes, but also of a kind of completeness as well. It seems to represent more than just what's on the surface.


message 15: by Lia (new)

Lia Bryan, I hope I didn’t come across as accusing. I asked because I somehow didn’t anticipate that intuitive taste for “epic tragedies” in modern readers.

Let’s talk about Tennyson’s treatment of “chivalric ideals” again as we read through the Idylls, I suspect we might not find much that needs balancing out in Tennyson’s court (though that might not apply to Arthur as an individual.)

IIRC in the versions that involve incest, Arthur did not know she’s his sister — he tried to be a boy-scout but was fated to unwittingly cause his own downfall. (So Oedipus is very apt!) I suspect suppressing that removes the fatalism and puts the seed of destruction squarely within human choice. I guess it’s not as romantic to think about it that way.

The Jungian completeness stuff sounds pretty interesting! I hope to hear more about it as we read. I’m not sure if that’s related, but I’ve always thought there’s something … oh, I don’t know, Freudian? About bloody lances, or pulling a sword out of a rock, or shoving the sword back into the rock, or tossing the sword into the lake etc.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Lia wrote: "Bryan, I hope I didn’t come across as accusing..."

Not even a little bit.

"I’m not sure if that’s related, but I’ve always thought there’s something … oh, I don’t know, Freudian? About bloody lances, or pulling a sword out of a rock, or shoving the sword back into the rock, or tossing the sword into the lake etc."

Lol--this is where I say, 'you know, sometimes a sword is just a sword.'


message 17: by John (new)

John I just finished Gareth and Lynette. Personally I found it to be slightly funny the way Lynette kept telling Gareth that he smelled like the kitchen. I suppose Tennyson didn’t intend it to be taken that way?


message 18: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments John wrote: "I just finished Gareth and Lynette. Personally I found it to be slightly funny the way Lynette kept telling Gareth that he smelled like the kitchen. I suppose Tennyson didn’t intend it to be taken ..."

I'm pretty sure he did intend it.

Despite messing with the ending of this story, he was a pretty good reader of Malory. And Malory likewise repeatedly makes clear the disconnection between what we (and Lancelot, etc.) know about Gareth, and what Lynette thinks she knows, and therefore perceives, without letting the evidence of her own eyes change her fixed opinion.

I think that this happens often enough to be a running joke for the reader (or audience -- reading aloud was a Victorian as well as a medieval practice), instead of just saying something about Lynette's character, or Gareth's patience -- in both versions.

By the way, my initial sympathies are all with Lynette -- she appealed to Arthur for a champion fighting man, and got someone with no visible qualifications for the job at hand, because he asked for it as a favor.

(I should add, in order to cover all bases, that this is the one extended section of Malory's "Morte D'Arthur" where there is no known immediate source, either French or Middle English, so we can't compare Malory's treatment to an older one to look for clues to his intention.

(Malory's sources were still being tracked down when Tennyson began work, and the project continued after his death: an important manuscript of his source for his first few books turned up as late as 1945. So I'm not arguing that Tennyson necessarily would have been aware of this situation, let alone that it would have influenced his own treatment of the story.)


message 19: by Lia (new)

Lia I first read about Gareth in Malory, I didn't even like Gareth at first! I must have misread something, I thought he was some kind of lazy glutton, and I thought Sir Kay and Lynette were rightfully abusive towards him!

Tennyson's version is much clearer to me that Gareth is blameless .

Did Tennyson invent Gareth's mother's obsession with gold? She sounds kind of greedy and materialistic.

Also, the possible attempt to provoke readers (listeners) reaction is very interesting. I've forgotten how much more oral literature used to be -- even after the invention of the printing press, books didn't become affordable enough to be read in silence privately until fairly recently.


message 20: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Lia wrote: "I've forgotten how much more oral literature used to be -- even after the invention of the printing press, books didn't become affordable enough to be read in silence privately until fairly recently..."

I suspect that a good deal of Tennyson's early popularity was due to the fact that his verse went well when read aloud -- as against many modern trends in poetry, which seem aimed entirely at the single reader who is willing to take time to decipher the meaning.

Reading aloud properly to family and friends was considered an important accomplishment in Jane Austen's time -- and it was still important to the Victorians, even though cheaper paper, and steam presses, made literature much more available then ever before.

Part of the attraction of reading aloud for many families and groups of friends may have been that at night, when there was time for entertainment, only the person reading aloud needed a good light source -- candles were expensive, and so was gas-lighting, when it became available.

Even the "lower middle class" got involved from a surprisingly early date. I recall reading a travel account of England in the late eighteenth century, written by an inquiring German visitor. He was surprised to find that his landlady, who had outlived several husbands, had judged their suitability from how well they read aloud -- something which he doubted would even have been considered by someone of that class in whichever German principality he came from.

He was also a bit envious of the (relative) mass popularity of English authors, as evidenced by the fact that cheap pirated editions of their works had a steady market. Apparently this wasn't the case for German writers of the day.

How far down the social scale this practice went, and when it became really common in the general population, is an interesting problem. It seems to have been a factor in the popularity of Dickens, whose works initially circulated in cheap installments which working-class people could easily club together to buy and enjoy as a group.

The spread of this practice was probably connected to the efforts of various religious groups to create a literate working class, so that the poor could read the Bible and religious tracts. They were disappointed that so many of those they did manage to teach turned out to read only for pleasure, or out of necessity.

There is an interesting discussion of the movement for mass education, and some of its sources and consequences, in The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain -- which happens to be one I own, and can cite without relying on memory: there are several studies of literature aimed at the English working class, but I don't recall the titles or authors.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Ian wrote: "I suspect that a good deal of Tennyson's early popularity was due to the fact that his verse went well when read aloud..."

My wife wasn't having any of it when I tried to read Gareth and Lynette to her. :)

I like reading it out loud though, even if I'm the only one in the room. It helps clarify it for me, sometimes, since the word order is so different than what I'm used to, and proper emphasis on the right word can untangle the meaning.

I've really enjoyed both these sections so far--I find my notes by Littledale have really helped. I did think the ending to G & L was a little anticlimactic--"They made me do it!"--but otherwise a lot of fun


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments I promised Ian some images of Frank Schoonover's artwork on my edition of King Arthur--I actually found this on the web:



This actually has to do with a tournament called just after the events in Gareth and Lynette. The caption is:

Then Sir Bleoberis brake his spear upon Sir Gareth.

I read this section of the book--Frith must have just smoothed out some of the Malory (and probably censored it). I realized what Lia meant up in #19 about Gareth being just a lazy glutton--in Frith's version, when Gareth asks for three boons, he says "Sir, this is my petition for this feast: that ye will give me meat and drink sufficient for the twelvemonth, and at that day I will ask my other two gifts."

His request was granted and he was given over to Sir Kay, and he ate with the kitchen boys and bedded down with them, but in this version, it never specifically says he served in the kitchen. It doesn't keep Lynette from calling him a kitchen page though. The rest of the story in a general way follows that of Tennyson's, except it goes on for a bit longer, and Gareth eventually weds Liones, Lynette's sister.

Here's Arthur Rackham's version of Sir Gareth, fighting the Red Knight (who would have been the equivalent of Tennyson's Death Knight), while Liones looks on:



In Doré's illustration for Idylls of the King, it's a bit difficult to determine exactly what part of the story it comes from. The caption is: Gareth fights for Lynette:



One more: this one by Howard Pyle:




message 23: by John (new)

John I finished Idylls this weekend. The language was beautiful, and yes, I did have to occasionally re-read a couple of sections because I'd lose concentration and realize I had no idea what was going on - Tennyson's poetry, at least for me, required attention.

What I enjoyed particularly was how Tennyson slowly brought Lancelot and Guinevere's affair to light. In one of the first sections, it was just alluded to. In the next, again an allusion, but this time more detail was given. In each section, it was explained more and more. And I realized that this is how, many times, we learn the truth in rumors. We hear the rumor itself and dismiss it as untruth. Then as we continue to hear it, embellished with more and more details, it begins to flesh out and our acceptance of it as truth grows.

I think this helped make the story of Pelleas a little more heartbreaking as he truly believed in the uprightness of the Round Table, and his acceptance of the truth of the laxity of the Knights pushes him to become the Red Knight, bent on destroying the Round Table (kinda like Anakin Skywalker and the Jedis!).

I did not like how the degeneracy of the Round Table was attributed to Guinevere because she was a woman. Each of the Knights had flaws, even Arthur, and I think it was those flaws that caused their problems, not Guinevere.

I didn't notice any backstory to Modred and his hatred of Arthur. I wish Tennyson had explained that a little more.


message 24: by Ian (last edited Jul 09, 2018 01:03PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Bryan wrote: "I promised Ian some images of Frank Schoonover's artwork on my edition of King Arthur--I actually found this on the web:.."

Thanks for the follow-through. (I've been away from my computer, seeking air-conditioning in the Los Angeles heat, or I would have responded more quickly.)

Those interested in a wide variety of Arthurian illustrations will find plenty of material, arranged by artist, at http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/ar... (not including Schoonover, unfortunately). (I think I've mentioned this before, but not on this thread, so far as I can see.)

It includes some interesting artists I had never heard of, and some I had known only through a few samples of their Arthurian work (such as Willy Pogany). Others are fairly routine.


message 25: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments John wrote: "I didn't notice any backstory to Modred and his hatred of Arthur. I wish Tennyson had explained that a little more. ..."

Tennyson was criticized while the Idylls were being written for trivializing the Arthur/Modred (Mordred, Medraut, etc.) conflict, but he had some philosophical and moral, as well as literary, problems to grapple with.

A lot of people don't think he came up with a satisfactory solution, but it is possible to see what he was dealing with.

In the oldest accounts in which Mordred is clearly Arthur's enemy, we aren't given much of an explanation, either: in allusions in the "Maginogion" collection, it seems that others contrived to put him and Arthur in contention. This may have interested Tennyson if he noticed it, but without details it doesn't contribute much to the story.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'Historia Regum Britanniae," which is sort of the "Official History" behind the romances, Mordred is the the supposedly loyal nephew Arthur leaves behind as regent when he takes the bulk of his forces to the continent to fight the Romans (who are, as often in Geoffrey, laying claim to Britain). His motivation appears to be a desire for power, plus (possibly) a desire for the Queen, although her role may be more that of a pawn as Mordred asserts his rule in Britain.

Post-Geoffrey, Mordred is (sometimes) not just Arthur's sister's son (and Gawain's brother), but Arthur's son as well (and so Gawain's half-brother).

Tennyson decided to dump the accidental-incest theme, which isn't actually necessary to the story, and hard to put into popular Victorian literature (the eighteenth-century might have had a different view), and he isn't the only one to have omitted it.

When it is used, as in Malory, Arthur may be presented as having tried to kill the resulting infant shortly after his birth, imitating Herod, a story which would not endear Arthur to the survivor of the slaughter.

It may also be suggested that they are all subject to fickle Fortuna (Fortune), emblematic of the fragility of human endeavors. In some medieval versions, Arthur even dreams about the "wheel of Fortune," the turning of which both raises him up and throws him down, in a standard medieval image of the predictable unpredictability of human fate.

On the one hand, this elevates the story to the level of classical tragedy as understood in the Middle Ages, on the other it undercuts any notion that the characters freely choose their own behavior, and with it the results, removing a lot of potential meaning.

T.H. White provides an abundance of motives, but I won't go into his treatment, since another (and I think overlapping) group is currently reading his "The Once and Future King" tetralogy, and this comes up after the current topic of discussion, "The Sword in the Stone."


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Finally had a chance to get back to this and read The Marriage of Geraint. (BTW, anyone know the proper pronunciation of Geraint. I find myself saying 'gair-ain't'. Maybe 'jer-ent'? similar to Gerald?)

I don't know if I have much to comment--I am really enjoying reading these, maybe even more because I'm reading them a little at a time. I notice what John was alluding to, in #23, about the slow progression of Guinevere and Lancelot's affair--here it describes Guinevere 'dreaming of her love for Lancelot' and the rumors that surround the court.

In my notes, it mentions how this 'Idyll' parallels The Mabinogion as much or more than Mallory. I'm only now becoming aware of how much The Mabinogion deals with Arthur. I have a copy of that on my shelves, but I think I'd also like to check out Evangeline Walton's retelling--I've heard it highly recommended. The Mabinogion Tetralogy


message 27: by Ian (last edited Jul 14, 2018 07:38AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Bryan wrote: "Finally had a chance to get back to this and read The Marriage of Geraint. (BTW, anyone know the proper pronunciation of Geraint. I find myself saying 'gair-ain't'. Maybe 'jer-ent'? similar to Gera..."

I have no idea how Tennyson chose to pronounce the name, which is Welsh. For that reason, the "g" should be hard, as in "Gary," not soft, as in "Gerald," but Tennyson could have "naturalized" it. If my fading memories of a course on the subject of medieval Celtic literature are reliable, the Welsh pronunciation would be something like "Ger-oint," but I am anything but an authority on this.

Do NOT go to Evangeline Walton for help with this.

Her books are wonderful, but deal exclusively with what are called "The Four Branches of the Mabinogi," four notionally related stories containing heroes and adventures which seem to have been drawn, at several removes, from ancient Celtic mythology.

The very title "Mabinogion" is a medieval scribal error (!) which in the nineteenth century was taken to designate the whole of a sort of anthology of early Welsh prose tales, known in a couple of manuscripts. (The "Red Book of Hergest" and the "White Book of Rhydderch" -- and yes, the resemblance of the first to Tolkien's "Red Book of Westmarch" is probably not a coincidence.)

This larger set of stories includes three Arthurian "romances," "Geraint," "Owain," and "Peredur," unmistakably related to three early Arthurian works by the French poet Chretien de Troyes ("Erec and Enide," "Yvain," and "Perceval," respectively), but which way the influence went is up in the air -- it could even have gone both ways, from Welsh or Breton into French, then from modish French back into Welsh.

(The "Mabinogion" collection also includes two "Native Tales" of Arthur, "Kulhwch and Olwen" and "The Dream of Rhonabwy," and a couple of other pieces. I've reviewed some of the available translations on Amazon: I'll provide links if anyone is interested.)


message 28: by Lia (new)

Lia Ian wrote: "Do NOT go to Evangeline Walton for help with this.
"


Oh crap, I've been reading her >__< What should I do? What should I ever do? Oh noes.


message 29: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Enjoy, of course. Just don't get frustrated if nothing Arthurian shows up!

Walton managed to make coherent novelistic sense out of some very peculiar narratives and odd ideas, without making drastic changes in them.

Unhappily, the current collected edition is, apparently, riddled with typographical errors, some of which are hard to distinguish from Welsh names.....


message 30: by Lia (new)

Lia Thanks Ian :-) I read her when I want something easy on my brain, something effortless that doesn't require concentration. Of course I read other sources too.

I suspect she was writing for very young readers.


message 31: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Lia wrote: "Thanks Ian :-) I read her when I want something easy on my brain, something effortless that doesn't require concentration. Of course I read other sources too.

I suspect she was writing for very young readers..."


I'm a little surprised by that. Although she does make an effort to clarify the sometimes illogical-looking plots and characterizations she had inherited from her source.

Her versions of the stories are fairly clear about things like sex -- which Charlotte Guest had suppressed as much as possible in her nineteenth-century translation. Nothing that would be shocking in a Young Adult book today, but Walton began writing the series in the 1930s, under a very different publishing regime.

It may or may not be significant that the first volume to be published (1936), on the Fourth Branch, was originally titled, by the publisher, "The Virgin and the Swine," which is pretty good if you know the material already, but rather opaque if you don't -- and might suggest an entirely different sort of story to other potential readers.

At any rate, the name doesn't seem to have helped sales, and the three other volumes she was writing in the 1930s and '40s didn't see print for decades.

The Ballantine Books paperback in the 1970s was re-titled "The Island of the Mighty," which likewise gives away nothing about the story to those who don't already recognize the name as a description of Britain, but is at least not misleading.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Thanks for the rundown, Ian. I was thinking along the lines of what Lia said--Walton might be an entertaining way of getting some of this material down without working too hard at it. Arthur or no Arthur, I do plan on getting to the Mabinogion at some point. My copy is translated by Jeffrey Gantz--Mabinogion. Thumbs up or thumbs down?


message 33: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Gantz's Penguin Classics translation is reasonably reliable, although his handling of names -- notably in the catalogues appearing in "Kulhwch and Olwen," but elsewhere as well -- has been criticized. (There is a running battle over whether nicknames should be translated in the text, with the Welsh in footnotes, or the other way around.)

Gantz's spelling of some Welsh names is also a bit odd, which could lead to confusion when consulting other literature. Views of his style differ: I don't find it objectionable, but then I've read a lot of medieval literature in translation, and I'm used to some of the odd ways of thinking that show up in prose.

There is a more recent translation, in the Oxford World's Classics, by Sioned Davies, which is very good, and has useful notes, but I wouldn't urge you to rush out and get a copy unless you find Gantz excessively difficult going. I haven't reviewed it yet, and I can't get it to come up on Goodreads. See https://www.amazon.com/Mabinogion-Oxf...

For the second half of the twentieth century, the Everyman's Library translation by Thomas Jones and Gwyn Jones was the standard English form, and it may be available to you in a library. However, its rendering of the Welsh text is rather literal, and quite medieval-sounding, despite the modern English, a trait which I find charming, but which others can't stand. I reviewed it, and others, a long time ago, and this review is now hard to find on the product page: try https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re... instead.

Another option is Patrick Ford's The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales, but this omits the three Romances. It does include "Taliesin," a later story omitted by all other translators except Charlotte Guest. (Ford had to re-edit the story from the manuscripts in order to translate it.) I reviewed this one, with details on the contents, at https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/RI9H...

My thoughts on the lovely, but often unreliable, Charlotte Guest translation, which Tennyson used, are at https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R8J9...


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Thank you! Always appreciate your input and opinion.

No telling when I'll get to the Mabinogion--I have some other classic texts I've got my eye on (Gilgamesh, The Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost and The Iliad among others) that I'll probably try to get to over the next couple of years. I may have picked up three or four more translations by the time I'm ready to read it.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Finished the second half of the Enid story. So...all's well that ends well, I guess.

Still, I'm having a lot of fun with these stories. I've tried to put my finger on what it is that makes them enjoyable to me--first, obviously, could just be that they are done well and are entertaining. I'm reading them slowly as well, which generally makes me appreciate things more. I'm also happy simply to feel as though I'm capable of absorbing this kind of narrative poetry--as with The Divine Comedy, I find that narrative verse is something I can read without my eyes glazing over. I've tried and tried to read lyric poetry, and I find it very difficult.

What would be the difference if someone arranged Tennyson's verses and simply wrote them out as prose? Are there any poets out there that can tell me what the difference would be?

I've also previewed each 'Idyll' with some notes, which has made the experience much easier for me--some of the archaisms would have slipped right past. I like the feeling I get when I can recognize what's happening.

So it's hard for me to differentiate between whether I'm enjoying the stories for themselves, or enjoying the idea that I can enjoy the stories, if that makes any sense. Some of both, maybe?


message 36: by Ian (last edited Jul 16, 2018 08:01AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Bryan wrote: "So it's hard for me to differentiate between whether I'm enjoying the stories for themselves, or enjoying the idea that I can enjoy the stories, if that makes any sense. Some of both, maybe?..."

Yes, that does make sense. You may be taking pleasure in acquiring a new skill, while enjoying exercising that skill as well.

In the present case, two skills are involved: reading Victorian narrative verse, and reading a medieval romance, the first of which is not the same as reading lyrical poetry, and the second not quite equivalent to reading a novel.

This is an experience that I have seen widely recognized in things like athletics and gaming, with their obvious physical or mental exertion, but not so often associated with learning the skills necessary to read a type of literature.

Literature courses (mainly in English departments in the US) do teach "critical reading skills," but don't seem to openly acknowledge that this is the same sort of thing.

Or at least it seems to me that the idea turns up chiefly in discussions of genres, such as science fiction and mystery, where it is recognized that certain conventions have to be learned and accepted, and specific types of analysis of the narrative and descriptions are essential to fully enjoying the better examples -- there are, of course, plenty of instances where a simplistic reading is all that can be sustained.

Now that our culture is no longer being saturated with Westerns, as in every night on television, it may take a certain effort to learn how to appreciate that genre, as well. It has been a while, but I've encountered people who watched re-runs of the original "Maverick" on a cable channel, and missed their aspects as parodies of conventional adventure shows, never having seen, say, "Have Gun, Will Travel," or "Gunsmoke" (to name a couple of good examples).


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Finished Balin and Balan last night. I found this one to be probably the most difficult to understand of all the ones I've read so far. It seemed like there were a lot of moving parts here. I suppose the biggest is the introduction of Vivien, and the broader hint as to the Lancelot/Guinevere affair. Man, that Vivien is one cold-hearted woman!


message 38: by Lia (new)

Lia I think Tennyson had to alter the story significantly in order to get rid of the magic/ miracle elements in Malory. The B&B chunk of Malory is especially rich with magical stuff, I suspect Tennyson had a lot of troubles getting it to work.

And ... yeah, V seems irredeemable, I’m hoping someone would prove me wrong and find a more charitable interpretation.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments I thought that B&B marked a kind of departure from the tone of the work so far. It had seemed fairy-tale-ish to me up to now, but with Balin's rage issues and Vivien's extremely cruel outlook, it feels more real. This, despite all the magical overtones. I should get to the next 'Idyll' this evening--it'll be interesting to see if that trend continues.


message 40: by Lia (new)

Lia It is more fairy-tale-ish, I agree. Tennyson made some kind of commentary that there is nothing in the Arthurian tales that cannot be rationally explained without mysticism. Which might be the case for most Arthurian tales, but B&B is exceptionally fairy-tale-ish even for Malory.

I read Tennyson’s B&B as some kind of Victorian Jekyll and Hyde, and the fairytale elements as representation of the psychological “break” of a divided self. In this rather comforting reading, I see Vivien as a figment of B&B’s “bad tripping” hallucination :p


message 41: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Lia wrote: "It is more fairy-tale-ish, I agree. Tennyson made some kind of commentary that there is nothing in the Arthurian tales that cannot be rationally explained without mysticism. Which might be the case..."

"Balin and Balan" was the last Idyll to be published (in 1885, when Tennyson also divided the Geraint story into "The Marriage of Geraint" and "Geraint and Enid), and he had to make it consistent with the poems already known to the public. To compound matters, Vivien -- as Nimue -- had appeared already in 1857, in the unpublished (six copies were printed) "Enid and Nimue: the True and the False." So he had been thinking about that character for a long time.

One of the features of Malory's story of "The Knight of the Two Swords" (Caxton's Book 2) is its abundance of supernatural and/or highly improbable events. He had taken it over from the "Suite du Merlin," in which, if I recall from the sections I've read, the magic element is even a bit stronger. The sense of a controlling Fate is clear in both versions, and the characters are to some extent its puppets.

Since Tennyson was trying to minimize the supernatural, and presumably assumed Free Will, he had some pruning to do, and his version of the story is not necessarily the better for it.

The Malory version actually presents some other problems to readers of the "Morte D'Arthur." It is supposed to be connected with the Dolorous Stroke and the Waste Land elements of the Grail story, but the background it provides for these has nothing much to do with what is found in the older "Quest of the Holy Grail" which Malory translated from an older version. Another point for those who prefer thinking of "The Whole Book of King Arthur" as a collection, not a unity.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Thanks for the comments, Lia and Ian.

It sure felt as though this particular episode had a different tone than the ones I've already read. That it was published last makes sense. Since Tennyson was really co-opting this story to fit into his Free-Will theme, it also makes more sense that this one seems more disjointed.

Someday, I'll have to re-read Parzival--that one seems pretty straightforward when it comes to the grail elements. (Straightforward in a High German Medieval sort of way)


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments ...and the forest echo'd, 'fool'.

It's a good thing we've already been introduced to the character of Enid, otherwise Vivien and Guinevere might make us think Tennyson didn't have a very good opinion of women.

The two Idylls concerning Enid made me think of the old 'happily ever after' kind of fairy tale, and B&B seems a bit jumbled; but now with Merlin and Vivien, I think of myths that disguise male and female essences. I know that Vivien is not representative of all women, but this seems more elemental to me than what we've read previously, and I from what I've read from outside sources, it's hard for me to believe that was Tennyson's intention. That doesn't mean it's not there, despite what the poet may have wanted to get across, but it does seem kind of symbolic--though without further study, I couldn't say exactly of what, other than primal male and female relations.

I thought this was the best so far.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Lancelot and Elaine

Arthur's kingdom is starting to frazzle at the edges (I like Gawain's character here as the not-bad but arrogant knight--one who isn't an evil character but one you sense has no interest in Arthur's idea of a Round Table Knight). Lancelot and Guinevere are almost out in the open, enough so everyone gasps when they see L. with some other damsel's token at his helm.

Besides the decaying factor, this Idyll reminded me more of the earlier ones, with Geraint and Enid, and Gareth and Lynette.


message 45: by Lia (new)

Lia Really? I really, really hate Tennyson’s Gawain, or rather, I resent Tennyson for what he did to Gawain.

But I’m used to a more irresistibly, dangerously attractive Gawain, since I finished reading Percival not long ago.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Lia wrote: "Really? I really, really hate Tennyson’s Gawain, or rather, I resent Tennyson for what he did to Gawain.

But I’m used to a more irresistibly, dangerously attractive Gawain, since I finished readi..."


No...I like him as a representative of the decay that's happening. In my mind, he's more like what I think of as the actual knights might have been--thugs, if there were no immediate restraining hand. Bullies at best.

Gawain may not be quite that bad, but I get the feeling he doesn't really give a hoot about Arthur's ideas and goals--he's at Camelot because that's the best thing going right now--that's where knights go. It's another example of how Arthur is seeing what he wants to see, like how he doesn't see anything going on between Lancelot and Guinevere.


message 47: by Lia (new)

Lia That makes sense, Bryan.

Tennyson’s Arthur is supposedly so otherworldly-ideal (or idealistic), however “good” he is, I just can’t relate. If I read you correctly, I think I share your sentiment and identify more with the “fallen” people just trying to get by.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments Lia wrote: "If I read you correctly, I think I share your sentiment and identify more with the “fallen” people just trying to get by. ..."

As usual, I think my dancing around the subject confuses more than it clears up. It's not that I find Gawain a likeable character, I like that Tennyson has inserted a marker that tells me how Arthur's ideal is crumbling. That this marker happens to be Gawain may actually be unfortunate, especially given your attachment to him from other sources. I don't have too many associations with these characters, at least not some of the secondary ones. (Although I think you could argue Gawain really isn't secondary)


message 49: by Ian (last edited Jul 23, 2018 09:37AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 75 comments Bryan wrote: "...and the forest echo'd, 'fool'.

It's a good thing we've already been introduced to the character of Enid, otherwise Vivien and Guinevere might make us think Tennyson didn't have a very good opinion of women ... now with Merlin and Vivien, I think of myths that disguise male and female essences..."


Vivien (Nimuë in the earliest version of the "Idylls," elsewhere Nimiane, and other variants) is a character for which Tennyson drew on sources beyond Malory (a more common practice than it seems at first glance). This may, or may not, be significant for how he treats her -- I haven't read the non-Malory version for a long time.

Malory used the the story as he found it in the "Suite du Merlin," but the older "Roman de Merlin" (an addition to the "Vulgate Cycle") had a different, longer version. According to the The Arthurian Encyclopedia, Tennyson encountered that treatment in the introduction to Thomas Southey's pioneering reprinting of Caxton's text (mostly) in 1817, as The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur...." It was in two volumes, but only one can be found on the Internet Archive, and other places I have checked. [Correction: volume two, as Byrth, Lyf and Actes, can be found, by close reading of the heading, on Google Books.] Fortunately, the passage is in the the first volume, which as usual contains the Introduction. Southey gives a summary/translation of the fuller version, on pages xliii-xlviii.

https://archive.org/details/byrthlyfa...
or

https://books.google.com/books/about/...

For Volume 2, see

https://books.google.com/books?id=eac...



This appears, at first glance, to be identical to the form in the Middle English translation (1450) of the Romance, which is available on Kindle as Merlin, or The Early History of King Arthur: A Prose Romance.

There it is not told continuously, but is interrupted by parts of other, interwoven, stories, in which Merlin also appears. I'm going to make some time to compare the two versions (from the "Suite" and from the "Romance"), and then check them against Tennyson's treatment. So this may take a while.

(There is also a modern edition of the English Prose Merlin (c. 1450), from the TEAMS Middle English texts series, but I have to consult it on-line, instead of Kindle apps and devices open to different pages, so it is a pain when one has to jump around.)

{Oops! I somehow edited out the observation that in the Prose Merlin Nimiane (etc.) is associated with the worship of the goddess Diana, so you may be right on point about "male and female essences." Which was sort of the point of my observation, before I began looking up bibliography......}


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 276 comments The Holy Grail

Another excellent entry--the switch that Tennyson employs here (having Percivale tell the tale as an old man to one of his monk brothers) really works well. What really seems affecting to me is the overall arc--how we see that Arthur was trying to bring about a group of knights who were worthy of the Grail quest, but that as a group, they had barely begun to be ready.

I thought the 'madness' of Lancelot was given short shrift--I know that it had to do with the sin of desire over Guinevere, but there isn't a lot of detail in Tennyson. Also, Galahad kind of appears out of nowhere, so it seems to me like there's a lot of backstory that Tennyson had to leave out in order for it to fit into the scheme he'd laid out. When I get home, I'll have to check out my other Arthur books and see the relevant stories.

Still highly enjoying this though, even despite the limitations imposed on the format by the poet.


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