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The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Nights

The stories of King Arthur and the knights of the round table have permeated popular culture. John Steinbeck, the acclaimed American author of novels such as Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, decided to retell Sir Thomas Malory's Le Mort d'Arthur (full text of the novel at that link). In his introduction, Steinbeck writes how Malory's novel was the book that began his passion for reading emerged, "my sense of right and wrong, my feeling of noblesse oblige, and any thought I may have had against the oppressor and for the oppressed came from this secret book. It did not outrage my sensibilities as nearly all children's books did." (2) The novel is the retelling of Malory's work with Steinbeck's commentary (via letters to his agent and editor) included at the end of the novel. The only point where Steinbeck writes something that isn't a direct adaptation (not sure if that's the correct term for what this book is) is under the title THE NOBLE TALE OF SIR LANCELOT OF THE LAKE there's a note (And noble it is. - J. S.) That tale ends the novel, he ended suddenly for reasons unknown. The last letter (July 8, 1965) in the book says:
I go struggling along with the matter of Arthur....I am going to protect myself by not showing it to anybody so that after I get a stretch of it done, if it seems bad, I can simply destroy it. But right now I don't think its bad. Strange and different, but not bad. (402)
I definitely didn't think it was bad. Filled with some of the "best prose [he] has ever written" (words taken from a letter to his editor written six years prior), it is a rich telling of the stories of King Arthur. The magic lies in the stories, yes. But also in these letters in the end that offer a look into Steinbeck's process. As he describes in a letter (March 27, 1959),
Malory wrote the stories for and to his time. Any man hearing him knew every word and every reference. There was nothing obscure, he wrote the clear and common speech of his time and country. But that has changed — the words and references are no longer common property, for a new language has come into being. Malory did not write the stories. He simply wrote them for his time and his time understood them. (359)
So Steinbeck wrote them for his time. There are so many lines I bookmarked as I was reading; too many to share. I encourage you to read this, learn the stories of King Arthur and his knights, and enjoy. Rating: ★★★★

Winter Reading

The Reluctant Fundamentalist