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Arthur the King Hardcover – October 22, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (October 22, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786713844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786713844
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,803,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this second volume of his historical trilogy (after The Evening of the World, set in the dying days of the Roman Empire), Massie presents a cheerily erudite deconstruction and retelling of the Arthurian legend. The linear events of the narrative are familiar: as a young boy, Arthur is schooled by Merlin, then claims the throne of England by pulling the sword Excalibur from its stone. Massie's version, however, fashions alternate histories for familiar characters (chronicling, for example, Merlin's wretched childhood and describing the twisted use he makes of his powers) and takes a playful, humorous tone ("Nor was Arthur enamored of mathematics, even though Merlin took great joy in that subject and excelled (as he supposed) in expounding it"). Once crowned king, Arthur is portrayed as a strategist and statesman whose marriage to the Saxon maiden Guinevere is one of convenience; his true love is his half-sister, Morgan le Fay, and he has a fondness for pretty youths (as does Merlin). Similarly, the machinations of the Knights of the Round Table are seen as a series of political maneuvers, particularly when the knights jockey for position as the quest for the Grail begins. Readers looking for the standard heroic take may be disappointed, but those of "a speculative and skeptical turn of mind, which takes nothing on trust or unexamined" will appreciate this bracing chronicle.
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Review

"If you have only a dim recollection of the Arthur legends, this is an opportunity to rediscover their variety. And Massie entertainingly adds his own, deliberately anachronistic, original ingredients." -- SALLEY VICKERS, THE TIMES "The Arthurian legends... always bear a fresh telling, especially from such a well-versed historical novelist as Massie... a cracking story." THE OBSERVER "I hope Massie doesn't stop at a mere trilogy. With entertainment as high-wrought and glittering as this, even a dodecalogy would be too short." DAILY TELEGRAPH "a lively and colourful yarn." SUNDAY TELEGRAPH "A timely examination of the power and pitfalls of myth in political life." SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY "This novel simply adds to my admiration for this absurdly underrated author." GLASGOW HERALD "Well-handled" TLS "It is in the mists of sinister suggestion that Massie's skill truly glitters... you are held by the throat from beginning to end." INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David McEldery on March 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There seems to be no end to re-telling the Arthurian legend, and in another hundred years, a single individual will be hard-pressed to read all the fiction that abounds. That being said, this book deals not so much with a "historically" accurate Arthur, who is generally thought to be a composite of as many as three Romano-Britons, but a medieval version told by one Michael Scott, an astrologer, to his pupil, the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. That's why it isn't a real stretch to have men in armor riding on the cover. The story as told by Massie is a sort of blend of the purist's Romano-British Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Massie injects the Roman Arthur into the story by trashing Geoffrey of Monmouth, and introduces Celtic elements in side stories about Arthur's knights, such as the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Massie creates a cynical, down-to-earth Merlin, who was bullied as a youth, but rises through study and knowledge to create fearful respect in the general population. Massie's Merlin has no power to overcome capture and imprisonment, and meets a dismal end. Mordred is suitably twisted by his physical deformities and upbringing. Many of the other main characters are also painted as flawed personalities. Guinivere is a Saxon dumpling with short, chunky legs, who doesn't have a lofty thought in her brain, and no remorse for fooling around with Lancelot. Lancelot is petty, self-absorbed, and spends most of his post-Guiniverian life moping in his castle in Britanny. I bought the book a couple of years ago, and finally got around to reading it, enjoyed it quite a bit as a different slant on the Arthurian myth, so give the book 4 stars for being better than the cover led me to believe. I'm not sure I want to spend money on the 1st installment in this trilogy, The Evening of the World. The two Amazon reader reviews for that one aren't particularly sterling. I hope number three is as good or better than Arthur the King.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. S. Wilkerson on February 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Allan Massie's Arthur the King (2003 293 pages) leaves much to be desired. I enjoy the Arthurian cycle and have read quite a number of books telling the story. Massie's interpretation is quite a bit different than any of the other tales of Arthur I've read, and while it's not the best retelling, it has merit and would probably interest anyone who finds the Arthur legend and the many possibilities for interpretation intriquing. Massie's strength is not the story, but the dialogue and some of the philosphical ramblings of an intrusive narrator/chronicler whose work is styled on Machiavelli's The Prince and who is using the story of Arthur as a model for governance with numerous asides and interpolations.

The narrative incorporates observations and paraphrasing from other classical authors, especially Ovid, and one little quotation from Ezra Pound, 750 years in the future. Despite being overly intrusive at times, the narrator, Scott (Massie introduces the narrator in a prefatory note: "This version purports to be a translation of a narrative written by the medieval scholar and astrologer Michael Scott for his pupil, the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, 1194-1250), is more interesting than most of the characters in the tale.

Massie has invented backstories for the main characters, which are quite different from the standard interpretations, and at times the dissonance is a bit jarring. Because he did invent many of the stories, I don't think the novel is as satisfying as it should have been, especially for anyone familiar with the "standard" versions. If anything, it shows poor editing and/or a lack of concentration in keeping the overall story focused. His version simply doesn't hold together well.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Chippindale on August 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Arthurian legends have taken on many guises and formats over the years and Allan Massie's attempt is as good as most. It does stray in many ways from the original tale but as the whole Arthurian saga is more myth than actual proven fact this does not really matter.

I think that in this particular book Allan Massie writes to shock the reader and for those of a delicate or sheltered upbringing the book will certainly achieve that.

I found the book an interesting read, not the best telling of the Arthurian legend, but certainly not the worst. What does bug me though with many of the books about Arthur is that the book cover illustrators find it necessary to depict the men in suits of armour, a form of protection that is medieval. If Arthur existed at all, he lived many centuries before then and would not know a suit of armour if one dropped on his foot.
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Format: Paperback
Traveling back in time to the heart of the Celtic myths and legends and those Arthurian
Legends that have captivated many for years, one is swept away by the stories of Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin and the sword in the stone that is vividly brought to life by Allan Massie. As a huge fan already of this particular genre of authors such as MK Hume and Bernard Cornwell I was naturally curious as to discover an original and different take on a subject matter that is seeped in historical and imaginative adaptations as to bring the legends to life. Plunged into a time of rivalry between Kings seeking power, title and land one experiences the true magical event in which a young boy pulls the sword from the stone thus being a catalyst for change as the legend is born. Acquiring the throne from Uther Pendragon Camelot now under a new ruling experiences the impact of change, strong leadership and how treachery becomes ones ultimate downfall.

Here Allan Massie retells the legends of old in a completely new and captivating way that is realistic, making you feel as if the author is reaching out to you intimately and in which you connect to the story in your own way, as you glimpse Arthur's life with understanding and interest. A fresh prospective is presented to you as both from a public and private angle, where one can really see both sides of such an iconic mythical figure. This book has left a large hole in my heart, being something that I shall now treasure as an outstanding and origional read that is so distinctive and unique. This is a timeless tale that's absorbing and beautifully written, and which stands-out against other writers who also have attempted to recreate these tales.
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