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Merlin and the Making of the King (Booklist Editor's Choice. Books for Youth (Awards)) Hardcover – September 1, 2004
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From School Library Journal
Grade 2-6–This is a straightforward, expertly streamlined retelling of three popular Arthurian legends: "The Sword in the Stone," "Excalibur," and "The Lady of the Lake," based on the Winchester College manuscript of Sir Thomas Malory's work. With its fairly simple vocabulary and succinct style, the lyrical narrative can be enjoyed if read independently or in a group setting. The truly distinguishing feature of this book is Hyman's detailed, colorful acrylic artwork, which works so well at conveying the action of the stories. In keeping with the feel of a medieval illuminated manuscript, each page has an attractive, elaborate border partially painted with gold ink that glows with all the richness of gold leaf. The initial letter of each tale is beautifully embellished, also contributing to the antique style of the book. Pair this with the author and illustrator's Saint George and the Dragon (Little, Brown, 1984) for another exemplary look at British legends, stunningly illustrated.–Lynda Ritterman, Atco Elementary School, Waterford, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 4-6, younger for reading aloud. Undertaking a seemingly impossible task, Hodges distills the many tales of Arthurian legend into a brief but coherent story in three parts. "The Sword in the Stone" tells of Arthur's early years under the guidance of Merlin, ending with his acceptance of Excalibur and its scabbard and his ascension to the throne. "Excalibur" involves the treachery of Morgan le Fay, who twice stole the magic sword and scabbard, and Mordred, who undermined the ideals of the Round Table. "The Lady of the Lake" describes Arthur laying siege to Lancelot's castle, fighting Mordred to the death, and, mortally wounded, being taken to Avalon. An appended author's note discusses her source, Sir Thomas Malory's collection of the legends of King Arthur. Hodges offers children a compact book written with the dignity and spirit of Arthurian tradition, giving meaning and context to the hundreds of tales of knightly deeds that can be found in larger collections as well as picture-book editions. Hyman's illustrations include dramatic acrylic paintings of scenes in the story, ornate initial letters for the text, and elaborate yet graceful seasonal borders on each page. Illuminated with heraldic colors and gold in the glorious tradition of medieval bookmaking, this beautiful volume offers a well-designed introduction to the well-loved tales. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Covering the entire life of King Arthur, we begin our tale in the presence of the great wizard Merlin. When Uther Pendragon defeated the Duke of Cornwall and became king of all England, Merlin appeared to the ruler in a dream and told him that due to his personal failings, the wizard was going to spirit away his soon-to-be-born son at the earliest possible convenience. Uther, apparently okay with this, sends his baby boy off without a fight and soon thereafter dies. The baby is little Arthur, and he is raised by the kindly Sir Ector alongside a boy who becomes a knight by the name of Sir Kay. One day a sword is stuck into a stone and anvil and sure as shooting, Arthur pulls it clean out and becomes king. He receives a sword from Vivien, the Lady of the Lake, and goes on to rule the round table. In a somewhat quick and dirty encapsulation, the book skips over most of the fables associated with King Arthur and just sticks with the stories connected to his life. We meet Morgan le Fay, Mordred, Guinevere, and Launcelot. Arthur fights Mordred thrice, is defeated at last, and departs with the promise that he will someday return. As for Merlin, he disappears with many rumors surrounding where he has gone. No one knows for certain.
The Arthur myth is so integrated into our public consciousness that as I read this book I was assaulted by various versions of the tale encountered during my life. When I read about Arthur and Kay I remembered T.H. White's remarkable, "The Sword and the Stone" (which, now that I think about it, would also have made a great recommendation to the "Magic Treehouse" kids). When I saw Arthur pull the sword from the stone I flashed back to the animated Disney movie made lo these many years ago. And when the Lady of the Lake emerged from her watery home, suddenly the song "Find Your Grail" from "Spamalot" was pulsing through my ears. What we adults need to remember as we read this book is that kids going through it aren't necessarily going to have the same frames of reference that we do. All these pop cultural images and ideas won't be in their heads. As such, "Merlin and the Making of the King" is an ideal place to start them on. Consider the work and care put into it. In her Author's Note, Hodges gives a brief history of the original manuscript "Le Morte d'Arthur" published in 1485 in London. Yet in 1934, another manuscript was found in a library at Winchester College that was much closer to the original story than the 1485 version. This book is a retelling of the Winchester manuscript and, as such, is perhaps the purest children's retelling of the Arthur myth ever to be published in the English language for people under the age of 10.
If I were a professional reviewer (i.e. if I was getting paid) I would sit down with the Winchester retelling of Sir Thomas Malory's, "Le Morte d'Arthur" and determine what Hodges has written down and what she has left out. Obviously, knowing a patchwork of different Arthur stories ("Camelot" probably foremost amongst them) I felt that this book left out important details. It makes it sound as if Guinevere never cheated on Arthur with Lancelot and that it was just rumor mongering on Mordred's part. But who am I to say? Maybe that's what Malory's story actually said. What I can say with certainty is that if you're looking for a go-to source of good King Arthur stories ("Gawain and the Green Knight", "Gawain and the Loathly Lady", etc.) this is not the resource you want. This book is all Merlin and Arthur, all the time.
And how is the retelling? Pretty good. A little confusing at times. Though it would have pumped up the page count I think the font definitely could have been larger and the Trina Schart Hyman illustrations more plentiful. Unless I am much mistaken, this book is perhaps one of the last works Ms. Hyman was able to finish before dying of cancer in 2004. Unlike her earlier work the book is less reliant on fine-tuned details and employs a rougher broader brush. Just the same, it's far more intricate and indicative of the illustrated manuscripts of the medieval age than most of the work done by lesser artists working today. Ms. Hyman was one of the great bright stars of her field.
Reading this book, kids with Merlin-mania will not find themselves fully satiated. What they will find is the one true retelling of the original Arthur myth. From there on in they can enjoy books like Susan Cooper's, "Over Sea, Under Stone" and Jane Yolen's, "Young Merlin" series with some excellent background knowledge of this legendary tale. Ms. Hodges has given us the definitive children's edition of Arthur in brief. A necessary addition to any complete children's library.
Its illustrations have just the exact amount of beauty and dream like quality the foggy ages of the Arthurian saga demand.
Children are confronted with the beauty of ideals, the necessity of moral strength, the real possibility of the arising of enemies even in your own family -like the brother wanting the glory of having taken the sword from the stone for himself, almost steeling Arthur's destiny- the mysterious forces at work to help fulfill one's life aims, either noble or evil, thus the eternal war among good and evil in and outside ourselves. And finally, the reality of death. Even the bravest have to die. All these truths of life expressed in a clear simple language, with the strength of one of the main myths of the western mind, the story of King Arthur, what a gift! This is the wonderful encounter of what was already there -the old chunk of Arthurian litterature- with what was created by the authors, the simple, powerful telling and the jewel like images.