I was only in Austin for about 3 months. It was just a quick internship program, and then I was done. I liked Austin enough. I was in my very early twenties and I lived near sixth street. That is a dream come true for an early twenty something. Bars, concerts, nightlife, people, shows; it’s the place to be in Austin.
I did catch quite a few decent concerts while I was there. I’ll always go see a concert. I also went to South by Southwest that year as well. But three months is hardly enough time for me to feel comfortable and feel like being extremely social. The people I worked with were great. Also young twenty somethings just enjoying life. They were well educated and very nice people and they always made sure to include me. I went out with them on a few occasions. I did the nightlife thing where I pretended I was interested in getting numbers and hooking up, but I wasn’t and I never really have been. That’s just not how I do it. I pretended I cared about what kind of beer I was drinking since everyone there was a beer snob, but really you could have put a PBR down in front of me and I wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from the next thing. I didn’t hate socializing there, I remember laughing a decent amount, but I had other things I’d rather have been doing.
That was the phase when I got really into Arthurian lit.
My grandpa had read Le Morte D’Arthur (The Death of Arthur) by Sir Thomas Mallory to me when I was younger. I remember it being the most boring thing I had ever heard in my entire short existence. I still believe that to be true, but it is pivotal among the works of Arthurian literature. I tried reading it again, and it was just as boring as it was the first time around, but I persisted in the pursuit of King Arthur.
Next I went to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This was a bit more fun, not my favorite from this batch yet, but more fun than Le Morte D’Arthur. It comes from an unknown source in the 14th century. Basically King Arthur and his knights were having a celebration on Christmas Eve at the round table when a green colored knight shows up and challenges any of the knights at the round table to strike him. It was Sir Gawain, also Arthur’s nephew, who stepped up and beheaded the green knight. Of course doesn’t phase the green knight, he just picks his head up. Part of the challenge included the green knight having the option to strike back at Gawain in the following year at the green chapel. Being that he is a knight, he keeps his end of the deal and as the time neared he goes looking for the green chapel, on his way he comes across a castle where he stays the night and is given a feast and is almost seduced by a hussy and there is an ugly decrepit old lady there as well. Finally Gawain goes on his way and finds the green chapel where the green knight is waiting for him. Gawain bows his head and reveals his neck so the green knight can behead him, instead the green knight plays nerve games with Gawain, never actually striking all the way through. He then reveals himself to be the lord of the castle Gawain had stayed at the previous nights.He explains it was a game and that the old lady was in fact Morgan Le Faye, Arthur’s half sister who was really just testing the knights. Bonus points for fun with alliteration.
I followed that up with The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Published in 1983 this is where Morgain shines a little as in a lot of other Arthurian lit she is kinda just chilling in the background. This is part of a series, I only read the first one. Series are a bit too much of a commitment for me. This the story of King Arthur told through the eyes of the women of the land. It is a sweeping generational story. There is so much going on here it is going to be hard to summarize. Morgan is Arthur’s older half sister they share the same biological mother; Igraine. They are whisked off to Avalon as children where Morgan is trained to be a priestess. There is some decent commentary in here on Paganism and Christianity at the time as well.In a lot of Arthurian lit Morgan is….well….she’s kind of a whore. So the Saxons come in and kill Uther Pendragon who is Arthur’s biological father and Arthur takes the throne. Meanwhile Morgan is carrying her half brother’s child and a lot of resentment towards a lot of people. She leaves Avalon to go stay with her Aunt who takes her child upon birth, her kid eventually becomes a Druid Priest. Arthur is being pressured to outlaw Paganism and meanwhile Guenevere and Lancelot have their non physical but very emotional affair going on, and Arthur is unaware that he has a child running around out there. The court is eventually moved to Camelot, Lancelot marries Guenevere’s cousin Elaine, Morgan marries and moves off to Wales. She eventually has an affair, a coup is attempted on King Arthur…The whole thing is a soap opera really. It’s hard to keep up with, but it is fun. I can’t continue with the whole series, but this gives all sorts of background not given in other Arthurian lit.
The Once and Future King came next, published in 1987 by T.H. White, I can’t even really summarize it because it is too good. It’s a favorite of mine. Here is the goodreads summary, but it doesn’t quite do it justice. The monologues and prose in here are amazing.
“Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.
During Arthur’s reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guinevere and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause, and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king’s dreams for Britain–and to the king himself.”
I read The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, and then a rendition or two of The Sword in the Stone, read some poems from the time, read up on the Saxons a bit, and then I topped it all off with…
The Book of Merlyn, published originally in 1977 also by T.H. White. Merlin (or in this case Merlyn) is by far one of my favorite characters in literature. He’s up there with Oliver Twist, Francie Nolan, Captain Nemo, Raskolnikov, and Cathey Ames. This concludes the story of King Arthur and is told on his last night of life. Arthur is trying to make a deal with his son who also happens to be his nephew to split the kingdom. This goes over all the wisdom Merlyn has shared with Arthur. It touches on the fate of Lancelot who becomes a hermit. It ties up the ends. I loved this one, and I love Merlyn.
People ask me what I did in Austin. I pretend I did the normal social life thing. And I kinda did from time to time, but really I wanna ask them; ‘ya wanna hear about all the King Arthur lit I read then?’ If you intend on diving into Arthurian lit, ya might need one of these: