The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend by Thomas Malory; adapted by Peter Ackroyd (New York: Viking Adult, 2011. 336 pp)

Peter Ackroyd, CBE, is a British biographer and novelist. His biographies include those of Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, and Sir Thomas Moore.

Sir Thomas Malory (1405-1471) was an English writer and poet, and compiler of Le Morte d’Arthur.

In Praise of Honor and Valor (Or Honour and Valour)

Always a fan of the legend of King Arthur and his knights, I’ve found enjoyment in the chivalry and altogether fascinating exploits within the collective. It’s an unforgettable story of love, adventure, treachery, and magical escapades. The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend is an attempt by Peter Ackroyd to bring the classic story by Sir Thomas Malory into the modern idiom, but I’m not sure he succeeds.

The Beginning 

Arthur is raised by a knight, and becomes king when he finds his destiny enclosed in a stone.

“It has been ordained by God that the one who takes up this sword will reign over us…so the people of London set up a great cry. ‘We will have Arthur to be sovereign over us. There must be no more delay! The day has come. God’s will be done!’” (14-15).

The story begins just like you remember it, and Arthur became king. Merlin tells Arthur he will be victorious in battle and a mighty king as well. But, the retold tales are still the same: Merlin, The Sword and the Stone, Arthur and Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Tristram and Isolde, The Quest for the Holy Grail, Arthur’s mendacious son Mordred, and Lancelot’s betrayal of Arthur with his unrequited love for Guinevere.

So, no real surprises here and not much to tell outside of why Ackroyd’s version may have some merit.

Same ‘Ol Same ‘Ol 

In the attempt to retell the story of King Arthur, Ackroyd ends up dumbing it down more than bringing it into a new, fresh state. He could have done much more to enliven the story, but he simply translated it into a somewhat monotonous storyline that leaves much to be desired, especially if you’ve read the version by Sir Thomas Malory (Le Morte d’Arthur).

Sure, Malory is a bit hard to get into with all the old English, but once you’ve gained some momentum it’s pretty fascinating. Perhaps I’ve romanticized the Malory version, but the Ackroyd version, to me at least, leaves something to be desired.There have been countless editions of the classic Malory story over the years, my favorite of which, already modernized, is The Once and Future King by T.H. White. So, my question is, was a newer version really that necessary?

At the same time, however, I think The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend is still worthwhile as it does do some justice to the Arthurian legends of old. But, if it were me, I’d stick with Malory’s original story.

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson
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