Can we have a forum section for Le Mort d'Arthur?

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Can we have a forum section created for Le Mort d'Arthur?

The last one created was for HGTTG and it was little-used, but Professor Olsen estimates this course will last for 30 sessions (so expect 40 ;)) and there isn't yet any place here really appropriate for discussing it.

What is the best way to direct questions to Corey that he might discuss in class, anyway? . . . for those of us who go to bed too early to attend live, that is...

"Questions for Narnion" is exclusively LotR, so not appropriate for LMd'A. Which I am, by the way, really enjoying the read, especially with the old characters: look! there he is! It's "þt knyȝt"!
 

Halstein

Active Member
Hi.
As there is no section for Le Mort d'Arthur yet, I'll post here.
A couple of points first. Some of the words in the English of Malory are actually closer to Norwegian, than their modern equivalent. E. g. swerd = sverd, wist = visste, brenne = brenne.
Malory writes of "men of armes". In Malory's day this meant a fully armoured soldier, who fought as a knight, but is not necessarily knighted. So all knights were expected to be "men of armes", but not all "men of armes" were knights. Knights were also a social group, and the knighting could be costly, if you didn't win your spurs on the battlefield.
The role of the king as head of the "bellatores" might have best been showed by the Norwegian king Magnus Berrføtt (Barefoot), who answered his friends when being berated for being reckless "Til frægðar skal konung hafa, en ekki til langlífis" (Kings one should have for glory, not for long life). He was killed in an ambush while raiding in Ireland in 1103.

So a question. The tale of Arthur was set in "The good old days", so would the large size of armies be considered plausible, set against the armies of Malory's "lesser age". The world declining with times seems to be more like the view of the Middle Ages.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
The tale of Arthur was set in "The good old days", so would the large size of armies be considered plausible, set against the armies of Malory's "lesser age". The world declining with times seems to be more like the view of the Middle Ages.
I don't think Malory cared one whit for historical accuracy, or even for plausibility!

The "good old days" he sets the story in are not any particular actual days of history. Certainly not the days of any actual historical Arthur, if any such ever existed. I think the large size of armies is meant to be "impressive", rather than "plausible", in LMd'A.

--
"In the good old days, the complaints about how everything is going to hell were much more sophisticated and erudite than they are today."
 
I'd certainly love a section for Malory! Last year I listened to the Faerie and Fantasy and Dune classes and meant to get started on Tolkien but I moved to another city and my plans escaped my mind. I just remembered it this weekend and decided to go for Malory instead! I still have some catching up to do as far as the classes go, but I've read Malory many times, I'm halfway through reading the so-called Vulgate Cycle in the original Old French (that'd be one of Malory's original sources) and I'm generally well acquainted with pre-Elizabethan Arthuriana, so I think I could raise some interesting points (especially suitable for annotating the ebook, probably) but in my time zone, the classes take place at 1AM and I have to be up the next day by 5:30AM, so it's not really possible for me to join you guys live. But I'd be thrilled to have conversations via forums, but from what I can see, there isn't really a lot of discussion going on so far, so a section may or may not help make things livelier. Either way, I'll most likely post my post-class thoughts somewhere in the forums.

I think a section would work because there are the many ebook-related subjects - illustrations, audiobook, annotations, etc - plus the actual classes plus the way Malory influenced and was influenced by other authors, anonymous or not. That'd be grounds for a lot of threads, if anyone's up for it.

Having said all this, I agree with Jim - I don't think Malory was at all thinking about what's plausible or accurate. I think he was drawing from medieval romances, where details such as places or number of people are meant to convey a certain mood rather than anything particularly lifelike. Having said that, of all medieval Arthurian stories I've read, Malory is one of the bleakest. He wrote very late in the Middle Ages, and I feel like there's a certain dose of cynicism in his worldview that I see more in Elizabethan works than in medieval works. Anyhow, the way I see it, Halstein is onto something here. I can imagine that Malory is saying that In The Good Old Days war was something of epical proportions and incredible skill while in his day it was just... war - which any soldier will tell you is not exactly a pretty picture. Was Malory counting on contemporary readers believing that back then the grass was greener? Maybe. Was it a commentary on "how the mighty have fallen" - given that he lived very near the War of the Roses, a period that was definitely not the peaceful and unified England of Arthurian legends? Maybe. In a way, I think part of the appeal of Le Morte is that he is remarkably vague! From the preface, I get the feeling that it's not too hard to imagine Caxton asking the same question: should we believe this story happened as described or not, and is this question even relevant to this book?
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
In a way, I think part of the appeal of Le Morte is that he is remarkably vague!
Larissa, welcome to the forums. I'm looking forward to your further input, in this section or any other.

There is something remarkably astute about your post, but I'm struggling to find an angle for comment and discussion... Vague IS sometimes good, strange as that might seem on the surface. I'm currently reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and one of my main complaints about the book is that he explains stuff that he should just immerse us in and let us figure out for ourselves: neither Tolkien or Malory is ever guilty of that. . .
 
Larissa, welcome to the forums. I'm looking forward to your further input, in this section or any other.
Thank you for the warm welcome! Work is keeping me busy at the moment, and will remain so until mid-September, but I'll try to drop by whenever I have the chance.


There is something remarkably astute about your post, but I'm struggling to find an angle for comment and discussion... Vague IS sometimes good, strange as that might seem on the surface. I'm currently reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and one of my main complaints about the book is that he explains stuff that he should just immerse us in and let us figure out for ourselves: neither Tolkien or Malory is ever guilty of that. . .
Oh no! It's not too good when discussing in a discussion forum is a struggle! It does make sense, though: I didn't exactly ask anything, or offer any obvious talking point. I'm blaming my lack of experience discussing fiction with people other than myself, but hopefully I'll get up to speed soon!
Anyway! I write fiction in general as a hobby, and I think the advice to "show, don't tell" is overrated. It makes for a cinematic experience, but it takes away some of the freedom I personally enjoy having as a reader - if I wanted a cinematic experience, I'd just go watch a movie! On a basic level, it's pretty simple: if you write "The queen was beautiful" I can imagine anything from Pre-Raphaelite paintings, to Angelina Jolie wearing a flower wreath, to an extremely historically accurate (and not necessarily beautiful by today's standards!) image I've never seen before without my own mind's eye. If you write "The queen was fair, for her face was as lilies and roses, and her hair as much refined gold, and her body was as a willow, and in truth none could see her and fail to cry 'Here is a lady that is a pearl of womanhood, and a wise wife fit to a king!'" you're telling me a lot about the queen...... but not really. On surface, sure, she's probably your typical blond, slender, tall, fair-skinned, delicate-looking queen, but if that doesn't appeal to you as "beautiful" you can almost as easily say her skin was soft, her hair was shiny, her body was strong and solid, and she was generally striking and imposing. The text allows you to do that. If you go the cinamatic route and tell me her eyes are emerald and her hair is honey-colored and she's taller than the protagonist, it still conjures up an image and it's not bad writing per se, but it takes away a choice, and you have to be careful. The way I personally write and read, I see fiction as a compromise between perfect freedom - that would be daydreaming - and perfect accuracy - that would be science. Sometimes you have to let your reader lead you and withhold details you're dying to say but aren't going to (how much backstory is too much?), and sometimes you have to stand your ground and say something is too vital to a character to risk the reader imagining it "wrong" (Luthien would never be as real if we didn't know of her shadowy hair and nightingale voice!)
I find that our modern day notion of authors as particularly creative makes them feel like they have to prove that they have imagined every single detail better than you can and that is why you should trust them to be telling a good story. If imagination isn't inherent to the human being, then forcefully ordering his mind's eye about is the only way you're likely to get anything good enough for the story you're trying to tell.
But back in Malory's day, saying you had sources was more important than painting a picture, so I think ambiguity was a feature, not a bug: "well, after I read in this book that this historian wrote based on the account of this person who was actually there, of course there are some details missing!" Even today, if somebody were to sit down with you to tell a rumor and that rumor has waaaay too many details, I think you'd be suspicious, right? I mean, is the person a sketch artist? How did they even memorize so many details? It's worth noting that in French romances (as opposed to poetry, which follow different rules), Arthur has the knights tell him what they've been up to so that his clerks can write down their adventures. So up to a certain point, "telling, not showing" actually enhances your ability to "believe" the story, depending on how the narrative is framed.
I'm focusing on descriptions here because that's a concrete example that is easy to follow, but the same idea applies to other things, such as themes (have you noticed how modern Arthuriana has a major theme - love, or betrayal, or war, or politics - and medieval Arthuriana is harder to pinpoint?), characterization (pretty much every character has been simplified nowadays, which I find funny because medieval stories are often accused of being "simplistic"), plot, rhythm, etc. A dear friend of mine who is a cinema major can't stand Malory because she says it's rambling, unconnected and unrealistic, so she can't imagine it at all - while I love how I'm free to pick what's symbolism and what's not, how stuff looks like, what the timeline is, whether or not it has some true historical gems hidden, etc.

So to get back at the initial topic: is it at all possible that we expect Malory to set his story at some point in time because our own stories demand a fixed instant where they take place, and "once upon a time" is only enough of a setting in children's literature? And a related question: by asking what Malory thought about his plausability, are we imposing our own modern literary expectations on an author that didn't particularly care about it? We never ask if the brothers Grimm actually believed parents would abandon their children in the woods - it's a plot device we're not supposed to think much about. Are the impossibly large armies in Malory a plot device to represent just how amazing the characters/kingdoms are, rather than something we have to imagine the logistics of (either to see it as an intentional exaggeration or simply to imagine it as described): are we showing ourselves what Malory meant to only tell? Is our worldview too scientific to conceive that history and fairy tale are not diametrically opposed, but Malory would have no such misgivings, and just see Merlin's shapeshifting and Uther's armies as equally part of the tale and as such, their likelihood was equally negligible, although modern readers would think the latter is possible and the former impossible? Or would that be ascribing him a worldview I fancy he would have because he's "unscientific", but actually very, very far from the truth? Does the way we answer this last question change the way we read his text?
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Is our worldview too scientific to conceive that history and fairy tale are not diametrically opposed, but Malory would have no such misgivings, and just see Merlin's shapeshifting and Uther's armies as equally part of the tale and as such, their likelihood was equally negligible, although modern readers would think the latter is possible and the former impossible? Or would that be ascribing him a worldview I fancy he would have because he's "unscientific", but actually very, very far from the truth? Does the way we answer this last question change the way we read his text?
Well, that's a lot to think about, and no mistake. (Aside: you should probably consider smaller posts to the forum (and more of them), focusing each one on a single question. Forums like this are not so superficial as Twitter, but still, it's hard to address a whole raft of issues at once.)

I doubt that I personally have anything like a good grasp on Malory's worldview. I've kind of been hoping that the reading would help me understand it, rather than thinking that my theory of his worldview would inform my reading of the text. But surely these are not mutually exclusive: I hope that both will build on each other as the class continues. Forum discussion can only help, too.
 
I've delayed listening to the Morte d'Arthur sessions until I can get the text and start reading. So I am a ways behind.

But I've also finally gotten my hands in History of The Hobbit and was amused that Rateliff mentions Mallory in his introduction.

"The relationship between this draft and the published book is rather like that between Caxton's incunabulum Le Morte D'Arthur and the manuscript of the same work, discovered in 1934, known as the Winchester Malory."

Just found that synchronicity delightful. And what a cromulent word "incunabulum" is.
 

NancyL

Member
Another up-vote for a Malory thread … and two thoughts (one less silly than the other) … silly first:

I couldn't help but think, during the adventures of the grail (and not so grail) knights, that a Malory version of Jeff Foxworthy might be amusing for a late night at a moot. Something along the lines of "If you come to a split in the path before you and you chose the left-hand path, you might NOT be a grail knight" or "If a set of white knights are fighting a set of black knights in tourney and you choose to join the black knights, you might NOT be a grail knight".

I was a bit shocked at the brief but virulent attack on Joseph Campbell's possible explanation of an allegory. I've read most of Campbell and find his insights illuminating. Have I lived my mythological life in error?
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I think that it is safe to say that Joseph Campbell and Tolkien approached myth differently. Tolkien was more of the love it, don't dissect it, camp. Not that you can't approach myth as research material, but that if it is merely that...you've lost something vital in the reduction. As always, this goes back to On Fairie-stories

There is something insightful in pointing out that The Lion King and Hamlet are essentially the same story. But if one were to just reduce it to that....you miss out on the songs :). Even more significantly, Simba lives! The Lion King isn't just Hamlet retold.
 
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