The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend By Peter Ackroyd

The Death of King Arthur

I read Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur when I was sixteen and fell in love wtih the book. I’ve always been a huge fan of The Arthurian legend (something I can thank my mother for; we’d listen to the Camelot soundtrack almost daily), and when I was offered the chance to review Peter Ackroyd’s retelling of the classic in The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend I was immediately excited.

We all know the story of King Arthur and Camelot (or at least some version of the story) and his Knights of the Round Table that went in search of the Holy Grail. We’re all familiar with Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, and who hasn’t heard of the wizard Merlin? While we know the story, it can be difficult to pick up Malory’s Le Morte d’Athur, which is where Ackroyd’s retelling comes in. He brings Arthurian legend to a new generation, and does it in language that we find familiar.

However, in making the language a little more modern, Ackroyd sacrifices the lilting and poetic meter that made Malory’s story so beautiful. The Death of King Arthur also made it difficult to feel any sympathy for the Knights of the Round table. The faults of all the Knights (and the king himself) are laid out for everyone to see and pick at, without the beauty of the early English language.

Not to say that Lancelot and Arthur were always in the right with their actions. Lancelot, without thinking twice, spends the night with Guinevere (who is married to the king), and Arthur meets his quota of bad choices as well. These are all issues that readers and followers of Arthurian legend are aware of, it just sounds… prettier in Malory’s prose.

While Ackroyd’s retelling doesn’t hurt the overall story of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Merlin and everyone else, it lacks a certain poetry and mystery that generally surround the Camelot tales. I will say that Ackroyd’s version of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a very, VERY easy read compared to Malory’s telling. If Ackroyd was attempting to bring King Arthur’s tale to a new group of readers, (much like he did with his retelling of The Canterbury Tales) he succeeded.

I believe that Ackroyd’s re-telling of Le Morte d’Arthur has the potential to drive readers to Malory’s tale, which is what a retelling of anything (movie, book, etc) should do. Ultimately, I enjoyed this quick read (which is not something you hear often about an Authian book) and would recommend it to anyone just getting started in the world of Camelot.

You can purchase ‘The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend’ on Amazon.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars | Publisher: Viking Adult | Pages: 366 | Source: Publisher

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  • Midnyte Reader

    I love Arthurian legend, but yeah, Mallory’s is so hard to get through.  I wonder if losing some of the poetry of the words may also make the story lose some of the power and punch of why they chose to behave certain ways. 

  • Jallan

    It is very seldom that any translation from any language into another language equals the original. The same can be expected to be true of a translation/retelling from Middle English to Modern English.

    But Malory is only barely Middle English and, uniquely, versions of Malory’s work in modern spelling still appear commonly in stores (along with occasional versions in the original spelling). For many readers the archaic language is itself one of the great joys of the work.

    This retelling is well enough, but it remains a retelling, with beauties that are not those of the original, and as the review indicates, some of the original beauties are last in this retelling. Mostly I also far prefer the original. Malory is often confusing and boring, especially when telling of Sir Tristram, but at his best, Malory’s prose is unsurpassed.

  • Jallan

    It is very seldom that any translation from any language into another language equals the original. The same can be expected to be true of a translation/retelling from Middle English to Modern English.

    But Malory is only barely Middle English and, uniquely, versions of Malory’s work in modern spelling still appear commonly in stores (along with occasional versions in the original spelling). For many readers the archaic language is itself one of the great joys of the work.

    This retelling is well enough, but it remains a retelling, with beauties that are not those of the original, and as the review indicates, some of the original beauties are last in this retelling. Mostly I also far prefer the original. Malory is often confusing and boring, especially when telling of Sir Tristram, but at his best, Malory’s prose is unsurpassed.