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Malory

November 1, 2014

Let me tell you about the first work of fantasy prose to be written in English. A work that has spawned countless parody’s, spin-offs and pastiches. A work that also inspired great art, insightful and dramatic novels and films. A work that inspired pre-Raphaelite wymsey, Python humour and Cornwell genius. I am of course talking about the Arthurian legend, a set of tales that has at its heart the familiar themes of romance, adventure and fantasy. The Arthurian legend set down by Sir Thomas Malory in a large opus called “Le morte d’Arthur.”

Written in the fifteenth century by a knight and criminal, Sir Thomas Malory, Le morte d’Arthur deals with the classical archetypes of western literature, concepts that later fantasy writers would take for granted.

Not only do we get immersed in complex linguistic tricks, but we are exposed to the elements of chivalry, honour, quest and love, elements that are commonplace in today’s books and films.

But Le morte d’Arthur goes further; the book does not simply retell Geoffrey of Monmouth and Cretin, it reinvents the myth and makes its own legend. For the first time, under Caxton’s sometimes whimsical eye, we learn to appreciate the magical, the spectacular and the enchanting. We are given the opportunity to experience pre-Christian mythology, the grail quest’s pagan roots, and Merlin’s druidic teachings.

Through Le morte d’Arthur we learn something of our history, of our sacred mythic folklore. We learn about love, betrayal, kinship and kingship. On reading the book, we not only immerse ourselves in the language of exploration and intrigue, but in the living, beating heart of British folklore. We are submerged in battle, political discourse and romance. We are swept away on an exhilarating tide of wonder. It is not unfair to assert that if it were not for Malory, the landscape of fantasy literature and film would look very different. where would we be without Excalibur, its blade embedded deep in our psyche. Where we would we be without the round table and countless other images that are burned into our minds. Where would we be without Camelot, Lancelot, the grail quest and the dragon. And Where would Monty Python be without “the knights that say neee!”

So, I give you Le morte d’Arthur, the first and best work of fantasy, a book that has changed the way we think and feel about our nation’s history and identity.

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