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Should you read Le Morte d'Arthur and the Mabinogion at some point or...


Kfamily
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will a retelling of some sort be enough for a quality education?

 

I'm just trying to get a feel for the importance of these works.

 

Would Green's King Arthur (or Pyle's) be enough or would it be better to read Malory's version?

 

What about the Mabinogion? Is it important to cover this? And I am including high school in this time span of reading these?

 

I'm leaning towards including them but I want to be sure others think it is a good idea?

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Absolutely for high school level as they are both fairly hard to get through. For the second cycle of Medievals we read a wonderful series by the late Lloyd Alexander that is based loosely on the Mabinogion to help prepare for the harder work in high school. Here is a link to the series

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chronicles_of_Prydain

We opted for reading Mists of Avalon series in lieu of Le Morte d' Arthur as I believe it is far more important to read the medieval philosophers as opposed to only literature .

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I just noticed that Omnibus 5 is out...I hadn't noticed that before. Their arrangement helps me place some of this. VP does Le Morte d'Arthur in 11th grade and uses Malory's book.

 

Saga of the Volsungs is in both 8th and 11th. Would this work for Celtic retellings?

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In no way do I mean disrespect or "flames" to anyone with the following comments. :) Only intending the following as the kind of "book caution" or "advance heads up" that I like to know for myself and wanted to pass on in case it is of help to others. Please disregard if it does not help!

 

 

The Mists of Avalon was written for adults, so preview before using with a teen or pre-teen. I found the book to be "wiccan"-like in tone towards the use of magic in the book, which may be a stumbling block for some potential readers. Additionally, while not graphic, there are a number of scenes in which characters are physically intimate (often not with their spouses) -- one scene involves Celtic fertility rituals; another strongly suggests a "menage-a-trois between Arthur, Geneviere and Lancelot; and in another scene a character uses herbs to cause the miscarriage of an unwanted pregnancy. As always, if in doubt with any book, preview before using with your students. :)

 

 

But more of a problem for me is that of literature substitution. Translations, abridgments, and retellings can work as substitutes for a work of literature as long as they stay faithful to the characters and plot, as well as to the themes in the original work of literature. Howard Pyle's retelling of King Arthur falls within these bounds.

 

Mists of Avalon, however, was written as an independent work of fantasy fiction, loosely based on characters and some events in traditional King Arthur works, but with completely different emphasis, points of view and themes. Feminisim is a strong theme in Mists of Avalon, and the book is told through the eyes of female characters. There is a fair amount of wicca-like magic ("white magic"), but not much mention of Christianity in the culture, and the so the two worldviews are not really in conflict in this work. The tone is somewhat "revisionist" and modern through the attitudes, goals and choices of the characters. In summary, Mists of Avalon should be read as an independent work, not a literature substitution.

 

In contrast, traditional King Arthur works focus on male characters, and the theme of the pagan/Christian tension within the culture. King Arthur is a fascinating character precisely because he represents the "crossroads" of Christianity and pagan Celtic culture. Western literacy and civilization were slowly becoming the dominant forces in the British Isles, while pagan Celtic beliefs and practices were waning. Arthur was conceived out of wedlock in an adulterous situation engineered by pagan Merlin -- yet Arthur strives to be a Christian king and establish law and order, knowledge and godliness, in the form of Camelot -- heaven on earth. Ultimately Arthur is doomed to fail because he is a fallen man (he unknowingly has a child with his pagan half-sister), but also because only God Himself can establish a new Heaven and a new earth. Whatever magic is used is "black magic", and connected with pagan Celtic rituals.

 

 

The Once and Future King falls more in line with traditional King Arthur tales, but the last 3 of the 4 sections of the book do deal with Guinevere and Lancelot's adultery, and the moral decay of Arthur's court as a result of him not applying justice to his wife and his friend. There are a few magic rituals, definitely meant as "black magic", not wicca. While there are no adult themes/situations in the first section of the book (about Arthur's growing up and his tutoring under Merlin ), do preview before giving to a middle school student.

 

 

Hoping something here is of help to someone! BEST of luck, whatever you go with! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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Thank you Mrs. Mungo for the retelling suggestions.:001_smile: They look like they would work. And thank you for clarifying the Saga of the Volsungs. I just glanced at that and didn't really read far enough.

 

 

Lori D.

Thank you for the warning. I had heard about Mists of Avalon and had decided against it. I also had The Once and Future King. I read through the 2nd section and decided that our family would not use it. My girls are so sensitive about how animals are treated and I know they would have issues with the 2nd section. That, of course, is my own opinion and I know other families would have no problem with it.

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I would consider both to be high school level texts.

 

If you choose to read The Mabinogion, be aware that while most of the stories are benign, there are 1 or 2 that are not. One in particular I chose NOT to have my med lit class read this year because it was just gross s@xually. (I think it was the 4th Branch of the Mabinogi??? Cannot remember, and am not at home right now to go check.)

 

For either one, covering just selections would be fine.

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Thank you Strider. I'm so glad all of you are sharing any potential problems with these choices. I will move both to high school. And thanks for mentioning that doing only selections would be fine. I think for the Mabinogion I may just do that. If we read some Welsh and Celtic tales in earlier grades and then some selections later I think we will be fine.

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But more of a problem for me is that of literature substitution. Translations, abridgments, and retellings can work as substitutes for a work of literature as long as they stay faithful to the characters and plot, as well as to the themes in the original work of literature. Howard Pyle's retelling of King Arthur falls within these bounds.

 

Mists of Avalon, however, was written as an independent work of fantasy fiction, loosely based on characters and some events in traditional King Arthur works, but with completely different emphasis, points of view and themes. Feminisim is a strong theme in Mists of Avalon, and the book is told through the eyes of female characters. There is a fair amount of wicca-like magic ("white magic"), but not much mention of Christianity in the culture, and the so the two worldviews are not really in conflict in this work. The tone is somewhat "revisionist" and modern through the attitudes, goals and choices of the characters. In summary, Mists of Avalon should be read as an independent work, not a literature substitution.

 

In contrast, traditional King Arthur works focus on male characters, and the theme of the pagan/Christian tension within the culture. King Arthur is a fascinating character precisely because he represents the "crossroads" of Christianity and pagan Celtic culture. Western literacy and civilization were slowly becoming the dominant forces in the British Isles, while pagan Celtic beliefs and practices were waning. Arthur was conceived out of wedlock in an adulterous situation engineered by pagan Merlin -- yet Arthur strives to be a Christian king and establish law and order, knowledge and godliness, in the form of Camelot -- heaven on earth. Ultimately Arthur is doomed to fail because he is a fallen man (he unknowingly has a child with his pagan half-sister), but also because only God Himself can establish a new Heaven and a new earth. Whatever magic is used is "black magic", and connected with pagan Celtic rituals.

 

Lori D.

 

I have to agree with much of what Lori wrote here. Especially the sense that Mists of Avalon stives to substitute a very different tale for what is in Le Morte d'Arthur and other middle ages versions of the Arthurian legend. It goes well beyond just giving the women's point of view. I got the impression that the story was a literary attempt to give the "true" story, that had somehow gotten lost as men published their version. (I've read other books by Marion Zimmer Bradley and I think this is a common theme in her work.)

 

I think that it is possible to write a fresh story from the point of view of the female characters without revising the sense of the original story. I just finished Troy by Adele Geras. It definitely gives the viewpoint of the Trojan women, struggling to find enough food to eat, fearing the consequences of their men going out to fight beyond the gate, tiring of Paris' cowardly ways and suffering at the hands of the victorious Greeks. But her book never contradicts the traditional depictions of the Greek and Trojan heros.

 

NB: Despite the fact that Troy won several children's and young adult book awards, I would not give it to a young reader. The treatment of women in the Illiad is brutal and the book does not shy away from that. There are also a couple love triangles among the young protagonists. One relationship is consumated, a pregnancy ensues and then abortion and miscarriage become part of the plot. There is a fair amount of violence toward both men and women detailed in the conclusion as the Greeks sweep through the city. Again, this is in keeping with the original, but it is laid bare here more than in most children's retellings. I plan to get the sequel to read myself, but I'm not planning on giving them to my middle school aged kids. (I don't feel the need to accelerate their encounter's with life's brutal side more than necessary.)

 

I have enjoyed reading several revisionist versions of stories like Arthurian legend (one of my favorites is a retelling that puts the stories in a space setting with both technology and magic). But I do so with a grounding in the original versions. I've even held off on giving my kids the Susan Cooper series The Dark is Rising because I want the narrative threads in the story to resonate with a familiarity with Arthurian stories and they just haven't built that familiarity yet.

 

Back to the OP: I don't think that everyone is duty bound to read Malory or Chrétien de Troyes. I think for many readers a good narrative retelling would give them a better foundation in the stories than something that they've had to slog through and didn't really enjoy. Even some good detailed children's versions would be a step up from missing these stories entirely or only getting them from bowlderized tv and film adaptations (which I think is the fate of more and more people).

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Thanks Sebastian,

This has been very interesting to read.

Would you recommend some retellings that you like?

 

Pyle is a good start.

 

The Once and Future King is very readable and doesn't stray too far (I think the musical Camelot was based on this).

 

Rosemary Sutcliff's trilogy is good, although rather short. Her Tristain and Iseult is a good retelling of a story that I'm not overly fond of. The Sword at Sunset is a retelling that places the story in end of Roman Britain Dark Ages setting (not a juvenile book, but maybe ok for high school). Been a long time since I read this, but I've enjoyed most of the Sutcliff I've read. The Shining Company is a juvenile that is set in the same time frame.

 

I like Padraic Column's collections, although I've not yet read his Arthur

 

Bullfinch retold several of the Arthurian legends

 

I also like the Margaret Hodges retellings. They are picture books, but the language is nicely done. Saint George and the Dragon, The Kitchen Knight and Merlin and the Making of the King. Trina Schart Hyman, Hodge's illustrator also did a version of Bearskin from Pyle. Selina Hastings did picture book versions of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Just a note on retellings, this has been going on since the stories were first told. The Christian messages and themes of the Arthur legends are a later addition to older tales for instance.

 

In that sense I think retellings like Marion Zimmer Bradley's demonstrate how legends and myths change with the people who tell them. Christian themes were added to the Arthurian legends centuries ago to reflect the dominant culture. MZB is carrying on in that tradition. I think it's essential to understanding these stories to look at different retellings and see how there's no firm and unassailable version.

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The Once and Future King falls more in line with traditional King Arthur tales, but the last 3 of the 4 sections of the book do deal with Guinevere and Lancelot's adultery, and the moral decay of Arthur's court as a result of him not applying justice to his wife and his friend. There are a few magic rituals, definitely meant as "black magic", not wicca. While there are no adult themes/situations in the first section of the book (about Arthur's growing up and his tutoring under Merlin ), do preview before giving to a middle school student.

 

 

Lori - would you mind elaborating on this a bit? I read OaFK in High School, so it's been a while. I really enjoyed it and was thinking of having my kids read it in 7th or 8th.

 

I can't remember how much detail there was on the Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere thing - I was thinking, though, that there was nothing graphic or explicit, as I was pretty sensitive to that kind of thing in high school - am I remembering correctly?

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Just a note on retellings, this has been going on since the stories were first told. The Christian messages and themes of the Arthur legends are a later addition to older tales for instance.

 

I just googled Guinevere to check my spelling, and got the Wikipedia page on her. Wow, so many different versions! It mentions that the whole Lancelot thing didn't even get added till later (though it appears she may have had other suitors in earlier versions).

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FWIW, I like Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley (book 1 of a trilogy written from Guinevere's POV). It gives a very balanced view of Christians and pagans, with neither vilified or portrayed as superior (Guinevere is portrayed as being unapologetically pagan, other characters are Christian.) Characters are not classified as good or evil because of their religous beliefs, but their actions. It also shows how some people may have had internal and/or family strife related to the choices made by groups or individuals.

 

I felt it would also work well during history studies as a great look into the lives of the people living a century after the Romans left England, not just while studying the Authorian legend.

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In that sense I think retellings like Marion Zimmer Bradley's demonstrate how legends and myths change with the people who tell them. Christian themes were added to the Arthurian legends centuries ago to reflect the dominant culture. MZB is carrying on in that tradition. I think it's essential to understanding these stories to look at different retellings and see how there's no firm and unassailable version.

 

You have a point about how retellings reflect dominant culture. But where I think Bradley falls short is if she is the main or only exposure that someone gets to the Arthurian canon. Because her work represents a 20th century feminist viewpoint that does little to illuminate the ideals that drove courtly love, chivalry, noblesse oblige, non sebi sed patrie or "women and children first." Roarke's Drift, The Somme and Ypres, Dunkirk, Churchill's speeches and the stiff upper lip in the face of the Battle of Britain all make more sense in light of the medieval retellings of Arthurian legend.

 

There is a difference between agreeing that even the medieval retellings were building on an older tradition and fitting it to what was important in the middle ages and saying that one version is just as good as any other or that newer versions are in fact better because they are somehow more relavent (not, that I think you are necessarily suggesting that). I think that it is worth recognizing that a particular version held sway (in various retellings) for over 800 years. To ignore the classic versions in favor of a modern retelling would be like saying you were using Bradley's book Firebrand as the basis for your understanding of the Iliad.

 

Again, I don't think that you were suggestion Bradley instead of Malory. It's just that I have run into any number of people who have never bothered with the classic version of a story but think that they know the "true story" because they've read The Red Tent or The Da Vinci Code.

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I felt it would also work well during history studies as a great look into the lives of the people living a century after the Romans left England, not just while studying the Authorian legend.

 

Rosemary Sutcliff's Dawn Wind is another good book for the period after the Roman influence in Britain fell apart. More of a downer than her other stories, but still good.

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I was never aware of this at all! Are you drawing these conclusions yourself, or have you read about them somewhere else? Thanks.

 

Let's see if I can explain what I mean. The classic version of Arthur, complete with Round Table and knights in armor roaming the countryside in search of noble deeds to perform, damsels to rescue and giants and black knights to defeat used to be a childhood staple. There are all sorts of elements in the stories and you could easily spend an academic career exploring them. But what I was referring to in the events I mentioned were the idea that one was expected to take the proper course of action, even if that meant sacrificing oneself. I see a sense of standing up for the righteous cause even at great personal cost as something that young readers of King Arthur would have gotten. Bravery in the fact of unbeatable odds (which is a common thread in several of the events I mentioned).

 

At Rorke's Drift, a British army garrison stood their ground, against overwhelming odds, even though they new that a much larger British force had already been defeated nearby.

 

You can argue about the stupidity of the causes of World War I and the senselessness of the slaughter on the frontlines. But what I find interesting is that British soldiers did not mutiny. They kept going over the wire, even when it was quite clear what sort of war they were fighting.

 

I think that World War II provides more examples of defiance, and persistance in the face of danger and bombardment. (It would be in interesting exercise to compare the various national myths of the countries involved in the war with their conduct during the war. Do Arthur and Galahad lead to one course of actions, while Siegfried and Lohengrin contribute to a different outlook?)

 

Chivalry, the defense of those weaker than oneself, is another theme. Time and again, Arthur's knights ride to the defense of the lowly (young women and old crones alike) and are rewarded for it. The custom of "women and children first" in case of maritime disaster, which was demonstrated in the loss of HMS Birkenhead and RMS Titanic represent a modern demonstration of that sense of chivalry and self-sacrifice.

 

The musical Camelot (probably based on the how T. H. White put it in Once and Future King) put chivalry in this light: "Not might makes right, but might for right." You do see this idea in some of the folk and fairy tales of the same era (say in the tales collected in Germany by the Grimms), where the gentle maid or farmer boy is rewarded for his kindness to an old woman or an animal or an enchanted prince. But I think that stories like Pyle's Knights of the Round Table provided a more specific description of what the noble hearted boy should strive toward.

 

So I think that having childhood standards of King Arthur and Robin Hood and similar stories creates a certain world view. Where alternate retellings creates a different viewpoint. One that tends to be more than a little bit more cynical.

 

(Something I've noticed, btw, is that the young folks I'm around are very familiar with dark retellings of even modern stories like Batman, but may have little familiarity with more heroic versions.)

 

This is all just my opinion. And it's not to imply that only British culture was heroic or that other national stories aren't worthy. Just to contrast what one of the take aways from a childhood based on these type of stories would be, vs a childhood that is based on tales like Pokemon.

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