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Here Lies Arthur
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this tale of medieval warfare is quite violent, including a disturbing scene in which a man is beaten to a pulp, including knocking out all of his teeth. Also, this is a very cynical take on a classic hero tale that is usually intended to highlight human virtues -- there are few on display here, and quite a bit of the opposite.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
After Gwyna escapes when her village is burned, she encounters the bard Myrddin, who serves the war leader Arthur by telling romanticized stories of his exploits. Myrddin takes Gwyna on as a servant and immediately has her pretend to be the Lady of the Lake and give Arthur a sword. He then disguises her as a boy so that she can travel with him. After a few years, though, as she grows older, the disguise becomes untenable, so she becomes a girl again and enters the service of Arthur's wife.
Is it any good?
Cynical teens may love this, while those who are in the thrall of the magic and wonder of the Arthurian Cycle, one of the great epic tales of our culture, will be revolted. But even if the subjects of this story weren't named Arthur and Myrddin (Merlin), there would be no doubt -- this is an exciting story with compelling characters and some big ideas that relate to our time at least as much as to the Middle Ages. These have to do with the role of storytelling in the creation of public perception, how much our ideas about our leaders are shaped by deliberately crafted stories that may bear little resemblance to the truth, and the manipulation of irrational fear in the making of a leader.
But it is about Arthur and Merlin, and one has to wonder what drove the author to demystify and demythologize them in this way. Arthur here is just a brutal thug, little more than a gang leader, who comes to a bad end, and Merlin is a liar and manipulator whose dubious ends don't justify his means. All of the things that have made the tale last for centuries -- magic, might for right, chivalry, the grail, Lancelot -- are stripped away, replaced by a gritty realism that may be no closer to the truth than the myths. What the author has done here will just add to the themes of media manipulation to make this a great discussion book for teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the attempt to demythologize King Arthur. Why do it? Is this likely to be more true than the traditional tales? Is that important? How can we know what is true? What truths do myths and legends teach? What truths does this story tell? Do you think the author was influenced by anything happening today?