Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: “The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights”

This unfinished work by John Steinbeck includes an appendix of letters, mostly from Steinbeck, regarding his work on this work. The work is intended to set Mallory’s Arthurian legend in more modern English, except for chapter titles. I think it largely succeeds at telling the stories in modern English while retaining the magic of the old legends.

It starts with the strange tale of Merlin, Uthar, and Igraine. The tale is strange enough that it will not be to everyone’s taste, though I enjoyed the magic in the tale. The work proceeds from a tale of a knight with two swords, set in the early part of Arthur’s reign, through the death of Merlin and Morgan Le Fey’s first treacheries, to a quartet of tales of Arthur’s knights.

As the reader advances through the book the work becomes more and more accessible. The tale of Merlin is steeped in magic and has great deeds set down shortly, while the tale of Gawain, Ewain, and Marhalt has very little magic and the deeds are set down at length. The first chapter of Lancelot’s tale is similar or even more so. It starts with Arthur noting weakness in the younger knights, who have not been tried in battle. It includes gossip and fears. The greatest “magic” it includes is a paltry affair of illusion and forboding.

This book is well worth reading, particularly if you liked Mallory’s “Morte d’Artur”.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review: “Masters Library: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes”

This collection of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries includes all of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”, “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes”, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”, “A Study in Scarlet”, “The Sign of Four”, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, and two late adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The late adventures are “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge” and “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”.

Overall it is a fine and enjoyable collection. Some of the stories, like “A Study in Scarlet” are not very good, but others, such as “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”, are Holmes and Doyle at their best. In addition to providing such wonderful stories the volume is attractive. It is hardbound in some sort of leather with embossed gold colored lettering on the cover. Within all but the last two stories are displayed as they appeared in the “Strand” including a great many illustrations of the various mysteries.

It is not clear to me what the proper title of this collection is. On the front cover is the title I use above, but on the side the title is simply "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" followed by a list of all the works in the collection.