I don’t know where it came from, or really even how long I’ve been interested in Camelot and the whole King Arthur story. But it seems that I’m drawn to books that are set in and deal with the whole King Arthur myth.
First off, there are (at least) two big holes in this list. I have never gotten around to reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Actually, I think I tried to read it once and found it frightfully dull and have never attempted it since. The second hole is Sir Thomas Mallory’s King Arthur and the Round Table. (At least I think that’s the title.) No excuses on that one.
That being said, the King Arthur books I have read and my thoughts on them:
Ladies of the Lake, Caitlin and John Matthews: I bought this on a whim; it turned out to be an equal balance between new-agey hippy stuff (full of meditations on this line: “Imagine you’re Guenievere. You’re wandering through the garden, about to meet the love of your life…”) and decent scholarship on the women in the Arthur story: Guinevere, Morgan/Morgause, Nimue and Vivian. Kind of silly, but an interesting book overall.
In the same New Age vein, there’s… Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley: A heady piece of feminist fiction. The first time I read this, I was enraptured by the way she tells the story from the women’s point of view. Granted, I was 20-something at the time, and very much into the whole feminine power thing. This time through, it wasn’t as good as I had remembered. Perhaps it’s because I have children now that I just found it to be a bit heavy-handed. Anyway, maybe it’s a great book for 20-somethings. In addition, there’s Lady of Avalon. It’s Bradley’s “prequel” to Mists of Avalon. I had a hard time getting into the story for all the New Age Goddess schlock. If you choose to read either, read Mists. It’s better.
As for youth fiction, try…
The Lost Years of Merlin series (The Lost Years of Merlin, The Fires of Merlin, The Seven Songs of Merlin, The Mirror of Merlin, and The Wings of Merlin), T.A. Barron: I really wanted to like this series, since Barron is dealing with Merlin’s backstory. But, in the end, it was just okay. I think I had to start and re-start the first book just because I wasn’t interested in the story Barron was trying to tell. I did really like the Seven Songs of Merlin, though, so it wasn’t all a waste.
Passager, Hobby, Merlin, Jane Yolen: Another look at Merlin’s backstory. Usually Yolen is a great writer; I’ve enjoyed many of her picture books. But I found this series to be a bit forced and choppy.
And, my favorite look at the King Arthur legend:
The Merlin Trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment), Mary Stewart: It’s a good trilogy, though it drops off by the last book (and the fourth, The Wicked Day, is abominable). Mary Stewart is obviously more interested in Merlin, and by the end when Arthur is playing a more prominent role, she (and as a result the book) is less interesting. But the first book and most of the second are quite compelling.