The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights
Author: Sir James Knowles
Published By: The Echo Library
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I’ve long been a fan of the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Ever since studying mythology in junior high school and high school, I have been fascinated with the tales of Excalibur, Merlin, Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, Morgan le Fey and a number of the names that are associated with the legend of King Arthur. To further my knowledge of the subject, I decided to read The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights written by Sir James Knowles and published some time around 1862.
The book takes us through the journey of King Arthur, born of King Uther and given to Merlin to raise as he saw fit as the result of a deal Uther made with Merlin to attain his wife. We see the boy’s humble beginnings as a squire whose loyalty to his brother, a would-be knight, leads him to draw the sword from the stone and fulfill the prophecy, becoming King. It outlines the many battles Arthur fought to defend his right to the kingdom and maintain his hold over it. It also outlines the formation of the Knights of the Round Table and the many additions to it over the years.
I enjoyed reading about the search for the Holy Grail and the various adventures the Knights of the Round Table found themselves involved in. I found it quite interesting that this is the first version of King Arthur tales that links his kingdom heavily with that of Christianity, specifically because the idea of a Christian of that time believing in the counseling of a sorcerer would have been unheard of. What irony!
And yet, I found this version of the King Arthur legends to be a bit lacking. For one thing, many of the fights depicted in the book seem quite tedious and repetitive. How many times did I have to read that the two fought with swords for near two hours causing such wounds as to bathe the earth in blood? With that much fighting and blood loss, it’s amazing any knights survived the battles at all. Is this what legends are made of?
Also, it would seem as though some of the legends are missing. Yes, Merlin is around to advise Arthur quite a bit, and yes, he does experience a time when he is blocked from helping Arthur through treachery, but I actually expected to see more of Merlin here. And where was the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight I read so long ago?
I also expected to see more in the way of character development. We know that Morgan le Fey is a sorceress at odds with her brother Arthur, but why? Modred’s betrayal was something that began many years before he attempted to overthrow his father and take Arthur’s court for his own, but it is never explained why he hated his father so.
Yet, other characters received a great deal of development. In my opinion, this may have been the most complete telling of the tale of Sir Galahad and the search for the Holy Grail I have ever read. I also enjoyed reading about Sir Lancelot and his unending loyalty to Queen Guinevere, cherishing his love for her but never acting on it for fear of dishonoring his king.
In short, I found good points and bad points in Sir James Knowles’ version of The Legends of King Arthur and his Knights. Lacking in some areas, yet strangely detailed in others, I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who is just beginning to dabble in the legends of King Arthur, but rather to one who wants to add to their already existing knowledge of the legends. The stories are still fun and the adventures still grand and despite myself, I couldn’t help grinning, remembering back to the tales of my youth as I read this book.