THE PENDRAGON by Catherine Christian


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Notwithstanding the claim of Christian's misty-eyed epilogue that the King Arthur we all grew up with is ""in some ways less dynamic, less relevant to today than the Arthur of fact,"" it is depressing to see yet another novelist creaking through Nennius and the Annales Cambriae in search of sixth-century Fact. Neither Rosemary Sutcliff (A Sword at Sunset, 1963), Mary Stewart (The Crystal Cave, 1970; The Hollow Hills, 1972), nor Victor Canning (The Crimson Chalice, p. 649) managed to make the attempt at historical reconstruction much more than an exercise in carpentry; but all displayed at least a bit more imaginative flair than Christian. Her narrator is Bedivere, here the foster-brother of Arthur and his half-sister Ygern (Igraine). The course of the narrative is reasonably enough the course of the last-ditch Roman-Celtic efforts to drive back the Saxon hordes, with the succession of campaigns mapped out sensibly if without great military gusto. But the writing is colorless (Arthur declares that the British are fighting ""for order and justice and all the ordinary, decent simple things""), and the surefire, dark Arthurian relationships and motivations have been bowdlerized. Medraut (Mordred) is no longer Arthur's incestuously conceived child, but the son of a Saxon rapist; Mawgan (Morgan le Fay) is a loyal member of the British underground; and Arthur himself is the product not of adultery but of King Uther's ritually appointed mating with the High Priestess of a murky ""Old Faith."" Shorn of anything that might suggest guilt, enmity, or genuinely divided feeling, Arthur and his followers appear as faceless as their barely glimpsed Saxon foes. Christian's reworking of the Grail quest does have a flicker of originality; otherwise, trivially conceived and executed.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1978
Publisher: Knopf