Picking up where other Arthurian legends have left off, Carlson’s tale focuses on Arthur’s physical and spiritual recovery at Avalon.
The legends of King Arthur and Camelot are well-known, and while other retellings end with Arthur’s fatal wounding at the Battle of Camlann, Carlson picks up at the moment of battle. He also takes another approach—as Arthur physically heals on the island of Avalon, he goes through a mental healing process. Arthur faces off against Mordred, his illegitimate son and challenger to the throne in the Battle of Camlann. Arthur kills Mordred with help from his sword Excalibur, but Mordred seriously wounds Arthur, and the Lady of the Lake transports him by barge to Avalon, where he can heal. But he isn’t just physically wounded—Gwynevere has cheated on him with his best friend Lancelot, his aunt deceived him and bore Mordred, and his half sister, sorceress Morgan le Fay, manipulated him to achieve her own ends. It’s clear he has some emotional issues to work out, and that’s the focus of Carlson’s story. Morgan meets him on the island, which she describes as “a land of peace and harmony where people are forever young in heart, and grief and disease are unknown, where men and women live to over a hundred.” It’s here that Arthur meets spiritual advisers like Lady Eunice, who teaches him that “At any moment we can change our thinking and create a new tomorrow by living this moment and every following moment as best we can.” He meets the man who made the magical Excalibur, who tells him, “You cannot build the future by avenging the past. You must rekindle the flame of your desire for peace and truth. You must forget the past defeats, remember your purpose, and try again.” The book reads more as a spiritual, self-help journey than a mythic retelling, and that seems to be what Carlson is striving for. His Arthur is a vulnerable character, and he learns forgiveness and how to find inner peace while at Avalon. The writing is rich, and the only stumble comes from Carlson’s assumption that all readers are familiar with the many different characters in Arthurian legend. While reading the book may require looking up some of the legends online, it’s still a rewarding experience, as Carlson makes readers feel like they’re on a spiritual journey of their own.
An unusual update on the King Arthur legend and an engaging take on Arthur’s spiritual journey.