A sprawling addition to the Arthurian cycle, full of “civilized and Romanized” Brythonic Celts, uncivilized and unromanized Saxons and even a few more exotic types.
How do we know he’s a king? So asked the good denizens of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with respect to good King Arthur, to which the response came, “He hasn’t got shit all over him.” Powys’s Arthur cleans up pretty well, bobbing and weaving through the pages of this tome. As the story goes, Powys (1872–1963) brought its 1,600 manuscript pages to his publisher, who turned it down, presumably dismayed at the author’s disregard for the post-World War II paper shortage; it lost 500 pages and was published and promptly forgotten. The present edition restores Powys’s original, which tends toward encyclopedic lectures on alchemy and early British society and suchlike matters while throwing in rashers of violence and even some hints of the naughty bits. The novel, set in 499 CE, concerns the sentimental education of one Porius, son of Prince Einion and Princess Euronyw and thus a cousin removed of said Amherawdr Arthur (get used to Welsh, for the tale is thick with it), with young Porius growing skilled at various things and styles of thinking. His grandpa, Porius Manlius, is a tough old bird who admires such knowledge: “He knows the forest people’s tricks and all their jungles and swamps better than I ever knew our Uriconium textbooks of war!” That Robert Howardian moment aside, readers with a passion for all things Tolkien will find this epic a pleasure, for it is full of Tolkienesque characters and interludes (“Well! There is something about this boy bard’s mystical arrogance that would be bound to irritate an old collector of legends”) and plenty of good old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery stuff, all very well told if told at admittedly great length.
And as for the Saxons? Well, suffice it to say that determined readers will learn a thing or two about all manner of varlets—and some juicy Welsh curses.