FIRELORD by Parke Godwin


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The latest in the endless parade of revamps of King Arthur & Co.--this one reducing it all mostly to pragmatic politics (something on the precinct level with blood added) and de-misted magic (except for Merlin, who bobs up now and then with a bona fide vision). Arthur, from his deathbed, narrates his story, beginning in boyhood--when he sees Ambrosius become commander of the Roman legions in Britain and gets a glimpse of the future from magician Merlin. It's Merlin, too, who oversees Arthur's capture by the Prydns, little faerie folk who teach Art to be small as well as great: he takes a new name (""Belrix"" rather than ""Artos""), weds queen Morgana, and fathers Mordred. But soon the more ambitious side of Arthur struggles to the fore, and he takes off to soldier against the Saxons, becoming King after a bloody battle (underscoring the Britons' need for death sacrifice). He weds Guenevere on the battlements of York (""What fun!""), and their Camelot is happy till Morgana arrives and is killed on orders from Queen G. From there on--the classic disintegration, with Godwin bringing everybody down to the most colloquial life-size possible. The Lily Maid of Astolat is a grinding bore, always yammering about the Holy Grail, and will finally cleave to Lancelot with ""the prim fidelity of a barnacle."" Lancelot himself is a slow, thick, pious sort. Bedevere mutters ""Well, damn all"" when he's named standardbearer. Trystan has an urbane wit, but Yseut tires of him. Gawain is a mighty giant (""the Olympus of Orkney""). Guenevere (whom Arthur calls ""Gwen"") links up with Lance simply because he's on the premises and available. Some of this demythologizing is moderately amusing and inventive, but Godwin hasn't the style or panache needed for genuine revisionism (for the real McCoy, see Thomas Berger's Arthur Rex). So most of the clichÉd modern idioms here--back-office pragmatism and sputtering sentimentality--fall fiat, making this a hard-working, occasionally entertaining, but ultimately rather crude attempt at yet another Arthurian shakedown.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1980
Publisher: Doubleday