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Newman continues her brightly innovative version of the Arthurian legends (Guinevere, 1981)--and again her mischievous sense of the comic never degrades the old myths: they seem honored, in fact, with compassion, wit, and affection. Guinevere, married to King Arthur and convinced of her own ""wondrous worth,"" now encounters Lancelot, an unstrung knight who doesn't play games or tell stories, who drinks only water and is always praying. And Newman zestily sketches in Lancelot's odd history: he was snatched as a baby from his starving, demented mother in the woods by the bored Lady of the Lake; his wet-nurse, however, was a human who insisted on bringing her own infant son Torres. . . and who imprinted Lancelot with a garbled version of Christianity, scarring the fiercely good lad with a souring sense of sin (sex in particular). Thus, it's a soulfully righteous Lancelot who--thanks to the Lady's machinations--joins King Arthur's new Round Table. (The actual furniture will be delivered from a locked room by Merlin during a night of exhausting magic.) And though Lancelot is poleaxed at his first sight of the Queen, Guinevere thinks he's awful: ""so conspicuously perfect."" Furthermore, just as Lancelot is about to break his vow not to be tainted by ""earthly love or hate,"" the nasty Nelegeant (who was responsible for the death of Lancelot's royal father) kidnaps Guinevere: Super Knight sets off in a super-rage; after a stately ride in a dung-spattered cart and a miraculous walk across a bridge of swords, he finds the Lady--who shouts that the stumbling hero has made a fool of himself. So poor Lancelot runs naked in a forest for a lengthy bout of madness. . . until discovered by a repentant Guinevere and revived by the disgusted Lady. And finally, after more wickedness from Arthur's naughty kin (who trick Lancelot into dim Elaine's bed, producing Galahad), the Queen and Lancelot, shrived of pride, declare their everlasting love--leaving Arthur bitter, tired, and lonely. Lightly witty, casually colloquial, told with ease and charm: one of the better Arthurian revamps.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's