For the past 12 years, Gerald Morris’ series The Squire’s Tales has breathed articulate life into a retelling of Arthurian legends with a contemporary approachability that doesn’t compromise their authentic allure. Noble knights, captivating enchantresses, mystical beings and dexterous swordsmen have all dutifully played their parts from book one. And with The Legend of the King, the tales come to a close as noble Camelot faces certain destruction at the unforgiving hand of Arthur’s illegitimate son, the wretched and pointedly evil Mordred.
“In Legend I had to face the inevitability of a set, tragic ending,” says Morris. “In all my books, I remain fairly faithful to the original plots, and so I had to deal with the incontestable fact that Arthur’s tale does not end cheerfully.” And even if the inevitability of Arthur’s death, along with a fleet of his loyal court members, is lamentable, a setting sun on the rich literary landscape Morris has woven for them is equally grievous.
The dogged loyalty of Sir Terence, the palpable serenity of the enchantress Lynet and the stalwart heroism of Sir Lancelot have been wholeheartedly captured in a flattering, genuine and memorable light. “As the editor for all 10 books, I was very sad when this book ended,” says senior executive editor Margaret Raymo. “Not only was the series over, but so many of my favorite characters died...it felt like I was losing good friends I’d spent 12 happy years with.”
Though there is a great sorrow that envelops Camelot after the wrath of Mordred and his infinitely evil mother, Morgause, have all but turned it to rubble, there remains a resilient blossom of hope that surely not all is lost. “I am quite pleased with how well I balanced the pathos of the original with my own determination to be hopeful,” says Morris. “If I had mitigated the tragedy, I would have been untrue to the story...On the other hand, if I had simply ended with tragedy or allowed the tragedy to overshadow the rest, I would have been untrue to myself and to the tone of the rest of my books.”
But please, don’t ring the death knell. Morris has not reached a stoplight by any stretch. “It seems to be what I do,” he says, “retell ancient stories whose deep truths are in danger of being missed and even forgotten. Ever hear of Gunnar Hamundarson? Now there's a hero who deserves a story.” If King Arthur could, surely he would attest without hesitation that any famed hero would be honored to have his story recounted by Morris. And for the record, Hamundarson was a 10th-century Icelandic chieftain—just the type of legendary bloke whose story is itching to be told by this diligent and inspired resurrector of legends. The King is dead, long live the king. (Ages 10 & up)
A number of beloved series came to an end this year. Click here to see all of the series conclusions featured in Kirkus’ Best of 2010 for teens.
The Legend of the King
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / September / 9780547144207 / $16.00