The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck

The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights cover

In the Classics Club Spin number 25 I got The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. I’m a bit of a completist so I intend to read everything by Steinbeck which is probably the only reason I bought this book as I’ve already read a fair few versions of this subject. To begin with I really regretted putting this book on my list as I wasn’t enjoying all the never ending combat between various knights for no good reason, the beheadings, swords cleaving through armour and constant violence, but it did get a bit better further on. I suspect that as Steinbeck wandered further from his original inspiration of Thomas Mallory’s version and reached the ‘other sources’ mentioned on the cover then the stories became less rigid and felt a bit more modern.

After 293 pages the book comes to an end as Steinbeck just couldn’t continue with it. It seems that after Queen Guinevere and Lancelot got together and did the dirty on King Arthur he didn’t have the heart to continue with it.

There is a very long appendix which conists of letters between Steinbeck and Elizabeth Otis his literary agent and Chase Horton. In the letters Steinbeck details how he went about his research which was very detailed, I haven’t read all of the letters but it looks like they may be more interesting to me than the actual book was. You get a real sense of Steinbeck the person, just as you do in his book Travels with Charley.

However if you are planning to read books featuring King Arthur/Merlin I’d recommend the Mary Stewart series to you which is really very good. The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment followed much later by The Wicked Day which isn’t quite as good.

Steinbeck was only nine years old when his aunt gave him a copy of Thomas Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur which the small boy fell in love with, strange spellings and the archaic words fired up a passion for the English language which never left him.

I suspect that his six year old sister who had to perform as his knight didn’t have quite the same enthusiasm for the subject!

8 thoughts on “The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck

  1. I haven’t read that book and am more into fact than fiction, but some are somewhere in between. Dumbarton Rock (where your website photo is from) was once the fortress of the Britons – that is where the name originates. And Britons moved up from what is now Wales. With them came their legends – some possibly based on fact. Is it possible that King Arthur was amongst them? I know the guy who compiled this website and has written some booklets “proving” that King Arthur lived around here. http://clannarthur.com/home_index.htm I am much more a fan of authors such as Tim Clarkson, He is has covered the possibility of Merlin being Scottish, or rather a Merlin type figure, but has not been persuaded by the King Arthur context.

    • Jeremy,
      Thanks for the link. I always meant to write to the author Mary Stewart as she mentioned Dumbarton Castle in relation to Arthur and Merlin in her trilogy. I wondered if it had come from her imagination or from research, but I never did get around to writing that letter and it’s too late now. As I recall she also mentioned a place called Hartfield being either Merlin’s place of birth or burial, as it happens there is an area called Hartfield in Dumbarton but I suppose there are many locations in the UK with that name.

  2. I don’t think this one is for me, but I do need to read more by Steinbeck. I have one of his books on my classics list… Cannery Row. And I did read some of his novels when I was younger, but I only remember Of Mice and Men.

    • Lisa of Hopewell,
      I’ve read about half of Steinbeck’s books but not that one, I’ll get around to it sometime soonish I hope. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. I went through an Arthurian phase 20 yrs or so ago, but didn’t get to this one. Can recommend The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley though đŸ™‚

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