CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006
Arthurian Legends. (Twisted Tales).
Margaret Simpson. Illustrated by Michael Tickner.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1998/2006.
207 pp., pbk., $6.99.
Arthur, King-Juvenile fiction.
Children's stories, English.
Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.
Review by Liz Greenaway.
It's been almost 1000 years since King Arthur first appeared in literature. He re-appeared again four hundred years later and then had a real renaissance a few hundred years after that thanks to nineteenth century poets and has hardly left since. As a parent frustrated that my children think Morgan Le Fay originated with Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House series, I am happy to see a book designed to turn young adults on to these wonderful stories.
Who says it's all fun being a Celtic princess? I come from a royal family, and a while ago another royal come to visit the olds. He wasn't bad looking, and I could see he liked me. Two months ago this guy sent word to the 'rents asking for my hand in marriage. My old man was thrilled to bits and agreed at once, without even asking me. At the time I quite like the idea of being a queen, even though I hadn't even snogged the guy. Next thing I knew I was on my way to his palace, escorted by his best mate. It was a long journey which took weeks because we had to cart this huge round table my old man insisted on sending as my dowry. Well -- you probably guessed it -- I fell in love with his mate. Lance is tall, dark and handsome, with these sexy scars on his face. He has great legs, he's strong by gentle and chivalrous at the same time. I hoped that when I met the hunky royal again, the sight of him would drive all thoughts of Lance from my mind...
(Guinevere's account of her arranged marriage from C17, the "top-selling Celtic mag for trendy teens" according to Arthurian Legends.)
Margaret Simpson takes a wealth of information about the stories and packages it in a manner intended to appeal to a young modern audience. Her take on the Arthurian stories is inspired, innovative and comprehensively researched. Simpson tells the stories in a variety of styles -- Q and A, diary and tabloid form (Scully and Mulder of the X-files search for Merlin in one segment) as well as letters in an advice column -- at all times with a tone designed to appeal to the tween generation.
Included is a section entitled, "Who's who, where's where and what's what in Arthurian legend" that includes this description of Arthur:
In Arthurian legend he is a medieval king, strong and chivalrous, uniting his country and driving out the Saxon invaders, and making all his knights live up to very high standards. King Arthur may have fought the Saxons, but he would not have been a knight in shining armour. He was a Celtic chieftain, in all likelihood a headhunter, painting himself with woad and wearing his hair in a Mohican!
The historical basis for the stories is included as well as the different forms they've taken as the stories were changed for Christian, not pagan, audiences.
Michael Tickner does an excellent job of picking up on this lighthearted tone with comic book-inspired black and white illustrations throughout the book. The depiction of Arthur getting the sword Excalibur is especially good.
This book seems perfect to go along with a teaching of history or the Arthurian legends, but I wonder if readers will pick it up of their own volition. The tag line of the series, which so far includes twisted takes on Shakespearian stories and Greek legends, is: "You've never read them like this before....." This only works if readers are familiar with the material in the first place. I wonder if all the interpretations of the stories in some cases would just be baffling to young adults not familiar with the source material.
Still, Margaret Simpson has written a fresh edgy take on Arthur and his crowd that is as humourous as it is comprehensive. Let's hope it inspires a new generation to pick up one of the original texts and lose themselves in the story of Arthur and his knights.
Liz Greenaway is a former bookseller living in Edmonton, AB.
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