alt King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, by Roger Lancelyn Green (Puffin Books, 2008)

I bought this book for my grandson, who so enjoyed Roger Lancelyn Green's The Adventures of Robin Hood.  His mother reported that the Robin Hood book was "perfect" for him, but I wish I had read it myself, first, so I could compare it with King Arthur, since I'm having second thoughts.  King Arthur has been read by and to children for half a century, and there's nothing at all inappropriate about it, but there are not a few battles in which people's heads get lopped off, and a few babies conceived under less than ideal circumstances (Arthur in a scenario not unlike Solomon's), and—perhaps more disturbing for a child—a couple of examples of children raised by others instead of their own families.

In other words, the stories are real, no matter how fantastic and mythical.  They have not been cleaned up, Disney style.  Which I say is all to the good, and makes this book great for adults as well as children.  The Knights of the Round Table are not born saints, but learn chivalry through trial, error, sin, and forgiveness.  Although the characters are shown to be complex, doing both good and bad, there is no question that sin is sin, and has terrible consequences, even though sometimes God brings good out of evil actions.  The Church is central throughout, and miracles and magic abound, not surprising for a collection of Medieval (and earlier) romances.

Everyone should read Green's book who is past the age of being overly disturbed by fears of being taken from his parents and given to someone else to raise.   Which brings me to the Digression:  How did I get through 17 years of education, and more than three times that many years of life, knowing so little about the King Arthur stories?  They make everything from the stories of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien to the operas of Wagner more understandable and enjoyable.  They are clearly part of the foundational education that such writers assumed every one of their audience would have.  They are a basic part of the heritage of Western Civilization.  So why were they lacking in my education?

There's enough blame to go around:  to me, for not seeking out the classics on my own; to my parents, for not seeing to this part of my education themselves; but mostly I am once again astonished that school should have devoured so many years of my life and not given back even the rudiments of this and other classic literature.  Have we traded our birthright for a mess of...Disney?

I'm tempted to keep King Arthur for myself, but would I then be any better than my schools? :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 11:09 am | Edit
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We read Green's "Robin Hood" as part of our Middle Ages study this year and some of King Arthur by Howard Pyle. I say "some" because I think there are many more stories that we did not cover in the one book we read. These were "required" reading in the history program we were using (History Odyssey by Pandia Press).

Also required were:
"Beowulf, A New Telling" by Robert Nye. The boys loved it, but perhaps a little scary for the younger set.

"A Door in the Wall" by Marguerite de Angeli (not really exciting enough for the boys),

"Adam of the Road" by Elizabeth Janet Gray,

"The Canterbury Tales" retold by Geraldine McCaughrean,and

"The Trumpeter of Krakow" by Eric P. Kelly (a favorite).

I had never read any of these before, so my education must be lacking as well. Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales were obviously versions intended for kids, but they at least lay the foundation for reading more adult versions later.

I was wondering if anyone has ever read Ivanhoe? I have heard it is a tough read, but worthwhile. (I have to admit that some of my interest lies in the fact that Sir Walter Scott seemed to have been friends with my ggg grandfather).

Posted by dstb on Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I like your history program better than any in my nine years of history classes. :) (I took no history in college, and didn't study anything that could have been called history in K - 3.)

I didn't read any form of Beowulf until a few years ago, and I still haven't read all the Canterbury Tales. The other three I read on my own (i.e. not required by school), sometimes more than once. I don't remember much about them, except I'm pretty sure I liked them all.

I missed reading Ivanhoe -- I suppose it doesn't count that I loved the old TV series starting Roger Moore as the superlative knight. That's very cool about your ggg grandfather! Which one?

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 8:02 pm

My ggg grandfather, John Philp Wood. This is what I have in my notes section of RM:

From the book: Seekers of the Truth: The Scottish Founders of Scottish Public Accountancy (p. 354)

"WW's [William Wood] father was deaf and dumb from infancy, but despite this, became a noted antiquarian and biographer. John Philip [Philp] Wood authored A Sketch of the Life and Projects of John Law of Lauriston, Comptroller General of the Finances in France (1797) and the 1813 edition of Robert Douglas' Peerage of Scotland. He was also a close friend of Sir Walter Scott who wrote in his journal in 1830 (Anderson, 1998, p. 677):

Honest John Wood my old friend dined with us. I only regret I cannot understand him as he has a very powerful memory and much curious information."

I don't know, I think it's cool.

Posted by dstb on Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 10:30 pm

I may be to late to weigh in on the conversation (I'm finally catching up with blogs!!), but I agree we should all read the classics. I'm just getting into them (my mom's revelation coming too late for my childhood education) and am enjoying them a great deal. I remember not liking Beowulf, which I had to read in high school. However, I read Ivanhoe for history class (book of my choice) and I remember liking it a good deal, though it did take some strength to get through. I might give Beowulf another try but I'm sure I was not prepared for the genre. I just finished Shakespeare's "The Rape of Lucrece" and very much enjoyed it so I think I am better suited to epic poems than I was when I tried Beowulf. One thing is sure, there are times and seasons for books, so from that I conclude to read them when they're interesting rather than breed contempt for something you might otherwise appreciate later.

Posted by Janet on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 5:46 am

Actually, Robin Hood, King Arthur, (other versions; I hadn't discovered Green yet) and many other classics were on the Sursum Corda Reading List. But for all the reading you and Heather did, there's a lot on the list we never got to. And the list itself was never anywhere near complete, being especially thin at the upper end. I still dream of completing it; if I do, it will be pruned—or at least prioritized—as well as enlarged.

As you know, I generally disapprove of abridged and children's versions of books. Better to wait to encounter the real thing than read a dumbed-down version and think you know the book. However, as you point out, there are also dangers to reading a book before one is ready. There are books—Beowulf, the Iliad/Odyssey, the Canterbury Tales, and even Shakespeare come to mind—that benefit from being introduced "early and often" in easier form. That way one can develop a taste for the genre that will make the difficulties of the full versions worth working through. After all, for many of those tales most of us will never get near the originals. I will grant that no one will get the full impact of Homer's works who doesn't read them in Greek, but that's a pleasure that will continue to be beyond most of us. Reading a good translation, however, should be beyond none of us.

Personally, I'm looking forward to reading a children's version of Homer, on the grounds that it probably won't linger so long, and in such detail, over the interminable battle scenes that drove me away from the Iliad years ago.

One reason I've liked Roger Lancelyn Green's books so far is that they are fully accessible without feeling condescending or dumbed down in the least.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 10:14 am

I will lend you the Homer that B read a few years back (5th or 6th grade maybe). He loved them. We might even have a simpler version.

Posted by NMKB on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 10:53 am


Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 11:11 am

I am guessing the Homer that NMKB has are the ones by Padraic Colum which we read 2 years ago and really liked.

I was a bit of a snob about classics that had been abridged or re-told, but I have since changed my mind. As Linda said, there is something to introducing the classics "early and often". The key is to find quality retellings.

We read a retelling of Beowulf last year and, of course, being full of adventure and fighting, the boys loved it. I had also got a CD out of the library for us to try in the car. Ha! It was read in Old English and we couldn't understand a word of it. (To me it sounded a little German - would that make sense?)

At least with the retelling, they know the basics of the story and the hope is when they are introduced to the full version it will be easier to digest.

At the very least, when something like Beowulf or the Odyssey are mentioned, the boys will at least have a clue as to what they are about. I am guessing most children do not.

Posted by dstb on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 7:20 pm

The books that B enjoyed are from Oxford Univ Press and are retold by Barbara Leone Picard. We also have a simpler book that was put out by Barnes and Noble (by arrangement with an Italian Publisher).

Posted by NMKB on Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 11:12 am

According to the highly reliable source of Wikipedia you are right to notice a similarity of Old English to German. They say German was most influential in the formation of Old English. It even had all the cases (including instrumental, which I'd never heard of ironically enough) and two genders. Too bad English lost it - it would make German easier to learn!

Posted by Janet on Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 11:48 am
Tales of Ancient Egypt
Excerpt: Tales of Ancient Egypt, by Roger Lancelyn Green (Puffin Books, 2004) King Arthur was my introduction to Roger Lancelyn Green's books, and this inspired me to find more by the same author.  Tales of Ancient Egypt did not disappoint.  Egyp...
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: October 19, 2009, 3:19 pm