Friday, March 7, 2014

The Castle Anthrax

I'm not sure if it's good or bad that my cultural reference for anything Arthurian is Monty Python.  I love Monty Python.  Given a choice between Mallory and Python, I'd go with Python any day.  However, I'm sure students of Early English Literature, Poetry, and Folklore would say I'm an uncouth heathen (or would it be uncouthe heathenesse, yea?). 

Continuing in my trek through the glorious Arthurian reworkings of Gerald Morris, I've just finished The Quest of the Fair Unknown. The Quest of the Fair Unknown This was quite a different book from its predecessors, and from browsing the reviews on Goodreads, I've noticed that many didn't like it because it addressed ... a naughty word.  *whispers* "religion." 

Have you done clutching your pearls?  Good.  Let's proceed.

Let's be clear.  Morris is not attacking religion, faith, or any sort of belief.  If you just read Beaufils' inner monologue on how he feels when he's in nature, for example, or when he prays quietly by himself, you'll see that faith is not presented as a bad thing.  Morris pokes fun of and exposes the exploitation of faith that was so prevalent in the Early Middle Ages.  You know, selling of indulgences and that sort of thing.  Many of the hermits that our travelers meet are hermits for the wrong reasons.  They're not alone to contemplate God, but rather they're alone because they want to rob people or leech off of the populace.  Let's admit it, hermit is a great profession to go into if you want the free food.

Leaving the whole theological debate aside, this is yet another strong entry in Morris' Squire's Tales series.  I love how he takes multiple sources and Arthurian stories and weaves them into a cohesive whole.  There's always ample humor, but Morris includes some pretty thought-provoking wisdom as well.  I wish the main female character had been more developed, as I think Morris writes his female characters exceedingly well, but Beaufils is such an interesting person that you can't help but be fascinated by him.  It's that well-worn but comfy story of an innocent thrust into the world, finding his/her way. 

The Fair Unknown introduces Gawain, who was always my least favorite Arthurian knight (he's the exceedingly pure and pious one).  To my delight, Morris treats him as well as I could have ever wished.  I do admit to picturing him as Michael Palin in the Castle Anthrax, though, begging for just a little peril. Monty Python Sir Galahad Castle Anthrax

The one quibble I have with this book is that the ending seemed to rush up on me.  I had hoped for a bit more resolution (which, perhaps, we'll get in further books).

Read this one especially for the banquet scene at Camelot and Beaufils' encounters with the three hermits (hilarious!).

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