Monthly Archives: April 2020

Le Morte d’Arthur

That’s right, we’re back with Arthurian lore.

Turns out I was less familiar with the lore than I realized. I thought The Mists of Avalon was wildly different, but it turns out it’s pretty spot on, at least in terms of general events.

George Malory’s collection of stories is more in-depth than Howard Pyle’s, containing more adult content as well, like the love affair between Tristram and Isoud, as well as Launcelot and Guinevere. However, it seemed to drag on after a while. There’s only so many times you can read about two guys charging each other with lances until you get bored.

I guess I was expecting something more like The Mists of Avalon, versus the collection of episodes. I suppose if I hadn’t read so many versions of King Arthur already, maybe it wouldn’t have dragged on.

I’ve come to several conclusions after slogging my way through a variety of stories in the last couple months. First, the knights of the Round Table clearly need some sort of badge. They can’t recognize each other out and about, so they keep accidentally almost killing each other. Also, it’s amusing how Arthur is lauded as a great warrior, yet most of his knights (the ones we know by name, anyway), are way better, and in fact have beaten him in fights. So, really it seems he’s just another royal after all.

If you really want to get into Arthurian lore, Le Morte d’Arthur is a good place to start. I’d recommend it over Pyle’s simply because it’s more detailed and has more of the stories you want. But if you’re looking for something more cohesive, with a defined narrative, you’ll be better off with a novel.

Johannes Cabal, The Necromancer

Sometimes you’ve just gotta read a light, irreverent book. Jonathan Howard’s book is just that, the perfect quick read to distract you from whatever you’re looking to hide from.

Johannes Cabal, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know, is a necromancer. He sold his soul to the devil for the powers, but now he’s decided he wants it back. Storming hell, Johannes challenge’s the devil to a wager: Johannes will collect 100 souls within one year in exchange for his own. Armed with only his wits and a run down circus, Johannes has his work cut out for him.

With the help of his brother, a charismatic vampire, and some circus folk Johannes whips up, the clock is ticking. While the wager seems straightforward, Johannes s forced to face the reality of who he is and who he is willing to be.

Howard writes in a very easy-to-read way, full of British humor and snark. And it poses a question of how far one would be willing to go for what they want—what lines they will or won’t cross. Johannes seems a pretty cut a dried character, but you can’t help holding on to a little hope, right up until the very end.

While it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a fun and quick read, especially when you’re feeling a little sassy. It’s a fun way to run off with the circus, just a for a little while.

Into Thin Air

You’d think that reading about tragedy would curb enthusiasm or interest in risky adventures. But I think Jon Krakauer sums it up perfectly in his introduction to Into Thin Air: “There were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.” And it’s not just applicable to Everest.

Into Thin Air is Krakauer’s personal recounting of the 1996 spring season in Everest, a brutal and deadly season. Krakauer signed on to the Everest expedition to write a magazine article about the commercialization of climbing Everest and found himself part of a team of marginally qualified climbers and experienced guides. The other teams camping out hoping for a summit assault had much the same composition. So when a storm started brewing in the afternoon of several teams’ attempts, the mountain claimed the many lives, some with a lot of climbing and Everest experience.

Reading Krakauer’s account is harrowing, when you reach May 10. Krakauer lays bare the actions he and others took without attempting to justify them (though he does remind readers that at 29,000 feet, even supplemental oxygen is only enough to keep one functional, not necessarily rational). One is left wondering what it must be like to live with the choices made, along with the survivors guilt.

I’m sure many people read this book and think, “what kind of person signs up for that? Knowing the risks?” The answer is, the other kind of people who read the book and think, “I could do that.” I don’t think Krakauer’s book is meant to discourage people from climbing—too many people would see it as a challenge. Nor do I think it’s meant to serve as a guide for what to do or what not to do, though certainly there are lessons one could pull for the pages. If anything, aside from being an attempt to process the trauma he’d survived, I think it’s probably meant to serve as a reminder of the risks, to pose the question, “are you willing to die for this?” Or, more heavy, “are you willing to let others die for this?”

I can’t deny that even though it’s an intense read about worst-case scenarios, a part of me doesn’t feel even more of a draw to the danger. It’s not even really a the competition with nature. It’s more like what George Mallory is quoted saying, it’s simply because it’s there. It is there, and so I must try. (Not that I’m planning on climbing Everest anytime soon. I’ll try some smaller mountains, first.)

The Eye of the World

I love a good series as much as the next person, but I’ve put off starting Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time for two reasons. One, because it’s 14 books long and two, because he died and someone else finished it, and I’ve never read Brandon Sanderson’s work.

That said, for 10 cents I picked up a copy of book one from the library, and it ended up being the choice for my book club. So, here we are.

The story begins with a young man and his father journeying from their outlying farm into town before Bel Tine after a long winter. Everything goes downhill from there. Rand, the young man, and two of his friends end up fleeing for their lives with an Aes Sedai sorceress and a Warder, leaving their homes in ruins after a vicious attack.

Unsure of what is going on, the boys agree to go with Moiraine Sedai and Lan to find answers. But to find answers, they have to survive, and the Dark One is bent on owning or destroying the three boys in order to thwart an old prophecy.

From the beginning, I found myself noticing a lot of similarities to The Lord of the Rings, right down to character composition and scenes. I found it a little distracting at times, but the story, once it got moving, carried me right along.

One thing I liked was the humanity in the characters. Too often in fantasy stories it seems like the magician in the group is either super unqualified and is facing trial by fire, or else is the embodiment of perfection (and the warrior tends to be similar). Moiraine and Lan both felt more real, showing normal human weaknesses, if you will.

This was one of those stories, though, that builds a lot off of it’s own history, which can make it feel like you missed something as you’re trying to get your bearings in the story. It sort of makes one with that Jordan had taken the time to write a bunch of historical texts for his world they way Tolkien did. That said, I think Jordan weaves it into the main story well, and I believe it will become more clear in later books, judging by the style of the first book.

I’m not thinking I’m going to dive into all 14 books at the moment (I don’t even have book two, right now, and I’m on a strict no buying books regiment). But it’s definitely a series I’m interested in continuing. Jordan secured that by nailing the neat and tidy foreshadowing ending. Everything is all wrapped up. But you know so much more is still going on under the surface.