Sir Thomas Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur” coming to TV

Just discovered that they’ve been filming a TV series version of Malory in Ireland, in what is apparently a serious attempt to bring the Morte d’Arthur to a wider audience.  I’m impressed, I must admit.   There’s a list of the cast on IMDB, where you may discover that Joseph Fiennes plays Merlin, and Eva Green is Morgan (that sounds like an inspired choice, in my opinion).  No listing for who plays Lancelot (always the most important question, don’t you think?).    There’s a brief notice about the series on the Irish Film and Television Network, which says it’s supposed to air in the US in the spring.  Anyway, should be interesting.

I’ve long been of two minds about Malory.  It is a great agglomeration of tales, arranged with some care and certainly more subtle than appears at first glance.  But it does seem interminable (in a way that the Vulgate Cycle does not), and repetitive in its phrasing, as Thorpe notes below.  And I’ve always had this vague annoyance with the way in which English Arthurian works are exalted to some kind of semi-divine status–simply because, I think, that they are English, and English literature scholars tend to exaggerate their aesthetic appeal (uh-oh, now I’ve done it!  Let me go further…).  Not that the “great works” of medieval English lit are “bad” or “inferior” in any sense, but I won’t accept for a moment that “Gawain and the Green Knight” is superior to any of Hartmann von Aue’s works, or that Malory’s is somehow a “greater” creation than Parzival and Willehalm, which taken together are two of the most profound works of fiction in western European history.

Mind you, I’m not being at all subjective when I say this!!!  Yeah, right.  But my basic point holds, I think.  Malory is great, but he’s not the be-all-end-all, even by the standards of chivalric lit (of which I have read much more than my share).

So, you might imagine my bemused surprise when I read a November 20th column in the Guardian by Adam Thorpe, in which he goes off on Malory (some of it doubtless tongue-in-cheek):

The real difficulty is that, for all its weird and wonderful action, Le Morte d’Arthur is as muddled, ramblingly repetitive and inconsistent as a dream. Until the final four books (out of 21), it lacks any depth of characterisation, and the castles, forests and shorelines are indistinguishable. The action itself is often brutal and motiveless under the chivalric glitz and Christianised sheen: it includes murder, incest, rape (in two instances by a woman), madness (Sir Lancelot’s, caused by said rape), mutilation (the swordfight in Monty Python’s film version was no exaggeration) and massacre. Its Sicilian-style blood feuds involve fratricide, deliberate or accidental: early in the work, the two loving brothers Sir Balin and Sir Balan kill each other unknowingly. If Malory had allowed his knights to lift their visors and identify themselves before, instead of after, their mutual hackings, we would lose a good part of what slender plot there is. The long-suffering women are a relief – when they’re not being beheaded.

Harsh, but not completely unfair!  That being said, I’m definitely looking forward to this TV series.

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