One of my favorite retellings of Camelot is The Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris. It’s a ten-book series that he recently finished, retelling different Arthurian legends. I admit the quality varies from book to book, but there are truly excellent ones in here, and I love the world he created. The first book, reviewed below, is one of the excellent ones. Somehow I still haven’t reviewed the later ones…I really should some time!
Who was King Arthur’s greatest knight? I haven’t polled anyone, but I have this feeling that if I did, the answer would come back as Lancelot. But not if I asked Gerald Morris. He’s of the opinion that it was Sir Gawain–and after reading his Camelot series, I’m in his camp on this one.
The first in the series is The Squire’s Tale. The squire in question is Terence, and, as you no doubt expect, he’s squire to Sir Gawain. From Camelot to the fairy realm of the Other World, the two embark on a series of adventures, some hilarious and others suspenseful.
Terence is one of those heroes who is charmingly unassuming. I’m sure it never occurs to him to think of himself as a hero–after all, he’s “only” a squire. Sir Gawain probably knows he’s heroic–he’s got the horse and the armor and the sword, after all, along with the knighthood. But he’s also wonderfully down to earth and practical. For instance, when he encounters a knight who wants to fight anyone crossing a river, Gawain wants to know why, and doesn’t the man have anything better to do with his time?
I think I love Morris’ books, not only for the wonderful characters, but equally as much for the world they live in. Morris tells Camelot the way it ought to be–Arthur is wise and noble, his knights are brave and loyal, there are recreant knights to fight at every crossroads, and mysterious magical beings (including one bearing a marked resemblance to Puck) lurk behind the trees. And all of it with that practical bent that pokes a little fun at the more absurd parts of the legends. I suppose there’s a place for stories of the darker side of Camelot, but I like Morris’ sunlit version.
And it’s not that there aren’t villains and danger, or that anyone is so saccharinely good that it gets dull. The adventures are exciting, the characters are human, and watching Gawain and Terence grow as people and as friends adds more depth to the story too. I love stories about comrades in arms–people who have fought together and struggled together and would die together if it came to that. Except it probably won’t, because they’re good at what they do, and they’re even better together. That’s why I like Star Trek too. But that’s another review.
At the end of each book, Morris includes an author’s note about the Arthurian legends he drew on for his story. Terence is original, but many of the other characters and plot elements come from older tales. Some are familiar, and others are very surprising–especially some of those more absurd ones.
And if you’re wondering where the Green Knight is…that’s the second book in the series. And another review.