Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reeve, Philip. Here Lies Arthur (4 stars out of 4).
Gwyna does not know her age, she only knows that it is around 500 C.E., her master is dead, her master’s home is in flames, and the famous Arthur is responsible for her misery. Almost dead after being attacked, Gwyna escapes and is found by Myrddin the bard, who rescues her and begins a great adventure that unfolds quite differently than the legends on which it is based. Gwyna becomes a part of Myrddin’s plans to unify Britain with Arthur as its king, and a series of illusions are staged to catapult Arthur’s name into the spotlight. It becomes clear to Gwyna, changed to Gwyn and the appearance of a boy to hide her identity and save her life, that there are actually two Arthurs: “. . . the hard man who had burned my home, and another one who lived in Myrddin’s stories . . . I liked the Arthur of the stories better, but some of his bravery and mystery rubbed off on the real man” (62). Gwyn and Gwyna encounter many of the famous figures of Arthurian legend, but, as Myrddin explains, few live up to the stories woven around them, especially Arthur: “‘There’s no difference between Arthur and any other of Uthr’ s [Arthur’s father’s] landless bastards, except that Arthur has me to spin stories like that one about him’” (27). Gwyn/Gwyna witnesses and participates in the genesis and death of both Arthur the leader and Arthur the legend, and Myrddin’s cynicism makes Gwyn/Gwyna both wiser and more appreciative of what life can offer if one understands herself and her place in a world of opportunity and hope.
I once spent 2 years writing a three-part Arthurian blank verse narrative, and I do not read too much Arthurian literature because I do not like the watering down of the legends that authors usually choose. Fortunately, in Here Lies Arthur, Philip Reeve takes the opposite approach, refusing to insult or demean the reader, weaving an old straw story into a new gold standard. Mr. Reeve properly and cleverly understands that the Arthurian legends are not sacred, and that like any other stories, they can and should be molded to suit modern sensibilities. Myrddin is not the old magical wizard of Excalibur, he is Karl Rove in robes, with a touch of Joseph Goebbels for extra ruthlessness. Myrddin wants victory for Arthur at any cost, even risking alliances he spent years building. Even when he realizes that he overestimated Arthur’s skills as a leader, he continues to weave the myth of Arthur until the end of the tale. Philip Reeve has brilliantly reinvented the Arthurian legends for a modern audience, with all of the cynicism and propaganda of today. I enjoyed this book probably more than I expected; it is smart, funny, and irreverent at the right times, and this modern legend will appeal to the sensibilities of smart young people who have learned about cynicism and hypocrisy after experiencing the sick majesty of their first presidential election.


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