Thoughts on “Arthur”, Book 3 of the Pendragon Cycle

I’m reading “Arthur” in a bit of an eccentric way, for a couple of reasons. First, I’m taking Malcolm the Cynic’s advice, and only reading the first two sections — “Pelleas” and “Bedwyr” — before turning to the fourth book, “Pendragon”. Second, right after reading “Pelleas” I picked up the latest “Order of the Stick” book, and so decided to read all of them through, starting from the beginning, before reading “Bedwyr”, which not only means that my reading of the book was spread out over a longer period of time, but also means that “Pelleas” is significantly less fresh in my mind when compared to “Bedwyr”.

That being said, I think that “Arthur” is indeed the best of the books so far. As we’re now well into the well-traveled terrain of the traditional Arthurian legends, we can build character and events by comparing them to the legends and noting where Lawhead differs from them, as we saw at the end of “Merlin”. Both “Pelleas” and “Bedwyr” are interesting narrators, so we don’t have the issue where, at least to my mind, I didn’t care about Charis’ perspective enough to make her parts interesting, like we had in “Taliesin”. The down-to-Earth and semi-realistic approach to the work reminds me of what was done in the movie “King Arthur”, which I admit, perhaps shamefully, that I actually enjoyed. But Lawhead manages to keep the general magic and major themes of the legends, while it can be reasonably argued that “King Arthur” is a story with some sort of Arthurian wrappings that doesn’t capture the legends at all.

Lawhead still struggles with presenting important events that don’t have a lot of content to them. Early in “Pelleas”, there was a key battle where they were fighting with, I think, one of the rebellious kings, and the battle itself was little more than a cleverly employed ambush. The way the scene was structured, it was made out to be the preamble to great battle … but it was over in a few short pages. It didn’t last long enough to justify the build-up. Now, those sorts of things can work, as long as everyone admits and lampshades that, you know, this was a bit anti-climactic, which I don’t recall Lawhead doing there. That being said, things work out much better in “Bedwyr”, as the battles are generally longer and much harder for Arthur to handle, and so we don’t have this problem; all of the climactic events, in general, have enough content to be worth the build-up. This is why I also like “Bedwyr” better than “Pelleas”.

Next, it’s on to “Pendragon”.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts on “Arthur”, Book 3 of the Pendragon Cycle”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    I remember the ambush battle! Personally, I loved the scene. I looked at it as a sort of “preview” battle of what was to come: It was the first example we had of Arthur’s genius in warfare.

    Lawhead’s battle scenes are superb, and the way he weaves the earliest legends of Arthur (from the Mabinoginion) with the more historical accounts (Arthur as the Battle Duke) AND the more medieval accounts (fathered by Uther/Aurelius, removing the sword from the stone) is handled masterfully, as is his treatment of Christianity. And some of those battle scenes are brilliant. The Battle of Baedun Hill is one of my favorite scenes in the series.

    “Pendragon” is not as good. It’s mostly battle scenes, but the ending is superb, and makes it all worth it…and there are some interesting Merlin sections. Plus, we get a lot of Guinevere in “Pendragon”, which I think is important.

    “Grail” is an odd duck. It’s certainly different, and I really enjoyed it for that reason.

    Part three of “Arthur” is my favorite section in the series, but you do need to keep in mind that he wrote it when under publishing constraints. Thus, it comes up as somewhat rushed, which is why “Pendragon” and “Grail” are so important. They add a LOT of nuance and pathos. One character’s death especially hits much, much harder after reading “Pendragon” and “Grail” (I won’t specify which one because I don’t want to give away who it is). Without those books it would be a minor point, but with them it’s a gut punch.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      So far, I think I like “Pendragon” better than the first two books of “Arthur”, but I think that’s mostly because it pretty much has one solid story throughout the entire book, and none of the others have had that so far. And the battles either generally have more content in them to justify their focus or are mostly side events to the overall story, which helps give them the appropriate focus and importance.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        “Pendragon”‘s battles scenes ran together for me after awhile. But there’s a lot to love there – I’d be more specific, but I don’t want to spoil things!

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