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”.