Here Lies Arthur – Philip Reeve
This is a “realistic” retelling of how a savvy PR guy/traveling bard was able to turn a blood-thirsty, power-hungry, petty warlord into a legend, in the hopes of uniting Britain and driving out the Saxons. It’s told from the point of view of a young orphaned girl, Gwyna, pressed into service by Myrddin to play the Lady in the Lake, handing Arthur his magical sword. Myrddin keeps her on afterwards as a servant, but dresses her like a boy. All of the standard characters show up (Lancelot, Guinevere, Sir Kay, Mordred), but not always in the same way stories have portrayed them and often you don’t realize what part someone will play until they’re doing it. The characters have all been written to serve this immediate story and not some larger idea. It works. It really worked for me when Gwyna, in disguise, hears how the stories have her pegged.
For me this book succeeded at its attempt at simply and honestly telling a good story about how we came to think of Arthur the way we do and who he really might have been. People want to believe a good story and it’s not hard to give them one, I like the way this book knowingly implicates all of us in the propagation of the myth. And the end, the moment it all clicks into place, is very good.
I don’t think the book escapes completely unscathed from the impossible-to-reconcile modern conception of women vs. their actual place in history and how they would have acted dilemma. 95% of the time, Gwyna’s gender switching is interesting and adds complexity to the ideas in the book, but a few times her gendered behavior grates. And I don’t think Reeve ever met a metaphor he didn’t like, though eventually all the figurative language became less noticeable to me. He’s not bad at it (the third sentence of the book, “I can hear men’s voices baying like hounds on a scent, the hooves of horses on the winter earth like drums” has two!) but it’s not my preference.
I think boys will be willing to read this, and I think it will appeal to a wide age range, there is a lot of quick plotting, but also depth.
Also…I just reached 1000 views on this thing, after about 4.5 months writing here. No idea if that’s good, bad or indifferent, but it feels fun. Though it’s nowhere near my 80,000 flickr views. I guess I’m okay with a lot more strangers knowing what my wedding looked like than what I think about books for teenagers. Also, after I finish Graceling, which I just started, I think I’m going back to 2666. And since I’m just about to start the couple hundred pages where it just lists all those girls who were killed, it might take me awhile. I’m also reading some nonfiction that may or may not ever make its way here.