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I Am Mordred: A Tale from Camelot
Nancy Springer
Philomel Books, 184 pages

I Am Mordred: A Tale from Camelot
Nancy Springer
Nancy Springer has written some 30 novels, spanning all generations -- adults, young adults and children. Also a prolific author of non-fiction, novellas, short stories and poetry, Springer has won honours and awards such as the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. She has been nominated for the Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Nebula Award. She works as an instructor of creative writing with York College of Pennsylvania.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Fair Peril
Review: Larque on the Wing
Music of Their Hooves: Poems About Horses

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

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Nancy Springer has written an entertaining, if flawed, work dealing with the Arthurian character of Mordred and centered around Mordred's unwitting and unwilling part in Arthur's destruction.

Ms. Springer apparently "recognized in Mordred an undeserving scapegoat, a pawn of history whose own story had yet to be fully explored." Mordred is here the product of an incestuous union between Arthur and Arthur's sister Morgause -- a half-sister unknown to Arthur.

Of course, by changing the tale a bit, Ms. Springer removes most of the motivation for Mordred's actions. In this version of the story, Arthur's eventual downfall is a punishment that fate has generated for his incestuous act, and Mordred has no say in the matter. He is a sympathetic character who is held to a path from which he cannot deviate.

All of this is fine, except that the author seems to be confusing cause and effect in her interpretation of the Arthurian legend: Mordred commits regicide because he is, by nature, a monster, and his birth by the sister of his father is merely a way for the original storyteller to stress his unnaturalness.

Ms. Springer weaves together elements from other stories, including the general theme from Oedipus Rex, to create a character who can inspire pity and sympathy from the reader. Again, though, this is not the Mordred of legend, whose sole reason for being was to destroy Arthur and bring down his kingdom.

Nevertheless, I think that Ms. Springer is a better-than-average writer, and the reader will enjoy this book and its author's view-point. The ending is a bit of a cop-out in that Ms. Springer feels a need to provide Mordred with an "out" for his actions -- a way to fulfill his fate without being responsible for it.

The general idea, however, is entertaining, and Ms. Springer should be commended for her attempt, even if the execution isn't everything that could be wished for.

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen M. Davis

Steve is faculty member in the English department at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, S.C. He holds a master's in English Literature from Clemson University. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely to Become a Young Curmudgeon.


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