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Le Morte d'Arthur. An Epic Limerick, Vol. I
Jacob Wenzel, 187 pages

Le Morte d'Arthur. An Epic Limerick, Vol. I
Jacob Wenzel
Jacob Wenzel lives in southern California with his wife. Like Wallace (not William, but rather Gromit's master), he likes cheese.

Jacob Wenzel Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur is the English language cornerstone of Arthurian lore. However trying to read the hundreds of pages along the lines of "Also soone as kyng Vther knewe of theire departyng soo sodenly he was wonderly wrothe." or modernized renderings thereof, can sometimes get so involved in deciphering the language that one loses the essentials of the plot and message. Here, however, we have Mallory retold in modern, slightly colloquial English, in -- egads! -- limerick form! Authors have been roundly castigated for less! -- Hanns Heinz Ewers's' 1922 completion of J.F. von Schiller's unfinished novel The Ghost-Seer; or, The Apparitionist (Der Geisterseher) comes to mind (see here). Shall we excoriate this besmircher of the classics? Well maybe not, because in a way it works well.

First of all, it's not a simple versification of Mallory's text with changes only made to fit the rhyming pattern, but a close, yet not slavish retelling. While by and large well versified, some of the rhymes, particularly if one attempts to read them aloud in a limerick-cadence are a bit forced or awkward, but after all this a popular rhyming form associated more closely with Edward Lear's nonsense verse and sexual humor (see Gershon Legman's The Limerick Paris, 1953) than the likes of Milton or Shelley.

Secondly, while maintaining the original story and characters, Jacob Wenzel's version draws out the important elements of the plot in modern English terms which doesn't obfuscate what is going on: "the kynge [Uther] lyked and loued this lady wel and he made them grete chere out of mesure and desyred to haue lyen by her." becomes "Said Uther, 'You're one comely lass, I'd love to get my hands on your ass, one night in my bed...'" While not wanting to take the analogy too far, in a way Wenzel's Morte d'Arthur is to Mallory's what the Good News version of the Bible is to the King James Version, an attempt to present the "content and message in standard, everyday, natural English." As such, at the risk of offending those academics who teach Mallory, students assigned Mallory could certainly do worse than use the current version (only Chapters I-IV, so far) as a sort of easily read Cliff's Notes [Coles' Notes to Canadians] version of the great work -- and if this draws any readers to move on to reading the original, all the better.

While maybe not truly a substitute for the original, Wenzel's Le Morte D'Arthur, while being the latest but not last in a vast cavalcade of Mallory derivatives, captures the essence of the original in a agreeable if odd format, making the story accessible to a wider audience. Given Mallory's rather roguish lifestyle, one doesn't doubt that he would, if alive today, after pillaging a monastery or two, have take Wenzel out for a tankard of ale and some wenching...

Copyright © 2006 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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