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Book Review: by Sir Thomas Mallory (Geoffrey of Monmouth) : BH

Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: August 12, 2001 
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Le Morte D'Arthur, by Sir Thomas Mallory, Penguin Classics, $11.95, paperback. Tel: 800-253-6476.

As John Lawlor remarks in his insightful introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Sir Thomas Malory's essential Le Morte D'Arthur, each writer who approaches the subject of King Arthur 'draws from the common store [of knowledge] according to the measure of his understanding. What each in his turn makes is to be judged in its own light. The source itself remains undiminished.' Malory drew from a host of sources on Arthurian legend to write his own version. The originality with which he treated the subject greatly enriched the 'common store' of Arthurian literature, and influenced every writer who followed in his footsteps.

Malory's work is divided into numerous parts with clear distinctions between the major sections of the story. Consequently, the story has a 'sequential and cumulative' effect, as individual adventures unfold one by one. Moreover, Malory treats the relations between his characters as real and natural; their personal experiences are entirely within the realm of our own personal experiences as inhabitants of the 20th century.

This particular translation of Le Morte D'Arthur was edited and published by William Caxton in 1485. Discovered at Winchester in 1934, it has since kept the literary debate surrounding Sir Thomas Malory and his famous work flourishing. Penguin's Editor, Janet Cowen, maintained Caxton's original syntax but modernized its language. Minor alterations were added sparingly to make the text easier for 20th-century readers. Cowen also includes definitions of unfamiliar words at the bottom of the page in cases where modernizing the language would have detracted from the story's Old English flavour.

Megan Marschka

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