Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, edited by J. M. Gray, Penguin Classics, $11.95, paperback. Tel: 800-253-6476.
Scholars may continue to debate the existence of Camelot, but for devotees of Arthurian lore, the ultimate truth can be a distraction worth overlooking. What matters when it comes to Camelot, they say, is that your appetite for romance and drama is satisfied.
J.M. Gray’s edition of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s masterpiece Idylls of the King regales enthusiastic fans of Arthurian legend with the romance of King Arthur, his queen Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table. Gray, the author of Thro the Vision of the Night, a study of the sources of Idylls, is perfectly suited to the task set before him and enhances Tennyson’s work with his own insightful commentary.
The poem reflects Tennyson’s passionate, lifelong interest in Arthurian legend and incorporates Morte D’Arthur, his earlier work on the same subject. Tennyson intended his work to be a celebration of the virtues of King Arthur and admittedly avoided writing a literal history of a figure that remains shrouded in mystery. The reader, however, cannot avoid being drawn into the fantasy world Tennyson so skillfully sets up.
In addition to his own contributions, Gray supplements the epic poem with annotations supplied by Tennyson himself, Tennyson’s oldest son Hallam, and two previous editors. Gray’s introduction provides readers with a feel for how the poet approached his longest and most ambitious work, and his description of the making of the poem enables the reader to visualize Tennyson’s creative process.