Malory: The Life and Times of King Arthur’s Chronicler
Thomas Malory is almost as much of a legend as the subject of his unique, and uniquely influential, chronicle. His Morte Darthur has influenced writers from Tennyson to Steinbeck and, via T. H. White, provided subject matter for Disney. His own life is a colourful mystery, its only known records implying that he was a rapist, cattle rustler, despoiler of churches, and spent long years of his life in prison. Prison, legend also has it, is where he wrote his chronicle, a victim of the English state with, like Bunyan or Milton, something very particular and wonderful to say about Englishness.
Christina Hardyment, in a work which is both scholarly and eminently readable, takes issue with this and with many other “known facts” about Malory. In her careful reading and interpretation of the available sources, Hardyment shows how Malory’s life was as much a hymn to chivalry as his chronicle, how his account of the lives and adventures of Arthur and his knights derives from his own experiences of fighting under Henry V and his attempts to preserve his honour and his estate during the perilous days of the Wars of the Roses.
This is a wonderful book, a source of scholarly speculation about Malory himself and a vivid account of the times he lived in. The new paperback edition is very welcome.