Monday, November 15, 2010

The Wicked Day

The Wicked Day is the fourth and final book in Mary Stewart's "Arthurian Saga". It's sort of interesting that the first three books are referred to as "The Merlin Trilogy" but when the fourth book is added it becomes "The Arthurian Saga". This time, Ms Stewart applies her considerable talents to the story of Mordred, telling the entire story from his birth, through his growing up, and to its inevitable conclusion.

This has to be one of the most difficult things to do in fiction writing. Take a well established character in one of the most well-known and oft-written epic stories in history, forever acknowledged as the villain of the piece, and craft a story with him as the protagonist. Marion Zimmer Bradley did something very similar in The Mists of Avalon but even then, the character of Morgan isn't, I believe, as universally hated as is Mordred. But I must say, Ms Stewart pulls it off in fine style.

As the protagonist, Mordred's story is told from his point of view and is thus sympathetic towards that point of view. He comes across as a very sympathetic character; I kept pulling for him even as I knew what the ending had to be. In fact, Mordred is well liked, even loved by most of the other characters, and it isn't until near the end that his point of view starts to diverge from Arthur's. There is no "evil" nature to this man; what might be construed as ambition seems very naturally to have arisen from his mother, Morgause, Arthur's half sister and most definitely the real villain in Mary Stewart's saga. And even in the end, it is a mistake, a misunderstanding of what is really happening that leads to Mordred's and Arthur's final battle. I found it very interesting to read the appendix and the Author's note at the end of the book where the "real" legend is briefly retold from the actual text of both Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the King's of England and Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur. Apparently, Mordred was not originally presented as a villainous person; that arose later as countless retellings diffused the original versions.

I am very pleased to have read this set of four books. I had always heard that they were among the very best of the modern versions of the Arthurian/Merlin tales and am happy to add my agreement.

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  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
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  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
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