Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Knight Prisoner: Thomas Malory, Then and Now

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Knight Prisoner: Thomas Malory, Then and Now

Article excerpt

T. J. Lustig, Knight Prisoner: Thomas Malory, Then and Now (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2013). xii + 242 pp. ISBN 978-1845196059. £16.95.

This is the most enjoyable book about Malory since William Matthews's seductive Ill-Framed Knight in 1966. Like Matthews, Lustig is not a specialist in medieval or Arthurian literature (he made his name on Henry James), but unlike Matthews, who badly overestimated his own abilities, Lustig delivers a shower of stimulating and sharply observed insights.

The book is structured as a series of 21 sections (7 on the Morte Darthur, 7 on Malory, 7 on influence) and a conclusion, averaging eight pages apiece. Brief enigmatic titles ('Achieving', 'The coal-face', 'Eliot the harper') suggest single themes, but sections can switch topics without warning. Readers may be reminded of Bacon's Essays. Bacon might have acclaimed the sixty-eight pages of highly compressed notes, bibliography, and index as perfecting the genre he developed, but he might have been confused to find investigation intermittently delegated to what Lustig remembers of his 20-year-old self, buying his first copy of the Morte in the Micklegate in York, and his 8-year-old self, encountering Malory's story for the first time in a retelling by Phyllis Briggs. That, however, is an inspired stroke: Team Lustig have sharp eyes, retentive memories, and a knack of asking good questions; and in the end it doesn't matter if TJLi (aged 8) or, perhaps more likely, TJL1.5 (aged about 14) sighed enviously over the smooth swelling muscles that Briggs gave to Lancelot, and Malory did not. Getting it right about Malory is what matters, and those muscles tell us a lot about Malory, and about Briggs too. …

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