Introduction: Tom Hanks, the Voice of Malory

By Couch, Julie Nelson | Arthuriana, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Tom Hanks, the Voice of Malory


Couch, Julie Nelson, Arthuriana


In the fall of 1989 at Baylor University, D. Thomas Hanks, Jr. offered a graduate seminar on Malory's Le Morte Darthur in which I, then a masters student, was introduced to the joys of Malory, of scholarship, and of collegial discourse. In addition to being a watershed moment in my life, that seminar was propitiously offered just as my teacher's innovative publications on Malory began to emerge in print. As the contributors to this volume attest, Tom Hanks has inspired scholars across the international Arthurian community to explore Malory in fresh ways: to read Malory aloud, to interpret Malory within context, and to read Malory not only with seriousness, but also with humor. The articles in this issue honor Professor Hanks. They reflect the range of interpretive concerns that Tom has shared about Malory.

Torn Hanks's career as a scholar of Malory nicely mirrors the experiential trajectory, or pilgrimage if you will, of many a Malorian: 1) Upon first exposure to Malory, the scholar initiates source study. He/she compares the writer-knight to his French and English sources.1 2) Said scholar soon dispatches with the translation model of the superior-French-romance vs. inferior-English-version.1 3) Scholar comes to value Malory's unique prose style, the text's heightened drama, suspense, and (through dialogue) characterization.3 4) Scholar addresses question of the unity of Malory's Works.4 5) Scholar begins to analyze narrative complexity, for example the problematic yet enticing fusion of chivalric and Christian ideologies. 6) The scholar who reaches this point in the quest of Le Morte Darthur faces the materiality of the text itself-Winchester or Caxton? And what of Wynkyn de Worde? 7) The intrepid scholar finally arrives at the shrine of voice, and the contextual importance of reading Malory aloud.

Many who have trod this route have appreciated the critical landmarks set up by Tom Hanks. In 'A Tale of "Simple" Malory and the Critics,' Andrew Lynch begins this issue of ARTHURIANA by elaborating a narrative of twentieth-century Malorian criticism, one that helps elucidate the current critical climate, setting the stage for contributions Tom Hanks and others have made to the field.

In his early source study on the 'Confrontation in Guinevere's Chamber/ Hanks was already spotlighting the important addition of 'God-talk' to Malory's narrative.5 A number of the articles in this issue reflect his concern with the ethical purview of Malory's textual world. Is Malory's world explicitly Christian? Does the Morte reflect an investment in religious and philosophical ideas? Is Launcelot the ultimate Christian knight or the ultimate chivalric knight? Does the Morte reach the limits of the dance played out between Christianity and chivalry in Arthurian romance? Is/are the ending(s) of the Morte societally tragic or spiritually fulfilling?

Kevin Grimm faces the question of the Morte's relation to Christianity directly, arguing that Malory's text shares structural affinity with the Bible and functions as a 'Narrative of Faith.' In "'I love nat to be constrayned to love": Emotional Charity and Malory's World,' Felicia Nimue Ackerman also notes an exemplary function of Malory's text, particularly in its illustrations of the philosophical concept of emotional charity. Conversely, Janet Jesmok finds a troublesome absence of faith, or more explicitly, trust. In '"Alas! Who may truste thys world?": Absence of Trust in Malory's Tale of "Balin le Sauvage,"' she not only examines untrustworthy characters but also exposes the narration itself as unreliable. Dorsey Armstrong finds anxiety on the narrative plane as well. In 'The (Non-)Christian Knight in Malory: A Contradiction in Terms?,' she finds the pagan knight and the Christian knight being marginalized: both extremes pose a threat to the chivalric ideal.

With 'Elaine of Ascolat's Death and theArs moriendi,' Rebecca Reynolds continues the discussion of Malory's text in relation to its Christian milieu. …

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