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Here Lies Arthur


Here Lies Arthur

Gwyna is the daughter of a slave, used to hard service. When her master's holding is burned by raiders, Gwyna escapes into the woods. There she is discovered by Myrddin, bard to the young and brutal warlord responsible for destroying her home. Myrddin offers her protection in exchange for her service. Gwyna becomes Myrddin's servant and privy to the secrets behind Arthur's power.

Philip Reeve's HERE LIES ARTHUR is a brutal, realistic adaptation of Arthurian lore. As the title suggests, Reeve has not come to praise Arthur, but to bury him. The novel has none of the magic or chivalry often associated with Arthurian legend. Instead, Arthur is a warlord who consolidates power through strong-armed intimidation and the state craft of Myrddin.

Myrddin describes his role as Arthur's bard, saying, "There's nothing a man can do that can't be turned into a tale.... Arthur can do nothing so bad that I can't spin it into gold and use it to make him more famous and more feared. If the tales are good enough, even the poor man who goes hungry from paying Arthur taxes will love him. I am the story-spinning physician who keeps his reputation in good health."

Arthur's reputation needs Myrddin's help. His power does not rest on wisdom, justice or a chivalric code. Instead, Reeve's Arthur is ruthless, manipulative and duplicitous. He marries and abandons women for political gain, and relies on Myrddin's tales to turn massacres into glorious victories. At the end of the book, Arthur even contrives to have his closest friends and kinsmen destroyed to cover an error in judgment and reinforce his power.

Even with this dark vision, HERE LIES ARTHUR retains the elements of great Arthurian adventure. Reeve provides rational explanations for magic, while staying true to the transformational themes of the tale. Gwyna begins her service to Myrddin by playing Lady of the Lake and presenting Arthur with the sword that will one day be known as Excalibur. She then accompanies Myrddin on his travels wearing the guise of a boy, making friends with the other young men in Arthur's war band. Ultimately, as her body undergoes its own changes, she returns to her female form to become a spy in the court of Gwynhwyfar.

Gwyna is not the only character undergoing radical transformation. Reeve includes Peredur --- the Welsh predecessor to Percival --- who spends his childhood dressed as a girl by a mother who has lost all her other sons to warfare. Peredur eventually becomes the knight who finds the Holy Grail. Gwyna feels a special affinity with Peredur, although he is too befuddled with Arthur's legend to see that the "grail" she holds before him is a simple wooden cup.

Instead of relying on magic for his tales' touch of enchantment, or presenting a trite moral on the redemptive power of myth, HERE LIES ARTHUR offers a warning about the manipulative power of illusion. In an age of almost unlimited access to information, how do we know what's true? If everything is being spun to influence our opinion, how can we discern between the Rightful King and the Evil Warlord? More importantly, how do we apply the powers of discernment in our own lives? Reeve's book portrays Myrddin as a powerful manipulator of narrative, who falls prey to his own lies. In its unflinching assessment of the harsh realities of the Dark Ages, the origins of myth and the pitfalls to power, HERE LIES ARTHUR is an original contribution to Arthurian tales.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on November 1, 2008

Here Lies Arthur
by Philip Reeve

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2008
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545093341
  • ISBN-13: 9780545093347