Man, where to start? I’ve just reread my summary of Book II, and I’ve got to say, the takeway lessons are Malory is an awful writer and Merlin is a jackass. There’s this whole tantalizing backstory that’s only hinted about, about Balin and Wilma and the Lady of the Lake and possibly Balan: that goes nowhere. There’s the mystery of the invisible knight, which is resolved in the most boring way possible. There’s the incredibly crude foreshadowing of Accolon and Arthur fighting and Accolon having Arthur’s magic scabbard, which when it comes up again, it doesn’t even jibe properly with the events as laid out here. There’s random intrusions of references to the grail-quest, which, okay, a certain amount of that is inevitable when we’re talking dolorous stroke, but still! Merlin keeps showing up and making dire pronouncements, some of which contradict his previous dire pronouncements, and writing on things with his golden pen! What was the deal with the Queen at the edge of the world and her party with the lovely ladies and Balan out on the island? Why did Susie have to die? Why was Wilma cast as such as villain by Merlin and what the hell is up with her sword-in-a-chastity-belt thing? I admit I’m reading between the lines a little there but the symbolism seems so incredibly obvious that what the hell Malory?! And the man can’t be bothered to give characters who aren’t knights or kings or Arthur’s blood relatives names! Susie is just “the damsel” while Perin and Herlews get names! The more I think about it the angrier I get! I’m literally angry with rage.
Also what about Balin being predestined to slay Wilma’s brother? Or was it merely that he was destined to kill his own brother? Or someone else’s brother? He did end up killing his own brother. I guess one of the many people he killed might have been Wilma’s brother. Balin’s story meanders along until he wanders into Pellam’s castle and delivers the dolorous stroke, killing off Susie (the closest thing to a genuine supporting cast member this book has), and then he just sort of wanders off some more until he ends up in this ludicrously contrived death. Why he’s obliged to fight to the death: not worth examining, it’s just the way things are. The Queen of the edge of the world knows Merlin, and she does as he instructs, so is she some kind of crazy villainess who makes heroes fight one another in gladiatorial combat, or is she an ally of Arthur’s advisor whom we all hope is on the side of the angels? Maybe Merlin’s just a dick.
But okay, I suppose I should try to find some good parts. Arthur’s characterization, such as it is, isn’t too terrible. His treatment of Wilma and the Lady of the Lake were pretty okay. He continues to be a better king than his biological father, and to throw great funerals. King Mark’s cameo was… okay, King Mark’s cameo served no purpose, but Mark himself seemed like an okay dude, pleasant enough. He shows up again.
Merlin’s weird random asides are kind of interesting. I get the sense that he sees the whole warp and weft of history, and like a Sidereal Exalt he’s nudging destiny to get the results he wants. Though in some places he’s more subtle than others. What’s the point of the little golden notes he keeps writing about Launcelot and Gawaine?
This bit was pretty okay, and I’m quoting my version of Malory directly:
“I would have my damosel, said Balin.
Lo, said Merlin, where she lieth dead.
[Merlin says more things.]
Then departed Balin from Merlin, and said, in this world we meet never no more.”
It’s probably the one bit in Book II where Malory’s incredibly spare medieval writing style conveys a measure of dignity for Balin and his mourning of Susie. Though that Malory calls her just “the damosel” really vexes me.
Anyway. Book II. Not that great. Couple of good bits. Bad foreshadowing. I’m still picturing Arthur as Donald Glover, for what it’s worth.