Book IX: not my favorite book by a long shot. I would go so far as to say this book of Le Morte D’Arthur was just sitting on my head and crushing it.
It starts out pretty well, with the story of Sir Breunor, but that tale goes off the rails and ends up just petering out. Breunor doesn’t avenge his father, which he claims is his personal goal. Instead he wanders around for a while, has a couple of strange adventures, and accomplishes nothing. Marcie had a quest of her own, supposedly, involving the shield, but that plot thread is dropped almost as soon as it’s introduced. Mordred appears for no reason, does nothing, and leaves after witnessing a strange adventure. Ditto Launcelot, more or less. The story eventually ends, but it feels as though Malory just cut it off at an arbitrary point.
Once Malory gets tired of Breunor, he follows Tristram for a little bit. Then he gets tired of Tristram, who doesn’t seem to have any particular goal in mind, and follows Sir Lamorak for a while. Sir Lamorak isn’t up to anything cool, so it’s back to Tristram. Chapter 16 has a potentially interesting strange adventure story in it, about Nimue needing to manipulate Tristram into freeing King Arthur from an evil enchantress, but that adventure ends almost before it begins.
And then Tristram forgets that he got married and became the ruler of Brittany, and everything gets reset as though the back end of Book VIII and the first half of Book IX never even happened. You could go directly from Book VIII, chapter 30 or so, to Book IX, chapter 17 without hardly missing a trick.
Tristram goes crazy for a while, which leads to no character growth, and he’s exiled from Cornwall in the company of Sir Dinadan. This leads into a whole series of strange adventures wherein Tristram acts like a jerk and has no objective at all, not even do-gooding in the vaguest sense. He talks a bit about rescuing Sir Launcelot, but never actually does. He ends up in a tournament, where he kills some guys. Sir Palomides comes onto the scene again, as Tristram’s nemesis, but doesn’t actually act against him and ends up in prison alongside him. There’s another good bit in there, wherein Sir Dinadan gets sick and tired of getting dragged around as Tristram’s sidekick and tries to kill him under cover of jousting tournament melee, but afterwards Dinadan inexplicably becomes Tristram’s bosom chum. Then they’re imprisoned.
Launcelot forms his TRISTRAM RESCUE SQUAD to find Tristram after he misses the end of the tournament, which leads to Sir Gaheris, Sir Uwaine, and Sir Kay going to Cornwall. This is actually probably my favorite part of Book IX, because Sir Kay comes across as pretty badass when he humiliates King Mark in Chapter 39. Everything you think you know about Sir Kay from popular culture — that he’s a braggart and a bad knight and rides Arthur’s coattails and is kind of a jerk — is actually all true about Sir Gawaine, in Malory’s version of the story. Sir Kay is a clever fella.
But then you have Sir Dinas’s odd little story in Chapter 40, which Malory seems to think ties into something, but doesn’t connect to anything. Tristram gets out of prison by being depressed. Sir Dinadan fights Pitiless Bruce, and then there’s this whole thing with Morgan le Fay and a magic shield, which story cuts off partway through because Malory’s editor put the Book IX, Book X divide in a weird place.
So to sum up: Book IX crushed my spirit, and I’m taking a Malory Break before tackling Book X. Tune in for “the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath!” Also, this is as good a place as any to announce that after covering the first half of Le Morte D’Arthur five days a week, I’ve decided to slack off like a total lazybones and bring it down to an MWF schedule. Y’all are great, but I’ve got other things I’m trying to do at the same time as this, and cutting the updates down to three times a week will reduce the workload for me by roughly 40%. I’m going to plow through Kadath at my usual semibreakneck pace, but then we’re slowing it down.