I wanted to re-read this one before I resume tackling my Arthurian project The High Road and the Low. It’s been years, and Parke Godwin is sadly gone, to dementia and into the dark, but I remember hearing him read—no, perform—Guenevere’s opening speech from Beloved Exile. He wrote character-driven fiction at its finest, and his take on Arthur’s story is unique.
It’s hard, when you’ve read a lot of Arthurian fiction, to judge fairly—it’s the same basic cast of characters, every time, every author. The same basic story. How can it possibly be fresh? I certainly will struggle with that. What’s my take on Arthur? How to I tell his tale?
Well, Parke Godwin found a splendid way. He did it by seeking out a culture that’s rarely used, barely explored. He may very well have invented it out of whole cloth, but it was informed invention. Everything about Prydn, Faerie, rings vibrant and true. You can see it, taste it, smell it. They move the heart, these forgotten, marginalized, dying people—the earliest Britons, gone into their Hollow Hills. And Godwin didn’t leave it there—the story expands into and continues in The Last Rainbow.
One thing many have noted about the Arthurian saga: Arthur himself is not much present, once Sword is pulled from Stone. The stories happen to others; Arthur just sort of presides over the storytelling after dinner. He won’t sit down to his meat until someone relates a marvel. A wonder the Court didn’t starve to death! The only time this isn’t in play is when Arthur is telling his story, first person, in his own voice. Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset, Godwin’s Firelord. It’s compelling. It’s unforgettable.