cover image Malory: The Knight Who Became King Arthur's Chronicler

Malory: The Knight Who Became King Arthur's Chronicler

Christina Hardyment, . . HarperCollins, $29.95 (634pp) ISBN 978-0-06-620981-4

Thomas Malory (1405–1471), the great English compiler of the Arthurian legends, lived the chivalric values of his stories in the chaotic times of the Hundred Years' War and the War of the Roses. British historian Hardyment (The Future of the Family ) devotes much time to political context, but her more interesting material, drawing on scholarship dating as far back as the 16th century, shows that though Malory's work was "distinctly idiosyncratic," there is evidence of the influence of French romances, early English histories and popular ballads. Most fascinating are the clues Hardyment finds to Malory's life in the unique additions he made to the known stories, including mentions of English and Welsh localities, references to contemporary events and an emphasis on ideals and religious faith rather than love. Malory, the author shows, was most original in his tales of Lancelot, suggesting an identification with his noble but flawed hero. Hardyment plausibly explains charges of assault and rape against Malory as politically motivated and argues that the writer spent his last years in jail because of his loyalty to Henry VI. Camelot echoes marvelously through Hardyment's biography, making palpable Malory's desire for valor and honor in his own time. 16 pages of color, 8 pages of b&w illus., maps. (Aug. 1)