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There are numerous famous legends that most people are knowledgeable about; from cultural legends some grew up with or urban legends others may hear about, wondering if these tall tales are true. Specifically, one of the lesser known types of mythology is Arthurian legends. There is a possibility that they have been around since the 5th century and may have even been actual events/people in history. One of the most well-known books based around the folklore is Le Morte D’arthur.
It is the source of inspiration for so many books in the genre; one example would be The Once and Future King. But for such a noteworthy book, there is an air of mystery surrounding it.
First and foremost, who was Sir Thomas Malory? He is the most likely candidate for writing the book, although other people are suspected as well. He was born around the year 1415 in Warwickshire; not much else is known about his early life. What is acknowledged, though, was that he led a life of crime.
A few of the crimes he committed include attempted murder, stealing livestock, extortion and was accused of rape twice. Subsequently, he was arrested but he didn’t have the chance to go to trial and spent nearly a decade in jail. Eventually, he escaped twice and was forcefully returned both times. During his second return to prison, it was at this time period in which he was likely to write the book using the resources he had available to him.
In the meantime, he was also a part of a group that plotted the overthrow of King Edward IV. His final escape from prison came in 1470 when he was released as a political prisoner under the rule of Henry VI. Ultimately, his death was just a few months after his release in 1471. Unbeknownst to him, what he would leave behind would be one of the most distinguished works of literature regarding the Arthurian legend genre.
In addition, the book itself is just as interesting as the author who wrote it. Sir Thomas Malory took inspiration for his book mainly from French prose romance. According to Brittanica, Le Morte D’arthur is “the first prose account in English of the rise and fall of the legendary king” (“Sir Thomas Malory”). The series is a compilation of 12 books detailing the life of King Arthur among others. The first four books are condensed and rearranged versions of a French prose romance book Huth Merlin/Suite du Merlin, which was written sometime between the years 1230-1240. The fifth book is an abridged version of another book called Alliterative Morte Arthur. The sixth book is a translation of some parts of a French book called Vulgate Lancelot. The seventh book follows the lost Anglo-Saxton romance of Gareth. The following five books are an incomplete and abridged version of a work called Prose Tristian which was written around the year 1230. The series was finally finished by the year 1470; however, the literary works weren’t edited and published until 1485. William Caxton, the editor of Le Morte D’arthur, made a mistake while revising the book. Originally, the 12th and final book was named Le Morte D’arthur; what he did was name the entire book series the title of the last book. Over time, only one copy of the book survived and it was considered the oldest copy until the Winchester manuscript was found in 1934.
Le Morte D’arthur is one of the most crucial works in the Arthurian legend genre due to the influences of French prose romance that was popular at the time. Sir Thomas Malory made these legends all into one series and it was used as an inspiration to many authors writing their own Arthurian legend books. The mythology is an important part of English culture and Le Morte D’arthur was one of the few books that preserved the folklore in such a powerful work of literature. Hopefully, the legends of King Arthur, Launcelot, and others live on and many others get to hear their tales.
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