Tag Archives: King Arthur

Santa Needs More Magic

SantacoverIt’s that time of year when I look forward to reading a good ole sappy Christmas story to get me in the mood.  This year I chose “The Autobiography of Santa Claus” by Jeff Guinn, based on its description as a fictionalized history of Saint Nicholas and how the various legends of Santa got their start.  It began with promise.  Santa, recounting his life in his own words, instructs the reader, “You’re right to believe in me.”  He goes on to describe the events of his life starting from a young boy around 280AD in Lycea, Turkey, when he first learns the joy of giving gifts to the poor.  The story continues as he becomes a Bishop, (donning the classic red with white trim gown), and spreads his mission of leaving anonymous gifts.  Along the way, Nicholas acquires some paranormal powers: he doesn’t age, and he can travel twice the speed of normal humans.  So, over the ages he meets with number of famous military leaders, artists, explorers, and writers in a sort of Forrest Gump-like fashion, and by inserting himself in some instances, changes the course of events.  We are treated to his encounters with Charlemagne, Marco Polo, Columbus, Leonardo di Vinci, Charles Dickens, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few.  Santa also collects an entourage of helpers to include some unlikely characters such as Attila the Hun and King Arthur.  Despite the travels and historical encounters, the story is flat.  Great portions of it merely tell  of historical events in Santa’s voice, and with barely disguised opinions about the outcomes.  These portions were so long and tedious that I nearly put the book down and gave up.  On a positive note, there are fun little Christmas facts interspersed about how traditions such as carols, the name Santa Claus, Teddy bears, and Christmas trees came into being.  And, he also gives writers a great deal of credit for the spread of the Santa legend.  Overall, I was very disappointed with the heavy-handed history lessons, which made me want to run back and re-read “Lies My Teacher Told Me” because I suspect much of the history was as legendary as Santa himself.  The story was a great concept that missed the mark.  It could have been clever and witty by having Santa inserted into all types of historical settings with a crazy cast of characters, and instead it was dull at best, preachy at its worst.  Looking for an uplifting Christmas story, the skip this one for sure.  ClassicSanta


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Arthurian Legend Endures

YoungKingArthurSean Pidgeon’s new novel “Finding Camlann” is described a a work of “lyrical prose (which) brings together history, myth, and dream, sweeping the reader into the mysteries of the past and the pure delight of storytelling.” I agree that the novel covers the history, myth and legend of Arthur well, but take exception to the claim that Pidgeon’s prose is lyrical.  The story is a good one: archeologist Donald Gladstone is following the tracks of the legendary King Arthur, trying to tease away the real man, if indeed he did exist, from the cobweb of legend which surrounds him.  All is brought to a head by the discovery of an ancient grave containing the mysterious remains of soldiers who have undergone the three-fold death (got to read the book for that), and what appears to be a King and Queen, holding a decorative goblet–the Holy Grail, you ask?  Donald, in his efforts to contain the media hype and outrageous claims about the discovery, enlists the help of an enigmatic Oxford professor of Welsh history and leader of the Welsh nationalist group Tan y Ddraig (no, that is not a typo), and a lovely linguist working at the Oxford English Dictionary, Julia Llewellyn.  Pidgeon, clearly well versed in Welsh history, linguistics, and lore, spins a good tale about the location of Arthur’s last battle and grave site based on poem written in Old Welsh.  Against the backdrop of the hunt for the real King Arthur is the story’s leitmotif: finding the man who was responsible for a Welsh nationalist bombing, which led to the death and injury of many in a small town.  The activity of the nationalist group is played against the search for Arthur, which for some goes beyond a historical curiosity to a hope of resurrecting the mythic great Welsh leader, or the ever present hope of finding an “Arthur” for Wales. The story is of particular importance to Julia, who has suspicions that the man responsible may be her husband, or father. Excalibur But the real main character in this novel is Wales itself: as the poetry, lore, landscape, history, and people are lovingly portrayed.  The plot hangs on a very rigorous understanding of Welsh/Arthurian history, so it may lose some readers….along with the fact that Pidgeon puts many of the poems and phrases in the original Welsh.  He does provide, however, and handy chronology of events from the building of Stonehenge (2400BC) to the death of Owain Glyn Dwr (1416) along with a guide to Welsh pronunciation of the place and personal names (for which I was eternally grateful).   Pidgeon has a good story, but his writing was uneven.  He had to rely heavily on a lot of “telling” with very little “showing” or action.  The times our hero is on the hunt of a discovery, it seems far too convenient when he stumbles across clues and makes discoveries that seem to just fall in his lap.  A lot of the dialogue is forced and wooden, because the character has to impart great amounts of history or legend to the reader in order to follow the plot.  Overall, it is a book I would recommend to the lover of Arthurian legend, an aficionado of ancient languages and linguistic mysteries, or to a one interested in the fascinating area called Wales.  I enjoyed it for those reasons.  And, I am prepared to forgive the author for creating a bitchy villain who shares my last name… Camlanncover


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