Review of Arthur, the Always King

Arthur, the Always King Arthur, the Always King
by Kevin Crossley-Holland; illus. by Chris Riddell
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick Studio    240 pp.
4/23    9781536212655    $29.99

Crossley-Holland (the Arthur Trilogy, including The Seeing Stone, rev. 11/01) presents a retelling of several Arthurian stories and parts of Thomas Malory’s sweeping Morte d’Arthur. He has shaped his work “to tell one story illustrating each stage of Arthur’s dream and the idea behind it…Each tale springs from a strong moral sense of what’s right, what’s wrong, and how we’re all part of it.” Readers will find the arc of Arthur’s childhood, his dream of the Round Table and its shattered fallout, and his death at his son’s hand. Crossley-Holland doesn’t shy away from tales that are difficult, perhaps even off-putting to our current sensibilities (the story of Erec and Enide springs to mind) or from the strange, stark Christian images—such as the Holy Grail and the Fisher King—of the knights’ quests. The volume is all the more challenging and thought-provoking for it. His attentiveness to the natural world and his clear, jewel-like language are counterpointed by Riddell’s abundant illustrations, which rather than idealizing scenes offer vague, untidy landscapes and dwell on the blood, horror, and grotesquerie of men wounding one another. While Riddell’s depicted women tend toward the willowy, his knights, with their stubble, unkempt hair, and mobile facial features, have a spotty, irregular realism that brings them into our world of imperfections.

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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