I recently finished the final book in the Squire’s Tales, a series aimed at teens retelling the Arthurian Legends. The author, Gerald Morris, wrote the books because all his previous experience with the Arthurian legends “had been in obnoxious children’s retellings in which all the knights were clean-shaven, cleft-chinned paragons of oppressive nobility and virtue” and the ladies were “simpering wraiths of soppy sentimentality.” He then goes on to mention it makes the reader want to “root for the dragon.”*
I don’t recall why I picked up the second book of the series—the first I read—though most likely I picked it up just to grab something for myself when the kids gathered books from the library. But I do recall going back shortly after reading it to pick up the first book to see how the characters had arrived where they were in book 2.
Now years ago, I’d read Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte de Artur (hair-pulling writing but densely packed with information) and also the Howard Pyle books—the latter to which I think Morris was referring though it has been thirty-some-odd years since last I read those so I could be mistaken—and I’ve been a fan of Arthurian tales since a young age. I think those elementary school readings of the Pyle books fixated me on the whole knights-in-shining-armor and sword-and-sorcery genre. Toss in some Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock, and Leiber, and that covers a large chunk of my childhood reading.**
Morris has retold the tales, going back to Malory and Chrétien de Troye for his source material, and no clean-shaven characters are to be found. The main character of the series is Terence, squire to Sir Gawain, and a highly skilled huntsman and archer in his own right. While the first two books center on Terence and Sir Gawain, later books in the series feature other primary characters, a small number of which Morris has created or combined with other characters appearing in the source material.
I read the first two books, took a break, then read the remainder off-and-on over the next few months. By the time I’d reached book 7, The Lioness and Her Knight, I’d decided I needed to finish the series and find out what happened to all the characters. And when Mordred is introduced in book 9, The Squire’s Quest, signaling the end of the Arthurian Age, I was desperately hoping that Terence and company would find a way to defeat him without Arthur and nearly all of his knights dying.
If you’re a fan of the Arthurian legends, give the Squire’s Tales a read. Even if you aren’t, the books are a quick, fun read that feature fun characters and Morris’ rather witty style. The list of books follows, all having been written/published between 1989 and 2010:
- The Squire’s Tale
- The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady
- The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf
- Parsifal’s Page
- The Ballad of Sir Dinadan
- The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight
- The Lioness and Her Knight
- The Quest for the Fair Unknown
- The Squire’s Quest
- The Legend of the King
*No, I’m not going to use any “correct” form of documentation (I do believe elsewhere I’ve mentioned I’m rather lazy when it comes to that sort of thing although MLA is a rather simple style to follow) but the quote is on page 283 of The Legend of the King.
**Well, not all. I also read a lot of westerns, detective fiction, science fiction, and animal stories as well.