Here Lies Arthur-Philip Reeve

Opening: “Even the woods are burning.”

I’m a big fan of Arthurian re-tellings, though I know I haven’t read even a tiny portion of them. Often they focus on Arthur, or his knights, or at least one of the side characters in the original stories.  In Here Likes Arthur, we have something different. This is Gwyna’s story, the story of how she came to know Arthur and Myrddin. The characters she describes are self-consciously different from the usual depictions, and the whole book is on one level a kind of meditation on the way stories create heroes.

I enjoyed the different take on the legends. It’s hard to be fresh with such well-known source material, but Reeve manages it here, without resorting to gimmicks like Arthur IN SPACE. Gwenhyfar receives a sympathetic and interesting treatment, and Gwyna’s voice is likeable, without resorting either to ‘ye oldes’ or to modern anachronisms. There’s also a little hint of zaniness, with multiple characters crossdressing.

This might all sound a little unenthusiastic. Although I enjoyed Gwyna’s story, and found her relationship with Myrddin touching, I have a major problem with it. I really like my Arthurian stories to be sympathetic to Arthur–he might be a tragic hero, but he’s a good person, for instance–and the whole point of Reeve’s re-telling is really that Arthur is a unprincipled looter and bully, who Myrddin transforms into a hero for his own ends. This version kept me from falling in love with the book, as I might otherwise have.

As an Arthurian re-telling, it’s striking but not necessarily my favorite. As a coming-of-age story, it’s very nice. In the end, maybe I need to look for my tragic histories and satisfying stories in the other characters, and leave Arthur alone for this one.

Book source: public library
Book information: Scholastic, 2008; YA

Philip Reeve, previously

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