Sunday, February 08, 2009

Recent Reading: To the Chapel Perilous

by Naomi Mitchison

I picked this up a while ago... I'm not sure where or how now, actually, possibly even as a freebie, but doubtless at a roleplaying game event; it was republished by Green Knight Publishing, who mostly existed to publish Greg Stafford's Pendragon RPG, but who also reprinted a whole slew of modern treatments of the Arthurian myths.

I suppose, picking this up and reading descriptions, that I was vaguely expecting a new look at the Arthurian stories, filtered through the anachronistic lens of modern journalism - a sort of smarter Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court, perhaps, or a more lit'ry Idylls of the Queen (the latter being Phyllis Ann Karr's unjustly forgotten stab at an Arthurian detective story). Actually, though, I think it's more a book about modern (well, mid-20th century) journalism, viewed through the lens of the Arthurian stories. I gather that Merlin (the editor of one of the newspapers in the story) is actually based on somebody Mitchison knew at the Guardian, and the news staff scenes have a certain period-specific tang of authenticity to them, clashing weirdly with the high-mythic feel of some of the grail quest action, especially early on in the plot.

Mind you, it's quite an abstruse sort of view of the nature of journalism - Mitchison was a literary novelist much more than she was a journalist - verging in places on a meditation on the nature of Truth and the processes by which one story/myth comes to dominate in the world of ideas, although others survive. It's also light on jokes, although there are some; I suspect it'd be funnier if you knew that journalistic milieu and period. And it does tend to tell rather than show, but I guess that's appropriate for a book about journalism, and one which perhaps assumes that readers know their Arthuriana fairly well.

All round, a bit of a period oddity, but not without interest, and I suspect it's really quite appealing to the real Arthuriana geeks.

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