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; YAPhilip Reeve, previously