The King

The King

by Donald Barthelme, Barry Moser
     
 

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In The King, a retelling of Le Morte D'Arthur, Donald Barthelme moves the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table to the cruelty of the Second World War. Dunkirk has fallen, Europe is at the breaking point, Ezra Pound and Lord Haw-Haw are poisoning the radio waves, Mordred has fled to Nazi Germany, and King Arthur and his worshipful Knights are deep in the fighting.

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Overview

In The King, a retelling of Le Morte D'Arthur, Donald Barthelme moves the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table to the cruelty of the Second World War. Dunkirk has fallen, Europe is at the breaking point, Ezra Pound and Lord Haw-Haw are poisoning the radio waves, Mordred has fled to Nazi Germany, and King Arthur and his worshipful Knights are deep in the fighting. When the Holy Grail presents itself--which is, in this version, the atomic bomb, "a superweapon if you will, with which we can chastise and thwart the enemy"--they must decide whether to hew to their knightly ways or adopt a modern ruthlessness. Barthelme makes brilliant comic use of anachronism to show that war is center stage in the theater of human absurdity and cruelty. But Arthur, in deciding to decline the power of the Grail, announces his unwillingness to go along: "It's not the way we wage war. The essence of our calling is right behavior, and this false Grail is not a knightly weapon."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Clever anachronisms and mock-Arthurian diction mark this madcap, absurdist 20th-century parable, in which Barthelme transposes King Arthur and his Round Table to 1940s England under Nazi bombardment. (May)
Library Journal
The King is Arthur himself, even though Barthelme's brief novel is set during World War II. As ``real'' battles rage far offstage, the Knights of the Round Table are busy ``rushing and riding, foining and striking.'' Meanwhile, Lord Haw-Haw keeps the populace abreast of Guinevere's infidelities in his broadcasts from Berlin. Sad to say, the late Barthelme doesn't do much with Arthur. The irony is tired, the whimsy facile, the language numbing in its archaic banality: ``Yonder knights hurtle together like rams to bear either other down!'' Faithful readers of Barthelme may appreciate The King ; others will wonder whether it would have seen publication without his name attached.-- Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
From the Publisher

a daring tour de force that combines legend, parody and literature' -Herbert Mitgang, New York Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140149920
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
05/01/1992
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Donald Barthelme, one of the masters of post-war fiction in the United States, was born in Philadelphia in 1931. Much of his early career would be spent in journalism, both in the military and in the civilian world. A Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 allowed him to write his first novel, Snow White. He would spend the rest of his life teaching and writing fiction until his death in 1989.

Dalkey Archive Press

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