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Arthur: The Seeing Stone

August 31, 2010

Arthur: The Seeing Stone
Kevin Crossley-Holland
2002 Paperback 342 pages $6.99

I have no idea why I pick a book up, read a few pages, then put it down with a shrug, only to come back a month or so later, and gobble the book down almost without stopping. This happens to me all the time, and I have no idea why. I wind up stalling on a book, then coming back later and wondering what I was waiting for.

The Seeing Stone is organized in a series of vignettes about bookish young Arthur, fascinated by Merlin’s teachings, and dreaming of the day that he will be allowed to train as a knight. His older brother is sometimes a bully, especially when Arthur’s knightly skills like jousting fall short, and Arthur ends up in the mud.  Sound familiar? Comparisons to other retellings of the Arthurian legend are probably inevitable. Merlin plays a role of mystery, guiding Arthur toward glimpses of a magical destiny, or alternate history, of another Arthur living a parallel life.

Because the story was set up as vignettes, full of dreamy and slippery imagery, it was hard to get into the rhythm of the story at the start. Which might be why I picked it up and put it down a bit. But– purely wallowing in the delights of the scenery and the magic brought me into the story. Although the magic was beautifully described, what appealed to me the most about the story was the ordinariness of most of Arthur’s life. He was an ordinary kid, pestered by an older brother, worshiped by a younger sister, listening to his grandmother’s fireside stories. I love how bound to his family Arthur is, and the warmth of them as supporting characters. I’ve never read Malory’s original, but have dabbled in other retellings. Arthur always seemed heartbreakingly lonely to me.

How his seeing stone destiny worked got a little murky at times. Visions in the seeing stone built a parallel Arthur universe, more in line with the familiar stories of Arthur, son of Uther. As the story goes on, though, even the Arthur we’re following around gets immersed in his visions; to the point where it’s hard to tell which Arthur is which, or what the relationship between the two stories really is. Because this is a first book, I have faith that the next two volumes will make that clearer. Also– I owe myself a reread of Mary Stewart’s Merlin series.

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