I knew that I was taking on something dangerous and potentially emotionally fraught when I decided to write my own version of Arthurian Legend. It’s something that is very dear to a lot of people – myself included – and reworking something like that always elicits a strong response.
Mostly, that response has been positive. Without exception, all the review blogs who have been kind enough read and review the various instalments of Guinevere have loved it, and responded very positively to what I have done with the Arthurian legendary material. Even the notoriously hard to please (and very funny) Smart Bitches Trashy Books reviewers enjoyed it, and posted a very thoughtful and interesting review on their sister site, Geek Girl in Love. I’ve even had a wonderful review from Bex Lyons, who is an academic at Bristol University working on Arthurian Legends (and I was the most nervous of all applying to her site for a review).
But has much as I have been heartened (and relieved!) by the positive responses to what I have done with this much-loved material, there have also been a few reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads who have not agreed so heartily with what I have done, and when they disagree, the reaction is very strong. With stories like this, everyone has their own idea of what the main players are like, don’t they? And I think sometimes it’s quite an emotional process reading something in conflict with your own idea of what a character should be like. And I’ve made quite a few of them not very nice, which a few people, again, have been upset about. But I was expecting that – I was prepared for a polarising reaction.
What has made me a little sad are the reviews that say “not as good as Bernard Cornwell” or “not as good as The Mists of Avalon.” First of all, I love both of those versions of Arthurian Legend (and I think they’re both very different from what I was trying to do with the material), and I never intended to try to occupy the same space as them. It makes me sad because it’s strange this idea we have that that there can be one “best” version rather than many different versions. In a way it’s an honour to be compared (even unfavourably) with these two different versions that in their various ways were such an inspiration to my own writing. But I also thing, especially with legendary material such as this, there certainly is room for many different interpretations. I think of the medieval versions I have read; Malory, which is very England-focussed, very epic and comprehensive, providing this big tragic sweep, and then the Welsh versions in the Mabinogion which are so beautiful and simple, and the French versions by Chretien de Troyes and I think all of these different understandings of the same story enrich one another.
And I think in the modern world of copyright law we’ve lost this wonderful medieval idea of mouvance, of the text in motion between different versions, different readers. And in a way, only in legendary material like this does that survive – it’s like a moving river we can dip in and out of, each taking something unique but from the same source. I’ve been so happy to have been part of it, and I love every (almost every) other adaptation that I read. I’d love to get some of the sense that there isn’t just one right version and we’re all part of a conversation.
I’d love to hear what other people think of this – are there other stories that you’ve seen adapted in different ways? Or do you prefer one version of your tales?