By author Kevin Crossley-Holland
At the heart of Arthurian legend lies a magnetic dream: that there was a time when people formed a society more perfect than ours, a Golden Age…and that by reading about it, reaching out to it and its ideals, each of us too will be touched with a little gold dust, and will rededicate our own lives.
William Caxton, who brought printing to England, was quite explicit about this when he published Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur in 1485. "I have done set it in imprint," he writes, "to the intent that noble men may see and learn the noble acts of chivalry, the gentle and virtuous deeds that some knights used in those days….Do after the good and leave the evil." These last eight words are crucial. Like the Bible or a body of myths, Arthurian legends offer us any number of models covering the whole gamut of human behavior.
I suppose much of this was in the back of my mind when I decided to write an Arthur trilogy. To try to tune in to a tradition spanning almost 1,500 years: for me, little could be more tempting, and little more intimidating. How to make old Arthur new? How to write an Arthur revolving around issues that should matter to us all?
In The Seeing Stone , the first part of my Arthur trilogy, the reader discovers that people living in the Welsh Marches at the end of the 12 th century remembered stories about a great Celtic hero. Arthur de Caldicot is a 13-year-old boy with authoritarian parents. He's worried they may force him to become a priest or, even worse, a teacher. But he wants to be a squire. He's worried, too, by his swine of an elder brother, and worried by that lump at the bottom of his spine. Surely he's not growing a tail? When Arthur looks into his hunk of obsidian, all he can see at first is his own dim reflection: his sticking-out ears, blob nose, and rabbitskin cap. But before long he starts to see and hear stone stories, chapters from the life of his namesake
What I am aiming for, of course, is a subtle relationship between the characters and lives of Arthur de Caldicot and Arthur-in-the-Stone. It's no good asking which came first. Sometimes an event in Arthur de Caldicot's fictional life suggested to me the use of a specific legend, and sometimes the other way round. In either case, the two worlds half-anticipate or half-echo one another. And around this boy, all the new-old arguments go on: What is the price of weak leadership? Gender inequality and social inequality: Are they inevitable? Does literacy militate against memory? What comprises a decent education? And what are the dangers of fundamentalism? Is a holy war, a jihad , justifiable?
I didn't impose these issues on my material. They grew out of it. And as I mulled over them, I could see that they're as relevant now as they were 800 years ago. My story is the story of a boy in search of his identity (or his name); and the way he can most fully find it is partly through his own experience, partly through the models he sees in the world of his stone. Art may imitate life; but life needs art. To live rich lives, we must embrace both.