I have spent the last several months slowly but surely making my way through the classic Arthurian story The Once and Future King by T.H. White. There are four books in the novel. Though each book focuses mostly on Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot, there are some other great characters who have quickly become some of my favorite in literature (King Pellinore, for instance). It is also full of classic villains, some purely evil, others simply raised with a skewed version of love.
In the first book the reader learns all about Arthur as a child. With the slightly feather-brained Merlin as his mentor he has all kinds of adventures being turned into fish and birds. By experiencing life in different "cultures" he learns about various kinds of government. The book ends, of course, with Arthur pulling the famed sword from the stone, and thus becoming king. Its a fun book, humorous and child-like, with fun characters (including Robin Hood and Maid Marion) and fantastic adventures ... though I admit I grew tired of all his adventures as something other than a boy.
The second book begins with Arthur as a young man. He has married Guenevere and he is beginning to form his famous ideas of the round table, and chivalry as a standard for society. England is a barbarous place and some rules and regulations need to be implemented to help society grow. Merlin is still with him at this stage, helping him find his way. This book is still somewhat fanciful and fun, though more serious threads develop when wars are fought as Arthur defends his right to be king. However, it ends very abruptly when Arthur falls for a trap set by his half-sister that would eventually cause his downfall. (In case you want to read it, I won't give the story away.) I didn't like the ending. Seriously, after a couple hundred pages of normal story arcs it takes a seriously sharp turn in the last two to three paragraphs. I felt jerked around.
The third book is mostly about Lancelot. He spends his whole life as Arthur's best friend and Queen Guenevere's lover. He is ugly, but the best knight in the world, and he is constantly called upon to defend the title. He saves Guenevere's life a few times, not to mention many others. And though he's a cad and I was inclined not to like him for his ongoing affair with his best friend's wife, in his defense he does spend considerable time away from Camelot in an attempt to cut his ties with her. But they all fail, even after spending time completely mad and time having given his heart completely to God (after his quest for the Holy Grail). This book was entertaining, it tells a lot about the adventures of the knights of Camelot and how the kingdom is getting along well under Arthur's rule.
However ... as I started into the fourth book of White's novel, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't finish it. And I never don't finish a book. Never! Andrew, I'm sorry! Arthur's misfortunate decision (though he was trapped into it) as a younger man is coming back to claim its place as his downfall. There are conspirators trying to bring down the king by finally forcing his attention to the affair of his wife and Lancelot (a serious crime in Arthur's England). He's forced to banish Lancelot from the kingdom and I can only imagine he's eventually overthrown (as the end of Book 2 intimates). Its just not the happy Arthur story I prefer. I like a faithful Guenevere, a Lancelot who is a flawed but rises-to-the-occasion hero, a great man in Arthur, wise and sure. And I'm afraid the "real" story just didn't do it for me. Please forgive me. (And can you just tell me how it ends?)