A few years ago, Adam Ardrey published a couple of books about the history behind the King Arthur legend, and he titled them “Finding Merlin” and “Finding Arthur.” Both are speculative histories that peel away the myths and try to identify the flesh-and-blood figures of early Britain who inspired the Arthurian legend. When “Finding Camlann” (W.W. Norton & Company) appeared, I thought it was another installment by the Scot, aiming for a trilogy gift-set just in time for the holidays. It isn’t.
Instead, “Finding Camlann” is an enjoyable literary detective novel by Sean Pidgeon that had me thinking of Byatt’s “Possession” and Kostova’s “The Historian.” Both of those books are partly about trails of clues left in ancient manuscripts, and Pidgeon’s first novel clearly belongs with them in your library. For his novel’s two researchers, Donald and Julia, the hunt for the real Arthur’s kingdom is facilitated by “The Song of Lailoken”–a Welsh poem that tells the story of the king’s final, fatal battle.
There’s nothing better than a mystery connected with literary tradition. Dan Brown might grab the headlines for his new Dante-themed thriller, but Pidgeon’s book deserves a look this summer. Not only do books like his help us to appreciate stories thoroughly embalmed by our high school English classes, they remind us that the past contains so much that’s worth our time.
SPEAKING OF ARTHUR: by the way, the mailman delivered the best kind of mail yesterday: a copy of “The Fall of Arthur” by J.R.R. Tolkien and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This will probably be the last (is it really?) “new” Tolkien item to appear in the years since the ringmaster’s death in 1973. Edited and curated by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, the book was delivered into my hot little hands just in time for the three-day holiday: Nothing better than some alliterative Anglo-Saxon verse poolside!
I’ll have a full report next week. Until then, my friends, a happy Memorial Day to you and yours.