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dream of civility book coverReviewed by Caleb Shadis

Dream of Civility is a retelling of the many Arthurian legends, both about King Arthur and all his knights of the round table. The author, Jeffrey Liebling, has a long forward explaining both why he undertook this endeavor and how he went about it. Starting with the legends put together in the 1400’s and finding all the different retellings since, including such recent authors as T.H. White’s the Once and Future King, and Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy.

The author spent a lot of time researching the legends and he also tried to make them more accurate for the times that Arthur actually lived, which was ~500 AD–years before the most famous collection was written. He left in all the knights and jousting and such, since the majority of the stories dealt with this. It is also what most people seem to know about King Arthur. But where Jeffrey could rewrite the story to a more time appropriate context he generally did.

As a work, Dream of Civility is fairly large; my copy is over 800 pages. However, internally it is broken down into five books, making the reading easier and more enjoyable. Part of the reason I mention this is because of the way it is written. It still uses some archaic ways of writing, such as “five and ten twelve-months” for 15 years. That is probably the most obvious and frequent example, and it is frequent. The archaic style can make it more difficult to read especially for hours at a time.

This book also tends to read like a fairy tale much of the time. So and so goes off on an adventure and the pure are victorious and the wrong are punished. Mostly. Sometimes it’s hard to decide who is who. But like with fairy tales, you don’t sit down and read a large book of them at a time–you take a couple stories here and there and enjoy them. That would be (in my opinion) the best way to read this book as well.

I have been learning a lot about King Arthur and his knights, and I must say it has been a fun and enlightening experience. Speaking of fairy tales, there is one I heard years ago, and it showed up in this book as something that happened to one of Arthur’s knights. A man is forced to marry an old crone through a situation not of his making, or liking. He fights with himself over wanting to abandon her vs. his duty as a husband, and finds out that she can be beautiful, but only half the time, either at night with him, or during the day when viewed by others. It’s a fairly famous tale, and I was surprised to find out that it may have some roots in Arthurian legend. (or at least was bound to them at some time). It was a slightly different telling but the end was the same.

It is also interesting to note that the stories often had to do with men being bewitched by the beauty and attractiveness of women. It started with Arthur’s father being so besotted with another man’s wife that he went to war to get into her bed. Women are both at the mercy of men and at the same time, have them twisted around their little fingers. There is also a rather interesting mix of chaste encounters and bawdy bed hopping. Sometimes by the same people. Though often it seemed split by the background of the knight or maiden, if they were raised Christian or with the old gods.

Overall, Dream of Civility was a fun book to read–I’ve enjoyed it and have been learning a lot. Currently I am in the middle of the 4th book, and it is only recently that Lancelot has finally joined the party. I’m sure there was a lot of work that went into this manuscript and it shows. Lots of knights and maidens, lots and lots of jousting and other knightly pursuits. Most of the stories (almost by chapter) would be fun to read to little children, but I would caution you to always read it ahead of time, to make sure it isn’t one of the more racier stories.

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Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided by Inkwater.