The Seeing Stone


I picked up the whole series of Kevin Crossley-Holland's Arthur books in the library book sale about ten years ago, and it was such a joy to revisit the first volume as part of my King Arthur Grand Tour 2023. In 100 short chapters -- sometimes only a page or two -- Crossley-Holland vividly conjures up two parallel worlds in The Seeing Stone: the medieval universe of aspiring squire Arthur, secure in the community of his father's castle and the surrounding lands; and the world he can see in the black mirror of a magical stone, the world of myth and legend, the legends of his namesake, King Arthur.

While there are elements that push the envelope of credulity (young Arthur writes reams of personal diary on what must surely be precious parchment!) I really appreciate the way Crossley-Holland succeeds in giving us a glimpse of the different philosophy of life in the year 1200 -- the absolute centrality of religious belief, the conviction that each person is born into a certain social station and has to stick to it (no helping Gatty with farmwork), the shocking harshness of life (Lankin's hand cut off for stealing, rapes, murders and teen pregnancies, the close presence of death) and also its communal joy and security (wassail at Christmas, the overwhelming beauty of nature).

I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with the two Arthurs, inside and outside the stone. I hope young people are reading these books, because they are gorgeous jewels of writing and story and history, but even if they aren't, at least I am!

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