The Accursed King

The Accursed King

Okay, The Accursed King is not the name of a book. If it is, it’s not the one I’m reviewing. I have another duel post today, and first I’d like to talk about The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates.

The Accursed cover
The Accursed cover

“A major historical novel from ‘one of the great artistic forces of our time’: an eerie, unforgettable story of possession, power, and loss in early 20th-century Princeton, a cultural crossroads of the powerful and the damned.”

This novel was very interesting. I did not understand its format, at first, and an apparent “historical” quote about a Curse in Princeton, NJ near the turn of the 20th Century confused me. This quote is, of course, part of the novel and made by a fictitious character. But it was intriguing for the author to introduce a fictional character in a place where most novelists put relevant, real quotes by real authors.

This blending of history and fiction sets the trend for the entire novel. Many of the chapters are actually diary entries or memories of characters. Interspersed with fictional names are some very recognizable real ones: Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and more. It made the story interesting, to read about these historical figures and the supernatural events that only happened to them in this novel.

This is the first novel by JCO that I had ever read. I really enjoyed her style. It’s eloquent, detailed, and, at least in this novel, satirical of the upper class (always a favorite of mine). This novel was also just creepy enough to keep me guessing and just a little afraid, but not so creepy as to keep me up at night. I believe I read this one around Halloween, and it was the perfect read for that time of year! I’d really recommend this novel.

The Once and Future King
The Once and Future King

“T.H. White’s masterful retelling of the saga of King Arthur is a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance, and magic that has enchanted readers for generations.”

The above blurb is not really sufficient to describe what this novel encompasses. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It is a masterful work that imagines the life of King Arthur from beginning to end. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Sword In the Stone” you will recognize the first book of this novel (it’s divided into four books; you can also buy the first book as a separate volume).

I wrote a paper on this novel in college and actually had it published in our literary journal. I am a big fan of Arthurian literature and legend, and what really speaks to me about this novel every time I read it is the way it links identities formed by events in childhood to their contributions to the story in adulthood. It very clearly connects issues with self-confidence or emotional control in Lancelot, Gawaine, or other popular characters directly to their actions as adults and the ways in which they contribute to the downfall of Arthur’s kingdom.

But this is English-major-nerd speak. Why should someone who isn’t examining every word of this book for connections read it? First, it’s funny. White wrote it decades ago, but the quirky, whip-smart humor holds up. I often find myself laughing out loud and trying to explain to the people around me what’s so funny, but no one understands. What I really need is for someone to also read this novel, love it as much as me, and then talk about it with me all the time.

It’s also an emotionally manipulative masterpiece. I’m not sure how White manages to make me laugh while I’m also crying, but he does it more than once. He makes me grit my teeth and wring my hands and completely stress about what is going to happen. He makes you love even the worst of the characters (with one notable exception) and wish more than anything that they would stop digging their own graves.

I daresay Arthur’s story is one of the greatest legends of all time. It has endured more lastingly than any other, I think, and this novel is a beautiful tribute and contribution to the canon. T. H. White’s interpretation of the legend is my favorite out of all the texts I’ve read (Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon comes pretty close, too). Even if it doesn’t become your favorite interpretation, I highly recommend you read this novel.