Wednesday, 9 January 2002

Mary Stewart: The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)

Edition: Coronet, 1996
Review number: 1030

When I first read this novel, quite soon after it was published, I thought it was the poorest that Stewart had written. On re-reading it, I have modified my opinion, and new feel that it is not actually too bad, even if not among her best.

The story is an adaptation from the tale of Alisander le Orphelin and Alice la Beale Pilgrim from the Morte d'Arthur, shorn of the late-medieval knight errantry so that it can be fitted into the sixth century setting of Stewart's Arthurian novels. Alisander is the great-nephew of King March of Cornwall (better known as Mark), whose father was killed when Alisander was a baby because of the king's jealousy of the popularity of his heir; the baby and his mother were able to escape. (This is why Alisander is "le Orphelin"; the orphan, or in modern usage, fatherless.)

The parallel story of Alice "the beautiful pilgrim" is of the daughter of a man who has vowed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem every third year - no easy promise at the time - and who takes his young daughter. Stewart has enlivened the minimal details in Malory by involving them with one of the racier stories from the history of the Franks.

Having already covered the major events of the Arthurian myth in her earlier books (with the exception of the Grail story, which she has excluded explicitly), Stewart has chosen to adapt one of its minor episodes in this novel. It doesn't have the psychological depth of the main stories, and therefore isn't as deep a foundation for character. By writing a romance rather than a thriller - most of Stewart's novels lying somewhere on the border of these two genres - The Prince and the Pilgrim is less exciting too.

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