Why has "Le Morte D"Arthur" by Sir Thomas Malory become one of the greatest romances of the period?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For ages, the attraction of Sir Thomas Malory's work, "La Morte d'Arthur," has been upon the text itself with its Romantic ideals: courtly love, the adventurous search for the Holy Grail, chivalry and its honor and virtue, valor and devotion, a magician, spirits, and sinister arch enemies along with magical occurrences and even humor.  Its components are absolutely delightful and captivate readers; it has been an inspiration to great writers, as well.  For instance, Edmund Spenser modeled The Faerie Queene after Malory's work as did Alfred Lord Tennyson with his great work, The Idylls of the King.

In modern times, of course, the legend of King Arthur has influenced the film industry and contemporary writers, to be sure. Movies such as Excalibur and Arthur have enjoyed much popularity.  Even the Harry Potter books demonstrate the influence of the Arthurian legends as Harry has an owl much like Arthur's Archimedes.

Malory's work differs from others written about King Arthur because it was published in English, the first major work of prose fiction.  Malory gave life to his characters such as Lancelot, Guinevere, Sir Gawain.  These are personages with prescient and captivating personalities.  There are loyal, jealous, courtly, steadfast--admirable in many ways.  And, yet, while Malory's work is ideal and romantic, it is also rather dark, presaging that kingdoms can doom themselves.  That the "protector king" is not a reality is expressed as Arthur is rowed to Avalon.  Bedwere cries out to him in anguish,

'...what shall becom of me, now ye go frome me and leve me here alone amonge myne enemies?'

The king replies that Bedwere must take care of himself, for

'...in me ys no truste for to truste in.'

As in all great works, "La Morte d'Arthur" also has universal, timeless themes.  This quality, too, adds to its appeal.