The/The Bull from the Sea King Must Die Critical Essays

Mary Renault

Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

It is generally conceded that Mary Renault’s first novel about Theseus is vastly superior to its sequel. While the plots of both novels are equally imaginative, The Bull from the Sea does not equal the aesthetic merit of The King Must Die either in terms of stylistic richness or in terms of character development. Especially fine is the section that depicts Theseus’ adventures on the island of Crete. This section may very well be the finest achievement of Renault’s entire literary oeuvre. There can, moreover, be no doubt that The King Must Die ranks, along with The Last of the Wine (1956) and The Mask of Apollo (1966), as one of Renault’s most important novels. The literary establishment has, on the whole, chosen to regard novels written about mythological or historical subjects with condescension; few critics, with the exception of Peter Wolfe and Bernard F. Dick, have seen fit to undertake a serious analysis of Renault’s career as a novelist. The reading public at large, however, has responded most positively to her writings, and there is every indication that The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea will continue to enjoy popularity among those lovers of mythology who take delight in twice-told tales.