Molly Cochran & Warren Murphy,
The Forever King
(Tor, 1992)

Hal Woczniak is a washed up ex-FBI agent, haunted by visions of the boy he could not save and well on his way to drinking himself to death, when he stops to help a strange old Englishman on his way to a gameshow. When the odd Mr. Taliesin suddenly remembers an appointment elsewhere, Hal finds himself with the gameshow ticket as payment for his kindness. Although he attends the show merely for the free lunch, Hal suddenly becomes a contestant, and finds himself answering questions he shouldn't know. Before he can say "King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table," he's on his way to England, having won an all-expenses-paid trip for two.

Arthur Blessing is a normal 10-year-old boy -- other than being an orphan and living with his Aunt Emily, who could give your average Vulcan a run for his money in the unemotional department -- until he finds the strange metal cup. Holding it makes him feel inexplicably good and it quickly becomes one of his chief treasures, joining his boyish collection of rocks and insect shells on a shelf over his bed. When the local paper runs a story on how young Arthur has inherited an English castle from his unknown father, the accompanying photo shows Arthur, the lawyer's letter -- and the cup.

Saladin, also known as Mr. X, is an inmate at the Towers, a facility for the dangerously insane, in the English countryside. What only a select few know is that Saladin is not centuries, but millenia old. He stole the cup in his youth, then lost it, and he wants it back. And now he knows where it is.

In England, near the village of Wilson-on-Hamble, are the ruins of an ancient English castle rumored to have been Camelot. It is said that on St. John's Eve, the Knights of the Round Table can be heard riding once more from the apparition of the ghostly castle. It is to Wilson-on-Hamble that Hal, Arthur and his Aunt Emily come, arriving just days before the ghostly knights are supposed to ride.

It does not take much guessing to figure out that Arthur is the Once and Future King reincarnated; besides, the book's cover blurb basically says so. The mysterious cup, is, of course, the Holy Grail, and though it was certainly used by Christ at the Last Supper, it is far older than that. Taliesin, of course, is Merlin. And who is Hal? Hal, who was so obsessed by things Arthurian in his youth that he studied medieval British history in college? Well, I'm going to let you figure it out, but let's just say that he is once more destined to champion the King.

In The Forever King, the authors give the Arthurian legends a whole new twist by introducing the character of Saladin into the legend and by examining the "future" part of the "once and future king." They also put a new spin on the Holy Grail. It is interesting to note that one of the most important -- or at least, most emphasized -- pieces of the whole Arthurian legend, the love triangle of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, is here mentioned only in passing. Guinevere does not even appear onstage. In fact, most of the normal aspects of the Arthurian legend play little part here. What is important to this story is the Grail and the byplay between Merlin and Saladin, and how kindness led to betrayal and theft.

The book is presented much like a thriller, rather than a typical fantasy or even urban fantasy. Divided into three sections, the viewpoint character changes often, and a great deal of the action occurs in flashbacks -- especially Saladin's history and that of the Grail and how both came to Camelot.

How Arthur comes into his own, what happens to the Grail and how Hal overcomes his demons all lead to a satisfying conclusion. Fans of the musical Camelot will also recognize the reference to the musical in the final scene.

The Forever King is a different and exciting version of the Arthurian legends and I highly recommend finding a copy.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 3 November 2001

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