Nancy Springer,
I am Mordred:
A Tale from Camelot

(Philomel, 1999;
Firebird, 2002)

I am Mordred begins with a grim, uncompromising prologue, wherein a young King Arthur sends forty male infants to their deaths in a coracle pushed out to sea. One of the babies -- he doesn't know which -- is his son Mordred, fated to be the one to kill Arthur.

But Mordred survives, rescued and raised with love and care by a fisherman and his wife. He is happy until the day a fine lady comes to claim him; she is the sorceress Nyneve who takes him to be fostered by King Lothe. Mordred remains there for five years, and at the age of 15, makes his way to Camelot where he eventually becomes one of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. He longs secretly for Arthur to recognize him as his son.

He knows that Arthur cannot do this: Mordred is the result of the union between Arthur and his half sister Mogan le Fay, and it would be unacceptable to acknowledge this. It is, in fact, the circumstances of his birth which dictate that Mordred will kill his father, another reason why he cannot take his place as Arthur's son.

As the father and son struggle to define their relationship in a way that will at least partially satisfy each other, the events at Camelot seem to swirl around them, made real by Springer's direct and personal writing style. Her knights and ladies are not romantic constructs but men and women with authentic emotions, conflicts, and responses. Gawain is particularly well drawn.

Mordred struggles with his conflicting emotions throughout the book; he longs for his father to acknowledge him publicly yet loathes Arthur both for cursing him by creating him and for attempting to murder Mordred as an infant -- not to mention succeeding in the slaughter of 39 innocent infants. His sorrow cuts deeply. There can be no happy resolution. Yet Springer never allows the narrative to become dreary. Her clear and evocative writing brings Mordred alive as a completely believable and sympathetic character.

The dark tone of the book prohibits much in the way of levity, but Springer compensates by maintaining the pace of the novel. Mordred may despair, but he does not wallow, and his reactions and responses ring true. Springer takes the legends and makes them her own, retelling the story with integrity.

Springer won the 1999 Carolyn W. Field Award for I am Mordred. The award is presented by the Youth Services Division of the Pennsylvania Library Association to an outstanding Pennsylvania author or illustrator, and Springer and I am Mordred are well deserving of the recognition.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

[ visit Nancy Springer's website ]

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