So this last weekend was not a very good weekend. I guess regular readers may have gleaned through the summer that I was doing a lot of running – in fact I was training for a marathon. This past weekend was the marathon, and I didn’t finish. It was the first time I have ever failed to complete a race that I started.
I guess I have some excuses. In the days prior to the race I got a sinus bug and spent several days totally inactive; I was still coughing and congested on race day. The night of the race I didn’t rest as I well as I would have liked. Partway through my IT band injury recurred and I knew I couldn’t do it; there was still at least 2 hours of running ahead of me and I knew it was impossible.
It made me think of Sir Thomas Malory.
No, wait, this will (may?) make sense in a moment. Sir Thomas Malory, if you don’t know him, is among other things the editor or compiler of Le Morte d’Arthur, the late medieval version of the King Arthur stories that most modern audiences are most likely to be familiar with. (The history of the Arthur tales is a long and complicated one that we are not getting into) Malory’s version of the story tends to de-emphasize the magical elements in the tales and play up those of chivalric honour.
It’s a little curious because Malory himself seems to have had a fairly checkered history; he was accused of being a bandit, a kidnapper, and a rapist, and although some or all of the charges against him may have been fabricated by political enemies, he certainly wrote Le Morte d’Arthur while in prison, waiting and hoping for a pardon. He also wrote during a chaotic and fairly unchivalric piece of English history; right smack in the middle of the Wars of the Roses, in which Malory also fought.
It’s a bit of a puzzle to find a tale extolling knightly virtues of upholding the law, respect for weakness, mercy and piety in such a setting and from such a man. Or is it? One interpretation that I read a long time ago (so long ago that to my immense regret I can’t recall whose ideas I am ripping off today) is that Malory knew perfectly well that he didn’t live up to the ideals of the Arthur stories, and nor did many/most of his contemporaries, but that it would be good, and praiseworthy, to try.
In other words, it’s good to try to be the ideal knight, to set that standard for yourself. You may not be able to do it because you’re not actually Galahad, who has among his many advantages that of being a fictional character. (Also, is Galahad any fun? He is not.) You may make mis-steps from time to time, do things you shouldn’t and have your failures. In that, Malory’s story tells us, among other things you are no different from Gawain and Lancelot and Arthur, who all try and fail to reach that chivalric ideal.
But they try, they commit themselves to something laudable and the attempt itself is praiseworthy. It is good to try to reach a goal, even if you don’t. It is good to demand things of ourselves, and push ourselves, and we can still be amazing characters even if we don’t quite get to the goal we were reaching for. Malory, this scholar argued, wanted his fellow English knights (and himself!) to try to be truly chivalric knights, even if they couldn’t actually do it all the time.
And here we get (finally) to the connection to my marathon. I trained very hard through the summer. I had some setbacks on race day, and I gave it all that I had on the day, and it was not enough. I’m trying very hard to listen to what I think is the lesson Malory wanted his 15th century buddies to take away from his Arthur stories. The effort is good in itself.
This, I think, applies to writers as well, thus the connection to this blog (beyond it being mine, of course). You may set writing goals for yourself that you don’t exactly reach. It’s ok. You may push yourself in various ways as an artist that and not be exactly able to achieve the result you were after. It’s all right. You’re writing, you’re trying, you’re getting better as an artist and as a person.
Our profoundly success-based and profit-based society wants to teach us to believe that anything short of total success is entirely worthless. I try very hard, perhaps especially so over the last few days, to remind myself that this isn’t really the case. There is merit in the attempt, in trying to better ourselves and overcome the challenges in our way. Sometimes we’ll succeed, sometimes we may fall short. We’re better for the trying, either way.
I’ll try to do better the next time.
After that happy note, a bunch of announcements!
I have gotten things sorted out on Goodreads so that if you want to leave a rating or review of The King in Darkness, you can do that there. I look forward to hearing what people think of the book, and there are a variety of ways we can interact there if you want.
We also have another Renaissance Press event coming up from October 3-4 at the Ottawa Geek Market and Capital Gaming Expo. Renaissance will be there all weekend with their full range of titles, and I will be there on Sunday (the 4th) if you want to say hello.
Also (!!!) the date is set for the Official Launch of the King in Darkness, on Sunday, October 25th. It’s going to be a huge event at which Renaissance will launch not one but 4 titles, and will also feature the launch of yet another great book by local author S.M. Carrière, with readings by all the authors (including me) and food and prizes and all manner of amazing stuff. I will post up more details closer to the date, but we are all very excited to have this event coming together. I’ll be very excited to see you there.