I Am Mordred: A short sad novel

Nancy Springer Tales of Camelot: 1. I Am Mordred 2. I am Morgan le FayI am Mordred by Nancy SpringerI Am Mordred by Nancy Springer

Almost all the modern stories derived from Arthurian legends focus on King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Merlin. Why does Mordred, the man who eventually brings down the whole shebang, get such short shrift? There’s plenty of source material, most notably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Maybe it’s that Mordred isn’t very romantic. Or maybe we just don’t like reading about people who are hard to root for.

In her novel I Am Mordred, Nancy Springer flips the legend, brings the traitorous Mordred to tragic life, and makes him easy to sympathize with. When we meet Mordred he’s a happy child being raised in a loving home by hard-working fisherfolk. His life changes when he’s discovered and taken away. Now he lives with a cold mother, a heavy burden (Merlin has publicly prophesied that Mordred will kill King Arthur) and a huge helping of guilt (King Arthur killed all the babies in the realm when he found out about Mordred’s birth).

But Mordred doesn’t want to kill anybody. He’s a sensitive child who just wants to be loved and accepted by his scheming mother and the kind father who refuses to acknowledge him as son. Can Mordred find love? Can he defy his fate, or is he destined to fulfill it?

I Am Mordred is a short sad novel with a sympathetic anti-hero. Nancy Springer’s prose is pretty and she brings a little piece of Arthurian Legend to life as Mordred gives his candid impressions of Arthur, Morgause, Morgan Le Fay, and others. In addition Springer explores such subjects as the nature of family, love, loneliness, original sin, self-determinism, fate and free will, honor, shame and guilt, and the function of the soul.

I Am Mordred is marketed to children aged 10 and up. As far as children’s literature goes, the tale is rather somber and dark, dealing with incest, adultery, murder, and death, but it’s tastefully done and none of it is graphic or glorifying. Nancy Springer succeeds in illustrating the lesson that we should always try to look at events from other people’s perspectives. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend I Am Mordred to children, but keep in mind that it’s dark and sad. Springer doesn’t change the legendary ending.

I listened to Steven Crossley narrate Recorded Book’s version of I Am Mordred. I enjoyed this production.

Young adult. Publisher: Mordred, son of King Arthur, is fated to kill his father and King. To reduce the threat he is sent adrift at sea. The infant survives, and when of age travels to Camelot. But the King cannot recognize his son and so Mordred tries to change his fate. Despite noble intent, this ends in tragedy.

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

View all posts by Kat Hooper

One comment

  1. I was thinking, “Well, we usually don’t like people who kill their dads,” but then I finished the review. This sounds like a pretty sensitive book. I do wonder about the Arthur-as-King-Herod bit there.

    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Kat. Even though it’s young adult I might read it.

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