The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

First edition
(publ. Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976) is John Steinbeck's retelling of the Arthurian legend, based on the Winchester Manuscript text of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.[1] He began his adaptation in November 1956. Steinbeck had long been a lover of the Arthurian legends. The introduction to his translation contains an anecdote about him reading them as a young boy.[2] His enthusiasm for Arthur and his affinity for Anglo-Saxon language are apparent in the work. The book was left unfinished at his death, and ends with the death of chivalry in Arthur's purest knight, Lancelot of the Lake.[3]

Steinbeck took a "living approach" to the retelling of Malory's work. He followed Malory's structure and retained the original chapter titles, but he explored the psychological underpinning of the events, and tuned the use of language to sound natural and accessible to a Modern English speaker:[4]

Malory wrote the stories for and to his time. Any man hearing him knew every word and every reference. There was nothing obscure, he wrote the clear and common speech of his time and country. But that has changed—the words and references are no longer common property, for a new language has come into being. Malory did not write the stories. He simply wrote them for his time and his time understood them... And with that, almost by enchantment the words began to flow.[5]

Based on Steinbeck's letters collected in the Appendix at the end of the volume, he appears to have worked on the book intensely from about November 1956 through late 1959, but after that never returned to the work.[6]


  1. John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, ed. Chase Horton (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976), Introduction by John Steinbeck, pp. xiii–xiv; see also Appendix, letter dated July 7, 1958, p. 318.
  2. Id., p. xi.
  3. Id., Chase Horton, Appendix, p. 296.
  4. Id., Appendix, letter dated July 7, 1958, p. 318.
  5. Id., Appendix, letter dated March 27, 1959, p. 330.
  6. Id., Appendix, pp. 297, 362–64, and note by Chase Horton, p. 296.

Further reading

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