The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur

Dedication page. Photo by Reilly Baysden.

Illustration. Photo by Reilly Baysden.

Text. Photo by Reilly Baysden.

Front cover. Photo by Reilly Baysden.

Illustration. Photo by Reilly Baysden.

Spine/Binding. Photo by Reilly Baysden.

While at the Special Collections visit, I looked through the book The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur, by Sir Thomas Mallory published in 1909. At first glance, the book caught my eye because of the unique color and intricate designs on the cover. The book is an olive-green color with gold markings resembling flowers on the front cover. There were no words written on the front, the only way to know the title and author of the book was by looking on the spine, where both were written in an interesting font. It was a very visually appealing book. The lack of words of the cover pique your interest, in a “what could this book possibly be about,” kind of way, as the gold flowers and markings on the cover give away nothing about the actual content of the book. The book was extremely large, both in length and width. The paper was thick considering the age of the book. Obviously, after a hundred years, the paper is going to wear down, but as with some books with different paper it becomes thin like parchment paper. This book’s paper, however, had not worn down completely. The edges were frayed, but the paper itself didn’t feel fragile. The binding did, though. The binding felt as though if I were to turn a page with even the slightest bit of force, it would come undone. The book smelled like one would expect it to smell: like old paper. There is a very distinct smell of new paper and new books versus old paper and old books. The layout of the book was interesting, unlike the layout of any other book I’ve ever seen. It started off with a list of illustrations used. All illustrations used were intricate drawings from artists from the same time period that depicted the birth, life, and acts of King Arthur, such as the achieving of the Sangtreal, and how King Arthur saw the questing beast. The images were interesting because obviously they are not the original works, they have been edited in a way to accommodate being in a book, but they were still extremely detail-oriented. Then, after the list of illustrations came the introduction, which was standard. Then, the author included a note on the text used. I thought this was interesting because most authors today will include an author’s note, and I didn’t realize that authors from this time period did it as well. After the author’s note came the publisher’s preface, introduction, and table of contents. Finally, after all that, came the actual stories. I thought it was interesting how all the extra parts at the beginning were included, since things like the list of illustrations and all of the publisher’s pieces aren’t usually included in books today. The typography varied throughout the book; titles and subtitles were a typical Blackletter typeface, but the font used for the actual stories was more common in today’s books, more similar to a Serif typeface. There was one specific page that caught my eye because of the layout of the page. There was text on the page, as well as a small illustration. The illustration was located in the center of the page, with text above it and below it. From top to bottom above the illustration, the lines of text decreased in length until the line above the illustration was the same length as the illustration itself. The text below the illustration did the exact opposite, it went from top to bottom increasing in length, with the shortest line of text directly below the illustration and the longest at the very bottom of the page. This caught my eye because I have never seen a page of text laid out like that in a book, I thought it was very interesting and fun to look at.

This book is in the collection because it is an original copy with detailed artwork and intricate cover. The book is important to the collection because of the history that is described in it. King Arthur lived a dramatic life, making history at a time where keeping a record of history was difficult. The fact that we have access to this book at all is important in and of itself. The primary author, Sir Thomas Malory, was a well-known English author in the fifteenth century; he wrote many books about King Arthur, including Le Morte d’Arthur or The Death of Arthur. The other authors, Aubrey Beardsley and Sir John Rhys, did not contribute to the original book; they added their parts later, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The artwork in this book plays a major role in the importance of it. There are many detailed drawings by many incredibly talented artists from over the course of ten centuries, from the time King Arthur lived to the point where Sir Thomas Malory wrote this book. The artwork includes pieces depicting King Arthur and The Strange Mantle, and How King Arthur Saw the Questing Beast and Thereof Had a Great Marvel. This book explains the history of how King Arthur led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders. This is important to British history, to European history, and even world history as well. Besides global history, it also is relevant to art history, with all the illustrations from early centuries. In addition to the history of the content of the book, it could also be used to show the history of printing. It was published in the late fifteenth century, just years after the printing press was invented. Therefore, it was one of the first books published to be printed. This book was also one of the first books published to depict King Arthur’s life and adventures. It was the beginning of an era of tales and stories written about the great King Arthur.