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Barbara Ferry Johnson

Lionors: King Arthur's Uncrowned Queen
Avon, 1975


Lionors has been out of print for a long time, but if you can ever find the book anywhere, it is definitely worth reading. The premise of the book comes from an obscure line in Malory's Le Morte D'arthur: "So in the meanwhile there came a damosel that was an earl's daughter; his name was Sanam, and her name was Lionors, a passing fair damosel; and so she came thither for to do homage, as other lords did after the great battle. And King Arthur set his love greatly upon her, and so did she upon him, and the king had ado with her, and gat on her a child . . . " Johnson takes the implications of this passage and skillfully follows them to their conclusions in a historical setting with the more familiar Arthurian legends as the backdrop. The result is a magnificent love story that is an absolute delight to read. Johnson never gives a precise date for her story, but sub-Roman Britain is the assumption. Lionors, who narrates the story, repeatedly refers to her father's Roman ways and the Roman customs that he passed on to her. Christianity has a fairly firm grip on Lionors's world, but monasteries, nunneries and the like are still fairly new. Lionors herself is essentially a Christian, but she has the Roman attitude toward religion. She finds herself in the awkward position of being privately betrothed to Arthur but then forced to step aside when it becomes politically expedient for Arthur to marry Guinevere. When Guinevere takes Lancelot as a lover, that opens the way for Arthur to resume his marriage--still in secret--with Lionors. Johnson sets up a marvellous poignant point/counterpoint that results between the tales of the pairs of lovers. Also, the child Lionors bears the king gives him as much joy as Mordred does heartache. Johnson keeps the history to the mundane level for the most part, paying attention to the details of buildings, every day items such as mirrors and combs, baths and the like. The larger movements of history appear only subtlely in the work, with the stories from the legend--generally with scientific or rationalized explanations behind them--taking precedence. For instance, Arthur tells Lionors in detail about how Merlin made the trick of the "Sword in the Stone" work. Merlin himself is presented as the man with, to paraphrase Asimov, the significantly advanced technology that is perceived as magic by those around him. I first read Lionors almost a quarter of a century ago, and I still love it as much as I did then. Johnson's writing is vivid, and her images will stick with you long after you finish the book. This is a definite "must read" if you are ever lucky enough to get the chance. - Linda A. Malcor 10/99

- Linda A. Malcor, 12/2/2005

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