You are here

What We're Reading: Rebecca Krug

Medievalist discovers King Arthur connections in contemporary memoir and fiction
December 10, 2015

A scholar of medieval literature, Associate Professor Rebecca Krug teaches courses such as The Story of King Arthur, Popular Literature in the Middle Ages, and Medieval Dream Visions.  Her forthcoming book, Margery Kempe and the Lonely Reader, and her previous monograph, Reading Families:  Women’s Literate Practice in Late Medieval England, both focus on the ways readers come to understand the world and themselves through the books they encounter. 

What are you reading, Professor Krug?

Cover of H Is for Hawk

I recently read Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Buried Giant within a week of one another. Macdonald’s novel is a memoir about raising a goshawk as a means to assuage the author’s grief following her father’s sudden death. As part of the experience of training the hawk, Macdonald revisits a book she had read as a girl, T. H. White’s The Goshawk, which is about White’s attempts to train a hawk (White is best known for his Arthurian novel The Once and Future King, which I teach in the Story of King Arthur course). Macdonald’s story of her personal experiences becomes wrapped up in her reading of The Goshawk. White’s hawks (they appear even in Once and Future King) and White himself become part of Macdonald’s understanding of her training of the goshawk, Mabel, and of her grief and near-madness. 

Like H is for Hawk, Ishiguro’s Buried Giant is about loss and also has ties to Arthurian literature. The central characters are a Briton couple, Beatrice and Axl, who go on a journey to visit their grown son. The world in which they live is under a (vaguely described) spell that makes it difficult for people to remember things (the parents, in fact, barely remember the son). As the book goes on, we discover that Axl had been one of King Arthur’s knights. Ishiguro mixes medieval elements into the narrative: Germanic warriors reminiscent of Beowulf, his own Sir Gawain (unlike the Middle English hero—although Ishiguro identifies the poem as one of his sources), and a dragon. The novel asks (largely unanswered) questions about the political value of remembering and forgetting but is, at least to me, most successful in its exploration of the possibility of love that transcends mistakes and hardship.