A commendable compendium

King Arthur by Julia Margaret Cameron
Nineteenth-century photographic study for a portrait of King Arthur, by Julia Margaret Cameron

The New Arthurian Encyclopedia
Edited by Norris J Lacy et al
Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 1996

With the publication of The Arthurian Encyclopedia in 1986 students were able to access, in one volume, academic discussion on a range of Arthurian topics — art, history, literature, fiction, drama, music and cinema for example — across space and time, all listed in alphabetical order. In 1991 an updated hardback edition was published as — naturally — The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, followed by a paperback edition in 1996 which was itself supplemented by an addendum detailing video games and new fiction that had appeared in the intervening years.

Anybody remotely interested in Arthurian matters should own or at least have regular access to this last volume, despite a desperate need for it to be updated yet again some two decades on from its last publication. With its multiplicity of contributors the Encyclopedia is authoritiative and wide-ranging, from book-length entries covering Arthurian literature in most European languages to short descriptions of minor authors of Arthurian-related fiction, from films to computer games (though many of these will be positively antediluvian by now) and from two- and three-dimensional artwork to drama on both stage and screen. All entries are credited to one or more named contributors and many include a select bibliography. Packed into over 600 pages is a preface and lists of the hundred-plus contributors, entries by category and illustrations, followed by a bibliography and a chronology (up to 1990) before we even get to the encyclopedia proper, index and supplement (1990-1995). From Accolon of Gaul to Roger Zelazny and El Libro del Cabellero Zifar we are led through a bewildering array of Arthurian-inspired themes and obsessions, some very tenuous and others central to any consideration of our hero.

While largely dominated by North American contributors there is a broad field of interpretation, and in only a few ways is the scholarly material dated: this is mostly in the historical field where, for example, the Sarmatian and Riothamus origin theories are given approval (by being accorded serious discussion) despite the flaws inherent in any speculative reconstruction of Arthurian identity and chronology. That said, these are small niggles given the value of this compendium of Arthuriana; it has a pride of place on my shelves, and I heartily recommend it to any enthusiast.

But if a new edition of The New Arthurian Encyclopedia is ever planned, what would they call it?

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4 thoughts on “A commendable compendium

    1. I was thinking more along the lines of The All-New Arthurian Encyclopedia or New Millennium Arthurian Encyclopedia or Son of New Arthurian Encyclopedia Rides Again. Or it could be sponsored: The King Arthur Flour New Arthurian Encyclopedia (it calls itself “America’s oldest flour company”, presumably dating from the Dark Ages).

      On second thoughts, perhaps an added-s plural would indeed be best.

    1. On a long-term archaeological dig I was involved in the Gower peninsula in Wales we excavated a couple of Dark Age rotary quern stones used for grinding grain by hand. This gave me the chance to headline a short report on them in a journal as ‘Gower Flour Power’.

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