Modern Arthuriana: a bibliography

Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society
Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society

Ann F Howey and Stephen R Reimer editors
A Bibliography of Modern Arthuriana (1500-2000)
D S Brewer 2006

What is Arthuriana? The authors choose to define it as “the Arthurian legend in modern English-language fiction”, and include such manifestations as literary (but not non-fictional) texts, audio-visual media (film, television, radio, audio-books) and aspects of popular culture such as graphic novels and games. Aimed at students (the general public as well as scholars), collectors and librarians, this compilation is ideal both as a reference work and as a treasure chest to dip into.

Six sections (prefixed by the letters A to F) list works under authors, performers or titles, as appropriate. The listings (literature; comics and graphic novels; film, TV and radio; music; games; fine art and graphic design) are supplemented by an index and a catalogue of Arthurian characters and themes; for most of the entries there are annotations after the publishing details, some terse, others more extended. The whole is a massive and impressive undertaking by these Canadian academics from the English Department of the University of Alberta, and is one that bears comparison with Philip Boardman and Dan Nastali’s The Arthurian Annals (OUP 2004, though the latter does cover a longer time span, and in two volumes). Such works need not be just the preserve of specialists — though at the advertised price sadly that is the target market — nor appeal only to completists.

Inevitably, with such a vast compendium, one or two errors appear — from personal knowledge for example I find that Jess Foster, correctly noted as founder of the British group the Pendragon Society, has mysteriously changed her gender; and under Canadian poet John Badger it is mistakenly stated that “Pendragon House is the publishing arm of the Pendragon Society” — it was not — and “claims to have been the instigator of the 1968 archaeological dig at Cadbury Castle” and thus responsible for “finding Camelot” — also incorrect. Even distinguished academics will occasionally come a cropper, especially when they have to partly rely on secondary sources and speedy surmise to fill a reference work of over 800 pages.

1843840685_01__SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Such quibbles aside, the preserve of those directly involved with such matters, specialist Arthurians will find this an invaluable research tool. I was kindly sent this copy for review by the publishers in an unbound format, highly awkward to handle; but with a price tag of £125/$250 as a long-term Arthurian enthusiast I’m just very grateful to be able to consult such a detailed and valuable resource. It’s also satisfying to discover that in the course of half a century I’ve come to know or correspond with a substantial number of individuals named as authors or artists in these pages.

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16 thoughts on “Modern Arthuriana: a bibliography

  1. While I applaud the work that must have gone into cataloging Arthurian lit, I have to wonder why the authors picked 1500-2000 and titled them modern? As more and more Arthurian lit is produced this expensive book is going to become outdated and not at all modern. A better title may be, A reference guide to Arthurian literature 1500-2000.

    1. I suppose we’re so used to ‘modern’ meaning up-to-date or very recent that its use in another temporal context seems wrong somehow, Sari. My guess is that the authors had in mind its use as an academic historical term.

      ‘Classical’ defines the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans, while the era of the ‘Middle Ages’ which covers a thousand years and stretches from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance. What then is the medieval period in the middle of? Why, of course, it spans the years from Classical period to the Modern Era, with Late Antiquity and the Renaissance as the interfaces.

      A little arbitrarily, the Early Modern period is often said to run from 1500 to 1750 (sometimes the Fall of Constantinople and the French Revolution are given as convenient events for dating); the ‘later modern’ period therefore runs to the present. This then, I presume, is the authors’ justification for their Bibliography listing ‘modern’ Arthuriana as being from 1500 to a convenient cut-off date of 2000. (Hmm, I suppose that this therefore makes Shakespeare an Early Modern author. What do you think of that notion, Sari?)

      I don’t expect the authors intend to stick around to update their modern bibliography for the 21st century and beyond, so perhaps any future revisions will have to call it a ‘Postmodern’ Bibliography. But I somehow don’t think that’s what most commentators mean by ‘postmodern’!

      1. I do get that. And considered the meaning when I contemplated the title. I just feel the use of the word modern when applied to literature has a different connotation than when we talk about historical eras.
        As far as Shakespeare goes, his work is timeless.

        1. Maybe (because of the publisher’s price tag) the authors stuck to the Modern label because they really were addressing this to other academics and not the general public. Even though it can be also appreciated by non-academic but enthusiastic amateurs.

          And I agree that Shakespeare is timeless, and needs no label(s).

          1. I was not offended Chris. It takes a lot to offend me. Besides, I have no problem admitting my depth compared to yours, is at the shallow end of the pool. I enjoy learning from you.

  2. Did you give them the benefit of your edits?
    It seems amazing that such volumes of writings have come from legends which are high on romanticism but rather lacking in common sense.

    1. Yes, the publishers saw my review at the time but I doubt whether they were able to incorporate corrections as, given its price and limited market, there wasn’t much likelihood of a reprint (nor any time soon, I expect).

      It is extraordinary, isn’t it. There’s always a market for high fantasy, whether ancient or modern, and psychologists and psychiatrists have plenty of theories as to why romanticism and magic and fairytales have a universal appeal.

      You of course know where the word ‘romance’ comes from — these medieval tales were originally set down in Latin-derived Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian), hence called romances. High on emotion and almost surreal happenings (as you say, ‘rather lacking in common sense’) romances were particularly popular in the period named for them but nowadays tend to just be limited to sentimental tales of attraction.

      The French however still call novels by the generic term romans. But then you knew all that.

      1. I didn’t know the French bit.
        I suppose, thinking about it, that fantasies like LOTR have all had some basis in those tales. The lady-loves may no longer be ivory-tower types, and indeed many paritipate, but the classic theme of a quest objective does remain. Generally with more rationale than the Grail offered. I have, in fact, based most of my novels and all of my longer compositions, on the idea of setting out on a quest adventure.

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