Derek Brewer and Ernest Frankl
Arthur’s Britain: the Land and the Legend
Guild Publishing 1986 (1985)
This illustrated gazetteer has an authoritative introductory essay by the late Derek Brewer, a distinguished academic and publisher who died in 2008. The illustrations which accompany the introduction all come from late medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and show how their techniques and purposes changed from the fourteenth to the fifteenth centuries. The photographs in the gazetteer proper are by Ernest Frankl, with accompanying maps drawn by Carmen Frankl; I’m guessing that both Ernest and Carmen have since passed away as Trinity Hall Cambridge has an Ernest and Carmen Frankl Memorial Fund to cover travel for educational purposes.
Part of a series of souvenir guidebooks by Pevensey Press, Arthur’s Britain consists of about seventy photographs of Arthurian sites with expert commentary. Some of the sites are not found in other such Arthurian guidebooks — for example Wandlebury Ring (perhaps Malory’s “Wandesborow Castle”) and Papworth St Agnes (the abode of a candidate for identification as the Thomas Malory) both figure I suspect because of the Cambridge associations of the book’s producers and publishers. Some of the pictures are superfluous (the reredos and wall-paintings in Winchester Cathedral) or dubious (Arthur’s Bridge over the River Alham), and while some of the photos are magnificent (Richmond Castle, Stonehenge, Trethevy Quoit) others are nondescript (Drumelzier, Camboglanna), a few are pure calendar fodder (Caergai, Loch Lomond) and a number I find technically poor (River Nyfer, Looe Pool). In fact, Cornwall in particular seems mostly to have been photographed during one of the poor summers of the early eighties.
Such criticisms aside, the book lives up to its promise to look at “the land and the legend” without necessarily being exhaustive. One gets the impression of the legend being a living tradition, not as a relic set in amber. It’s just a shame that this hardback, with pretensions to being a coffee table book, is printed on poor quality paper and with photographs looking a little washed out.
So, this Cambridgeshire publication is a bit of a curate’s egg. However, what more suitable establishment to sing Arthur’s praises than Cambridge whose university in the 15th century, “since Oxford University claimed to have been founded by King Alfred, asserted that its own founder was the even more ancient and glorious Arthur”.
Review first published 1986, here substantially revised