Like many others of my generation I came across Arthur and his knights in those simplified retellings with loads of coloured illustrations. Soon, however, I could see a mismatch between the knights in shining armour and his supposed location in the immediate post-Roman period: how did Roman soldiers morph virtually overnight into paragons of chivalry? In pursuit of this and similar conundrums I studied history at A-level, attended lectures by Barry Cunliffe at uni, got involved in digs at South Cadbury — a hillfort claimed as the original of Camelot — then a nearby Roman villa, followed by a long-running excavation at an early medieval church site in Wales.* I also edited an amateur journal on and off for nearly forty years exploring Arthurian history, archaeology, fiction and popular culture: Pendragon, the Journal of the Pendragon Society.
As a result I have over the years reviewed quite a few Arthurian titles, several of which will be added to in this blog. These Arthurian books range from historical and archaeological studies to counterfactual narratives, from literary commentaries to modern fiction, from personages to places and things.
This will be a good point to declare that I’m agnostic where ‘King Arthur’ is concerned. The conception of a Dark Age warlord that was prevalent and partly (but not universally) accepted in the sixties was one I subscribed to as a possibility then, but the more I study it (and I’ve been doing so for nearly 50 years) the more I’m inclined to suspect that the concept is a combination of historical fabrication, paucity of evidence and wishful thinking. That doesn’t make it any less fascinating as a process, which is my apology for continuing to pursue it!
* Schlesinger, A & Walls, C, with J Kissock, C Lovegrove, K Pollard and N Wright 1995, Excavations at Llanelen, Llanrhidian: an early church and medieval farmstead site, Gower, 46, 58-79.
Worthwhile non-fiction titles
Worth consulting, even if well over forty years old: The Quest for Arthur’s Britain
A seminal work: King Arthur’s Avalon
A reliable overview: King Arthur: Hero and Legend
Historical and archaeological background to an age in transition: Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity 300-800
Personal items in the Dark Ages: The End of the Western Roman Empire: an archaeological investigation
Literature and texts
Translation of key Arthurian texts: King Arthur in Legend and History
Translations of key texts of ‘mythstory’, including Arthuriana: Myths and Legends of the British Isles
A key medieval Arthurian poet: A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes
Interrogating the documentary evidence: Concepts of Arthur
A (nearly) complete compendium of Arthuriana: The New Arthurian Encyclopedia
User-friendly reference: The Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends
Literary and other texts listed: A Bibliography of Modern Arthuriana
Arthur’s Celtic origins in context: Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Armchair travelling: The Traveller’s Guide to Arthurian Britain
More armchair travelling: Arthur’s Britain: the Land and the Legend
The cult of Arthuriana in the Middle Ages: The Medieval Quest for Arthur
Material evidence for the medieval fascination with the legend: Edward III’s Round Table at Windsor
Victorian fascination with the legend: The Quest for the Grail
20th-century fascination with the legend: The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
An accessible introduction to Merlin: Merlin: the Prophet and his History
A Scottish Arthur: Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms
A North Walian Arthur: King Arthur: the True Story
A South Walian / Breton Arthur: Journey to Avalon: the Final Discovery of King Arthur
A West Country Arthur: King Arthur: the Truth behind the Legend
A Central Asian Arthur: Arthur, the Dragon King
A misguided interpretation of Arthur: The Age of Arthur