The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend by Alan Lupack. Oxford University Press, 2007.
In the late sixties studying the significance of the Arthurian legends become surprisingly mainstream both in academic circles and in popular culture, spawning a library fit for a modern-day Tower of Babel. Alan Lupack’s Guide is the kind of vademecum that many students like me yearned for in those early days.
This massive survey (nearly 500 pages in the 2007 paperback edition) aims to introduce the general reader to a study of the Arthurian legends.
As well as a general bibliography of basic resources for such a study, each of its seven chapters concludes with its own more detailed bibliography. These seven chapters deal with historical approaches to Arthur from early literature through to historical novels, followed by the romance tradition inaugurated by Chrétien de Troyes. Then come specified chapters on Malory, the Holy Grail, Gawain, Merlin and, last but not least, Tristan and Isolt. As well as an indispensable index, the author includes a cross-referencing dictionary of Arthurian people, places and things, ranging from Accolon to Yvain.
King Arthur: Hero and Legend, by Richard Barber Boydell Press, 2004.
Richard Barber’s classic Arthurian study was deservedly dusted off and re-issued to coincide with the film of the same name (the very curious King Arthur, starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley), though there was absolutely no other connection between the two other than the title.
Its first appearance in 1961 (as Arthur of Albion), despite being presented to a middle-brow audience, by its style betrayed its origins in academic research; it still occasionally appears on second-hand bookshop shelves. Next, King Arthur in Legend and History appeared in the 70s during a boom in larger format non-fiction paperbacks; unfortunately the glued binding was poor quality and all the colour plates in my copy fell out.
The present revised and extended reincarnation is substantially the same as that which appeared in both hardback and paperback in the 80s and 90s, and this time the plates stay put and the format is more friendly.
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.
Article first published in Pendragon, the Journal of the Pendragon Society XVI No 3 (1983), and here slightly revised and expanded
Several Pendragon Society members over the past year [1982-3] brought to our attention news of two South Wales historians who have claimed to have discovered the grave of Arthur.
So I wrote to Alan Wilson and Anthony Blackett of Penylan, Cardiff to get more details than those provided by press cuttings. A correspondence was begun in August and continued till November 1983.
They have clearly completed a lot of research over a decade, investing much of their savings, and some of it appears in books they have themselves published. One (Arthur the War King) is a novel, but three are factual: King Arthur King of Glamorgan & Gwent, which I have seen, is the first; King Arthur and the Charters of the Kings is the second (though, according to Charles Evans-Günther, most of this is an uncredited copy of Rev W J Rees’ edition of Liber Landavensis, the Book of Llandaf). Finally, King Arthur’s Invisible Kingdom may already have been printed by the time this magazine is published.¹
Slap-bang in the the middle of the silly season in 1998 Tintagel became a focus of interest with news of its so-called ‘Arthur Stone’. As the dust settled it became time to see what the fuss was about, examine its significance and assess the reaction.
A team from the Archaeology Department of Glasgow University, led by Professor Christopher Morris, had been re-evaluating Ralegh Radford’s pre-war excavations at Tintagel Island, Cornwall; the project was commissioned by English Heritage who are guardians of the site, itself owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.
Radford’s Site C is a terrace situated between the sea and the main plateau, on the north-eastern side of the promontory. On a nearby terrace Morris’ team had already discovered occupation from the late Roman to the 7th century, with evidence of cremation and sherds of imported East Mediterranean ware. Undisturbed, under Radford’s Site C, were further deposits, including drains running around the southwest corner. Re-used as a cover to the later of two drains was a piece of slate.
If the Morte d’Arthur was ever played on the Victorian stage we all know at whom we would have hissed. If Judas is the villain of the New Testament, who betrays his lord and causes the break-up of the fellowship of the Last Supper, then Mordred is clearly the villain in Malory who betrays his lord and causes the break-up of the fellowship of the Round Table. if Judas dies on a tree like his lord, Mordred dies by the sword like his lord too.
Let’s take a closer look at this well-known rotter! He’s the nephew of King Arthur, some say his illegitimate son; he covets the throne and the power. The picture drawn by Malory [in Book One of the Winchester manuscript] seems to be borne out by the earlier Welsh Triads in which Medrawd came to Arthur’s court at Celliwig in Cornwall: there he ‘left neither food nor drink but, worst of all, dragged Gwenhwyfar from the royal chair and struck her a blow’. This was one of the Three Unrestrained Ravagings of Britain; the second was when Arthur did tit-for-tat at Medrawd’s court.
If Mordred is black through and through he strangely reminds us of another Dark Age figure who is traditionally associated with black. This one too has claims on the throne, plots against the king through what he regards as the queen’s infidelity and would strike the queen (through someone does try to restrain him). He too is a prince, a nephew of a king, but also a king’s son; and he kills, and is killed by, the king. If this too sounds like melodrama, it is; it’s part of the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But the difference is this: Hamlet is the hero, but Mordred the villain.
One might raise objections, of course. The blood relationships, though ambiguously described above, are different. Hamlet was possibly an historical Danish prince called Amleth, Mordred [Medraut in the earliest form of the name] a character in British legend. Moreover, history is full of royal intrigues, and to say that Mordred is like Hamlet in this respect is not a very profound conclusion. In other words, the differences are greater than the superficial similarities.
Amateur historians often like to take traditional tales of semi- or pseudohistorical figures as sources for the details of their heroes’ biographies.
This is especially the case with King Arthur where legendary and folkloric tales are presented as evidence for this or that campaign or as proof that Arthur should be identified with a known historical personage.
In this essay I want to suggest that the exploits of legendary heroes in other contexts parallel some of those of Arthur’s, rendering them suspect as historical facts and thus no basis for concocting a presumed biography.
In his youth the hero does menial tasks, but displays great strength and courage despite his humble upbringing. He defends the honour of women, but his beloved is much abducted. He gains possession of a magnificent steed, and discovers an almost supernatural sword under a stone. After a lifetime of great feats with a band of followers he is mortally wounded by treachery, though his renown protects his people from harm.
Sounds familiar? Of course it does — you knew I was outlining the romance of ‘Antar (also known as ‘Antara), a folk hero from the Abs tribe of central Arabia, whose exploits also ranged across Iraq, Persia and Syria. He died at a great age in a raid around 600CE, but already by the 8th century stories of his life and deeds were being developed (Ranelagh 1979).
The point is surely this: here we have a folk-hero who flourished not long after King Arthur is alleged to have existed but who also shares some similarities with the British hero as described in Arthurian epic and saga. Is there a direct relationship between them? Before we tackle this question, it might be instructive to look at another near-contemporary hero, but from a little closer to home.
Pendragonry will feature my musings on Arthurian matters from the late 1960s onwards, mostly in an amateur British magazine called Pendragon but also supplemented by commentary elsewhere and by my current thoughts.
Half a century and more of reflection on obsessions — mine and others — with ‘King Arthur’ have led me to the inevitable conclusion that Arthur, his Round Table and associated paraphernalia are all wonderful constructs, existing in as many different forms as there are individuals to consider them.
The Pendragon Society was originally founded in 1959 in Winchester, Hampshire, with the following aims:
To stimulate interest in King Arthur and his contemporaries.
To investigate the history and archaeology of the Matter of Britain.
To study the significance — past, present and future — of the Arthurian legends. (This further clause was added later, when the Society was based in Bristol.)
Until it was voluntarily dissolved in 2009 (its golden jubilee year) the Society’s main activities were focused on projects, principally early medieval archaeology — a hillfort, a Roman villa and an Early Christian church site — and contributions to Pendragon, its magazine-style journal. The journal included news, views and reviews as well as articles, often substantial. Its members, many from overseas, included authors, academics and artists among its ranks as well as amateurs. For much of its existence I was contributing editor.
Pendragonry therefore will include many of my contributions to the journal, with additional commentary where necessary. Of course it will, since it’ll represent my opinions, be very opinionated. I do welcome comments, even criticisms (because opinions can change!) but naturally only those conducted politely.