Arthurian Legends

Do the Arthurian legends have a place in historical fiction? Or are they fantasy? There are certainly geographic connections in various versions, steeped in the landmarks and lore of the British isles.

There’s a strong tie to fantasy novels as well, with a rich landscape of castles and magic.

For the rich tapestry (sometimes I can’t resist puns) of a medieval historical setting, full of magic and betrayal and battles, here are some books and series to explore.

Arthur: The Seeing Stone, by Kevin Crossley Holland. Reading this borders on a prose poem, it’s so perfectly lovely. It’s hard to find, but well worth tracking down. The story continues in At The Crossing Places, which is also gorgeous, and concludes in King of the Middle March. I haven’t read the last volume. Yet. I should.

Here Lies Arthur, by Philip Reeve. Presents Arthur as a rough and barbaric warlord, the legend of his greatness entirely constructed by Myrddin’s stories.

Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga begins with The Crystal Cave, and continues into The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day. I read these in high school and college, and loved the story, particularly the aspects of Merlin discovering the possibilities of magic. Also, they’re beautifully written.

And I’ll round out the list of Arthurian favorites with a total guilty pleasure: Merlin, the British television series. Merlin and Arthur are teenagers in a Camelot that fears and forbids magic. The antics of Merlin trying to hide his powers while assuring Arthur’s royal destiny are a wonderful blend of humor, adventure and outrageous cheese.

Arthurian Retellings I Haven’t Finished: I haven’t read some of the more famous Arthurian stories. I’ve read bits and pieces of The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, but it never grabbed me. I’ve also given Malory’s Morte d’Arthur a shot, struggled through a few pages before I gave up. In both cases, I keep promising myself I’ll go back. But as long as I have other options like the ones mentioned above I think it’s pretty likely, I’ll read them instead.

I also read about halfway through The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was a summer in high school. I don’t remember exactly where in the story I stopped, or why. Possibly just the sheer endlessness of it.

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4 responses to “Arthurian Legends

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on Medieval and Renaissance | Books Back In Time

  2. I look on Arthurian tales as pretty much seminal originators of historical fiction as a genre. Fantasy feels like too new a classification to really fit right; mythology might fit better, but really historical fiction fits best, even for the very early tales.

    As for Malory and White, although they more or less defined the structure of the legend as most people know it today, both are stiff and not particularly woman-friendly. If you’re going back to older sources, I think you’d enjoy the poetry of Chretien or the dazzling mythic wonkyness of the Mabinogion much more.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. The Mists of Avalon is my all time favorite book! Best-Julie

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