This was a wonderful and accessibly sized book on Arthur that I received for my birthday last week. It was a great read, and therefore a lovely present.
Due to its size and illustrations, it was a perfect a book to read at this point in time as I approach entering the subject more extensively and deeply. It gave me a lovely reading experience. It filled in all the essential scholarly gaps, gave me a taste and flavour of the kind of scholarship and fashions of scholarship that have been around in the field of Arthurian studies for the last century. And it gave me a feeling of something more tangible than a confusing skeleton of detail which I felt was all I possessed.
It can be daunting to broach such an immense and at times confounding subject and I therefore do not take books like this – that make clear the timescales, of the early histories and the pre-Geoffrey of Monmouth Celtic sources for Arthur – at all for granted.
The dates were filled in where necessary, and mention was made of the ‘famous’ battles, such as Madon, where Arthur was ‘alleged’ to have fought or not fought as the case may be against the Saxon ‘hoards’. The name of Vortigern, a post-Roman ‘tyrant’ was elucidated a touch more, even if only by way of the surviving myth. I liked the legend of Merlin prophetically predicting his demise, and the collapse of his tower due to the growing agitation of two dragons kept in his dungeon as captives.
Merlin as an individual grows more interesting, and links in to earlier medieval Welsh prophetic verse, as well as pagan notions of a ‘wild-man of the woods’ – or someone, as was historically rumoured, to be given inspiration and ‘insight’ due to a visitation of madness (perhaps on the battlefield?) There was also a famous case of an inspired wild-man in the border territories of Scotland prior to this time.
I was less sold on what seemed to me the overly long section on Arthur in popular culture though I can see the merit of the attempt. It seems that it has proliferated far beyond the stability of meaning, or even credibility. But some of the older film adaptations do sound interesting, and for one thing – I now want to visit Tennyson’s Idylls of the King again – it was so long ago that I read this text, I feel now I would be approaching it more appreciatively and the Victorian penchant for Arthuriana would be in the right aspect of my understanding.
All in all, I loved the way Professor Christopher R Fee approached his subject, and wrote with a calm and clear voice. For three quarters of the booked I was rapt; the subject and the writing was full of crisp and fascinating detail. I loved the book!