Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Will the Real King Arthur Please Step Out of the Shadows?

Greetings Houselings I hoped you liked the tribute to our American cousins for their 4th July Celebration in the last issue of this blog. Since then we’ve had Bastille Day and another dramatic revolution in Society that some are linking to the Arab Spring. On the events in Britain I will put my thoughts in order and give you a considered opinion in the next few days. In the meantime I was given the chance to check out a piece of historical non fiction on a subject very dear to the hearts of most if not all fantasy and historical fiction readers King Arthur. Now I remember racing home from school to watch on a very fuzzy Black and white TV the series Arthur of the Britons starring Olivier Tobias and one of my favourite British larger than life actors Brian Blessed. It was after the gruelling privations of school a real highlight. One I suppose pushed me in the direction of historical research and reconstruction archaeology that I’ve have doggedly perused ever since.

Now I now it was a made for TV production but even then it did impress me with the efforts it took to remove the ‘knightly fantasy’ of Arthur. Apart from being a damned good piece of entertainment it was as close as any TV production could be to including cutting edge archaeological and historical interpretations. Since then as we’ve seen standards have dropped a bit though one or two productions still make an effort to shrug off Hollywood History.
However it is items in the realm of print that I want to talk about. There is a definite Arthurian industry, that regularly churns out all manner of learned works that claim to either make Arthur a space alien, a purely mythological figure and of course many in the Victorian vein of the fantasy knight that he wasn’t. Thus it is refreshing to come across a book that doesn’t make extravagant claims, instead going back to look at the text and name evidence as free as possible from modern contamination. To me August Hunt’s book fulfils all the requirements of fine and rigours scholarship and research, he has present his evidence and given exhaustive reasoning for his interpretation. Now as any student of history knows the Truth of the past changes with time as new information comes to light, I suspect that it will be so with August’s book. It is not the definitive work on Arthur, but it is a damned important stepping stone on our path to understand the cloudy period of Sub Roman Britain and I hope will lead to further real efforts in research and archaeology.

The only problem I found with this was one of frustration…I immediately wanted to see the next stage of his research!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How to categorize this book well that isn't so simple, there are almost books without number claiming all manner of attributes and origins to that most famous and mysterious of British heroes Arthur-Dux Bellorum or High King of Britain. He has been presented in so many different forms a Celtic King reasserting a lost independence, the last of the Romans in an isolated outpost of a crumbled Empire or even Mallory's and Geoffrey of Monmouth's great chivalric hero. Through all this fiction it is very difficult to tell.

As a historian and reconstruction archaeologist I know that you have to look hard for evidence to base your work on and I must say that August Hunt has certainly done that. His research cutting through mythology and ignoring pet theories is based on original place names, reasonable translations and interpretations of the earliest records is to be commended. He presents a very compelling argument to place Arthur and his great battles in the north where the remnant of the old Roman field army most probably still held sway. He examines each phrase of the account of battles and give I feel a very reasoned suggestion as to their validity and location based on the textual and where possible archaeological evidence. Having studied the Arthurian conundrum for decades and been weaned as a teen on Morris' The Age of Arthur, I appreciate fine scholarship and this is it. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to any serious student of Sub Roman Britain as a valuable addition to the Arthurian discussion. Now considering this book a few days after I went through it I found that August's studies opened up a lot more questions. I can only hope that he will find the time to explore them. 
Regards Greg

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1 comment:

  1. I think Morris was fascinated by the "reaction" to people's interpretation of the Arthurian Age more than by the scanty evidence that exists. He personally did not really think the real "Arthur" would have been terribly important, though of course, he does not throw out the character entirely like so many historians have done. (Dumville comes to mind.)
    However, I would be rather MORE interested in a study of the shadowy character in Frisia who seemed to pull all the strings without taking any of the credit. Morris seems to think that person (whoever he is) would have been
    a) real,
    b) powerful beyond any abilities Arther could have had
    c) worked so hard to stay OUT of the spotlight that the only way we know he exists is because of the blank spot in the records!

    Sort of a dark ages "George Smiley" or "Admiral Canaris".
    Would be good fodder for a great novel. There is a derth of spy novels in the world, and a great market for them. My favorite "period" spy novel of course would be Wheatley's "Launching of Rodger Brooke", but that is set in Napoleon's era.

    The fact that a powerful king like Beowulf visited him to receive orders before invading Britain causes one to think!

    Oh well, most of Morris's work has been, well, not discredited, but perhaps ridiculed, David Dumville for instance thinks Morris's work was far too rooted in fantasy and "wannabe" anthropology.
    So be it. The fact is, just as Morris pointed doesn't matter if Arthur existed, it is the reaction to the story which has often made history!