The Once and Future King
by T.H. White (1958)
White’s classic novels from 1938 to 1941 found in a single volume.

There are few genres with as much staying power as Arthurian literature. It began around 830 (but Arthur may have been mentioned by a Welsh poet even earlier than that) and these classic tales are still going strong today. King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Merlin the wizard, Mordred, Morgan le Fay, Lancelot, Tristan, Galahad, Gawain and the knights of the round table have legendary status in literature.

Hundreds of books and millions of words have been written about these people and their trials and tribulations, and that’s just the fiction. The Arthurian ball started rolling when a monk wrote Historia Brittonum for a Welsh king. This early history book of England and Wales mentions Arthur, and then Geoffrey of Monmouth took the stories and added his own flourishes in Historia Regum Britanniae around 1136.

It was then a free-for-all with anyone who could write (and not many could) retelling these stories.  The strange thing is that these stories about a Welsh-English warrior king, his wife, his knights and a wizard became international bestsellers. The stories were picked up and retold in France, Germany, Scandinavia, and beyond.

And then came Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory in 1485, printed by William Caxton.  This is quite simply one of the most influential books ever printed and serves as the basis for today’s interpretation of the legend. Malory compiled and translated the stories from French texts.

In 1892, London publisher J. M. Dent & Co. produced an edition of Le Morte d’Arthur illustrated by a young Aubrey Beardsley. To many collectors and bibliophiles, this book is a masterpiece – not bad for a 20-year-old insurance clerk’s first attempt at book illustration.

The Ashendene Press published a much-sought after limited edition of Le Morte d’Arthur in 1913, and Arthur Rackham famously illustrated a version in 1917. Sidney Lanier (his version was illustrated by the famous artist N.C. Wyeth), Howard Pyle and John Steinbeck were among the later writers to take Malory’s work and rework it.  Rosemary Sutcliff, Thomas Berger and Bernard Cornwell have also written Arthurian fiction.

Mark Twain’s contribution should not be ignored. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court from 1889 is memorable because it helped established time travel as a narrative tool and the book served as an effective satire of romantic writing. Twain wanted to stick a fork into chivalry and the idea of knights rescuing damsels in distress.

There are Arthurian-themed novels published every month but the genre is now the domain of fantasy writers.

Why have these stories endured? 1) Arthur, or someone like him, almost certainly existed. 2) The tales have every ingredient necessary for a good story including drama, adventure, conflict, love and sex, magic, treachery, and family strife. 3) Almost every character is flawed with the exception of Galahad. 4) The female characters wield great power centuries before strong women became a staple of fiction. 5) Some bad, bad things happen in these stories – the death of Gareth at the hands of Lancelot for instance.

This page features lots of Arthurian literature but we heartily recommend T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. This book combines White’s four Arthurian novels – including The Sword and the Stone – into a single volume of magnificent literature.

Arthurian Literature

Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (1485)
Le Morte d’Arthur
by Sir Thomas Malory (1485)

The best known of all Arthurian literature. Printed by William Caxton.
The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Tennyson (1833)
The Lady of Shalott
by Alfred Tennyson (1833)

This romantic ballad sparked the Pre-Raphaelite interest in the Arthurian legend.
A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1889)
A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
by Mark Twain (1889)

Satire. Arthur goes medieval and meets an American from Hartford.
King Arthur and his Knights by Maude Radford (1903)
King Arthur and his Knights
by Maude Radford (1903)

Illustrated by Walter J. Enright. A traditional retelling.
The Story of King Arthur and his Knights by Howard Pyle (1903)
The Story of King Arthur and his Knights
by Howard Pyle (1903)

The first of Pyle’s quartet of Arthurian novels for youngsters.
The Boy’s King Arthur edited by Sidney Lanier (1917)
The Boy’s King Arthur
edited by Sidney Lanier (1917)

Illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. Lanier’s interpretation of Malory’s history of Arthur.
War in Heaven by Charles Williams (1930)
War in Heaven
by Charles Williams (1930)

This Inkling places the Holy Grail in an obscure country parish.
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green (1950)
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
by Roger Lancelyn Green (1950)

Another Inkling. This author blends together Malory’s stories.
Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff (1963)
Sword at Sunset
by Rosemary Sutcliff (1963)

Arthur is Artos and Merlin doesn’t feature. It’s about battles rather than magic.
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (1970)
The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart (1970)

The first in a quintet of novels covering the Arthurian legend, The Crystal Cave tells the story of Merlin’s early life.
The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck (1976)
The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
by John Steinbeck (1976)

Based on the Winchester manuscript text of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.
The Tree Damosels by Vera Chapman (1976)
The Tree Damosels
by Vera Chapman (1976)

Omnibus comprising three tales about Vivien, Lynett and Ursulet.
Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel by Thomas Berger (1978)
Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel
by Thomas Berger (1978)

From Little Big Man to Excalibur. Focus on Camelot’s glory – a classic retelling.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983)
The Mists of Avalon
by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983)

The Arthurian legend is retold from perspective of the female characters.
Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley (1987)
Child of the Northern Spring
by Persia Woolley (1987)

First in a trilogy – this book is narrated by Guinevere.
Knight Life by Peter David (1987)
Knight Life
by Peter David (1987)

First in a trilogy – Arthur and Morgan are in modern Manhattan.
The Skystone by Jack Whyte (1992)
The Skystone
by Jack Whyte (1992)

Book one of the six-part Camulod Chronicles. Tells the story of the Roman founders of the Round Table.

The Forever King by Molly Cochran & Warren Murphy (1992)
The Forever King
by Molly Cochran & Warren Murphy (1992)

A fantasy reworking with Arthur returning to modern Britain
The Child Queen by Nancy McKenzie (1994)
The Child Queen
by Nancy McKenzie (1994)

Guinevere’s side of the legend. McKenzie has a series of Arthurian fiction.
The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell (1995)
The Winter King
by Bernard Cornwell (1995)

First book in the Warlord Chronicles told through the eyes of a monk.
I am Mordred by Nancy Springer (1998)
I am Mordred
by Nancy Springer (1998)

Springer also wrote I am Morgan le Fay.
The Squire’s Tale by Gerald Morris (1998)
The Squire’s Tale
by Gerald Morris (1998)

A YA novel where a 14-year-old becomes Gawain’s squire. Sparked a series.
Guenevere - Queen of the Summer Country by Rosalind Miles (1999)
Guenevere - Queen of the Summer Country
by Rosalind Miles (1999)

First in a trilogy – Guinevere’s adventures are told.
Sword of the Rightful King by Jane Yolen (2003)
Sword of the Rightful King
by Jane Yolen (2003)

Arthur turns to Merlin’s magic when his popularity wanes.
Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell (2007)
Song of the Sparrow
by Lisa Ann Sandell (2007)

Another YA novel and a retelling of the Lady of Shalott by Tennyson
Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin (2009)
Grave Goods
by Ariana Franklin (2009)

Remains suspected as being those of Arthur and Guinevere are discovered in 12th century Glastonbury.
Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel by David Downing (2010)
Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel
by David Downing (2010)

In 1940, an American doctoral candidate in England searches for historical evidence of King Arthur, with help from the Inklings.
The Killing Way by Tony Hays (2010)
The Killing Way
by Tony Hays (2010)

An Arthurian mystery in which Merlin is suspected of a young woman’s brutal murder.

The Death of King Arthur by Simon Armitage (2012)
The Death of King Arthur
by Simon Armitage (2012)

Contemporary translation of a 15th century Middle English alliterative epic poem.
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien (2013)
The Fall of Arthur
by J.R.R. Tolkien (2013)

Tolkien’s unfinished Arthurian poem, published for the first time in May, 2013.

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