Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages

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9780199658176: Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages
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King Arthur is probably the most famous and certainly the most legendary medieval king. From the early ninth century through the middle ages, to the Arthurian romances of Victorian times, the tales of this legendary figure have blossomed and multiplied. And in more recent times, there has been a continuous stream of books claiming to have discovered the 'facts' about, or to unlock the secret or truth behind, the 'once and future king'.

Broadly speaking, there are two Arthurs. On the one hand is the traditional 'historical' Arthur, waging a doomed struggle to save Roman civilization against the relentless Anglo-Saxon tide during the darkest years of the Dark Ages. On the other is the Arthur of myth and legend - accompanied by a host of equally legendary people, places, and stories: Lancelot, Guinevere, Galahad and Gawain, Merlin, Excalibur, the Lady in the Lake, the Sword in the Stone, Camelot, the Round Table.

The big problem with all this is that 'King Arthur' might well never have existed. And if he did exist, it is next to impossible to say anything at all about him. As this challenging new look at the Arthur legend makes clear, all books claiming to reveal 'the truth' behind King Arthur can safely be ignored. Not only the 'red herrings' in the abundant pseudo-historical accounts, even the 'historical' Arthur is largely a figment of the imagination: the evidence that we have - whether written or archaeological - is simply incapable of telling us anything detailed about the Britain in which he is supposed to have lived, fought, and died. The truth, as Guy Halsall reveals in this fascinating investigation, is both radically different - and also a good deal more intriguing.

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Review:

Guy Halsall's expert debunking of Arthur in Worlds of Arthur is hard to beat for forensic examination of the evidence and carefully reasoned and convincing conclusions. (Hugh Andrew, Glasgow Herald)

The strength of this work lies in robust academic understanding of current evidence for 5th-and-6th-century Britain, presented in a pithy, engaging, and accessible manner. Gildas, Bede, the Historia Brittonum, and other documentary sources are treated to rigorous-but-fair scrutiny; Halsall does not cherry-pick texts that conveniently fit his theory. Archaeological evidence is given equal emphasis, employed with flourish. (Current Archaeology)

[Guy Halsall] has produced a brilliant portrait of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries, drawing on literary and archeological sources to challenge almost every orthodoxy of the age. Those who desire a surprisingly witty, intellectually rigorous and historically captivating journey deep into the crucible of medieval Britain will enjoy this book immensely. (Dan Jones, Sunday Times)

Worlds of Arthur manages to be both scholarly and readable. It is a considerable achievement. (Times Literary Supplement)

Guy Halsall is a rarity - not only an Englishman at home abroad, but also a historian who can handle archaeology with equal deftness. He writes engagingly and isn't afraid to say what he thinks. This is a fantastic book which deserves to sell thousands of copies, not only to academic early medievalists but also to fantasy junkies lured by the clever cover. (British Archaeology Magazine)

This is a highly accessible discussion of the history and archaeology of Britain between AD 400 and 600, aimed both at contesting the many recent 'real-Arthur' histories and at re-examining the ways in which scholars across the last century or so have interpreted the evidence from this period. The result is a highly stimulating, generally lucid and exciting discourse, delivered with wit and verve (N.J. Higham, Society for Medieval Archaeology)

an exciting book (Anne Lawrence-Mathers, History)

About the Author:

Guy Halsall has taught at the universities of London and York, where he has been a professor of history since 2003. His early specialism was in the history and archaeology of the Merovingian period (c.450-c.750), and he has since published widely on a broad range of subjects: death and burial, age and gender, violence and warfare, barbarian migrations, and humour. This investigation into the 'worlds of Arthur' brings him back to the study of early medieval British history and archaeology with which his scholarly training began.

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