Myths and legends have come to define the legacy of kingdoms. Stories of men like Robin Hood who did not have magical aspects have captured the imagination of Englishmen for generations. However, there is one legend whose legacy is synonymous with the English people; the legend of King Arthur. We all know the story of the mythical king who ruled over Camelot with his beloved wife Gwenivere, his magical sword Excalibur, and his trusty Knights of the Round Table. Yet a question arises when we study this legend; was there ever a historical King Arthur? This is the central issue that Tony Sullivan has chosen to investigate thoroughly in his book, “King Arthur: Man or Myth?”.
I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I was curious about this book after reading a previous book about Robin Hood. I will say that I did not know much about the Arthurian legend except the popular aspects that tend to appear in novels and films. Of course being a Tudor nerd I knew that Henry VII had a fascination with the story, since he named his eldest son Arthur, so I wanted to explore what made this tale so intriguing for many centuries.
To understand the origins of the myth, we must go back in the past, but not to the medieval period that many would expect after reading the legend. Sullivan’s main focus is on a period much farther back in time, Roman Britain. This is not an area of history that I normally study so I was unfamiliar with the people and the battles that Sullivan mentioned in connection to the “real” Arthur. It did feel a bit dense to me and it took me a while to get through this portion of the book, even though I did find it rather interesting to read about Roman Britain.
What impressed me about this book is Sullivan’s passion for this subject and his willingness to go the extra mile to show both sides of the argument, that there was a historical Arthur and a mythical Arthur. He dives deep into the sources, from the earliest annals and chronicles to the 11th and 13th centuries legends and romances. It was extremely fascinating to see how he treated this book like a criminal investigation, using different fields of study to figure out the origins of the legend, how it evolved, and whether or not there was a king named Arthur.
Overall, I found this book intriguing and rather challenging. If you are a novice when it comes to the academic world of the Arthurian legend, it might be a difficult read. I would suggest that if you are interested in reading this book, take your time and take plenty of notes. This may not be the best introductory book for those who want to know about the Arthurian legend, but I think that it will give you a better understanding of Roman Britain and the academic side of studying such a legendary figure. If this piques your interest, you should check out, “King Arthur: Man or Myth?” by Tony Sullivan.