Book Review: “King Arthur: Man or Myth?” by Tony Sullivan


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.

Book Review: “Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw” by Stephen Basdeo

51UsreYOdXL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_When one studies history, one comes across legends and myths that seem to transcend time itself. In England, there are two such legends. One, of course, is King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The other is of a rogue and his band of merry men, who “stole from the rich and gave to the poor”. Of course, I am speaking of none other than Robin Hood. When exploring Robin Hood, tons of questions come to mind. Who was Robin Hood? Was Robin Hood an actual person? How did his legend change over time? Stephen Basdeo, an Assistant Professor of History at Richmond University, dives into discovering the truth about Robin Hood in his latest book, “Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I grew up really enjoying tales of Robin Hood, so reading about the legend and how it came to be was delightful.

Basdeo explores two central concepts in this book, the historicity of Robin Hood and the historiography of the legend of Robin Hood. For casual readers, these terms may seem intimidating, however, Basdeo takes the time to explain the purpose of this book and what these terms mean. Historicity explores the historical authenticity of a person or event; in other words, if Robin Hood was a real person, who is the most likely person in history who could have been the original “Robin Hood”. Historiography is the study of the methods of how historians write history. When a historian writes a historiographical study about a certain topic, such as Robin Hood, they explore centuries of historical research and explains why past historians had the bias that they did towards a figure. Although what Basdeo is exploring the literature of Robin Hood in this historiographical study, he does explore how the story changed over 800 years in a very similar way.

Basdeo starts his study of Robin Hood by exploring who the actual Robin Hood might have been and why he believes that this man was Robin Hood. Readers then jump ahead to the 15th century when the first tales of the outlaw first appeared. It is here that we start to see Robin and his merry men becoming part of the culture and the history of England. Basdeo goes through each century, exploring the way different authors put their own spin on the story. As the centuries changed, so did the way the story of Robin Hood was told; from ballads to books and penny dreadfuls to films and eventually comics.

This was such a fun and insightful book to read. Basdeo is able to combine the history of each century with how that changed the Robin Hood narrative and a light, readable writing style. This book feels like you are having a casual conversation with Basdeo about Robin Hood, Maid Marian, the merry men, and the numerous opponents Robin fought. If you want a book that gives great insight into the legend of Robin Hood and how it came to be, I highly recommend you read, “Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw” by Stephen Basdeo.