Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages

Guy Halsall, Author
Guy Halsall. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-19-965817-6
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-19-870084-5
Hardcover - 394 pages - 978-0-19-163270-9
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A historian of late antiquity, Halsall successfully explains in his newest (after Humor, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages) why there’s good reason to doubt the validity of the many histories and legends of King Arthur. He begins by discussing the “traditional narrative[s]” of the famed (and likely fictitious) king and exploring the archeological records of Britannia, before moving on to note the scarcity of extant contemporaneous written sources, many of which, the author asserts, have been “cherry-pick[ed]” in the service of mythmaking. He also denounces claims of corroborative “lost written sources” as no more than “superficially attractive.” In the latter half of the book, Halsall leaves Arthur far behind and turns his attention to the grander question of the provenance of Arthur’s world—England itself—yet this section, like the tale of Arthur, suffers from a lack of convincing evidence. Halsall pursues some compelling argumentative threads, such as the time line and scale of Anglo-Saxon migration to the isles; scholars will find plenty of academic fodder, but the import of Halsall’s conclusions is hazy. 20 b&w images, 15 maps. (Apr.)
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