I’ve mentioned a time or two that I’m a HUGE history buff. Let me make things clear, if a historical book, whether fiction or non-fiction, is within a mile of me I can sense it. Also, I must have it. It’s a weakness. So the second I saw Worlds of Arthur by Guy Halsall was about the legend of King Arthur, I squealed and immediately signed up to review it. My elation lasted about 5 minutes after I began reading though. I barely made it to the end of the first chapter before I gave up on it.
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 unlock the secret or the truth behind the “once and future king.”
The truth, as Guy Halsall reveals in this fascinating investigation, is both radically different–and also a good deal more intriguing. 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, and the Round Table.
The big problem with all this, notes Halsall, 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 fanciful pseudo-historical accounts–Merlin the Magician, the Lady in the Lake–but even the “historical” Arthur is largely a figment of the imagination. The evidence that we have, whether written or archeological, is simply incapable of telling us anything detailed about the Britain in which he is supposed to have lived, fought, and died.
Sadly, I can’t tell you if Guy Halsall’s research is accurate because I didn’t get very far or learn anything. The whole first chapter took every early reference made about King Arthur and put them together in one pile. Now, to be honest, there isn’t much ‘we’ do know about him anyway so this is the easiest way to get a picture of his legend. Anyway, each reference wasn’t broken down into details to show you who these sources were or what was specifically said. They are briefly explained, before jumping on to the next piece of the puzzle. To be honest, I found Mr. Halsall’s writing confusing and well strange. Here’s a sentence to show you what I mean:
Possibly around the same time (possibly earlier, possibly later; it’s impossible to say for sure) a poet (maybe writing in the same part of the world as the History of Britons was written) composed an elegy about the massacre of a noble, heroic British warband at a place called Catraeth (usually thought to be Catterick in North Yorshire).
The entire first chapter is written this way. It’s snippets of info, in long drawn out sentences, covering many angles of this story, all at the same time. I get that it’s trying to show you what little information there is and how hard it is to find the truth within the myth. But there is a better way to get that point across, like showing the facts and why they are questionable, instead of briefly mentioning them. Chapter 1 may be creating a foundation for the rest of the novel, and all the thorough investigating comes later, but it wasn’t well planned, or at least it seems that way. It was so bad, it killed my interest completely.
I love the legend of King Arthur, whether he really existed or not, I don’t care. I still love his story; but that couldn’t get me through Worlds of Arthur. I really tried to give it a chance but it just wasn’t what I had expected. I hate to be so negative, but this is the weirdest history book I’ve come across. Obviously, I don’t recommend this novel.
Published: April 4th 2013
Source: Received for review (NG)