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Jeff Dixon (Llandrindod Wells, Powys United Kingdom)

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Monsieur, or the Prince of Darkness
Monsieur, or the Prince of Darkness
by Lawrence Durrell
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "All this is untrue, but it is real", 28 Mar. 2005
The suicide in Avignon of Piers de Nogaret, whose family were Cathars in medieval Languedoc, leads the narrator, the dead man's best friend and brother-in-law, into a sustained meditation on the intertwined lives and loves of a close-knit group of friends who had been initiated, in Egypt, into a gnostic cult led by a charismatic teacher called Akkad. As he remembers the teachings and the effects they had on his friends, the suspicion begins to dawn that Piers may have been 'suicided' by his fellow cultists in a religious ritual, "an open gesture of refusal" of the spirit of matter. But if we are to learn anything from the teachings of Akkad, it is that nothing is what it seems.
Durrell brilliantly interweaves gnostic myths and a speculative history of the Cathars and Templars into a novel that explores the inner reality of European intellectuals in the early twentieth century. As the novelist Rob Sutcliffe (whose book about his friends counterpoints the narrator's version) writes: "Reality is too old-fashioned nowadays for the writer's uses. We must count upon art to revive it and bring it up to date."


The Arthurian Handbook, Second Edition (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities)
The Arthurian Handbook, Second Edition (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities)
by Norris J. Lacy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £30.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great achievement of modern scholarship, 17 Oct. 2004
Everyone with an interest in the Arthurian legends will benefit from reading this book. For beginners it is a thorough overview of the entire subject, from early Welsh poetry through continental romance and opera to modern novels and films. For serious students there is a wealth of fascinating detail about even the most obscure aspects of Arthur's many incarnations, making it an essential work of reference. I have only two (minor) criticisms: in the chapter 'Modern Arthurian Literature' too many works and authors are covered in too short a space (although, given what the editors themselves call "the absolute flood of twentieth-century Arthurian works" it is hard to know what else they could have done); and among the extensive illustrations, some would have benefited from being presented in colour.
Along with 'The Arthurian Encyclopedia', this book deserves to be on the shelf of every Arthurian enthusiast.


Paganism in Arthurian Romance
Paganism in Arthurian Romance
by John Darrah
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Once more into the breach, 17 Oct. 2004
In this follow-up to his 1981 study, 'The Real Camelot', John Darrah steps once more into the breach between those who see Arthur as an historical, if legendary, figure, and those who see him as a mythical character. Darrah locates the Arthurian stories in the prehistoric pagan past, seeing in them the surviving vestiges of a Bronze Age cult of standing stones and other holy sites where sacred kings were sacrificed. Arthur and Camelot are therefore both mythical and real, rooted in the geography and oral history of this island.
The shadow of Sir James Frazer hangs rather too heavily over Darrah's conception of ancient religious practices, and the mass of scholarly detail threatens to become impenetrable at times, but those who have enjoyed his previous work will want to pursue the arguments here in greater detail. Beginners, on the other hand, would do well to read 'The Real Camelot' first (unfortunately it is currently out of print) to get the gist of Darrah's approach and would also benefit from reading Loomis (a leading exponent of the Celtic origins theory, and a much clearer writer).


Real Camelot: Paganism and the Arthurian Romances
Real Camelot: Paganism and the Arthurian Romances
by John Darrah
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Myth and reality, 17 Oct. 2004
The 'reality' of Camelot in the title of John Darrah's fascinating book is not the archaeological reality of excavations of fifth- and sixth-century mounds and earthworks but the mythical reality of a prehistoric Bronze Age pagan religious cult site and its sacred kings. The pre-Christian inhabitants of Camelot, the French Grail texts tell us, were Sarrasins - referring originally, Darrah argues, not to 'Saracens' in the mediaeval sense of Muslims, but to the 'sarsen' stones of the Giants' Dance which, from prehistoric times to the present day, has been the centre of a pagan cult. The elements of this cult are traced throughout the Arthurian legends, often relying on a close reading of French romance. It is easy for the reader to lose the thread of his argument in the masses of erudite detective work, and the Frazerian emphasis on cult sacrifice might seem anachronistic to readers familiar with contemporary studies of comparative religion, but it is worth the effort for those who have read Weston and Loomis to follow a different path into the 'adventurous forest' of pagan Arthuriana where all roads lead to Camelot.


The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend
The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend
by Gareth Knight
Edition: Paperback

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Initiatic enigmas, 17 Oct. 2004
Gareth Knight has written an intriguing but sometimes frustrating study of the connections between the Arthurian legend and the 'Atlantean Tradition' derived from the speculations of Theosophy.
I found his opening and closing chapters, setting the legends in the historical and prehistorical context of western spiritual evolution especially thought-provoking. However, the bulk of the text relies on the works of Sir Thomas Malory as its primary source material. Malory wrote a great work of English literature but much of the pagan lore which informed his sources has been excised in favour of Christian mysticism and concerns with the decline of chivalry. Jessie L Weston, R S Loomis and, more recently, John Darrah have thoroughly explored the pagan elements in the French and German texts and I would refer the interested reader to such of their works as are still available in print. Weston, who had contacts with the Golden Dawn, was also the first to reach a wide audience with her studies of the initiatic elements in the Grail legends; and John and Caitlin Matthews, writing both singly and together, have continued where Knight left off and explored the whole area of Celtic and Arthurian lore in the context of the Western Mystery Tradition.
Gareth Knight's study from 1983 should therefore be read in conjunction with these writers in order to get an overview of 'the Mysteries of Britain'. He has some fascinating insights into the Hibernian and Caledonian currents, personified by the Morholt and Morgawse, and the symbolism of Arthur's sword(s), and the book is full of interesting digressions into related areas of study, if sometimes marred by the occultist's habit of making wildly speculative opinions sound as if they are the product of divine revelation. As Knight himself says, the book "is intended for serious students of the esoteric tradition" but non-believers, although they "may find much of this book of questionable validity", may still be interested to discover an alternative approach to a much-studied subject.


The Development of Arthurian Romance
The Development of Arthurian Romance
by Roger Sherman Loomis
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterly study, 17 Oct. 2004
This succinct work sums up a lifetime's study of the origins and development of the Arthurian legends by one of its greatest scholars in the first half of the twentieth century. Here Loomis eschews some of his more provocative theses while still presenting a strong case for the Celtic mythological roots of the legends. "We can safely conclude," he writes, " [...] that the Matter of Britain originated in the blending of historic reminiscences of a British battle-leader with a highly fanciful mythological tradition going back to pagan times." He then proceeds to trace the evolution of the legend through its Welsh, French, German and English versions culminating in its fifteenth century flowering in the works of Sir Thomas Malory, "the knight prisoner" who, "by the alchemy of his ardour and his cadenced prose, transformed lead and silver into gold." He concludes: "If one were to sum up in a few words both the greatness and the limitations of the literature of the Round Table, perhaps the best answer would be that it produced Don Quixote." Thus the literature of Arthurian romance can be seen as the bridge between ancient epic and the modern novel.
Dover have reprinted the original text from 1963 in a very reasonably priced paperback which I would recommend to academics and amateurs alike.


Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature (Writers of Wales)
Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature (Writers of Wales)
by O.J. Padel
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A different Arthur, 15 Oct. 2004
Most English-speaking readers of the Arthurian legend are familiar with the character portrayed in the French romances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as filtered by Malory's fifteenth century redaction, or as idealised by Tennyson's Victorian bowdlerisation. To discover the original figure of Arthur one does not go to Hollywood (pace Clive Owen), but to Wales, where the earliest mythical and folkloric stories have survived in place names and poems as well as in romances influenced by the French versions. Some readers may be surprised by the author's assertion that Arthur "had an undignified, slow-witted side to his character" but may be pleasantly intrigued by the more humorous Arthur who preceded the imperial hero of Geoffrey of Monmouth. This book is an enlightening introduction to the Welsh material which should be read alongside the Mabinogion.


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