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Concepts of Arthur Paperback – 24 Jan 2008
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Valuable to anyone studying the Arthurian legend... vigorous and comprehensive --Speculum, the Journal of the Medieval Academy of America
Concepts of Arthur is that rare thing: a book that offers an original and refocused view of the nature of Arthur --Arthuriana, the Journal of Arthurian Studies
'Concepts of Arthur' is an inspiring read which does not disappoint those who want a satisfying contextualising of disparate evidence.
--Pendragon, the Journal of the Pendragon Society
Ever since Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century there has been an effort to show that the Arthur of Celtic legend was based on an historical figure. In this re-examination of all the early literature Thomas Green argues that all such attempts involve special pleading. Thus, far from being an historical figure mythicized, Arthur emerges as a mythical and/or folkloric figure historicized. The evidence reveals that he was essentially the defender of Britain from all threats, with an intimate connection with the Underworld. Looking at the latest research into Celtic and Indo-European deities, the author concludes with the suggestion that Arthur may well have been a local deity, the product of a pre-Christian mythology. This is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Arthur.See all Product description
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Monsters, giants, the spirit world, now that's exciting stuff. And that the later Arthur is about other things entirely just goes to show the resilience and enduring flexibility of Arthur- he has been adapted to the world as it changes, and we continue to do so today. I am curious to see if, and to what degree, this earlier version of Arthur will begin to creep into modern reworkings of the character in the coming generations.
The real beauty of this book is its focus on and enthusiasm for the wonderful non-Galfridian literature. But, it is also the most soundly-reasoned and logically constructed approach to the 'historical' Arthur I have yet seen (though I don't pretend to be an expert), and leaves me very skeptical indeed of the efforts to marshall disparate scraps of history into evidence for a 'genuine' Arthur.
What made me sad was the thought that, having read just about every piece of Arthurian literature in search of the historical figure behind the legendary Arthur, he may never had been one. He may simply have been a mythical figure who became historicized in the 9th century before being turned into a legend.
I would recommend everyone seriously interested in this subject to buy this work, along with N J Higham's Arthurian book. If, after reading these, you still think there was a human figure behind this legendary monarch, then read other works. This is definitely not for those who `believe' in a historical Arthur.
Unlike Higham (who accepted that there might possibly have been some Arthur-type warlord at the core of the Nennian construct) Green argues, I think persuasively, that there never was such a prototype historical figure but that the earliest sources (some contemporary with and others predating Nennius) make it clear, first, that Arthur was a mythological figure, defender of Britain from giants, monsters, witches and the like; and, secondly, that it is Nennius who first historicizes Arthur by pitting him against human adversaries (namely, the Saxons) and attributing to him a selection of mythological and genuinely historical battles. Those who instinctively felt that Arthur was more an archetypal hero than a flesh-and-blood warrior may now feel more vindicated.
If I have a criticism it's this: that Green's dense discussion frequently repeats itself, perhaps reflecting the fact that much of his material appeared as scholarly papers online. This is a shame as his message and arguments, while needing to be academically rigorous, also deserve to be more generally accessible. If potential readers can stick with it, 'Concepts of Arthur' is an inspiring read which does not disappoint those who want a satisfying contextualising of disparate evidence.
By the way, if you've come expecting discussions about Lancelot and Guinevere, Merlin, Camelot, the Sword in the Stone and the Lady of the Lake, forget it: most of these motifs (in the form that most of us are familiar with) belong to later medieval accretions and the fantasies of modern popular culture.