Top positive review
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Clearest critical review of the evidence for Arthur
on 16 September 2004
First I must declare a potential bias. Chris Gidlow and I were contemporary members of the (now sadly moribund) Oxford Arthurian Society, and we both are honorary life members.
In the 1970s, through the works of academics such as John Morris, the concept of the historical Arthur became temporarily respectable. However in the 1980s much of their work was shown to be seriously flawed. Unfortunately, great numbers of books have been written by popular writers who, in pandering to their readers' dreams, take a conjuror's approach to evidence. Coupled with a strong presence of new-agers and UFOlogists in the field, serious academics now steer well clear, and if asked dismiss it all as myth. And certainly the Arthur that appears in mediaeval romances with Lancelot and the Holy Grail is pure fictional invention.
What Chris Gidlow does in this book is show that the historical documents do support a case for believing in a historical Arthur - a man called Arthur who led the British forces fighting the Saxons in a series of battles culminating in success at Mount Badon - at least as strong as the case for believing most of the other things historians believe about that period of history.
Source criticism is crucial to coming to this conclusion. Even the best sources of the period have an unfortunate tendency to mix legend and history in their writings, and most writers had an axe to grind, and varying levels of competence on different subjects. Gidlow is careful in showing how we can distinguish history from legend, and also to consider where the writers might be distorting or misunderstanding.
I used to hear Chris sparring with other Arthurians over these issues, matters that went over the heads of most of us. It is a great pleasure for me to read this book now that Chris has mastered his sources and ironed out a consistent approach to the subject.
So 5 stars for content, and nothing knocked off for his idiosyncratic style, because he has successfully written a readable book which succeeds in conveying precision a long way from the dry-as-dust approach of an academic thesis.