King Arthur, Anyone?

Hello–any King Arthur buffs out there?

Maybe I shouldn’t mention Arthur on a page dedicated largely to fantasy literature. He doesn’t have that firm a foothold on “real history,” and I wouldn’t like to push him entirely into the realm of the imaginary, there to take up permanent residence with fairies, satyrs, and man-made Global Warming.

I was very excited, some years ago, when I learned that the Romans had long stationed Sarmatian cavalry in Britain, and that most of those remained behind when the Romans withdrew their legions in the 5th century. Why excited? Because I knew from Herodotus that various “Scythian” peoples (including the Sarmatians, probably) worshipped their war god by raising a heap of stones and thrusting a sword into the top of it. Voila! The ancient tale of Arthur and “the sword in the stone” suddenly takes on cultural and historical context. Alas, others managed to publish that scenario before I got around to it. If you snooze, you lose.

Even if he was a real person, King Arthur looms large in fantasy. It makes tracking down “the real Arthur” well-nigh impossible.

We see a highly unusual attempt to do both–find the historical Arthur, and exploit the fantasy of Arthur–in David Downing’s novel, Looking for the King. I’m writing a full book review for Chalcedon, but in the meantime I’d love to hear what other readers think of it. Did you like it? Do you think Downing succeeded in whatever he was trying to do? And did you enjoy seeing J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams appear as major characters in the story?

Leave a Reply