Worlds of Arthur : Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, Hardback

Worlds of Arthur : Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages Hardback

3.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)


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 have discovered the 'facts' about, or to unlock the secret or truth behind, the 'once and future king'. 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, the Round Table.

The big problem with all this 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 'red herrings' in the abundant pseudo-historical accounts, even the 'historical' Arthur is largely a figment of the imagination: the evidence that we have - whether written or archaeological - is simply incapable of telling us anything detailed about the Britain in which he is supposed to have lived, fought, and died.

The truth, as Guy Halsall reveals in this fascinating investigation, is both radically different - and also a good deal more intriguing.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 384 pages, 20 black and white halftones, 15 maps
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780199658176



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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

Like many others, I am interested in the legend of King Arthur. Naturally, when I saw the opportunity to read another book about him, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed.As Guy Halsall writes, there is no evidence of the existence of King Arthur, but there is nothing to prove he did not exist. All in all, that is a valid argument. As the author sets out to break the book down into 4 sections, or “Worlds”, he states valid points from the traditional ideas. Great detail is written regarding the different civilizations, religions, customs, jewelry, pottery, immigration routes and other points. Arthur, on the other hand, has a few brief mentions throughout this lengthy read.If you are interested in the history of this general time frame, while expanding out somewhat, then this is a good read for you. If you are looking to read about the legendary King, whether or not he existed, this is not what you are looking for.While I did find this greatly educational, I was hoping for more. Reading this, I felt as if I was in a lecture hall in college, not that that is a bad thing. As I mentioned, it is very educational, and not in a boring way. Overall the book is very well written and researched.

Review by

This is an engaging and well-written overview of the state of current historical, archaeological, and anthropological knowledge of late Roman and post-Roman Britain specifically and the British Isles a bit more generally - "Arthur's Britain," as it's sometimes called. Halsall's goal is to demonstrate that it isn't actually possible to identify or reconstruct a historical King Arthur, and that those who believe it is are rather wilfully disregarding the limits of available knowledge. Since my familiarity with this period is through the literature, I'm not really qualified to evaluate a lot of Halsall's scholarship, but the book is well-written and his arguments are cogent and relatively easy to follow. Halsall sometimes, I think, forgets that his basic thesis is that there's a lot we can't know - he seems pretty well convinced he's correct, and he can be a perhaps unnecessarily contemptuous of those he disagrees with. But I think his main points - that so very much is lost to history, and that what we do know has been looked at largely in isolation from what is known about the continent in the same period - hold true. This is a really interesting read and well worth a look for those interested in the period. It's written accessibly, without a lot of footnotes, but with an extensive narrative bibliography and a long further reading list. The style is engaging, and although it's helpful to have some sense of the history and of the basics of Arthurian literature, it's not essential. I enjoyed this a lot and would recommend it to anyone interested in the period.

Review by

Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages by Guy Halsall, isn't really about King Arthur at all. It's more an attempt to dispell any idea that there was an historical King Arthur. I give the author credit for aiming the book at the lay audience and not the elite realm of historians. The facts are presented in a precise and easy to understand format. Although, speaking of format, the book was horribly formatted for the Kindle. I realize it was an unproofed Galley, but some of the formatting made portions of it almost impossible to read. The underlying text however is sound. The author goes about indicating what is truly "known" about the dark ages and the time when Arthur supposedly lived. I was hoping for a more indepth treatise on the daily life of the Dark Ages, but it doesn't seem that there is enough written works for that to be described.

Review by

How to get your doctorate in Arthuriana (I prefer Arthurology) in one amazing book. This book is not for the faint of heart or the casual Arthurian reader. If you love King Arthur and the history and myth surrounding him, you will find no better reference book. Broken into four distinct sections and subdivided therein to help you move around the book, if need be, this book is an extremely well written in depth study of one of Great Britain's most illustrated knights. This includes both real or fictional characters. Legends, the stories behind the legends and variations of the legends can be found in these pages. The Song of Roland was a great story, Homer's Iliad and Odyssesy were epic poems and this is an epic work just waiting for true Arthurian lovers to read, chew over, and banter about with other likewise lovers. You can always use this book as a reference, but don't attempt a full read of this book unless you really mean it. Like Tolkien's Silmarillion with his in depth study of Middle Earth, Worlds of Arthur by Guy Halsall is a full blown thesis into the world of King Arthur. I loved it!!

Review by

There is a lot of good information in this book, but I'm afraid it doesn't do what it sets out to do, and I'm afraid it is aimed at entirely the wrong audience. Halsall states in the introduction that his goal is to write a book for non-academics that debunks the ideas found in most books about Arthur that are aimed at a popular audience. Bookstores are full of books that claim to tell the truth about the historical Arthur, and many of them claim to have uncovered new and exciting information. The book that Halsall says he is going to write needs to be written: we need a book for a popular audience that explains how little we know about King Arthur and explains why those other books are wrong.Unfortunately, this is not that book.I should point out that I am not part of Halsall's intended audience: I have an academic background, and my PhD dissertation uses a lot of the same sources that Halsall uses in this book. So it is quite possible that I am underestimating Halsall's intended audience.Having said that, I think Halsall's intended audience is going to be very disappointed with this book, primarily because the title gives the wrong impression. In the first chapters, Halsall describes all of the sources we have for this period, and points out that they say basically nothing about Arthur. Then, for the rest of the book, he talks about new interpretations of the late Roman/early Anglo-Saxon period in Britain.Since the book is titled "The Worlds of Arthur", and since he claims that he is going to provide information for Arthurian enthusiasts, people are going to expect some information about Arthur in this book, when there is none. Halsall's point is a very important one to make: his point is that the historical sources say absolutely nothing reliable about Arthur, and the quest for a historical Arthur is futile. It is very important to make that point to a popular audience, and Halsall makes it well.... but if this is going to be an Arthurian book, then the rest of the book should really talk about why people continue to search for a historical Arthur, or offer more detailed refutations of other books that claim to have found a historical Arthur.Another major problem with this book is that Halsall assumes that his audience has read enough about Arthur to know that if there was a historical Arthur, he existed in the 5th or 6th century. I don't think that's a safe assumption. When most people think of Arthur, they think of the high Middle Ages, with shining armor and jousting. I think a lot of readers will have absolutely no clue why Halsall is going on about the 5th century. He also provides no historical background: the straw man he is fighting for most of the book is the idea that Britain was heavily Romanized, that Anglo-Saxons came in from the east and fought their way west, and that Britain became English instead of Roman. However, he never provides that background: readers who don't already have some knowledge of Dark Age Britain will have no idea what Halsall is arguing against.I also wish Halsall would engage more directly with some of the books he argues against in his first chapters. He is refuting claims made by those who think they have found the historical Arthur, yet he never mentions any of these authors or books by name. It's very polite of him to be so circumspect about the people he is lambasting, but I'm not sure that his audience will understand the subtlety.Finally, I think most of this book will be of far more interest to budding academics than to a popular audience, so Halsall does his readers a disservice by not providing footnotes and other apparatus that will be useful to his academic audience.I really wanted to like this book. But I think it's a classic example of the giant rift between academic history and popular history. We need more academics writing popular history: a lot of the history books written for a general audience are just bad history. But academics don't seem to know how to write for a popular audience, and this book shows exactly what happens when they try. Halsall starts with a topic that will be exciting to a popular audience, and then proceeds to bore them to death by not providing enough background material, and by not doing what he promises to do in the opening pages.