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King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend

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King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend By Rodney Castleden. Illustrated by the author. (Routledge, London and New York: 2003. Pg. 265. Maps, Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-415-31655-3.

Reviewed by Leo Johnston - September 21, 2003

King Arthur, the very name evokes images of knights in armor, fierce battles, the city of Camelot, and a host of mystical creatures. Was King Arthur a real man, or just the stuff of legends? In King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend, Rodney Castleden separates the myth from the history surrounding this legendary King of England.

A marvelously accessible book, King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend will delight readers of all ages and academic persuasions. With the finesse of a surgeon, Castleden strips away the myth, revealing the real King Arthur. To accomplish his goal of finding the real King Arthur, Castleden uses a variety of authoritative resources ranging from current archeological evidence to the available documentary evidence - including funerary inscriptions. Extensive endnotes are provided for anyone wishing to verify or consult Castleden's sources.

In reconstructing the history of the real King Arthur, Castleden brings Dark Age Britain to life and examines what King Arthur's life would really have been like. Castleden also puts forth, and defends, the thesis that King Arthur was indeed a real person and that many myths and legends surrounding his life are based upon fact. He also postulates theories about where Camelot and Avalon were situated, and where King Arthur might be buried.

Even if you do not accept the notion that King Arthur existed, you will find this book fascinating, both as a history of Dark Age Britain and as a survey of Arthurian legends. Within the pages of this intriguing book, Castleden also provides tidbits of intriguing information about other characters from the Arthurian legends that he believes were also real people.
We know that Merlin was a genuine historical figure. He was lifted by Geoffrey of Monmouth from a collection of old poems, riddles and triads preserved in Wales but relating to a bard called Myrddin, the Celtic form of Martin, who lived in the north of what is now England, near Hadrian's Wall. (Pg. 144.)
King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend is an intriguing book, and Castleden does a fine job of delineating and defending his thesis. Although I'm not 100 percent convinced that he has uncovered the real King Arthur, I am sure that he has written a solid book that will provide a treasure trove of fodder for Arthurophiles who will have a lot of fun debating over Castleden's assertions and the evidence he used to defend his theories. In short, this was a diverting book to read, and it provides a useful historical foundation that will enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the Arthurian legends.


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