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I've had spotty luck with the Mammoth series before; some are quite decent, some are obvious hack jobs, and one or two are just loony (the Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper pops to mind). This one is divided into three rough sections, of unequal size and value.
The first attempts to break down the "historical Arthur," who Ashley defines first as "the war-leader of the Britons at Badon Hill" and only second as "the guy who Geoffrey of Monmouth was talking about." This results in a pretty thorough chase through obscure Breton king-lists, Nennius, the Ten Battles (fifty pages on them alone), the Welsh Triads, and so forth until he gets to a list of twenty, count-em, suspects. These range from Lucius Artorius Castus (the only Roman commander named 'Artorius' known to have served in Britain) to Arthwys ap Meurig (the king, perhaps, of Gwent in the seventh century, unless he wasn't). Ashley quietly plumps for an Arthur based in Gwent or Powys, but argues that Geoffrey's "Arthur" is a composite of five or six British leaders with mythic elements from Alfred and Aethelstan, and constructs a perhaps over-delicate genealogical lattice-work with which to argue that the victory at Badon was a coalition victory under a king of Dyfed named Agricola or Aircol, with one Vortipor/Gwerthefyr as the primary commander and possible "dux bellorum." This is about as good as things get without getting into Deep History. If this section has a flaw, it's probably best highlighted by Ashley's nervous-making habit of citing Laurence Gardner's Bloodline of the Holy Grail without using the words "barking mad.Read more ›
This huge book spans the length of Arthuriana and is an interesting read. However, I was left questioning way too much. I was constantly asking myself, "from where does Mike Ashley get his information?" I'm not saying it isn't authentic, but he rarely names sources. For instance, though I've read the geneologies available to me, I've never come across certain names or connections Mike Ashley gives. He always says "the geneologies state," without saying which one. As a reader, and Arthurian scholar, I want to be able to authenticate any information given to me.
Also, his "accepted" criteria for a generation (25-30 years) is way too calculated. With women having children at early ages and men fathering children even into old age (which wasn't that old in the Dark Ages), only a few generations could completely throw Ashley's time-scale way off. Just three generations of people having children at age 20 could throw the scale off by up to 30 years!
Finally, the book is written as if definitive, though precious little known about King Arthur and his time period is definitive. In some places, Ashley gives information like it is historically accurate even though such information directly contradicts most Arthurian scholars. For instance, under the entry for "Anna," Ashley says that the "name Morgause is almost certainly derived from Gwyar." Under the entry for Morgause he implies that this name derives from Morcades or Orcades. This later explanation is the one generally accepted by Arthurian scholars, from what I've read. In fact, many of his supposed historic explanations for Arthurian characters contradict the majority of Arthurian scholars.
This might seem small, but compounded over the length of 670 pages, you have a book full of contradictions and theory presented as fact. If only I knew his resources, I might be able to give this book more than 2 stars. As is, I found it almost entirely unuseful.
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It is big, has copious material. Some probably would not like it as it covers much territory and writings through the ages on Arhur and Arthurian stories, myths, history. It can be mind-boggling, just struggling with the archaic names, Roman, Welsh, Germanic, old English, etc.
Problem is I have it on Kindle, but the tables and charts don't show as well, so if you are an Arthurian freak, suggest you get the book instead, just for the above material.
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