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on March 13, 2005
This is a very thorough and unbiased study of the post Roman period in England and, ultimately, Europe. While Professor Snyder says neither "nay" nor "yea" to Arthur's objective reality, he does bring out the very real effect the legend has had on people world wide and through out time.

Instead of dwelling on the insolvable problem of Arthur's existence, a contention that has too little data to clarify it, Snyder covers the archaeological and written records of the period, subjecting both to a critical analysis. He does this, however, to create for the reader a sense of the time in which a person like King Arthur might have lived. The types of political, military and social events with which he would have had to contend, and the nature of power and of place in society are discussed using what material is available.

With respect to the written material, Snyder discuses a number of problems confronting historians. The contemporaneity of these sources with their subject--or lack thereof--is thoroughly described for the reader. As with Biblical studies or biographies of Alexander the Great and other early people, many of the sources are very much later, even centuries later, than their subject. The introduction of an author's opinions and cultural biases, let alone their own agendas, may well distort any real information that he had at his disposal. Snyder makes this very apparent by discussing these authors and the events of their own time with respect to their "take" on Arthur and his life. Hagiography, the use of biography as a source of moral teachings or for other purposes, is a legitimate writing technique but not good history. An early author might also read too uncritically the material of his predecessor, and thus passed on as fact--probably after further distortion--stories that had no basis in fact to begin with. The task of "getting at" any core material that may exist becomes almost impossible, and such documents are rightly used with great care.

Snyder also discusses the effect of the cultural biases of modern day students of Arthur. Every culture has a Gestalt of its own, one of which the practitioners of the culture are not always aware, and what such a student perceives in written sources and artifactual evidence is filtered through this world view. Arthur therefore becomes something different for each culture and even for each culture at different times in its history. The author makes this point by discussing the changes in the Arthuriana that occurred in France and England and even throughout the world through time. He even discusses the variations in the Arthurian story that appear in modern cinematic presentations--the bards of our own time--in different countries and in different decades and how these interpretations are borrowed for various contemporary purposes. The Kennedy era "Camelot" is a case in point for modern US history.

With respect to the archaeological material Professor Snyder notes the effect of climate and geology on preservation, lack of research into key sites, misinterpretation of sites and data by earlier excavators, the biases of excavators, the effect of cultural orientation of excavators, recent improvement of excavation technology, etc. More than anything, the lack of any concrete data makes putting a definite "paid" to the task of identifying an individual Arthur a difficult one. The various stories surrounding sites associated with the legend through time, while lending the spice of intrigue and mystery to the Arthur legend, provide little material evidence of his having existed there at all. Even suggesting probabilities one way or the other are not really possible based on the data.

One thing the author does and does thoroughly for those who "really want to believe" is present an excellent overview of the individuals who might have served as a prototype for Arthur if not the man himself. He points out events in the lives of these historical individuals that might connect each with later legends and suggests that a composite of their personal characteristics and/or of their deeds may have gone into the creation of the legendary figure.

Whether Arthur or someone like him existed, the myths surrounding the character certainly have had far greater impact on the world's societies than any real person could have had. In short according to the author, it hardly makes a difference whether he existed or not so potent has his legend became. Snyder traces the impact of Arthur throughout history, surprising the reader with the vastness of his contribution to the world's people. Even the modern concept of romantic love is ascribed to the evolution of his legends in Mediaeval Europe.

This is a very enjoyable book.
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on September 1, 2003
I love this book. Before finding it, I swam through websites and a few books. I was looking for historical/archeological information, as well as the sources for the Arthurian myths and legends. Most of what I found was, at best, mildly biased, and, at worst, based on wild conjecture (see Norma L. Goodrich's "Guinevere").
Snyder has done an incredible job pulling together resources, and laying them out in a honest factual (yet entertaining) way. The reader can draw her own conclusions. In addition, the reader is led to other resources to further study any of the fascinating strains of the Arthurian phenomenon.
The pictures are most interesting! This would make a fabulous text books for British literature or British history teachers.
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on June 11, 2001
I am new to the Arthurian Legend, and I found this book to be an AMAZING resource. It tell the history brilliantly. It is really thorough in following through history the different authors that have contributed to Arthuriana.
More importantly to me, it has given me a roadmap of books to read so that I can learn more about King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.
The pictures that he has chosen are amazing. I would have like to see some clarification on some of the pictures of the maps that are included. But some of the pictures from some of the older versions of Tennyson's Idylls of the King, and some of the originals that Claxton used in the original Le Morte D'Arthur area really amazing.
Overall, a GREAT resource if you want to learn about some of the historical aspects of Arthuriana.
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on December 7, 2011
This picture book is actually a wide-ranging review of the Arthurian Legend that covers several thousand years of cultural and national history. While the Monte Python and Spamalot versions may seem like throw-away pieces, they are actually brilliant recapitulations of an extraordinary line of historical and mythological themes. The print is very small, but the many illustrations are of high quality. Once you get into the habit of bopping back and forth from picture to text (kind of a web reading experience in print) you start to get the feel of extraordinary historical movements of people and ideas from the Romans and before, to the present day.
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on April 26, 2012
Whether he really existed in some form or not, the image of ancient Britain's King Arthur continues to resonate with the modern world. His was a civilization in the midst of chaos, as he led the ultimately doomed battle to hold back the night. If there was a real Arthur, he would not, of course, been a medieval ruler with knights and jousting tournaments.

There are a number of traditions, not all relying on the struggle with Mordred that leads to Arthur's death and the eventual fall of Camelot.

The story of Arthur, Camelot, Mordred, and the sword in the stone stem from Mallory's Morte d'Arthur and has been filmed numerous times in some form, as in John Boorman's Excalbur.

But there's another tradition which says Arthur Castus, a post-Roman warrior king, operated near Hadrian's Wall and as his forces were forced back to Wales, the Arthurian legend moved with them until it had been transformed from a northern English setting to a Welsh setting. The Clive Owen movie King Arthur follows this track.

And there's Arthur and his rival, Malegant, portrayed in the movie First Knight by Sean Connery and Ben Cross respectively.

This focus of The World of King Arthur is less on the origins of the real Arthur as on the people he would've lived among and on the rich Arthurian literary tradition which reached across oceans long before modern communications. There's a tradition in northern Turkey of a hand oustretched above the surface of a local lake holding a sword, originating apparently with Arthur.

This book, unlike many, is profusely illustrated with color and black and white photos which alone makes it stand apart. Chapters are short and fairly readable. I wish they'd talked somewhat more about Arthur's origins...I'll never remember the details about the literary tradition. On the other hand, I'll grant that the book would only be covering the same ground covered by others in their books.

This is an excellent volume and worth getting if you are a fan of the Arthurian traditions.
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on March 13, 2010
My students loved this book. I have a collection of books on all things connected to the King Arthur Legend that my students use for research on King Arthur. This book was so popular that it was in constant demand. The students raved about how useful this book was.
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on April 4, 2014
I bought this as a reference book for my writing (novels) and it's exceeded my expectations. If you want to visit King Arthur's world, this book may be as good as it gets, unless you actually trek to Wales, Glastonbury (England), and related sites.

You'll get a little of everything in this beautiful book. Whether you need a casual reference book or a starting point for more in-depth research, this is one of the best books of its kind. While interpretations of King Arthur's life & times may vary, this book is stylish and evokes a wide range of images -- historical to romantic.

It's an ideal reference for writers, and I think it'd be useful for teachers who want to make the world of King Arthur more real to students.
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on July 5, 2015
I rate books here mainly on their academic usefulness. So, the book was generally accurate except that the author didn't seem to know that before around 600 dates can only be roughly accurate and a few things about the 'Historia Brittonum'. As far as being an accessible and generally up-to-date book on Arthurian studies, though, it is a good guide for the beginner. And as several have mentioned it is well- and heavily illustrated. I doubt it was 50,000 words, but the illustrations are useful in placing people and giving the reader a feel for the culture. The hall drawing especially was excellent; I don't think I've run across one before.
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on May 14, 2001
An excellent survey of Arthur and his legacy from ancient Rome to modern Hollywood. Anyone interested in seriously looking at Arthur should begin with this very readable book. Also - lots of great pictures!
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on August 3, 2015
Very informative and straight to the point. I purchased this for a college course, but found it to be such a smooth read that I recommend this book to anyone interested in the legend of King Arthur and start of Britain!
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