18 April, 2014

On the Trail of King Arthur, Reviewed

I recently reviewed a strange new book on the inevitable "real" King Arthur: On the Trail of King Arthur: A Journey into Dark Age Scotland, by Robin Crichton, for Arthuriana 24.1 (2014), 141-3.

The title of this volume promises a suspenseful quest. Even more, Robin Crichton claims to revise, singlehandedly, all existing scholarship on the figure of ‘Arthur’ by the ‘academic establishment’ (14), creating his own methodology based on field work with a tribe of North American Indians and what Scottish Enlightenment thinkers called ‘conjectural history’ (16). The result, however, is a relatively uninspiring remix of information gleaned from the work produced by the very members of the ‘academic establishment’ Crichton rebukes. He first surveys the historical, cultural, political, economic, and archeological contexts of early medieval Britain. Then, based on the notion, ‘so abhorrent to academics, that there is no smoke without fire,’ he concludes that: Arthur existed; he came from a noble Northern family and was attached to the crack cavalry of the Macau; his enemies were the Angles, Saxons, and Picts; he was a Christian who crusaded to reinforce the new faith; he fought at the Battle of Badon; Merlin, ‘the last of the Druids,’ existed, but two generations later than Arthur. Only archaeology may be in a position, so Crichton holds, to discover the ‘truth’ and ‘clear the obscurity of the Dark Ages’ in the future (140).

Not surprisingly, then, archaeological conjectures are at the heart of Crichton’s argument…  READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE