Share This Article

Arthur: King in the West, by R. W. Dunning. Published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 5th Avenue, New York, New York 10010. $17.95 paperback. 1995.

Most of the tales surrounding Arthur and his knights of the Round Table are pure fiction. But they are no less fun for that. R. W Dunning adds to the fun with his recent book Arthur: The King in the West. Unlike several predecessors, who have soberly laboured to advance their theories of who the legendary Arthur really was, or which of the many postulated sites is the real Camelot, Dunning seasons scholarly debate with some of the tall tales used by past generations of Arthurmaniacs to promote themselves and their versions of ancient British history. If some of these accounts are patently absurd, well then there’s so much more fun to be had in reading them.

In particular, Dunning focuses on the connections between the Arthur myth and the legends involving the origins of Glastonbury Abbey. To many, questioning the historicity of these links is tantamount to heresy, but by identifying the origins of the many stories and putting them in context with the Abbey’s place in a world of intense competition for prestige and pilgrims, Dunning provides an informative and often amusing look at the art of myth making, yet without forgetting that nearly all legends conceal a kernel of fact.

Some may be disappointed, because the book offers no radical new conclusions about Arthur’s identity, but then, theories enough can already be found, and should a definitive version of the story ever be told, a great deal of the fun will go out of it. In the meantime, Dunning shows that scholarship and legend are not an incompatible pair.