The Fortunes of King Arthur

Article excerpt

NORRIS J. LACY, ed., The Fortunes of King Arthur. Arthurian Studies lxiv. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2005. Pp. xvi., 231. ISBN: 1-84384-061-8. £45, $80.

The topic of this collection of thirteen essays is elastic, ranging from the 'vicissitudes' of the Arthurian legend from medieval to modern times as well as the metaphoric and mythological treatment of the king's fortunes (p. 1). The essays are divided into three flexible categories: 'History, Chronicle, and the Invention of Arthur,' 'Fortune and the King,' and 'The Fall and Rise of Arthur.' The Fortunes arose from a conference of the same title held at Pennsylvania State University, and the contributors are major scholars who write well and whose essays offer significant contributions.

The only weakness in the collection derives from that very elasticity of topic, which leads to a certain inconsistency in the volume as a whole. Some essays offer sweeping overviews that could serve as introductions whole national traditions or specific texts within a tradition. For example, W.J.R. Barron's 'Bruttene Deorling' traces the English placement of the king within a dynastic pattern from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, while Caroline D. Eckhard's 'Reconsidering Malory' moves from Caxton's edition of 1485 to Sidney Lanier's of 1950. Alan Lupak's analysis of Arthur's place at the center of the legend begins, appropriately, with Tennyson, cycles back to the king's decline in the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries, and then surveys his rise during modern times on both sides of the Atlantic. To say that these essays offer introductions is not to disparage their strengths: Lupak led me to revise the American section of my Arthurian syllabus, and the late W.J.R. Barron's reflections on an 'An Arthur for Every Age' continue to provoke thought about Arthur's legacy.

Other essays treat more narrowed issues and are clearly addressed to scholars in the field. With such a focused approach, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan offers a fascinating analysis of Elis Gruffydd's chronicle, in light of the sources available to that Welshman serving at Calais and steeped in the sixteenth-century debate about Arthur's historicity. …