This text presents a comprehensive dictionary of characters, places, objects and themes found in the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Information is drawn from significant Arthurian sources between Gildas's "De Excidio Britanniae" (c.540) and Tennyson's 19th-century "Idylls of the King". The book contains names extracted from over 250 original Arthurian texts and includes information on characters such as Lancelot and Gawain, places such as Camelot and Camlann, objects such as Excalibur and the Holy Grail and themes such as the Sword in the Stone and the beheading game. Each entry provides a description of the name, including possible origins or historical basis of the name, and major characters and themes are discussed extensively and their evolution through the series of texts is traced.
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The legend of King Arthur and his knights and ladies has been around for more than a millennium. It probably began in the Dark Ages in Wales, as oral tales passed down through the years. Then it was picked up by the English, transmitted to Europe, and returned to England to be codified by Sir Thomas Malory. Meanwhile, Arthur had found a new best friend (Lancelot), a quest (the Holy Grail), and a place to live (Camelot). The Arthurian legend is best described as an amalgam of many writers' ideas, plots, themes, characters, and motifs.
To comb through 1,500 years of Arthuriana and find every name associated with it is a considerable task that Bruce has accomplished admirably. The extremely invaluable New Arthurian Encyclopedia (Garland, 1996) provides only 90 names (by design, it should be noted), whereas this volume has more than 5,600. It makes for both a fascinating read and a very useful reference tool. The work consists mostly of names of major and minor characters (Arthur, Gwythyr, Tristan, Petipace of Winchelsea), but there are also references to places, events, and things. The author has wisely made his cutoff with Tennyson's The Idylls of the King (1859^-1886) or the volume would be twice as long because of the current proliferation of Arthuriana. Each entry is listed alphabetically and depending on the subject can be very short or quite long. The entry on Arthur is nine pages long. It looks first at his historicity and how the legend around him developed. Then it notes what the texts say about the dates of his reign, how they portray his character, what insignia he carried, and where his grave is located. Entries are fully cross-referenced with the excellent appendix on sources that lists not only author, title, and date but provides brief descriptions, some keywords, and a note on the text that was used. This is a very useful work that most large public and academic libraries should have.Review:
...extremely invaluable...a fascinating read and a very useful reference tool...that most large and public libraries should have.
–Reference Books Bulletin
Serious students of the Arthurian legends will find this a useful and informative resource.
–School Library Journal
...a valuable tool for study and enjoyment of an already-essential myth of our cilivization and greatly to be recommended to individual readers and libraries alike..
–Arthuriana, January 2000
An excellent companion to The New Arthurian Encyclopedia.... It includes all the characters and places; for the major Arthurian texts, the work is comprehensive.
–Booklist/RBB, June 1 & 15, 2004
Even experienced students of Arthurian literature will find plenty of new discoveries in Bruce's dictionary. Here the unbelievably wide world of Arthurian romance that William Caxton marveled at in 1483 is itemized in fascinating, specific detail. The book should be a gold mine for future Arthurian novelists as well as treasure for the inquisitive scholar.
–Jennifer R. Goodman, Texas A&M University, Speculum, April 2003
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