By Saoirse Reynolds, Special Collections and Archives
The story of Arthur’s life and death has fascinated people for over a thousand years. Different aspects of his story have been told and retold with embellishments and in many ways throughout this time. What fascinated people is how he came to power, his career as a King and war-leader of the Celts against the Saxons, how he was able to establish a long and secure peace but eventually ended in the break-down of his court and the descent into civil war and finally his death on the battle field.
Many of these stories have been told as children’s tales and in our Special Collections room we have the beautifully illustrated book; Stories of King Arthur, retold by Blanche Winder. It is by Harry G. Theaker and was published by Ward, Lock & Co. in London & Melbourne in 1925.
It consists of 24 seemingly independent stories which actually all link chronologically and start with the birth of Merlin to a Princess who had been tricked into marrying an evil fairy after the meeting of fairies at midnight.
Many people love the stories of King Arthur and this book tells them from the beginning. The preface gives us an insight into the different stories surrounding King Arthur and where they originated.
Many of the stories in this book are taken from Sir Thomas Malory’s book La Morte D’Arthur. However some of the other stories are actually taken from even earlier sources. The first British historian who seriously wrote of Arthur was a Welsh Bishop, Geoffrey of Monmouth. In the 12th Century he wrote a Latin book about the King and Merlin. There were other books which came after this – many written in French by poets and were attached to the courts of the period. The Mabinogion, an old Welsh book which was translated by Lady Charlotte Guest also contains several stories of Arthur and one of these is retold in this book as the Tale of the Pig-Sty Prince. This is about King Arthur’s cousin, a little prince who was found in a pig-sty and when he grew up his struggles in trying to gain permission to marry Princess Olwyn from her difficult and demanding father.
There are many stories of the cup called The Holy Grail and of the adventures of Arthur’s knights as they searched for this precious treasure. According to the author the ‘loveliest’ story of these tales were used by Tennyson in his Idylls of the King.
An interesting fact that the author notes is that the exact same stories were told in Brittany as in Wales and Broeliande. The enchanted forest in which Merlin is now imprisoned is supposed to be in Brittany. There are also many places which claim to be the real Avalon, the island which Arthur was taken after his last battle and from where the legend says he will someday come again. There seems to be a great many Arthur stories which are contained literally in hundreds of books in English, French and German Libraries.
King Arthur is often seen as a fantasy from the medieval ages and even those who accept that he exists often disregard the tales surrounding him. Those interested in another book concerned with proving the existence of a real King Arthur see King Arthur: Truth Behind the Legend which we hold as an e-book. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/nuim/detail.action?docID=5001575