The best books to make you think about King Arthur

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always loved stories about King Arthur–what’s not to love–Arthurian stories are about the underdog triumphing, destiny, knights and quests, swords (and stones, or lakes), great heroes and villains, and magic. My university studies made me into a military historian (among other things–including an opera singer and a historian of film), and I loved revisiting my love of Arthur in various guises. I have sung him on stage, played him in roleplaying games and miniature wargames, and I have written articles and books about him in film and history. I hope my list of recommendations provokes you to think about King Arthur in new ways!


I wrote...

Finis Britanniae: A Military History of Late Roman Britain and the Saxon Conquest

By Murray Dahm,

Book cover of Finis Britanniae: A Military History of Late Roman Britain and the Saxon Conquest

What is my book about?

My book explores the military history of late Roman Britain from the third century AD onwards and into the time of the Saxon invasions and conquests in the fifth and sixth centuries. 

This was the period when the Roman Empire abandoned its provinces in Britain and withdrew all military personnel from the island. This then left Britain vulnerable to invasion by Germanic tribes–the Saxons, Jutes, Angles, Frisians, and others. When these tribes invaded, they were immensely successful (why Britain became Anglo-Saxon England and why people of English descent are still referred to as Anglo-Saxons). This was also a time of resistance to these invaders–it is the period when King Arthur made his appearance, although his history is complex indeed.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript

Murray Dahm Why did I love this book?

This book is the go-to for nearly everything you need to know about Arthurian legend. I use it and return to it time and time again to explore different elements of the Arthurian story. Not to mention, the history of Malory and the book itself are just as fascinating to me.

Writing at the end of the fifteenth century, Malory’s work was really the starting point for anything Arthurian–and even though I find the earlier works on Arthur’s history are just as enthralling. Any translation is fine, and many editions (I have about eight) have notes on different elements of Arthurian history and legend and where they may have originated. I have followed many such notes down multiple captivating paths.

By Thomas Malory, Dorsey Armstrong (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fiction. Folk Tales. Medieval Studies. Dorsey Armstrong provides a new, Modern English translation of the MORTE DARTHUR that portrays the holistic and comprehensive unity of the text as a whole, as suggested by the structure of Caxton's print, but that is based primarily on the Winchester Manuscript, which offers the most complete and accurate version of Malory's narrative. This translation makes one of the most compelling and important texts in the Arthurian tradition easily accessible to everyone--from high school students to Arthurian scholars. In addition to the complete text, Armstrong includes an introduction that discusses Malory's sources and the long-running…


Book cover of The History of the Kings of Britain

Murray Dahm Why did I love this book?

More than any other source, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s book is responsible for our modern fascination with King Arthur. I read this for the first time at school and have returned to it again and again.

Written in Latin in the twelfth century, Monmouth claimed to have access to secret books that no other author had read–I found that intriguing all by itself. When he wrote, three of his exact contemporaries were also writing works on King Arthur, and there seems to have been a literary ‘Arthur business’ in the 1130s–why? (It was a period of great disruption in England, and she may have needed a new savior!). Although he goes way beyond the realms of history, I still find Geoffrey charming and inspiring.

By Geoffrey of Monmouth, Lewis Thorpe (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The History of the Kings of Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Completed in 1136, The History of the Kings of Britain traces the story of the realm from its supposed foundation by Brutus to the coming of the Saxons some two thousand years later. Vividly portraying legendary and semi-legendary figures such as Lear, Cymbeline, Merlin the magician and the most famous of all British heroes, King Arthur, it is as much myth as it is history and its veracity was questioned by other medieval writers. But Geoffrey of Monmouth's powerful evocation of illustrious men and deeds captured the imagination of subsequent generations, and his influence can be traced through the works…


Book cover of The Winter King

Murray Dahm Why did I love this book?

There have been too many novels featuring the story of King Arthur to count; this is my favorite. I found it (and the following two books in the series) really captured the idea of who Arthur was, why he was needed, and why he did what he did at the time for me.

It was the first Cornwell novel I read, and he has become my favourite novellist. I think he writes battle scenes better than anyone–he puts you in the middle of the action and makes you feel the visceral nature of combat (especially in his Arthurian and medieval books). If anyone is looking for a place to start with Arthurian fiction but doesn’t know where to begin, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book and series. 

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Winter King as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uther, the High King of Britain, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos - threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade. As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the Saxon enemy, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere.


Book cover of Cinema Arthuriana Essays

Murray Dahm Why did I love this book?

I love all things Arthuriana, including the many, many times he has been shown on film. This book covers many aspects of how Arthur has been put on screen in fifteen chapters by different scholars. One of the great things about a volume of edited papers like this is that there is still room for you to think about another aspect of the subject not covered inside.

I have been inspired to write several articles based on noticing just such a hole–and of course, coming out in 1991, there have been a plethora of Arthur films and all the interesting points they bring up that this book does not cover. I think reading about film is a fabulous way to look at things with fresh eyes.

By Kevin J. Harty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cinema Arthuriana Essays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The legends of King Arthur have not only endured for centuries, but also flourished in constant retellings and new stories built around the central themes. With the coming of motion pictures, Arthur was destined to hit the screen. This edition of Cinema Arthuriana, revised in 2002, presents 20 essays on the topic of the recurring presence of the legend in film and television from 1904 to 2001. They cover such films as Excalibur (1981) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), television productions such as The Mists of Avalon (2001), and French and German films about the quest for…


Book cover of King Arthur in Music

Murray Dahm Why did I love this book?

Even richer than the tradition of Arthurian films are musical adaptations of King Arthur, stretching back, at least, to the seventeenth century. As it says on the lid, this book explores how King Arthur has been approached in the wide realm of music. I love operas, musicals, and orchestral music, and Arthur is a consistent subject and theme.

Whether Camelot or Spamalot, putting Arthur’s story on stage or to music brings out aspects of his story that words or images alone cannot, and the musical Arthurs are some of the most nuanced versions of the man. I’ve returned to this book and the works it explores many times–often writing about Arthur myself while listening to music about him or featuring him.  

By Richard Barber (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked King Arthur in Music as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A survey of the influence of the Arthurian legends on musical works.

King Arthur in Music is the first book to be devoted to the subject. The range of musical material is too wide for a single author to tackle satisfactorily, and the nine contributors to this volume are experts in the very different fields involved. The first essay, by Robert Shay, deals with the late seventeenth century semi-opera King Arthur, while the final essay by William Everitt looks at the appearances of Arthur on stage and screen and the scores that have accompanied these. Between these two extremes, the…


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The Nameless Throne

By Lisa Cassidy,

Book cover of The Nameless Throne

Lisa Cassidy Author Of The Nameless Throne

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Book nerd Fantasy lover Coffee snob

Lisa's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

An ambitious orphan. A ruthless warlord. An impossible destiny.

Arya Nameless is a lowly Raider posted to an isolated fort in the most dangerous place in Dunidaen. She has few prospects, and as much as she loves her fellow soldiers, she burns for more—more control, more autonomy, more power.

When her bravery during an unexpected attack leads to an offer to join the household of one of Dunidaen’s warlords, Arya finds a home and family she never expected. Yet her quicksilver temper and fierce pride put her place there at constant risk.

And as her warlord embroils them all in a dangerous political game to rule Dunidaen, over the border to the west, the Nightstalker lurks. A king who wields powerful magic, the Nightstalker’s fate is inextricably entwined with Arya’s. His relentless pursuit will force Arya into a choice she doesn’t want to make, between loyalty and love, and taking hold of the destiny she was born to fulfill.

Which will she choose?

The Nameless Throne

By Lisa Cassidy,

What is this book about?

An ambitious orphan. A ruthless warlord. An impossible destiny.

Arya Nameless is a lowly Raider posted to an isolated fort in the most dangerous place in Dunidaen. She has few prospects, and as much as she loves her fellow soldiers, she burns for more—more control, more autonomy, more power.

When her bravery during an unexpected attack leads to an offer to join the household of one of Dunidaen’s warlords, Arya finds a home and family she never expected. Yet her quicksilver temper and fierce pride put her place there at constant risk.

And as her warlord embroils them all in…


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