NR Digital

No Aquatic Tarts?

by Charles C. W. Cooke
Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, by Guy Halsall (Oxford, 384 pp., $34.95)

‘Why is it,” I once asked a friend at Oxford, “that I have to write 2,000 words per essay and you only have to write 800? After all, we do the same subject.” She bristled slightly at the suggestion. “No, we don’t, Charles. You study modern history and I study medieval history and nobody knows anything about medieval history — bugger all, in fact. There’s not much to write.”

We really do know “bugger all” about the early medieval period, and what we think we know changes all the time. Written primary sources are thin on the ground and most of the archaeological evidence is still buried under it. Nonetheless, although it is placed slap-bang in the middle of a historical wilderness, one story is burned into our collective memory: King Arthur’s. Dark Ages be damned, we have a legend and we’re sticking with it.

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