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Publisher's Summary

The saga of King Arthur and his court is the most enduringly popular mythic tradition of Western civilization. For over 1,500 years, the Arthurian narrative has enthralled writers, artists, and a limitless audience spanning the Western world and beyond - and its appeal continues unabated in our time. No other heroic figure in literature compares with King Arthur in terms of global popularity and longevity; now, each year sees literally thousands of new versions of the story appear across diverse media, from fiction writing and visual arts to film and popular culture. Delve into the historical mystery behind the figure of Arthur, and discover the magnificent breadth of these epic tales.
These 24 spellbinding lectures reveal the full scope of the Arthurian tradition, from its beginnings in post-Roman Britain to its extraordinary trajectory across the centuries and its latest incarnations in modern times. Your pathfinder in this world of mythic adventure and romance, Professor Armstrong, is one of the world's leading Arthurian scholars and the current editor-in-chief of the academic journal Arthuriana. Demonstrating both encyclopedic knowledge and an infectious passion for the subject, she leads you in tracing how the myth developed across time, clarifying many misunderstood aspects of the narrative, such as the origins of the Round Table and the figure of Merlin, the illicit love between Lancelot and Guenevere, and the varied manifestations of the magical Holy Grail. You'll discover how the legend was appropriated and assimilated by differing cultures, and how each writer and artist in the tradition reflected and commented, through the Arthurian narrative, on the concerns of their own time and place. The result is an illuminating look at one of the most engaging, entertaining, and influential legendary traditions the world has ever known.
©2015 The Great Courses (P)2015 The Teaching Company, LLC
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By C. Telfair on 04-26-15

Twelve Hours in Camelot

Professor Dorsey Armstrong is obviously a real Arthur geek, as well as a serious medieval scholar. Her enthusiasm for all things Arthur - past and present - make this a well-rounded look at the Arthur of the 5th century all the way up to the Arthur of contemporary books, films and advertising (King Arthur flour!).

So we get a look at what evidence exists for a historical Arthur. Whatever that long ago, charismatic and valiant figure may have accomplished, none can argue with the power and scope of the legends and ideals he inspired. Professor Armstrong considers the legacy in literature of the Western world and in fine art ranging from ancient tapestry to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to films and musicals.

Her emphasis is on the idealistic and romantic qualities which spread the legend, expanded it so much, and have kept it alive through the centuries. For me, a middling Arthur fan, there was quite a bit of new and very interesting information here.

I quite like the Professor's rather casual tone and her eagerness to include modern pop references. In this course, thankfully, there is none of the distracting "Great Courses" applause, although you may find yourself looking around for the source of the music that wafts in at the end of each lecture. My one qualification is that Armstrong does repeat herself more than necessary - and with the exact same words she previously used. For teachers in the classroom this may be a necessary and helpful tactic, but it's out of place in an Audible recording.

On the whole, I'd say this is an admirable quest.

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16 of 16 people found this review helpful


By John on 07-17-15

Exhaustive History of Authurian Literature

Any additional comments?

This is an exhaustive history of the appearance, growth, diversification and manipulation of the legend of King Arthur and his Knights. Dr. Armstrong is an expert in the literature associated with Arthur's legend through hundreds of years and into modern times. Her presentation is enthusiastic and full of side notes about how various bits developed. If you are interested in the "legend" of Arthur this book is for you. While I found some of this fascinating and have great respect for Armstrong's encyclopedic knowledge and obviously deep research there was a point where it became incredibly tedious. The point I think I began to lose interest is when I realized that the entire legend results from stories about stories about a warrior who may have been named something like Arthur (but probably not), who may have lived around the area of Cornwall in England (but there's no way to know) sometime in the mid 5th century. The entirety of the Arthurian legend (spoiler alert!) is basically 2000+ years of fan fiction. It was interesting to hear how this story, which essentially rose out of the mist and was completely fabricated, influenced and was influenced by culture and politics over two thousand years.

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18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Amazon Customer on 11-05-15

Great telling of how the legend is written down through the ages

Dorsey Armstrong is a great storyteller and presents the facts in an easy to understand way. She has presented the legend from our most popular method of the medieval knight back to what is now considered to be his origins from Roman times up to variations of the legend today in all formats.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful


By HappyLuckyAlix on 08-17-15

Too little history for a history course

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I agree with other reviewers who have said that the content is too heavy on the history of the literature, with not enough about the actual or speculative history of Arthur as an historical figure. By halfway through I was quite unclear which parts of the story were in fact derived from historical fact, and which were later embellishments, and because the Arthur stories have been reworked and added to over time, there's a lot of repetition. This was a fun listen but really too long for what it contains.<br/><br/><br/>

If you’ve listened to books by The Great Courses before, how does this one compare?

This was my first Great Courses audio. I was looking forward to being challenged and stretched rather than entertained. Given Professor Armstrong’s obvious knowledge of and vivid interest in her subject, and the profile of The Great Courses format, I found the delivery too vernacular: it felt as though she’d written the content for an audience of highschoolers, for example her referring to the characters as ‘cool’ and ‘doing awesome stuff’ was misplaced.

Do you think King Arthur: History and Legend needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

The lectures have given me a better understanding of the history of Arthurian legend in literature and the development of the myth in popular culture over the ages; I’m ready for more Mediaeval History, but not with Professor Armstrong.<br/>

Any additional comments?

I admire that Professor Armstrong has learned Old Norse, Early and Middle English among others, but for an audio course a lot more care should have been put into the pronunciation especially of the German and English names. As a British listener I was very irritated by basic errors (Pre-ra-fuel-ites; Glaston-berry; Brit-ney). The German was awful.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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