Arthur: The Bear of Britain

Written by Edward Frankland
Review by Alexandra Ceely

The grim reality of sixth century Britain comes to life in Frankland’s novel of the legendary King Arthur. In this novel, originally published in 1944, Frankland chose to represent Arthur as the Celtic warrior rather than the chivalric Arthur of myth and legend.

This is the Britain of the Celts, abandoned by Rome over a hundred years before, besieged by Saxons, Picts and Scots, bloodstained and war-weary from years of defending their homeland. Arthur, son of Uther, raises the red dragon standard and urges all good Britons to join him in chasing the Saxons from their land. But the Britons are a suspicious, divided people. They are too busy fighting each other to join in such a noble cause.

Frankland portrays Arthur as a noble Briton whose only concern is for the people and the land. Yet this single-mindedness leads to tragedy, and in the end the battles are all for naught. The Saxons will triumph in the end, because the minor kings cannot and will not trust one another enough to fight side by side.

The author’s writing is brilliant with vivid imagery. The gloomy landscape of a land ravaged by war comes to life under Frankland’s pen. Battles are hard fought and bloody. The people are weary and devious. Arthur is a man besieged by doubts and plagued by his own shortcomings.
Hard core Arthurian fans may enjoy this book, but don’t read it looking for the 12th century legends of Lancelot and Guinevere. This is a story that gives us the bones for that legend, with names of the cast unchanged from their Celtic roots. The cast is different, too, with some characters taking on more than one role and others changed beyond recognition. And don’t look for Merlin, either. There are no elements of fantasy in this tale, only foreshadowings of the endurance of the stories being forged by events. This is pure Celtic Britain as it must have been in the Dark Ages after Rome and before William the Conqueror.