Then Arthur Fought (The Matter of Britain, 378-634 AD)

Written by Howard M. Wiseman
Review by Steve Donoghue

In Then Arthur Fought, Howard Wiseman has taken the persistent myth of the Dark Ages 5th-century war-leader named Arthur and has shaped it into what he calls “quasi-history” and defines as “a work with the appearance of a history, and not actually falsifiable.”

He tells the story of the “matter of Britain” in the early Middle Ages, the rise of Arthur, the fact-based versions of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table and the wars of the Britons, and his narrative is crowded with names and places, virtually every page planted on a foundation of close-typed footnotes.

There is no plot and scarcely any dialogue; what Wiseman has instead created is a thoroughly convincing contemporary Arthurian document, a long and lavishly detailed fictional fantasia on the kind of primary source we will never have for the Age of Arthur. The whole thing should not work, should fall flat as the driest possible scholarly parlor-game – and yet the thing is soaringly intelligent and, most unlikely of all, hugely entertaining.

It is a stunning achievement, enthusiastically recommended.