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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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2015 The Great Courses (P)2015 The Teaching Company, LLC

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.


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.

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.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Disappointing

Although she clearly knows her subject, unfortunately her voice is really rather unsuited to audio books. It's rather grating, and her pronunciation is so poor at times that it was only context that suggested to me what she was actually saying. For example, Pre-Raphaelites, and especially Goebbels. That may be her accent, which is very strong, so that her English becomes - to this English speaker - incomprehensible at times.

As for the content, it is more an overview than a series of detailed lectures. It is also highly repetitive, to the point where it actually becomes boring (something I never thought Arthurian legends could be).

In summary, too basic, too repetitive, and poor narration.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Carole T.
  • 26-04-15

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.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • 17-07-15

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.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • J.B.
  • 02-09-16

Surprise! A Spectacular Read and Study

King Arthur: History and Legend, The Great Courses, written and narrated by Professor Dorsey Armstrong. The story of the Arthurian legend. If that phrase doesn’t ignite recognition, it is the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. From the story’s inception in both fact and lore and then onto an in depth study of its influence in Western culture.

If you think that last sentence, “influence on Western culture” means something esoteric think, A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court by Mark Twain, think the Kennedy presidency, the opera Tristan und Isolde, the search for the Holy Grail (and for that matter Monty Python), The Fisher King, and about 10,000 literary works, sculptures and paintings; of epoch renown. I did not know of the story’s overwhelming influence until this magnificent read.

There are only a few great epic plots that underlay our western civilization as in the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden, The Story of Christ, Oedipus Rex, Romeo and Juliette and now I know the Legend of King Arthur to be amongst the seeds of our ethos.
I came across this course by accident. I had just purchased The Once and Future King by T. H. White and was about to start the novel, when Audible suggested the course by Professor Armstrong. I decided it would be good to get a full understanding of the story before delving into a 33 hour read. I am ecstatic that I did. This is a wonderful entertaining read. Who would imagine a lecture course on the retelling of the King Arthur story, which began about the year 500 A.D., and was a source of untold retellings for the next 1500 years would be so entertaining. It was such a good read that it was difficult to stop the evaluation and go about life’s other functions. The story about how the King Arthur tales permeates all western existence was a perfectly constructed study.

Even more so was the wonderful lecture style of Professor Armstrong. I did did not know who she was at all nor had I had any expectation of her lecture style but I found myself enchanted with her brilliance on the subject and enthralled with her style of speaking. She is terrific. Just listening to her makes me happy (and smarter).

I know it sounds ridiculous, listening to 12 hours on King Arthur, but take the chance, this is a superb and delightful study.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • peter
  • 23-05-16

Wonderfully Legendary, Dubiously Historical

Any additional comments?

This is a wonderful overview of the Arthurian tradition as a whole and I am coming back to listen to it again. Professor Armstrong's enthusiasm is contagious and she presents it all so well.

However, the historical section at the beginning, which I admit was a major hook for me on my first listen, has huge holes. The whole idea of looking for evidence for the 'real' Arthur in the literary tradition is massively flawed, ignoring as it does the pre-Geoffrey tradition of Arthur as a magical giant-killing folk hero bearing no resemblance at all to the Arthur of Romance.

This mostly-Welsh tradition of the 'supernatural' Arthur is far closer to contemporary with the period of the 'historical' Arthur and portrays an entirely different character. What's more, the only historical figure with a really good claim to being the origin of the name 'Arthur' (and only the name) was dead some 250 years before the period of the 'historical Arthur'.

And that's not to mention the questions about the validity of the conventional story of Saxon invasion, which I am still struggling to get a grip on.

For a more nuanced, more objective and logically sound examination of the origins of Arthur, look elsewhere (like Thomas Green's 'Concepts Of Arthur'). And I suggest you do because it only gets more fascinating the more you dig!

But for a sweeping and engaging survey of the tradition post-Geoffrey, for an appreciation of the scope and variety of this amazing literary tradition, and for some really great gems of insight on the different stories and characters, this is a wonderful piece of work. I'm on my second listen, and can certainly imagine coming back again.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Brendan
  • 27-02-16

A must for lovers of the Arthur legend

The professor is particularly suited for this course, and while listening I often thought of how enjoyable it would be to be taking this course as a student. Listening, then, is the next best thing. It borders at times on Arthurian overload - 12 hours all about King Arthur and the various legends that inspire him? - but it is at most times most interesting. As a lover of all things Monty Python, I especially loved Professor Armstrong's including of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is of course the funniest film of all time.

Highly recommended for both novices and serious scholars.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Jacobus
  • 07-05-15

King Arthur is more than make believe

So there ìs more to the legend of Kind Arthur than just make believe. According to Prof. Armstrong, Arthur was an actual king from the fifth to sixth century, but he probably was not called "Arthur."

In this series Prof. Armstrong cuts to the bone, starting with the historical figure of Arthur and fleshens it out layer by layer until you are quite familiar with the main character traits, plots and characters of the legend. I enjoyed the way she took the listener though the ages, discussing the various aspects of the legend.

I never new we had so much Arthurian literature before "La'Morte d'Arthur." I found it very insightful.

Prof Armstrong comes over a passionate about her subject matter which enlivens her lectures tremendously. She has the ability to keep the listener's interest throughout. I found her lecture on the Holy Grail very insightful. I never knew how this story came into being. It is now crystal clear to me, that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has very little if any basis in historical fact.

This course is a must if you are a follower of the "King Arthur"-cult. It gives a good overview of the legends different stages and presentations in different languages. If you are mildy interested in this type of thing, it is still a rewarding listen.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Tad Davis
  • 05-01-18

Loved it!

Several years ago I happened on a copy of Dorsey Armstrong’s excellent rendering of Malory into modern English. It hasn’t achieved the widespread availability it deserves. So it was a special treat to find this entry in the Great Courses series. I loved it. Her lectures are deeply informed and wide-ranging, covering Welsh, Norman, French, German, and even Dutch and Italian representations of Arthur. She clearly outlines the successive layers of the legend: one author adds the round table, another adds Lancelot, another adds the Grail. And she carries it forward into the 21st century, including a number of films on Arthur - her favorite being Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Her delivery is direct and engaging; some of her personal anecdotes are especially amusing. Good job all around.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • R. Mikesell
  • 07-12-16

Interesting

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I think I would recommend it to friends that are interested in such history

What did you like best about this story?

It is as advertised - a classroom, academic, analysis of how the legend came about and expanded. There were a lot of references to various stories and how they are related and changed through the ages. Ms. Armstrong was very knowledgeable enthusiastic, and it was interesting.

Any additional comments?

I would have enjoyed simply listening to the stories more than listening to how they evolved.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Tex E.
  • 13-05-15

Great overview

There is so much to cover, she does a remarkable job hitting the relevant bits. Very enjoyable and informative work.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • craig
  • 11-10-16

A great insight on the legend

I have read a few stories of King Arthur's Medieval Romances and took a Medieval Literature college course and I found this to be a great source of knowledge and understanding of the legend of Arthur. Stories are lined out nicely so you don't have to be an expert to fallow nor do you need to read the stories before hand, but it still provides new outlooks for those who have. I would suggest this for anyone who wants to know more about the legend of King Arthur.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful