the betrayal of arthur

Goodreads: The Betrayal of Arthur

betrayal-of-arthur-2013-cover“This is a wonderfully interesting book that examines history and characters of the Arthurian legend. Written in a very accessible style, Douglass carefully outlines the origins of the legend, especially examining where the various elements came from. The various character analysis are most interesting, concluding that Merlin and Arthur are actually, given what they are commonly understood to be able to do and their role in the legend, rather dismal failures. This fascinating book will interest those with knowledge of the Arthurian legend and an inquisitive mind.”

Review by Ernest on the Goodreads website.


On the 6th of February 1998 Sara wrote on her personal website “I’m working on my non-fiction Arthurian book at the moment. It is a book that investigates the betrayal theme within the legend. Fantastic. All to do with sex and incest and medieval penances. The arthurian tale is a very medieval tale in its images and in its strong moral overtones, and it is fascinating to read some of today’s novels and see how authors struggle to ‘modernize’ an epic that is so medieval it has almost lost relevance for today’s world.”


The Betrayal of Arthur was originally published in 1998. Pan McMillan re-released it on 1st October 2013 in electronic format, you can download it from Momentum here.

Once Upon A Bookshelf: The Betrayal of Arthur

betrayal-of-arthur-1999-coverThe Story

From the back of the book:

A prophecy of a golden age, a magic sword and a chosen one… This is the legend of King Arthur… or is it?

From the manuscripts of a twelfth-century English cleric to a New York bestseller, tales of King Arthur and his court permeate our world. But where did the stories start and how much is true? Were Guenevere and Lancelot traitors? Was Merlin a wise man or magician? And was King Arthur a great and glorious king or a tragic man doomed from conception?

Sara Douglass, a leading writer of fantasy, pierces the heart of this legend. A scholar and academic in medieval history, she explores the fascination, manipulation and permutations of this captivating myth that has intrigued the western world for centuries.

The Response

I will admit that I was worried about this book. It’s been sitting on the TBR for the past four years, and I was torn about whether I really wanted to read it. See, I have a love for the Arthurian mythos (well, for most of it, there are certain parts of the mythos *cough*Lancelot*cough* that I loath, but for the most part I love the legends)… and I was worried that this would make me loath all things Arthurian. But it was written by Sara Douglass, whose writing I adore, so it couldn’t lead me too astray into something I really hated, right?

So it was with much misgivings that I went into this book, and while it opened my eyes up to the true character of Arthur, it was certainly extremely informative and (surprisingly) enjoyable. HIGHLY enjoyable.

The Bottom Line

Highly recommended to people who are interested in learning more about Arthurian legends than just the story itself. Unfortunately, this book is now out of print, but it’s definitely worth the hunt for in second hand sources. I, personally, have drastically marked up my copy of this book and will be keeping it for a very long time to look back at when necessary.


©2011 Courtney Wilson / Once Upon A Bookshelf. To read the full review on the Once Upon A Bookshelf website please click on this link.

Eidolon: The Betrayal of Arthur

betrayal-of-arthur-1999-cover

Even in resolutely secular, ‘dun-coloured-realist’ Australia, the Arthurian motif has appeared, in both fantasy and mainstream novels. Now Australia’s top fantasy author tackles the Once and Future King on his own turf-the turf of the borderlands between myth and history. This non-fiction exploration of the doomed and dooming Arthur, those closest to him and the images of him, reveals Sara Douglass’ deep knowledge of the area, and her historian’s understanding of the Middle Ages in particular. She does not gush about Arthur-indeed, in many ways it could be said that her King has very heavy feet of clay indeed. But she is true to the complexity and the shifting nature of the legend, and the ways in which it has been interpreted and re-interpreted over the centuries.

Douglass’ analysis of character is interesting and thought-provoking, and remind us very much that Arthurian romances were not only magical journeys, but also some of the first ever psychological ‘novels’ (in fact in French, a novel is still called ‘un roman’: the novel certainly does not date from the 18th century).

As well, Douglass thoroughly examines the attempts to place Arthur in history, and the quasi-spiritual cult surrounding him, both in medieval times and now, and concludes that though Arthur should not be portrayed as saviour, it is indeed the legend, and not some never-to-be-proven historical ‘real man’, that is of deepest importance to the culture: a conclusion with which I absolutely agree.

Readers note: a ‘romance’ in medieval terms was a narrative written in one of the Romance languages-ie those influenced by Latin, rather than in Latin itself. These romances were popular literature written in the common tongue, and the true ancestor of modern fantasy.


©2000 Sophie Masson / Eidolon. To read the full review on the Eidolon website please click on this link.