The legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have inspired a number of epic stories, from the magical tales of the sword Excalibur, the bravery of the knights, the love story between Lancelot and Guinevere, and even Merlin’s magic.
With so many intriguing characters to work with, it’s no surprise that the legend continues to be told in new, creative ways, both on the page and on the screen.
Was There a King Arthur?
The medieval figure who led the kings of Camelot and formed the famed Knights of the Round Table may have been purely mythological. No one knows for certain if King Arthur was a real person.
Some theories hold that he was a military leader in the 5th to 6th centuries, who helped keep off a Saxon invasion. However, many elements in the legend may have been added to the story, and later details would be added about “magical” elements, like his magic sword, Excalibur.
What Is the Best Book to Read About King Arthur?
Despite the debate on whether King Arthur was a real person, the stories awaken children’s minds to the wonders of truth, heroism, and goodness. And the timeless truths in the stories also add to its appeal for all ages.
If you want to add some classic Arthurian legend to your reading list, we’ve compiled a few that will surely delight you:
Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff published Sword at Sunset in 1963, interpreting the legend of King Arthur for adults. Cutting through and removing the many pagan, medieval, and early Christian mythological aspects, she tells a realistic, historical version of the man who possibly could have been the real King Arthur.
Sutcliff wrote the novel in a first-person point of view, exploring the thoughts and feelings of Artos the Bear, a mighty king who defended Western civilization from barbarian attacks in the fifth century. The book opens with Artos recalling different scenes from his life while lying near death.
She effectively describes the battles that Arthur waged. Her use of old Welsh names instead of the traditional names in the Arthurian legend helps the reader feel more immersed in the story.
Other than Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff also wrote a King Arthur trilogy for children, which contains the following books: The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table; Light Beyond the Forest; and Road to Camlann.
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, also offered his own take on the magical tale of King Arthur. His The Fall of Arthur is a book in verse about King Arthur’s last campaign.
While Arthur stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, he receives news of Mordred’s treachery. He realizes he needs to head back to Britain and rally his troops.
Despite his weakened spirit from Guinevere’s infidelity, Arthur has to lead his knights in one last battle against Mordred and his army.
Although the poem is unfinished, the passionate and powerful imagery clearly proves Tolkien’s unrivaled gift of storytelling.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
Published in 1953, Roger Lancelyn Green’s version of the King Arthur legend may well be considered a children’s book. However, adults can also enjoy this book as a great introduction to the legend.
Green collected the many legends about King Arthur and wove them into a single story, with a logical beginning, middle, and ending.
He starts the book with the story of the sword in the stone, which the young Arthur successfully—and surprisingly—pulls out. This sets him on track to become the rightful king.
The story then moves on to Arthur’s inviting the best knights of England to sit at the round table he constructed. As more knights come to join the Round Table, Green tells each of their adventures.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
T.H. White is another master who retells the story of King Arthur. The book opens with Wart, a young boy whom the magician Merlin is tutoring for an unimaginable future: over time, this boy will grow up to lead the greatest group of knights, marry a legendary lady, and unify a country with the values of chivalry.
This boy will be crowned as Arthur, legendary King of the Britons.
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
The Crystal Cave takes a different perspective of the King Arthur story by following the life of the illegitimate child of a Welsh princess: the boy who would grow up to be known as Merlin the magician.
Stewart portrays Merlin’s childhood as a perilous series of visions and inexplicable portents. But his journey takes him to prophesying before Vortigern, the High King, to crowning Uther Pendragon and eventually to identifying Arthur and serving as the king’s most trusted adviser.
The Lost Years by T.A. Barron
Another book that explores the Arthur legend through the eyes of Merlin, T.A. Barron’s The Lost Years starts off with a forgotten boy washed ashore in ancient Wales.
The little orphan boy struggles to learn who he is, and his quest leads him to the enchanted land of Camelot.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is Mark Twain’s satirical account of an Arthurian legend. The story begins with the miraculous time travel of a regular American back to the time of King Arthur.
Twain explores how medieval customs and traditions would look to a modern-day American. The first-person narrative by factory supervisor Hank Morgan is amusing, and often downright hilarious. The suspense of the scenes when Morgan needs to save his own life keeps readers glued to the pages.
However, despite the comic nature of this classic, Twain also deals with issues of the divide between the rich and the poor, the typical fear of progress and science dominant during that time, and other detrimental beliefs.
Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey
Another interesting perspective to explore in the King Arthur story is that of his wife, Guinevere. Mercedes Lackey successfully writes a story about the legendary queen, using the old Welsh name Gwenhwyfar.
The author writes about the future that Gwenhwyfar must choose: either the path of the Blessing, or the Warrior. The King’s daughter chooses the path of the Warrior, which is rarer, and eventually submits to becoming Arthur’s queen.
This decision opens her up to unexpected temptation, treachery, love, intrigue, and redemption.
The Forever King by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy
Bestselling authors Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy write an interesting twist on the story of King Arthur. The book starts with a 10-year-old boy, who coincidentally is also called Arthur, finding a strange cup that turns out to be the Holy Grail.
The antique cup takes him, its appointed guardian, on a journey through space and time, where Arthur needs to protect it from evil forces and a madman who is after the Grail’s unsurpassed power.
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
Howard Pyle’s novel published in 1903 is a great collection of stories in the legend of King Arthur and His Knights. This enthralling rendition has delighted adults and children alike over several generations.
Renowed storyteller Pyle magically transports us back to the enchanting medieval age, beginning with Arthur’s adventure as he draws the magical sword from the rock and following his journey to love and betrayal.
Arthur suffers treachery in the hands of Morgana le Fay, and sadly witnesses the tragic end of his adviser and friend, Merlin the magician.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
This unique retelling shares King Arthur’s story through the perspective of the women who helped him rise to power—and who plotted his fall.
Marion Zimmer Bradley expertly takes us through the childhood and fulfillment of these women’s destinies. These include the struggles between Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar and Viviane and Merlin, bringing the classic tale to new light before us.
The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
This first volume of Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles shows the writer’s prowess in presenting the age-old familiar tales in a fresh way.
The story begins with Arthur banished and Merlin gone, and a child-king sits on the throne with no one to protect him.
Arthur returns to this desperate Dark Age Britain, fighting to keep a shred of civilization in this world immersed in barbaric customs.
The Skystone by Jack Whyte
Jack Whyte explores the story before Arthur came to be: he opens the scene to a dark and deadly Britain, ravaged by warring tribes of Saxons, Celts, and Picts.
He unpacks the choices that the Roman citizens had to face: relocating to a foreign land, or staying and facing the madness amidst the wars.
The author then zooms in on two Romans who decide to stay and fight for the best of the Roman people—who later forge the sword known as Excalibur and live to become the great-grandfathers of the legendary King Arthur.
Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie
The enigmatic character of Guinevere renders the most sorrowful blow that can befall the great King Arthur. In her novel, Nancy McKenzie delves into the life and heart of this legendary queen.
From a prophecy of doom right in her childhood, she is given her destiny as gwenhwyfar: the white shadow symbolizing betrayal. Guinevere grows up to be an unusual beauty, and the rich tales of the courageous Arthur attract her and lead to their marriage.
This book shows us the tapestry of emotions that Guinevere faces that eventually lead to her downfall.
Nonfiction Books About King Arthur
If you are on the lookout for nonfiction books about King Arthur, we’ve also compiled this list of helpful reads to aid you on your quest:
The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650 by John Robert Morris
John Morris recreates the past in Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650. He uses the the age of Arthur as the starting point of British history, tracing Roman Britain’s transition to Great Britain, when England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were established.
He explores political, economic, social, cultural, and religious history, keeping to the theme of continuity.
The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend by Alan Lupack
Alan Lupack wrote a comprehensive history of Arthurian legend that also serves as a reference to all the names, symbols, places, and characters involved in the story.
The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend contains seven essays that give a complete survey of all the different formats of the legend, taking into account their roots in medieval literature as well as how they are adapted in modern literature, film, arts, and popular culture.
The Arthurian Handbook by Norris J. Lacy
Norris Lacy’s handbook compiles all we could ever want to know about the legendary Arthur and the knights of his Round Table.
The book includes the origins of the legend of the Holy grail, the love story of Tristan and Isolde in literature and opera, the portrayal of Arthur in works of art, and even Steven Spielberg’s use of Arthurian themes in Star Wars.
The critical survey serves as a helpful introduction for beginning readers of King Arthur while also offering a useful synopsis for experts in the legend.
The Discovery of King Arthur by Geoffrey Ashe
The Discovery of King Arthur covers not only the myths and legends but also provide us with maps, historical facts, and relics. Students, general readers, and scholars alike will find convincing evidence that King Arthur was not only a real, living person, but was actually so much like the Arthur of our legendary tales.
Geoffrey Ashe draws upon multiple sources to trace the story of Arthur back to the 12th century records of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
The Myth of Morgan la Fey by Kristina Pérez
Morgan la Fey, King Arthur’s sister, is known by many names, many of them evil, but this comprehensive study of her life gives us a glimpse of her three-dimensional personality.
Kristina Pérez studies and shares with us Morgan la Fey’s descent from goddess status, within the framework of the King Arthur legend, to her final identity as a witch.
A Brief History of King Arthur by Mike Ashley
This short but lively history studies the question that many readers have about whether King Arthur and his knights were true.
Mike Ashley finds and presents clear proof that the legends of this mighty and noble king could have come from the lives of three men, coming from Scotland, Brittany, and Wales.
The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation by James J. Wilhelm
This book, originally published in three volumes, is considered the standard collection of all literature pertaining to King Arthur.
Now printed in one volume, the expanded edition contains almost one thousand years’ worth of translated texts, all in varied genres. It also includes a new section containing lyrics.
The Best Books About King Arthur
The legend of King Arthur offers no shortage of inspiration to work with. Many authors have provided their own unique takes on the legend, Excalibur, Camelot, Merlin, and more to continuously revive this magical legend.
Check out one of the books from this list to explore a world of magic, knights, romance, and chivalry, or try writing your own fresh spin on this legendary tale.
Do you have a favorite story about King Arthur? Share it in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- 12 Best Historical Fiction Books to Read Right Now
- 20 Best Books on Audio: Listen to Your Favorite Reads
- Life Lessons from Game of Thrones
- What Are Fantasy Maps: How to Create a Whole New (Fictional) World
Latest posts by Yen Cabag (see all)
- 20 Funny Books for Teens: The Best Books to Entertain Young Adults - March 20, 2020
- Onomatopoeia: Definition and Examples - March 18, 2020
- 30 Eye-Opening Books About the Holocaust - March 17, 2020