Apr 16, 2008

Arthur & The Lost Kindgoms by Alistair Moffat

I have to confess: when I spotted this book at the library I picked it up, but I was expecting to put it back on the shelf within five minutes. As much as anything Arthurian interests me, I tend to be wary of books that distort facts to support unsubstantiated claims. However, I very quickly realized that this was definitely not one of those books. I also realized that I was going to have to bring it home with me.

What is Arthur & the Lost Kingdoms, you ask? It’s a non-fiction book about the historical Arthur. Alistair Moffat’s theory is simple. The reason why historians have failed to find proof of Arthur’s existence is the fact that they have been looking in the wrong place. Arthur, he says, was a man of the north, a warrior, and the true site of Camelot was the Scottish Border country.

I not only didn’t return the book to the shelf but became completely engrossed in it, and what first sucked me in was the realization that Alistair Moffat has what unfortunately many authors of books of this kind tend to lack: honesty. He’s completely honest about his methods, and he is the first to admit that they are not the conventional methods followed by historians. He does think that his way of doing things is just as valid, but he doesn’t try to convince you of that. He lets you decide for yourself. Reading the book, I began to respect him a lot, and to like him as well. He doesn’t throw claims at the reader. When he speculates, he’s the first to say that he is doing so. What he does is give you facts (solid, well-established ones), explain his reasoning, and let you decide if you agree with his conclusions or not.

And do I agree with his conclusions? Well, no. I also don’t disagree with them. For all I know the site of what came to be known as Camelot could very well be the Scottish Borders. I just don’t think there is enough information to make this conclusion a solid one. But that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book in the least.

A lot of Moffat’s conclusions are drawn form toponymy, the study of place names. This is a topic that I find fascinating, and I immensely enjoyed reading what he had to say about it. I also learned a lot about old Celtic languages, archaeological finds of all sorts, Roman Britain, and the traditions and lore of the Scottish Borders. The book is full of all sorts of interesting facts that I never knew, many of which not necessarily related to the historical Arthur (although he did, of course, include them for a reason).

On top of this, the book is written in a very accessible and captivating style. Alistair Moffat is obviously passionate about the subject he's writing about, and that too comes across. Above all, you realize that, Arthur or no Arthur, the land he is writing about is very old and very rich in traditions, and reading about those was a great pleasure.

Alistair Moffat has written other books about Celtic culture and history, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them. It’s not often that you find non-fiction books that are speculative (and speculating is fun, as we all know) but do not try to deceive you. I’m very glad to have found this author.


  1. This looks really interesting, another one for me to check out. Thanks!

  2. Hmmm... that does sound like an interesting book. I have never read any non-fiction about the Camelot legends, but I bet it would be good reading, since I like retellings of Camelot stories.

  3. Actually this book really does sound fascinating. I'm not a huge lover of non-fiction books (especially of the speculative kind), but I do enjoy tales of Arthur. Maybe I'll have to pick this one up!!

    Thanks for a great review, as always!

  4. Ah I have been meaning to pick this up for a while! If you like his writing, you must try The Sea Kingdoms...fabulous book!

    And thanks for your warm welcome on my new blog!

  5. Greer, I hope you enjoy it!

    Kim: That was my reasoning as well :P

    Stephanie: Yeah, I'm not normally fond of those speculative books...it's funny, because I like nothing better than speculation in fiction, but normally those books have a "this is the truth and nobody realized it before me because they aren't as clever as I am and/or because there's a conspiracy to hide it for whatever reason" tone that I really REALLY dislike. But not this one! This one was great.

    Mariel: The Sea Kingdoms is the one I'm looking forward to the most. It does sound fabulous, and it's good to have confirmation from someone who's read it! And no problem :)

  6. Definitely sounds interesting. I like the idea that Arthur was from Wales personally, but am always open to new ideas. I like the sound of him not forcing his ideas on you and letting you come to your own conclusion. It's always annoying when people and authors are so blinded by their own viewpoint they have no room to allow you your own.

  7. I actually like the idea of Arthur being from Wales as well. But something else I liked about the book was the fact that he wasn't necessarily trying to claim Arthur for Scotland. He obviously loves his land (the Borders in particular), but he does point out that at the time there was no Scotland or England or Wales yet...there were several kingdoms that Arthur helped unite. This could easily have turned out to be a "we are the best and Arthur is further proof of that" kind of book, which is something I always find a bit off putting, regardless of the country making the claim. But that wasn't the case at all, fortunately.

  8. whadaya mean Arthur isn't real???!! Next you'll say Merlin isn't real!... sheesh.. that's like saying there is no Santa !

    lol.. great review Nymeth!

  9. 1)How do you find these books, and 2) how do you give such good reviews? I love your reviews of books, they are clear and give your opinion and you say why you think or feel what you do, and it's insightful and fun to read. I would never have thought of picking this book up - I'm firmly of the Arthur in Wales camp, but finding out about Borders lore and history? *sigh* irresistible....

  10. Deslily: lol :P I forgot to mention that there's a section about Merlin in the book as well...it was pretty cool.

    Susan: In this case, random browsing at the library :P And thanks so much for your kind words...I'm very glad to hear that you like my reviews :)

  11. That sounds really interesting. I've added it to my to read list. Thanks for the review!

  12. Megan, I hope you enjoy it :)

  13. Interesting--when I was doing my graduate studies I can't tell you how many dry and boring non-fiction books/articles I encountered. The academic world could do well to have a little more "accessible and captivating" writing.

  14. I've always enjoyed reading Arthurian novels, but I've never read a historical account of the Arthur legends. I have difficulty with history (being boring or hard to understand) but this book does sound good. I think I'll try it!

  15. I've read a few Arthurian based books and Moffats claim is not particularly convincing.

    There is numerous evidence that Arthur was actually born in Wales. Even early french sources mention Camelot being situated in Carleon Wales.

    Anyway, doesn't Moffat claim from a genetics view, that the heritage of the populations of The Old North is mostly to be found in modern day Wales.


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