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06 May 2022

The Reading Doctor: Arthurian

Kia ora and welcome to the Reading Doctor! Each week, literary critic and devoted reader Dr Louise recommends books to us on a particular theme, or responds to reader questions. Send us your questions for her by emailing:

This week, she recommends some books inspired by the legends of Camelot.


The stories of Camelot, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table hold enduring fascination for all ages. Children thrill to tales of knights, princesses and wizards, of duels and quests, of dragons and unicorns (beginning the list below). Adults are drawn to stories about politics and power, rivalries and jealousies, great love, dreadful betrayal, and a very complicated blended family.

· A young boy discovers an ancient tomb and is sent on a quest to return Excalibur to King Arthur, in Michael Morpurgo’s The Sleeping Sword, for middle readers.

· The first in a sequence for children, Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth is a historical adventure story set in Roman Britain.

· Imagining the boyhood of King Arthur under the tutelage of Merlin, The Sword in the Stone by T H White was written as a YA stand-alone work, but became the first in the series, The Once and Future King.

· Arthurian echoes trouble a typical American high school in Avalon High by Meg Cabot.

· The Dark is Rising YA sequence begins with Over Sea, Under Stone, by Susan Cooper, in which an ancient struggle between the forces of Dark and Light draws heavily on Arthurian legend, as well as Celtic and Norse mythology.

· Written from the perspectives of its female characters, The Mists of Avalon by Marian Zimmer Bradley refigures the traditional villain Morgan le Fey as a heroic Celtic priestess resisting the imposition of Christianity during a time of great political and spiritual upheaval.

· Elaine, the Lady of Shalott, narrates the story in Laura Sebastian’s novel, Half Sick of Shadows, lover of Lancelot, friend to Guinevere and Morgana, advisor to the king and an oracle, who lives in constant fear that her visions will become true,

· The first in a quintet of Arthurian novels by Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave follows a boy called Merlin as he travels through Britain in search of a home.

· Amidst the violent conflicts between the peoples of Britain and its invaders, a Roman officer describes the formation of the military and governing systems which lead to the coronation of King Arthur, in The Skystone by Jack Whyte.

· An engineer receives a blow to the head and is somehow transported through time and space, becoming A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, in the novel by Mark Twain; he uses his knowledge of the future to pass himself off as a magician, to modernise and improve life, with little effect, in a satire of feudalism and a celebration of democratic values.

· In The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell, an elderly monk recalls his life as a warrior sworn to the service of the warlord, Arthur, in the manner of a modern political thriller.

· The Kennedy White House was dubbed Camelot by the First Lady, in an legacy-building interview after her husband’s assassination; Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 features a time traveller who attempts to prevent JFK’s death, in the belief that history would have been very different – and better – had he lived and Camelot endured.