Further Reading

King Arthur

Anon, The Mabinogion (c 11th century)
An assemblage of myths from the Welsh oral tradition, first recorded in the 14th century, and compiled into a single volume in the 19th. Not all the stories feature King Arthur, but those which do predate the medieval innovations of chivalry and courtly love which permeate later Arthurian literature, and are thus pleasingly bonkers.
Links are to the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Jeffrey Gantz (1976).

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Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain (c 1136)
Historia Regum Britanniae includes the first account of King Arthur in a language other than Welsh (Latin, in fact), and is one of our main sources for the legends of his life. Unfortunately, as the rest of the book makes clear, Geoffrey of Monmouth was either fond of making up complete nonsense, or drew heavily on sources who were.
Links are to the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Lewis Thorpe (1966). 

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Anon, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14th century)
Middle English romantic epic poem, our primary source for the legend of Sir Gawain’s encounter with the otherworldly Green Knight. Other, shorter, poems by the same anonymous author survive.
Links are to Simon Armitage’s marvellous verse translation into modern Midlands English (Faber, 2009).

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Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur (1485)
The definitive English account of the myths of the Round Table in their most lasting form. Most of what we remember about Lancelot, Guinevere, Excalibur, the Holy Grail, Galahad, Mordred and Bedivere was crystallised into its current shape by Malory (who wrote the book in prison, and seems to have been far from an ideal knight himself).
Links are to the Penguin Classics edition (1969).

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T.H. White, The Once and Future King (1958)
Omnibus edition of White’s sentimental, whimsical, anachronistic five-part life of Arthur: The Sword in the Stone (1938), The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939), The Ill-Made Knight (1940) and The Candle in the Wind (1958). Influential on several generations of King Arthur fans (and not just because of the Disney adaptation), the book is best remembered for its invention of Arthur’s boyhood under Merlin’s tutelage. Links are to the Harper ‘Complete edition’, which reinstates White’s lost fifth book, The Book of Merlyn.
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Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon (1983)
A necessary corrective to White’s public-school boyishness, Bradley’s epic revisionist version sees the Arthurian story through the viewpoints of its women, notably Igraine, Morgause, Morgan le Fay and Guinevere. It’s less feminist than is sometimes imagined, though, and parts of it are troubling in the light of recent allegations about Bradley’s personal life.
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Rosemary Sutcliff, The King Arthur Trilogy (1999)
Omnibus edition of Sutcliff’s retellings of the Arthurian legends for older children: The Sword and the Circle (1979), The Light beyond the Forest (1979) and The Road to Camlann (1981). A very evocative straight account of the myths, and an ideal starting point  for the unfamiliar.
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Robin Hood

Anon, various Robin Hood ballads (15th to 18th centuries)
The earliest texts about Robin Hood suggest that he was a violent trickster, admired more for cleverly humiliating of authority figures than because of an altruistic ethos of wealth redistribution. These narrative poems introduce Robin’s various associates and antagonists, and most of the familiar incidents in his life. I haven’t found a good, cheap, readily available modern collection in book form, but the website below links to several online versions.
The Robin Hood Project: Authors and Texts

Geoffrey Trease, Bows Against the Barons (1934)
Bows against the Barons, by the prolific historical novelist Geoffrey Trease, is the ‘painfully earnest Marxist reimagining’ of the Robin Hood legend which Jory reads on p172 of The Pendragon Protocol.  In fact, the political preaching in this children’s book is only really apparent to the adult reader – the story of a young outlaw boy meeting Robin and joining his ultimately doomed peasants’ revolution is one I adored when I was its target audience. Links are to the revised edition with an afterword by the author (1966).
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Roger Lancelyn Green, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956)
A heroic effort on Green’s part to assemble all the surviving stories told about Robin up to about 1926 into one coherent whole, and retell them for a young audience. It’s not always wholly successful (giving Robin a quick adventure in Scarborough between his final showdown with the Sheriff’s men and his death at Kirklees Priory is a poor storytelling choice, for instance), but it’s an excellent way to familiarise oneself with the literary tradition of Robin Hood.
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Further Viewing

John Boorman, Excalibur (1981)
The most successful cinematic version of the Arthurian myth, the film trims wisely to create a clear emotional narrative in which the wounding of Arthur (and hence, mystically, the realm) by Guinevere’s infidelity can only be healed by the Holy Grail.
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Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
A comedic parody of Arthurian myth and the medieval action genre in general. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an extremely clever film as well as an extremely silly one, and some of its critiques of Arthurian lore are surprisingly accurate. Contains sequences which would clearly parody Excalibur if it hadn’t been made six years earlier.
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Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

This is the most enduring film version of the Robin Hood legend, with Errol Flynn as Robin taking on Basil Rathbone’s Gisborne. Conventional and conservative in its interpretation of the story (which has to be considered a blessing, given Hollywood’s more recent tendencies in that area), and more than a little mannered to modern eyes, this nevertheless has huge charisma and charm.
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Richard Carpenter et al, Robin of Sherwood (1984-86)
This TV series has a strong claim to having defined the Robin Hood legend in public consciousness over the past 30 years. Its politics are anti-authoritarian and racially aware (the ethnic conflict between Saxons and Normans is augmented by the presence, for the first time, of a Saracen among the Merry Men); there’s a postmodern acknowledgement that the characters are present at the birth of a legend (the mantra ‘nothing’s ever forgotten’ is put into practice as a new Robin takes on the mantle after the first is killed); and pagan mysticism is embraced in place of traditional Christianity. The first season’s episodes are slow-moving, and in the final season Jason Connery (the second Robin) isn’t up to the standard set by Michael Praed, but there are other outstanding performances (including Ray Winstone as an atypically murderous Will Scarlet), the scripts are excellent, and Clannad’s soundtrack, though deployed with annoying repetitiveness, is gorgeous.
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Kevin Reynolds, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
The story goes that this film was so influenced by Robin of Sherwood that the Islamic character played by Morgan Freeman was hurriedly renamed from ‘Nasir’ to ‘Azeem’ after it was realised that the former had been an original creation. Though cheesy in places (Alan Rickman’s deliriously over-the-top Sheriff being a particular delight), the film has an integrity which more recent star vehicles have signally lacked.
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Joss Whedon et al, Firefly (2002)
The most striking of the sporadic attempts to relocate the legend to another setting, Whedon’s short-lived TV show demonstrates the versatility of the archetypes of Robin and the Merry Men by transplanting them into a space-opera Western. (The parallels in the case of the major characters are exact: Mal Reynolds is a cunning, cynically altruistic ex-soldier who lives beyond the law; Inara his higher-status love interest who retains ties to the society he’s left behind; Jayne a big rebellious man with an ironic name; Zoe a loyally violent lieutenant who habitually wears red; and Book a priest who’s surprisingly good at fighting). The curtailed storyline (concluded rather perfunctorily in the 2005 film Serenity) makes it difficult to see how far these parallels would have extended, but the crew are, at least, protecting a pair of innocent fugitives as in the traditional pantomime Babes in the Wood.
Amazon UK – Amazon USA – IMBD

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Smart, contemporary political thrillers. A new kind of urban fantasy,

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