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Arthurian Fantasy

What is Arthurian Fantasy?

Arthurian Fantasy is easily defined as any fantasy story incorporating the legends of King Arthur and his many companions.

The stories of Arthur have been told and retold for centuries. Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was published in 1485, which is a compilation of stories about Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the History of the Kings of Britain in 1136. These two compilations are the general source material for the King Arthur legends.

Most readers know the story of Excalibur, they know about the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle, the quest for the Holy Grail, they know the story of Arthur's conception. The appeal of Arthurian Fantasy is the imaginative retellings of these classic stories and the reinvention of these legendary characters.


Arthurian Fantasy Characteristics

  • Level of Magic

    Variable. Some stories focus more on the knights errant, while others feature wizard battles. Arthurian Fantasy has a vast repository of books and some have more magical elements and others are more mundane.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Variable. The legends of Arthur have messages and lessons and teach an honorable code of conduct. These are relatively small ideas, but they are the beginnings of bigger ideas. Arthurian tales also grapple with the nature of power, family structures, and education. Although, some tales are more about the adventure of the quest than any grand idea.

  • Level of Characterization

    High. Arthurian characters have a long history. Everyone knows Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Merlin so writers have a strong base of knowledge to work with and so their own versions of these legendary characters can be well developed.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    High. Quests, adventures, and prophecy are all key aspects of most Arthurian stories and proper plot development is key to each.

  • Level of Violence

    Moderate-High. Knights errant, wizard duels, assignation attempts, and battles of good versus evil—violence is very much a part of the stories of King Arthur and his court. However, some books, like those of the Young Adult genre, tend to focus on the magic, rather than the violence.

Related Fantasy Subgenres




    Celtic Fantasy. Arthurian Fantasy tends to fall into the Welsh tradition of Celtic lore—so these two sub-genres are natural crossovers.

  •  Historical Fantasy. One approach to Arthurian Fantasy is the historical approach, telling the story of Arthur the person and not the legend.

  •  Young Adult Fantasy. There are many Arthurian stories that are geared toward younger audiences.

Arthurian Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you don't like Fantasy. Arthurian Fantasy has been alive and well for such a long time that there is bound to be an Arthurian Fantasy book you will enjoy—it has something for everyone.

Popular Arthurian Fantasy Books
  • 1 The Once and Future King

    By T.H. White. A classic Arthurian tale about a young Arthur and his mentor Merlin.

  • 2 The Mists of Avalon

    By Marion Zimmer Bradley. This is a classic tale of Arthurian legends, but told from the perspective of female characters.

  • 3 The Crystal Cave

    By Mary Stewart. This first novel of the series introduces readers to a young Merlin, who does not know his father but does possess the Sight.

  • 4 Mordred, Bastard Son

    By Douglas Clegg. A new vision of Mordred, not as a bloodthirsty man set out for vengeance, but of a tortured man. He is tortured by his mother, whom he has great loyalty to and by his love for Lancelot, whom he cannot have.

  • 5 Taliesin

    By Stephen Lawhead. The first book of the Pendragon Cycle, this story takes place before Arthur and Merlin, but sets up the legend. It follows an Atlantean princesses and a seer and druid Prince.

  • 6 King Maker

    By Maurice Broaddus. A modern and edgy take on the Arthurian legends, this book mixes the ancient myths with drug gangs. King is a street hustler to must unite the streets.

  • 7 Uther

    By Jack Whyte. A new look at Uther, Pendragon from child to adult. Uther, friend of Merlyn, divides himself between two worlds: the world of Camulod and Roman military training, and that of the Pendragon of Cambria, a dark and harsh world.

  • 8 The Winter King

    By Bernard Cornwell. A compelling retelling of the King Arthur saga. Merlin has disappeared and Arthur, who was banished, returns to a land where magic and religion are vying for people's souls.

  • 9 The King

    By Donald Barthelme. An alternate history story where King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table fight with the Nazis.

  • 10 Knight Life

    By Peter David. Part of Arthur's mythic quality is the legend that he is supposed to return when he is once again needed. In this book, Arthur returns and runs for mayor of New York city.