The Grunts’ King Arthur: Civic Humanism, Masculinities, and Legend in the Novels of Jack Whyte and Bernard Cornwell
Contemporary scholars approach the matter of a “historical” Arthur with caution; fiction writers avail themselves freely of the “unknowable”— the information gaps of the legend—as a langue for their parole. Archaeological or genealogical data are deployed not only tor the aura of verisimilitude they can impart, but also as a means of signaling the implied audience and defining the ideological frameworks of the “Arthurian” narrative. I wish to argue that the Arthurian series of Jack Whyte and Bernard Cornwell, grounded in nostalgia for empire and framed by ideologies and subgenres reminiscent of nineteenth-century adventure fiction, discard the romance elements of the legend, thus preserving the wartime crisis atmosphere conducive to narratives of hypermasculine activity; further, the authors use the factitiousness of the “historical” Arthurian world as the basis for ironic interrogation (Cornwell) or for occasionally tendentious idealization (Whyte) of the received tradition.
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