Call me crazy, call me retrograde, I still think the best single volume on the history of Arthurian literature in the Middle Ages is the 55-year-old collective work called:
- Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History. (Abbreviated, by me, as ALMA.) Edited Roger Sherman Loomis. Oxford University Press, c1959. isbn 978-0198115885
Judging from online reviews, I am not the only person to think so.
Thank heavens, Oxford, not otherwise given to inexpensive reprints, have made this volume newly available in their OUP Academic Monograph Reprints series – inaptly named in this case, since, precisely, ALMA is a collaborative work, not the work of a single author (a monograph being a single book by a single author on a single topic). No matter though; this reprint is cheap! 20 bucks! Hardback! You can’t afford not to own your own copy!
Perhaps the one thing to watch out for in this volume is the old-fashioned Celto-centrism of R.S. Loomis’s articles.
Some more recent works cover the same area as ALMA and perhaps aim at replacing it. They are variously useful, and for more up-to-date scholarship on particular aspects variously important. Here are ones I recommend consulting:
- The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. (How new? new, with regard to the earlier, simpler Arthurian Encyclopedia (1988), of which this is the second edition.) Edited Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, and others. 1996. Originally published by Garland (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities (Book 931), now taken over by Routledge.
Encyclopedias no longer have quite the appeal they once did, what with Wikipedia, the Internet, and all. This volume has much useful stuff, but it gives you no sense of an overview. Also, the articles on the historical Arthur are dominated by the views of Geoffrey Ashe. (If you have access to JSTOR, you can look up reviews of his books by entering “Geoffrey Ashe” in the JSTOR Advanced Search page.)
A more ambitious updating of ALMA is a series of works calling itself, impertinently, “Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages” (!) published by the University of Wales Press. Out so far are:
- The Arthur of the Welsh
- The Arthur of the French
- The Arthur of the Germans
- The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature
- The Arthur of the North
- The Arthur of the English
- The Arthur of the Italians
You should be able to find them listed on this page of the UWP site. If you’re working on a particular topic, you should consult the appropriate one of these volumes.
Nevertheless, again I say: start with the original ALMA of 1959.
II. Online Resources
Again, I limit myself to sites devoted to Arthurian literature in general.
- Medieval & Arthurian Pages: a very good site, perhaps the best Arthurian site, due to Siân Echard at U of British Columbia
- Arthurian Page of Voice of the Shuttle (UCSB): good for texts
- The Camelot Project: good mainly, I think, for 19th- and 20th-century authors influenced by medieval Arthurian texts. On the medieval texts it can be iffy. Its director, Alan Lupack, is particularly interested in modern re-versions of the Arthurian legend
- A list of the main texts by Judy Shoaf
- A co.uk site calling itself The Legend of King Arthur
- Arthuriana, another co.uk site, emphasizing Welsh texts; not to be confused with
- Arthuriana, the Journal of Arthurian Studies
- Wikipedia articles