- Arthurian Writers: A Bibliographical Encyclopedia
It is not necessary to have a degree in literature to be passionate about Arthuriana, or to be a knowledgeable writer on the subject. Therefore, although Laura Cooner Lambdin and Robert Thomas Lambdin teach Management at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business, their work can still be valuable to academics in other fields. There are several well-researched and well-written essays in Arthurian Writers that live up to that expectation. Overall, however, the book is inconsistent in quality and some of the editorial choices hard to understand.
The preface indicates that the book is intended as a reference tool for university and advanced high school students, but also for academics. Its sometimes simplified presentation of fact does seem meant to appeal to a younger readership, but its price indicates that the expected buying public is academics or university libraries. However, at the scholarly level, while many of the essays are useful and intelligently written, most academics demand more consistently sophisticated analysis than this book provides overall. Moreover, because it only features Arthurian writers, several important but anonymous early works in the Arthurian corpus are excluded. Even more oddly, Marie de France is mentioned in the Introduction but not given an entry of her own, although the more topically peripheral Chaucer and Boccaccio are.
The editors claim expertise in early English literature, but if that is true it is disturbing how many false notes are struck by their Introduction. On the first page, they summarize ‘the basic Arthurian plot’ without noting that their synopsis is only the basic plot for Malory’s Morte Darthur. This is symptomatic, as they repeatedly present oversimplifications or interpretations as facts, a problem aggravated by the absence of footnotes in this part of the book.
The entries themselves are of variable quality. Several are excellent, and most are informative, but some read like undergraduate research papers. Picking at random from among good entries (there are many), the essays on The Gawain-poet, Dryden, and Twain are readable, detailed, and interesting. Indeed, they serve as solid introductions to the works of those authors. The entry on Malory, however, reads like a book report. This is not surprising in that the author of that entry is not a Malory but a Marlowe scholar and is currently at work on a book about teaching the Bible in Japan (Did they confuse the Ms?). That the editors chose a non-expert to contribute the entry on one of the most important figures in the history of Arthurian literature, especially when Edward Donald Kennedy was apparently available, calls [End Page 81] their judgment into question. Finally, the representation of contemporary authors is understandably thin and selective.
It is an appealing idea to combine information that is generally spread across multiple volumes into a single book, but students may need to read it with the recognition that not all that information is equally well-presented. [End Page 82]