There are few stories that have been as told and retold as the Arthurian legends. Adapted, drawn upon and played around with by everyone from Disney to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, these stories have had a massive impact on culture and literature from the medieval period onwards. There are many reasons for the enduring popularity of King Arthur books and Arthurian retellings. There are a huge number of memorable characters for writers to play with — not just Arthur and Merlin, but Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawain, Morgan La Fey, and Nimue, amongst many others. There are fun and recognisable small stories within the major arc of the legends that lend themselves to adaptation and exploration, such as the quest for the Grail, Gawain’s interactions with the Green Knight, or the tale of the Lady of the Lake. And there’s the broader legend itself — the rise and fall of a good but fallible king, and the coming together and then dissolution of a group who aim to fight evil, but are eventually overcome by it.
It’s no surprise that authors past and present have found Arthurian legends a rich source of inspiration. Some look at the way that Arthur and his knights are ultimately doomed to fail, while others look at the promise that, in the world’s time of need, Arthur will return to save us all. (I’m not rushing you, Art, but now would be the time). There have been queer and feminist retellings of Arthurian myth, and settings have included everything from the medieval era to a far-off spacefaring future.
While there have been many fascinating and compelling retellings of stories about King Arthur, the field is still largely dominated by white authors, with only a few authors of colour having their Arthurian works published. Hopefully, the success of books like Legendborn will allow more authors of colour the opportunity to publish stories in this rich and fascinating area of myth and legend. For an in-depth look at the importance of diverse retellings, check out Why Retellings of Classics From Authors of Color and Queer Authors Matter.
In the meantime, here are some of the best books about Arthur for children and adults alike.
King Arthur Books for Children and Young Adults
Legendborn by Tracey Deonn
The first in Tracey Deonn’s contemporary YA fantasy series follows Bree Matthews, a recently bereaved girl who attends an early college programme at UNC-Chapel Hill. While there, she discovers a secret society of students known as the Legendborn, who are the descendants of Arthurian knights. Legendborn deals with grief, systemic racism and generational trauma, as well as being a nail-biting fantasy adventure.
The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland
In The Seeing Stone, Arthur de Caldicott is a young boy living in the 12th century who wants to grow up and become a knight. He meets an old man named Merlin, who gives him a magical stone that allows him to see the story of King Arthur and his knights — stories which soon begin to parallel young Arthur’s own life.
Bloodmarked by Tracey Deonn
The sequel to Legendborn, Bloodmarked sees Bree and her friends reeling from the revelations at the end of the first book, and also preparing for the coming apocalyptic war that has activated the Scions. However, Bree still has to deal with the racism of the Regents, and the unpredictable nature of her newly-discovered powers.
A Tail of Camelot by Julie Leung
In this cute story, first in the Mice of the Round Table series, Julie Leung tells the tale of the stories that live inside the castle walls of Camelot. While Arthur’s knights protect the realm, the Camelot mice protect the residents of the castle — however, when their leader is killed, his grandson Calib Christopher must unite the mice and other creatures or face the end of their hidden world.
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
A classic Arthurian story, loosely based on Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, The Once and Future King has been the inspiration for many later Arthurian adaptations, including Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. It begins with the adventures of young Arthur, nicknamed “Wart,” as Merlyn the wizard trains him for his future as King.
Young Merlin by Tony Bradman
Aside from Arthur himself, Merlin is perhaps the most famous character from Arthurian legend. This story by acclaimed author Tony Bradman follows the adventures of Merlin as a young child, as he masters his magic, befriends dragons, and tries to protect the kingdom from the invading Saxons.
The Legends of King Arthur by Tracey Mayhew
This fun series for younger readers begins with No Ordinary Boy, and tells the story of the rise and fall of Arthur and his knights. They also contain plenty of information about the medieval era when Arthurian legends first became popular, and so are useful learning resources as well as fun adventure stories for young readers.
Once and Future by Cory McCarthy and A. R. Capetta
In this YA book, Arthur is reborn in the far future as Ari, a girl from a planet that has been destroyed by the evil corporation Mercer. When she meets the wizard Merlin and finds Excalibur, she learns that she is the once and future King, and that her friends and companions are reincarnated versions of the Knights of the Round Table.
King Arthur Books For Adults
By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar
If you like a bit of political satire with your Arthurian myth, By Force Alone is the tale for you. Taking a dark and unblinking look at the grimy side of Camelot, this story doesn’t shy away from the fact that the road to the throne is a bloodstained one, and that to succeed as King, you must be prepared to be brutal.
The Search for King Arthur by David Day
A nonfiction book tracing the Arthurian legends and how they have developed throughout history, The Search for King Arthur is a rich and in-depth historical text. Day digs deep into the origins of the legends and their impact on history and society as they have developed over the centuries.
Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff is most famous for her Roman historical fiction The Eagle of the Ninth. While Sword at Sunset is less well-known, it has Sutcliff’s familiar blending of historical depth and high-action plot. It tells the story of Artos the Bear, a warrior-king who unites and rebuilds his kingdom.
Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey
A retelling of Guinevere’s story, Gwenhwyfar tells the tale of a young woman who gives up her place as daughter of the King to become a warrior. Gwenhwyfar deals with danger, magic, prophecy and betrayal, as she grows to become the Queen of Camelot and her destiny unfolds.
The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend by Alan Lupack
For people interested in the academic side of Arthurian legend, this nonfiction book goes through the myths, characters, and themes of the stories in detail, as well as giving a critical history of the different ways that the legends have been retold and interpreted throughout the centuries. It links to many different well-known texts, giving readers a bibliography to continue their learning in Arthurian legend.
The Myth of Morgan La Fey by Kristina Pérez
Another nonfiction deep dive into Arthurian history, The Myth of Morgan La Fey is a comprehensive overview of a famous legendary figure. Morgan La Fey is Arthur’s sister, sometime lover, and mother of his child Mordred, who grows up to kill him. In her book, Pérez looks at how Morgan has been represented in myth, and how her role has changed along with society.
Sword Stone Table edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington
This anthology, edited by one former and one current Book Rioter, collects short stories inspired by Arthurian legend, written by marginalised authors. Separated into three sections — Once, Present, and Future — the stories take Arthurian stories and characters and reinterpret them in fascinating ways.
If you love Arthurian adaptations and want to read more, try 8 of the Best Queer Arthurian Retellings.