Dennis Lee Anderson,
Arthur, King
(HarperPrism, 1995)

The legends of the Once and Future King tell us that Arthur will return to save Britain when its need for him is great. There are no clues, however, when that time will be.

Dennis Lee Anderson provides a possible answer in his excellent novel, Arthur, King. In it, Arthur does return -- to war-torn England during World War II. It's not a rebirth or reincarnation, nor has he lain sleeping all these years on some misty isle. Rather, Arthur has been sent through time by Merlin's magic to pursue a time-hopping Mordred and the stolen Excalibur.

The premise is a little weak, and Anderson's grasp of the historical reality of Arthur's era is a bit sketchy -- there were no lofty cathedrals, towering castles or shining plate armor in those days, despite later versions of the myth -- but his handling of London on the brink of ruin at the hands of the Nazis seems spot on. And no matter how faulty his Arthurian trivia, Anderson's love for and expertise on flying is obvious throughout.

Arthur, as always, is a warrior through and through. But, instead of swords and axes, the battles are fought with Spitfires and Hurricanes, Stukas and Messerschmitts. And while some myths tell us that Merlin once turned Arthur into a hawk, Anderson in this novel turns Arthur into a pilot.

Anderson has even provided Arthur with Bill Cooper, a Connecticut Yankee to round out his court. And, while he does stretch a bit sometimes to make amusing Arthur-related puns and anachronistic misunderstandings, it's still an enjoyable read. At the same time, Anderson drives home the deadly seriousness of the Battle of Britain -- death and sacrifice are everywhere, and the grim hope and stubborn resolve which truly made it England's finest hour. The repeated batterings of London, the devastating blitz on Coventry -- it's all there in shocking detail.

This is a great book for Arthur enthusiasts because it takes the heroic figure out of his element and introduces him into a new one. World War II buffs will also like it for the gritty realism of the outnumbered RAF and the ceaseless air war over Britain. I recommend it highly.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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