Some stories are so magical that they’re told again and again through the ages — like the legend of King Arthur and his Round Table. We can’t get enough of the passion of Lancelot and Guinevere, the magic of Merlin, and the bravery of the knights of Camelot. On May 12, a new film adaptation of this tale — King Arthur: Legend of the Sword — hits theaters. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up a list of books inspired by this epic legend. Publishers’ descriptions included.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s masterpiece, we see the tumult and adventures of Camelot’s court through the eyes of the women who bolstered the king’s rise and schemed for his fall. From their childhoods through the ultimate fulfillment of their destinies, we follow these women and the diverse cast of characters that surrounds them as the great Arthurian epic unfolds stunningly before us. As Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar struggle for control over the fate of Arthur’s kingdom, as the Knights of the Round Table take on their infamous quest, as Merlin and Viviane wield their magics for the future of Old Britain, the Isle of Avalon slips further into the impenetrable mists of memory, until the fissure between old and new worlds’ and old and new religions’ claims its most famous victim.
The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
It takes a remarkable writer to make an old story as fresh and compelling as the first time we heard it. With The Winter King, the first volume of his magnificent Warlord Chronicles, Bernard Cornwell finally turns to the story he was born to write: the mythic saga of King Arthur.
The tale begins in Dark Age Britain, a land where Arthur has been banished and Merlin has disappeared, where a child-king sits unprotected on the throne, where religion vies with magic for the souls of the people. It is to this desperate land that Arthur returns, a man at once utterly human and truly heroic: a man of honor, loyalty, and amazing valor; a man who loves Guinevere more passionately than he should; a man whose life is at once tragic and triumphant.
As Arthur fights to keep a flicker of civilization alive in a barbaric world, Bernard Cornwell makes a familiar tale into a legend all over again.
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur, who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere’s infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred’s rebels and foreign mercenaries. Powerful, passionate, and filled with vivid imagery, this unfinished poem reveals Tolkien’s gift for storytelling at its brilliant best.
The Skystone by Jack Whyte
Everyone knows the story — how Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, how Camelot came to be, and about the power struggles that ultimately destroyed Arthur’s dreams. But what of the time before Arthur and the forces that created him?
How did the legend really come to pass?
Before the time of Arthur and his Camelot, Britain was a dark and deadly place, savaged by warring factions of Picts, Celts, and invading Saxons. The Roman citizens who had lived there for generations were suddenly faced with a deadly choice: Should they leave and take up residence in a corrupt Roman world that was utterly foreign, or should they stay and face the madness that would ensue when Britain’s last bastion of safety for the civilized, the Roman legions, left?
For two Romans, Publius Varrus and his friend Caius Britannicus, there can be only one answer. They will stay, to preserve what is best of Roman life, and will create a new culture out of the wreckage. In doing so, they will unknowingly plant the seeds of legend-for these two men are Arthur’s great-grandfathers, and their actions will shape a nation… and forge a sword known as Excalibur.
Avalon High by Meg Cabot
Avalon High seems like a typical high school, attended by typical students: There’s Lance, the jock. Jennifer, the cheerleader. And Will, senior class president, quarterback, and all-around good guy.
But not everybody at Avalon High is who they appear to be… not even, as new student Ellie is about to discover, herself. What part does she play in the drama that is unfolding? What if the bizarre chain of events and coincidences she has pieced together means — as with the court of King Arthur — tragedy is fast approaching Avalon High?
Worst of all, what if there’s nothing she can do about it?
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
T. H. White’s masterful retelling of the saga of King Arthur is a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance and magic that has enchanted readers for generations.
Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.
During Arthur’s reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guenever and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king’s dreams for Britain — and to the king himself.
Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie
On the night of Guinevere’s birth, a wise woman declares a prophecy of doom for the child: She will be gwenhwyfar, the white shadow, destined to betray her king, and be herself betrayed. Years pass, and Guinevere becomes a great beauty, riding free across Northern Wales on her beloved horse. She is entranced by the tales of the valorous Arthur, a courageous warrior who seems to Guinevere no mere man, but a legend. Then she finds herself betrothed to that same famous king, a hero who commands her willing devotion. Just as his knights and all his subjects, she falls under Arthur’s spell.
At the side of King Arthur, Guinevere reigns strong and true. Yet she soon learns how the dark prophecy will reveal itself. She is unable to conceive. Arthur’s only true heir is Mordred, offspring of a cursed encounter with the witch Morgause. Now Guinevere must make a fateful choice: She decides to raise Mordred, teaching him to be a ruler and to honor Camelot. She will love him like a mother. Mordred will be her greatest joy–and the key to her ultimate downfall.
Return to a time of legend — the days of Guinevere and Arthur and the glory that was to become Camelot
The Forever King by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy
An international bestseller written by New York Times bestselling authors Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy.
When 10-year-old Arthur Blessing finds a strange antique cup, he has no idea it’s the most sought after object in history. Nor does he realize the discovery of the Holy Grail will take him on a journey that defies the rules of space and time.
As the cup’s fate-appointed guardian, Arthur is charged with protecting it from dark magic and a madman determined to harness the Grail’s legendary power. The mission threatens his very life, with assassins aligned against him at every turn.
Along the way, a washed-up ex-FBI agent and a mysteriously knowledgeable old man join Arthur in his dangerous task to keep the cup safe… and unlock the secrets of the boy’s own destiny.
Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw
On the path toward greatness, every hero makes a choice.
Legends sing of Sir Gawain, one of the most respected warriors of King Arthur’s reign and one of the greatest champions of all time. But this is not that story. This is the story of Gwalchmai, middle son of the beautiful, infinitely evil sorceress Morgawse, and gifted student of her dark magical arts. A story of an uncertain man, doubting his ability to follow his elder brother’s warrior prowess and seeking to find his own identity by bonding with his frightening and powerful mother. Disappointed in himself and despised by his father, Gwalchmai sets out on a journey that will lead him to the brink of darkness… A tale of loss, redemption, and adventure, Hawk of May brings new depth and understanding to Sir Gawain, the legend of King Arthur, and the impact of choices made — and the consequences that follow.
Firelord by Parke Godwin
From the ruins of empire, a great king arises.
Enslaved for centuries, used and then abandoned by the Roman conquerors, Britain is a shattered land — with petty warlords and tribal leaders fighting over its pieces like mongrel dogs. The time is ripe for a warrior-king who will unite this wounded realm — and a young centurion courageously answers the call. name is Artorius Pendragon — and it is his destiny conquer with indomitable iron. A man flawed, filth and painfully mortal — a clear-eyed leader with a strong distaste for war’s necessary cruelties — he will know a glory unparalleled in historical annals… an ultimately, will lose his heart and his kingdom to greatest betrayal of all.
Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
This brilliant Arthurian epic cuts through the mists of pagan, early Christian, and medieval splendors that have gathered about the subject and tells the authentic story of the man who may well have been the real King Arthur — Artos the Bear, the mighty warrior-king who saved the last lights of Western civilization when the barbarian darkness descended in the fifth century. Presenting early Britain as it was after the departure of the Romans — no Round Table, no many-towered Camelot — the setting is a hard, savage land, half-civilized, half-pagan, where a few men struggled to forge a nation and hold back the Saxon scourge. Richly detailed, the story chronicles the formation of a great army, the hardships of winter quarters, the primitive wedding feasts, the pagan fertility rites, the agonies of surgery after battle, the thrilling stag hunts, and the glorious processions of the era. Stripped of the chivalric embellishments that the French applied to British history centuries ago, the Arthurian age here emerges as a time when men stood at the precipice of history — a time of transition and changing values and imminent national peril.
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
Born the bastard son of a Welsh princess, Myridden Emrys — or as he would later be known, Merlin — leads a perilous childhood, haunted by portents and visions. But destiny has great plans for this no-man’s-son, taking him from prophesying before the High King Vortigern to the crowning of Uther Pendragon… and the conception of Arthur — king for once and always.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s classic satirical tale of time travel and Arthurian legend
Hank Morgan is a supervisor at a firearms factory in Hartford, Connecticut. Following a violent argument with a man named Hercules, Hank is surprised to find himself under an oak tree, staring up at a man on horseback in full armor. The year is 528, and Hank has somehow landed in King Arthur’s Court in Camelot. Worse still, Hank is ridiculed by the boorish knights, brought in front of the Round Table, and sentenced to burn at the stake. Will Hank die at the hands of the Knights of the Round Table, or can his Yankee ingenuity save his hide?
Mark Twain’s seminal satire sends up the South’s ridiculous preoccupation with chivalry, the Catholic Church, fear of science and progress, and dozens of other behaviors and beliefs. Credited as a foundational work of the time travel subgenre of science fiction, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is also a timeless comic classic.
Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead
A magnificent epic of cataclysmic upheaval and heroic love in a breathless age of mythic wonders.
It was a time of legend, when the last shadows of the mighty Roman conqueror faded from the captured Isle of Britain. While, across a vast sea, bloody war shattered a peace that had flourished for two thousand years in the doomed kingdom of Atlantis.
From the award-winning author of The Dragon King Trilogy comes a majestic tale of breathtaking scope and haunting beauty. It is the remarkable adventure of Charis — the courageous princess from Atlantis who escapes the terrible devastation of her land — and of the fabled seer and druid prince Taliesin, singer at the dawn of the age. A story of an incomparable love that joins two astonishing worlds amid the fires of chaos, and spawns the miracles of Merlin… and Arthur the king!
The Lost Years by T. A. Barron
A raging sea tosses a boy upon the shores of ancient Wales. Left for dead, he has no memory, no name, and no home. But it is his determination to find out who he is — to learn the truth about his mysterious powers — that leads him to a strange and enchanted land. And it is there he discovers that the fate of this land and his personal quest are strangely entwined.
Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey
The bestselling author of the Valdemar novels pens a classic tale about King Arthur’s legendary queen.
Gwenhwyfar moves in a world where gods walk among their pagan worshipers, where nebulous visions warn of future perils, and where there are two paths for a woman: the path of the Blessing or the rarer path of the Warrior. Gwenhwyfar chooses the latter, giving up the power that she is born into. Yet the daughter of a King is never truly free to follow her own calling. Acting as the “son” her father never had, when called upon to serve another purpose by the Ladies of the Well, she bows to circumstances to become Arthur’s queen — only to find herself facing temptation and treachery, intrigue, love, and redemption.
The Copper Crown by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison
When Earth meets Keltia will star empires fall?
When lore became legend on ancient Earth and the powers of magic waned, the Kelts and their allies fled the planet for the freedom of distant star realms.
But the stars were home to dangerous foes, and millennia later, the worlds of Keltia still maintained uneasy truce with two enemy empires -the Imperium and the Phalanx. Then, at the start of the reign of Aeron, mistress of high magic and queen of all the Kelts, an Earthship made contact with her long-fled children. And while Earth and Keltia reached out to form alliance, the star fleets of the enemy mobilized for final, devastating war….
Have you read any of these books? Share in the comments!