Arthur Rex

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Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel
First edition
AuthorThomas Berger
CountryUnited States
GenreHistorical fiction
PublisherDelacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback)
Pages499 pp
Preceded byWho Is Teddy Villanova? 
Followed byNeighbors 

Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel is a 1978 novel by American author Thomas Berger. Berger offers his own take on the legends of King Arthur, from the heroic monarch's inauspicious conception, to his childhood in bucolic Wales, his rise to the throne, his discovery of the great sword Excalibur, his establishment of the Knights of the Round Table, his long and honorable reign, and his heroic death in battle against the evil Mordred, his bastard son.

Major themes[edit]

The author emphasizes the glory and idealism of Arthur's court at Camelot, but the ultimate futility of any attempt to ignore human nature and sinfulness. The book is written in an archaic style appropriate to the subject, but with a witty and engaging tone. It is essentially respectful of the Arthurian tales while putting a more modern, even somewhat rueful imprint on them. For instance, the wizard Merlin makes occasional anachronistic references to such things as aircraft, viruses and nuclear power, but always couched in period-appropriate terms, reminiscent of T.H. White's characterization of Merlin, in "The Once and Future King," published in 1958. Berger gives considerable attention to the adulterous relationships between Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, and Tristan and Isolde, and even offers a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the villainous Mordred. The Lady of the Lake is a prominent character.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Arthur Rex received mixed reviews on its publication in 1978. In both positive and negative assessments of the book, reviewers noted the changes to the Arthurian legend made by the author, evidently to enhance the story's "appeal in contemporary American society."[1]


  • King Arthur
  • Sir Lancelot
  • Sir Gawain
  • Sir Kay
  • Merlin
  • Guinevere
  • Mordred
  • The Lady of the Lake


  1. ^ Ruud, Jay. "Thomas Berger's Arthur Rex: Galahad and Earthly Power," Critique, Winter 1984.