An Open Access Review Journal Encouraging Critical Engagement with the Continuing Process of Inventing the Middle Ages

June 29, 2017

Ritchie (dir.), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, directed by Guy Ritchie, © Warner Brothers Entertainment, 2017.

Reviewed by Usha Vishnuvajjala (ukv630@gmail.com)

Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) has done poorly at the box office and received lukewarm reviews from film critics; however, a number of medieval and especially Arthurian scholars have found it to be interesting, entertaining, and less objectionable than they might have expected. Its unexpected plot, drawn very loosely from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regun Britanniae, and its often bizarre pastiche of character traits, settings, subplots, and conflicts that seem to reference everything from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films to Batman Begins to The Empire Strikes Back make for a somewhat overwhelming experience. Throw in a number of actors in minor parts who have appeared in other Arthurian and medievalist films and TV shows, a soundtrack laden with ominous deep-bass thrumming, an alarming number of nameless and featureless female characters whose only purpose seems to be as human sacrifices or plot devices, and a bland villain whose obsessive and murderous quest for power seems to come from largely unexplained supernatural forces, and we get a film that is difficult to categorize. Its brand of humor and its attempts to be forward-thinking with respect to gender also fall short.

Of course, the fact that the film is a confusing mishmash of sources and genres with politics that are difficult to parse is a way in which it resembles what seems to be the main literary source for its opening plot, Geoffrey’s Historia (although Vortigern is mentioned in plenty of earlier sources that claim to be historical). Geoffrey’s version of Vortigern becomes king by overthrowing King Constans, whom he serves as an earl and an advisor.  Although Constans is Arthur’s uncle (brother of Uther) in the Historia, Vortigern is not. After losing the crown to his own son Vortimer and gaining it back after Vortimer is poisoned and killed by Vortigern’s wife, Geoffrey’s Vortigern follows the orders of magicians and has a massive fortress built in Wales, which turns out to be unstable because of two dragons that live underneath it.

The plot of Ritchie’s film is instigated by Vortigern, here Uther’s younger brother, becoming power-hungry after holding Uther’s crown during a battle and then killing his own wife in order to obtain power from the three sirens that live in the river under Camelot so that he can kill Uther and Uther’s wife and seize power for himself. The young Arthur, who Uther was trying to spirit away to safety, drifts down the river in a boat and is rescued, Moses-like, by women washing clothes in the river in Londinium (which looks like Rome, complete with Coliseum and what appear to be seven hills). He is raised in a brothel, and during a rapid flash-forward is shown to grow into a boxer or brawler and petty thief who also profits from the workings of the brothel by functioning as a sort of manager and enforcer (I stop just short of calling him a pimp, although the term might not be incorrect in this case), who is secretly amassing a fortune of gold coins which he keeps hidden in chests. Meanwhile, now-King Vortigern, fearing that Arthur still lives, requires every man of a certain age to come to Camelot to attempt to pull Excalibur from a stone, so that he can kill the one who successfully does, ensuring his own reign and potentially seeking to pass on the crown to his own daughter. Vortigern is also building a great tower, which is unstable and supported by supernatural forces; it is revealed at the film’s end to contain a giant serprent, which Vortigern cannot control. Throughout this first section of the movie, the silly dialogue and physical humor of the Londinium scenes is intercut with the brutal, murderous, too-serious-to-take-seriously scenes at Camelot, which is built into a mountainside and most closely resembles a Himalayan Buddhist monastery with Vortigern’s impossibly tall and modern (magic) tower added.

This early section of the film also attempts to paint a culturally and linguistically diverse London with gender politics that the film seems to view as progressive. The city is full of people who look different from each other and speak different languages; Arthur quips to one of his lackeys, who complains that a non-British associate doesn’t “speak English good,” that he speaks it better than the lackey (there is no attempt to differentiate between Britons and Anglo-Saxons in this film; the Briton are “English” and speak English). Tom Wu plays a character in Arthur’s circle who is referred to as “Chinese George” to distinguish him from the other George. This almost banal reference to ethnic difference is echoed later in the film when Arthur says to Bedivere, played by Djimon Hounsou as a sort of wise senior advisor, that he doesn’t want to hear what Bedivere has to say about Arthur’s past unless Bedivere is Arthur’s real father, which Arthur thinks is unlikely. I don’t wish to minimize the importance of casting actors of color in “canonical” Arthurian roles, or of referring to their race in these banal ways, which has the effect of both recognizing difference and rejecting the possibility that it is a problem. These are important developments. But they still appear alongside the depiction of women as little more than wives and prostitutes, almost all of whom are nameless and end up dead, and alongside a sarcastic and often violent masculinity, which is not really tempered by the fact that Arthur calls other men things like “sweetheart” and “honey tits,” however much the film’s writers might want it to be. It is also not tempered by the fact that Arthur’s overconfidence is at times revealed by the woman known as “The Mage,” who appears as a sort of Merlin figure to train Arthur for the mental and spiritual tasks he will face in order to reclaim the throne (these scenes resemble the training scenes from The Empire Strikes Back more than a little bit). There are few women in the film who have names or agency (“The Mage,” however important she is, is known only by her affiliation – she is one of the people known as “The Mage” and has no name or title beyond that).

Beyond all of that, though, lies the question of what this film gains by being Arthurian. It would be a perfectly (or at least equally) coherent film if it was about a young Roman, English, or British prince who was disinherited by his evil and power-hungry uncle. The Arthurian references are surprisingly minimal: beyond the names Arthur, Uther, Vortigern, Camelot, Excalibur, Bedivere, and Perceval, and the brief mentions of characters named Mordred and Merlin at the beginning of the film, the film has little to do with Arthurian texts, medieval or modern. What it does seem to do, though, is draw on the cultural and political capital of “King Arthur” in order to give the film’s plot stakes that it wouldn’t have on its own. As Arthur travels upriver to Camelot, pulls the sword out of the stone, escapes the public execution Vortigern arranges for him, and travels Britain with his small band of Robin Hood-style outlaws, learning to conquer his own memories and demons so that he can wield the magical sword that shows him things he does not want to remember, I repeatedly wondered why we were supposed to care whether this swaggering boxer and pickpocket who profits from the economic hardship of women lived or died. The answer to that question does not come from the film; the answer seems to be “because he is King Arthur.” Although most great—or even interesting—Arthurian texts, both medieval and modern, reinterpret a kernel of a story for their own times, incorporating an assortment of sources and adding new material as they seem fit, what they must also do is introduce or build their own stakes, whether they are political, moral, or aesthetic. Whether one finds their stakes compelling, modern Arthurian works by Mark Twain, T.H. White, Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Boorman, Tay Garnett, Antoine Fuqua, and others all build stakes for their own plots, ultimately adding to the trove of Arthurian texts rather than merely using that trove’s existence to justify creating a work in which little is at stake. In that sense, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword fails to be a compelling addition to the large canon of Arthurian films.

Usda Vishnuvajjala, American University

Ritchie (dir.), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (1)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, directed by Guy Ritchie, © Warner Brothers Entertainment, 2017.

Reviewed by Kevin J. Harty (harty@lasalle.edu)



Charlie Hunnam as Arthur (left) and Jude Law as Vortigern

The critics and the trades have not been kind: The Wall Street Journal opined that the film was “Morte on Arrival” (12 May 2017: A12), and Variety even criticized the outfits which the members of the cast wore to the Hollywood premiere (16 May 2017: 37).  Ritchie’s film, like all examples of cinema Arthuriana (be they indebted to the legend of the once and future king tangentially so or more) is inevitably caught between a rock and a hard place.  They must confront what Norris J. Lacy has called an audience’s expectations which are tied to the “tyranny of tradition” (Arthurian Interpretations 4.1 [1989]), despite the apparent latitude provided by Helen Cooper’s dictum in the three-part Films for Humanities series Tracing the Arthurian Legend that each age invents the Arthur it needs.  To attempt to retell all of Malory—cinema’s favorite putative source for all things Arthurian—on the screen is impossible, yet cinematic references to, and nods in the direction of, versions of the tale(s) that Malory told are ubiquitous, as just the Indiana Jones, Shrek, Despicable Me, Kingsman, Mad Max, and Transformers franchises prove—and, indeed, Ritchie intended his film to launch his own Arthurian franchise.

In addition to this tangential ubiquity of the Arthuriad on the screen (and on television—HBO’s The Affair, for instance), we have generally had one full-fledged, big budget attempt a decade to retell the legend on film—each age invents the Arthur it needs.  John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) originally had its many admirers both inside and outside the academy, but it has not held up well.  Indeed, when I showed it to a combined upper-level undergraduate-graduate class last semester, many of my students laughed throughout the film. Jerry Zucker’s First Knight (1995) has never recovered from its initial designation as the Arthurian film people love to hate.  Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004) dredged up the theory of Arthur’s Sarmatian origins and presented a maddeningly conflicted portrait of Guinevere who is transformed from an initial full-throttled gender-liberated Boudicca-like figure to a more than annoyingly conventional bride dressed in white gown and veil.  And, now, in 2017, we have Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

To his credit, Ritchie does not attempt to retell all of Malory, or of some other more or less complete version of the Arthuriad.  His sources are very different—than Malory and from themselves.  His principal debts would appear to be both medieval and modern: Geoffrey of Monmouth and the television version of Game of Thrones—a work that may yet prove the most enduring source for post-medievalism, but that argument needs to be explored more fully elsewhere.  Ritchie is also indebted, in no particular order, to the story of the infant Moses floating among the reeds on the Nile, the account of Hannibal and his elephants, the legend of Robin Hood, the cases of Sherlock Holmes, the martial training typically undertaken by Kung Fu masters and gladiators, the Harry Potter series in print and on screen, Macbeth’s “weird sisters,” Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia, the Viking raids on England, some of his own previous films, and even the Trumpian tendency to miscalculate the size of crowds, though here Vortigern underestimates (rather than overestimates) the size of the adoring masses who show up to see him (try to) execute Arthur.  They are not, as Vortigern avers, in the hundreds, but in the millions.  There are also in the film all kinds of winks and nods and in jokes, along with a brief appearance by David Beckham as a bad-ass black-armor clad knight named “Trigger”—presumably without any intended reference to the horse once ridden by the King of the Cowboys.

From the Arthuriad, Ritchie has been selective in what he has borrowed.  His film includes Mordred as a rebel Mage who is killed off early in the film, Uther and Igraine without even a mention of the “unusual” coupling that produced Arthur, Vortigern and his tower, a sword originally firmly embedded in a stone and later returned by the Lady of the Lake after it has been cast upon the waters by an Arthur reluctant to embrace his destiny, an almost completed round table, and an assortment of knights, some whose names are familiar enough (Percival and Bedivere) and some whose names are not (George and “Goose Fat” Bill)—all enhanced with non-stop CGI effects and an at-times deafening soundtrack.

As the film opens, Uther is intent upon putting an end to a war between his people and the Mage, little knowing that his younger brother, Vortigern, has been plotting with Mordred, the Mage’s leader, to seize the throne from his brother.  Uther defeats Mordred, whose armies arrive atop and within huge elephants, and peace would seem to be at hand but for Vortigern’s schemes.  In seizing the throne, he is aided by three cephalopodan “weird sisters” worthy of the Scottish play, who demand he sacrifice his wife—and eventually his daughter—to achieve the victories he wants, in a devil’s bargain that outdoes that made by Agamemnon.  Vortigern—Jude Law on steroids who spends most of the film delightfully chewing up the scenery and seemingly having a better time being in the film than most critics had in watching it—is the nastiest of villains.  Law is a Ritchie veteran, having played Watson in the director’s deconstruction—some would argue destruction—of the story Sherlock Homes, and the huge snarling dogs that guard his throne are worthy of the Baskervilles.  Vortigern kills Uther and Igraine, and the boy Arthur escapes Vortigern, floating in a small boat Moses-like down the Thames to Londinium, a metropolis whose on-screen population seems as culturally diverse as that of its present day namesake.  Once in Londinium, Arthur is rescued not by Pharaoh’s daughter but by some kind- hearted prostitutes, who rear him, until he can in turn provide them protection from their at times less than genteel clientele, who include the odd Viking, it turns out, under the protection of Vortigern.

More than somewhat of a light-weight to play Arthur, Charlie Hunnam is nonetheless a Ritchie type—indeed he seems straight out of the director’s 1998 breakout film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels in scenes replete with the director’s stock stop action camera work and he-said-he-said patter. Like the characters in Two Smoking Barrels, Arthur and his crew here are good-natured con men and petty criminals enforcing their own code of justice among the poor and oppressed against a totally corrupt civil authority—think Robin Hood light.  Vortigern, cursed by the promise that whosoever draws the sword from the stone will be rightful king, demands every able bodied man in his kingdom attempt to do so—he is also, for good measure, buying off the Vikings by promising them 5000 boys a year in tribute. Medieval versions of the Arthuriad have Arthur himself taking a page from Herod as he murders thousands of boys in an attempt to prevent Mordred, his successor, from growing up.  Here the boys are simply being sent off as human tribute, as Vortigern’s England has become a vassal state to the Vikings.

Arthur draws the sword from the stone, but is unable to harness its power.  Imprisoned by Vortigern who wants a show trial to debunk the myth that has sprung up around Arthur, the reluctant hero is rescued by Mage and a motley crew of renegade knights, whose number include Aidan Gillen’s “Goose Fat Bill.”  Gillen is Little Finger (a pimp no less) in Game of Thrones, one of Ritchie’s sources, and Gillen and Hunnam have an earlier connection though the British version of the television series Queer as Folk, in which Hunnam played the gay teenager who is seduced by (and subsequently becomes a lover to) the older Gillen’s character.  And other of these renegade knights have just as unusual an assortment of monikers as do the crew in Two Smoking Barrels.

When Arthur is finally rescued from Vortigern, he is not at all eager to embrace the destiny that is his.  Only when he learns that Vortigern has destroyed the brothel that was his home and killed many of his friends does he overcome his initial reluctance.  To prepare for what destiny holds for him, he has the expected passage through nature that tests many a hero, and which introduces him to a number of nightmare-like creatures that will be all too familiar to fans of Harry Potter, most notably a very, very large serpent.  Having regained Excalibur with help from the Lady of the Lake, Arthur prepares to defeat Vortigern, whose power is tied to the height of the Godfriedian tower that he is building.  In a final battle, Arthur manages to kill the overly steroidal and now CGI enhanced Vortigern, and establish peace in his realm, “renegotiating” the treaty with the Vikings, and, with an obvious nod to an anticipated sequel, beginning work on the round table.

Given the film’s dismal performance when it opened, and its cost—it reportedly cost more than $300 million to make and took in less than $15 million its first weekend—a Ritchie Arthurian franchise seems a slim possibility, which is in some ways unfortunate.  King Arthur is not a great film—whether there are any great Arthurian films is a matter of some debate. (There are certainly great medieval films—Alexander Nevsky, The Nibelungenlied, The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Seventh Seal, and The Virgin Spring for starters.)  Ritchie’s film does avoid the trap of other examples of cinema Arthuriana (and the tyranny of tradition) in not trying to tell the whole story of Arthur.  And, if each age does indeed invent the Arthur it needs, ours is an age without great heroes—and, perhaps worse, one without any recognition that we even need great heroes.  Hunnam’s low-keyed Arthur might, therefore, be just the Arthur for our times.  And with its sources in Geoffrey and in Game of Thrones, Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a more than interesting, double-barreled mix of both medievalism and post-medievalism as film.


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, directed by Guy Ritchie from a screenplay by Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, and Lionel Wigram from a story by David Dobkin and Joby Harold. Cast: Charlie Hunnam (Arthur), Jude Law (Vortigern), Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (Mage), Djimon Hounsou (Bedivere), Aiden Gillen (“Goose-Fat” Bill), Eric Bana (King Uther Pendragon), Poppy Delevingne (Igraine), Freddie Fox (Rubio), Craig McGinlay (Percival), Kinglsey Ben-Adir (Wet Stick), Neil Maskell (Back Lack), Bleu Landai (Blue), Tom Wu (George), Michael McElhatton (Jack’s Eye), Annabelle Wallis (Maggie), Peter Fernando (the Earl of Mercia), Mikael Persbrandt (Greybeard), David Beckham (Trigger), Rob Knighton (Mordred). USA/Australia © Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc., 2017. 126 minutes.

Kevin J. Harty, La Salle University

June 14, 2017

Parker, ed. The Harp and the Constitution



Parker, Joanne, ed. The Harp and the Constitution: Myths of Celtic and Gothic Origin. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

Reviewed by Máire Johnson (mjohns38@emporia.edu)

This interesting collection of essays from a variety of specialists, including scholars of literature, history, and archaeology, dives into the intriguing and timely discussion of concepts of identity primarily in Britain, France, and Spain in the last three hundred years. It is divided into two parts; Part One provides five essays focused largely on the usages of the concept of 'Gothic' identity and symbolism, while Part Two offers six essays that highlight the notion of the 'Celtic', both in Britain and on the continent. It is followed by a select bibliography. 

Increasingly the political and cultural tendency of modern society has been toward ethnic, regional, and cultural distinction, nearly always in reaction to significant events such as war, radical terrorism, or economic struggle. These papers add to the mounting body of study that demonstrates the fluidities of the resulting concepts of identity. Though the collection focuses on the uses of the Gothic and Celtic, the observations made by these scholars nevertheless (sometimes explicitly) throw into question not only the ways in which ideas of ethnicity or nationality are fundamentally adaptive and opportunistic—i.e., they seize upon the prevailing political or cultural climate to promote a specific image that then shifts as events warrant or compel—but also how frequently these ideas are based on incomplete, even inaccurate assumptions. At the same time, regardless of how faulty these arguments may be, their persistence indicates very real and complex processes operating within and promoting them; study of these processes, therefore, repays us with an expanded understanding of the milieus in which they were developed.

From Joanne Parker's introduction to the final essay by John Collis, The Harp and the Constitution highlights the critical component of opposition inherent in the terminology of Celt and Goth beginning in the ancient and early medieval periods, when the peoples labeled by these names were seen as tribal identities distinct from and often as enemies of the Roman Empire in works like those of Caesar, Tacitus, or Jordanes. The authors show how this opposition was then seized upon in the early modern and modern periods to build paradigms of regional, ethnic, or national identity. The resistance of the historical Celts and Goths to expanding Roman hegemony subsequently became the model for all northern European nations who wanted to define themselves as (among other things) non-Catholic, non-Mediterranean/Greco-Roman, innocent of the corruption of the indolent Mediterranean/Catholic world, and possessed of traits like battle bravery and "strong moral fibre" (2). In exploring these types of national identity formation, The Harp and the Constitution also reveals the ever-shifting tensions and alliances in Great Britain in the last three hundred or so years, as well as underlining parallel processes on the continent.

Joep Leerssen, for example, launches Part One and the main body of the book with an assessment of the classical and medieval descriptions of both the Celts and the Goths that underlie modern European notions of self-identification, not only for Britain but also for regions like Belgium and France. These national identities, Leerssen shows, not only fully adopt the concept that non-Roman tribes of the classical era embodied the primal, the untrammeled, and the uncontaminated, in direct opposition to the laziness, luxury, and general moral laxity of the Mediterranean, but also weave those traits to their current realities. The Celt and the Goth then become "the narrative template" of indigenous peoples "manfully resisting foreign encroachment and hegemony," whether that encroachment was the Roman Empire, as in Tacitus, the Catholic papacy (to Protestants), or the Protestant Reformation (to Catholics) (17). Leerssen calls this habit of looking to the presumed tribal ancestry of a nation to discover modern national traits (like virtus, independence, liberty, and defense against foreign rule) "democratic primitivism," and considers it the root of the cultural self-definition for much of northern Europe (19). Ultimately, Leerssen observes, the adoption of either "Celt" or "Goth" depends entirely upon cultural, political, and social trends of the moment; the usage of either identifier thus reflects the shifts in a region's idealized self-definition. Leerssen's even-handed, thoughtful analysis lays a strong and important foundation not only for the essays of Part One, which section it begins, but also for the collection as a whole.

Nick Groom continues this elucidation of modern identity-formation based on concepts of opposition drawn from the "Gothic." Groom discusses, for example, the ways in which the Goths were used to promote political union between Scotland and England on the basis of a presumed shared "Gothic" ancestry and the alleged superiority of the "Gothick Constitution" (32). This constitution comprised the jury trial, the protection of freedom, and the resistance to absolutism, which here became equated with papal encroachment into the Protestant world of post-Reformation Britain. Robert DeMaria, Jr., turns to Samuel Johnson's accidental participation in the Gothic movement in his History of the English Language and Dictionary of the English Language. Though Johnson usually focused on classical antecedents for the English language and identity, he also used British nationalism, concepts of the English language and people as having north-European origins, and the view of northern European traits as superseding the contributions of southern ones to the language and culture of Britain to express his own political concerns. Tom Duggett, on the other hand, examines William Wordsworth's promotion of the so-called "Madras system" of public education in early nineteenth-century Britain through the vehicle of Gothic Romance. To Wordsworth, the "Madras system" aligned the pedagogy of Britain's children with "progressive Gothic politics" like the "redemption of the ancient constitution in Britain" and the furthering of Anglicanism. Joanne Parker finishes out Part One by revealing the forces that fed popular views of the "Gothic" King Alfred (and the Celtic King Arthur, though differently) as a national icon capable of modeling the best handling of nineteenth-century issues from a safe remove. These forces included greater public access to primary sources due to increased antiquarian activity, patriotic pride in British expansionism and its resultant desire to find the "real" native culture of Britain, the promotion of concepts of the Middle Ages as a pure age in opposition to a "callous industrial age," and the rise of Romanticism as a reaction against the classicism of Augustan literature.

The six essays of Part Two shift attention from the Gothic to the Celtic; as with the analyses of Part One the theme of identity formed in opposition predominates. The mythologies and histories of the Celtic peoples, both real and imagined, have been made the same kinds of tools in forming national identities as the Goths, and often for the same reasons. Just as antiquarian interest had led to the nineteenth-century dominance of the "Gothic" Alfred over the Celtic Arthur, so also antiquarianism contributed to a resurgent emphasis on the importance of the Druids in the eighteenth century, as examined by Ronald Hutton. The Druids were particularly attractive, Hutton shows, because classical writers respected them more than they did the Germanic tribes, and British self-definition in the 1700s still looked in part to the Mediterranean for inspiration. Tim Fulford carries the discussion of the Druids into the nineteenth century. Fulford's essay reveals that William Wordsworth and Robert Southey each viewed England's Lake District stone rings—which they presumed to be Druidic ritual sites and therefore Celtic—as reminders that the England of their day needed to revivify an idealized past in which the "Celtic" played a significant role; their literary Druids, as had both the Gothic Alfred and the Celtic Arthur, thus confronted contemporary problems such as modernization, industrialization, commercialization, and colonialism.

Dafydd Moore demonstrates that Richard Hole's main poetic inspiration for Arthur; or the Northern Enchantment was the Ossianic poems of James MacPherson. Hole valued these "Celtic" works in no small part because they provided material for a national epic that was not based on Homer (147). Because Hole wrote during a period when British self-definition primarily turned toward the Germanic, his vision of Britishness was not widely embraced; Arthur would, however, become a significant element in Tennyson's Idylls of the King almost a hundred years later. In a similar illustration of persistence, Amy Hale shows how depictions of the Archangel Michael as the protector of the Celtic Britons by groups like the British Israelites laid a strong Celtic layer in the foundations of British identity that is quite alive today, as is, in some quarters, the view of Michael as a national saint to and redeemer of the British people.

Both Part Two's assessment of the Celtic and the volume as a whole wrap up with two essays that provide continental parallels to the process of national identity development in Britain, echoing the chapter by Joep Leerssen at the beginning of Part One. Juan Miguel Zarandona's discussion of Galician literary giants, Eduardo Pondal and Ramón Cabanillas, shows how they drew upon Ossianic poetry, Roman texts, ancient archaeology, and medieval Irish and continental records to produce a specifically Celtic Galician literary culture that still remains a potent concept in the twenty-first century—despite the reality that the Galician region appears to have been only a relatively minor center of Celtic tribal activity. Much the way erroneous views of the Druids have been appropriated to form a British identity, so also the Celts have been adopted as symbols of Galician independence and resistance, first to Rome, then to the Visigoths, then to Islamic rule, and finally to Spain itself. Similarly, just as the historical realities of figures like King Arthur or King Alfred do not always impact their persistence in British culture, so also historicity is not relevant to the vibrancy of the Celtic Galician literary world.

Finally, John Collis examines the Celtic Gauls as a substrate for French self-definition. Archaeology, toponymy, and textual evidence here intertwine with political culture in the search for the presumed Gallic ancestry of modern France. Just as the Galician region of Spain sought Celtic roots as a paradigm of difference from other polities, including Spain itself, so also French scholars and politicians used the Celtic Gauls as symbols of a French resistance to internal and external threats. The national hero of France became Vercingetorix, the Gaul famed for leading the Gallic confederation against Julius Caesar's expansionism, and the three main sites associated with Vercingetorix—Bibracte, where Vercingetorix was chosen as the battle commander; Gergovia, where he defeated Julius Caesar; and Alesia, where he was captured and the Gallic confederation fell to Rome—were refigured as focal points of French identity, archaeological excavation, and preservation. The intensity of this attention, Collis shows, has been highest during periods of particular political ferment, such as during the Vichy regime or under the rule of Napoléon III, but the attitudes that resulted are still taught in French schools.

There are a few minor errors throughout. Page 14, note 2, reads "The standard works remains;" this should either be "The standard work remains" or "The standard works remain." The s/z spelling of "Gothicise" is inconsistent on page 58. There are some missing commas or hyphens here or there, and a few missing words (such as "the" lacking from p. 114, line 24 [should read "with the least"]). "Is" on p. 151, line 20 should be "it" and "Voraigne" on p. 176 line 22 and note 2 should be "Voragine." Similarly "prophesies" on p. 177, line 17 should be "prophecies," "Bretons," p. 193 line 4 of text quite possibly should be "Britons," and "aware of it", p. 199, line 8, should be "aware of them" (the Celtic roots).  There are a couple of missing Irish fadas, as in the word Gabhála, p. 192, line 15 and Túatha, p. 192, line 23. The comma on p. 177, line 1 after "St" should more properly be a period. Capitalization is occasionally inconsistent, and some spaces need to be inserted, as on p. 175, line 14, between "Celtic" and "spiritualities," and on p. 177, note 4, between "Secundeis" and "1508." None of these issues, however, in any way detract from the arguments or conclusions of the volume's papers.

This collection is multi-disciplinary and thoughtful, and its discussions are particularly pertinent in today's political and social climate. These eleven essays reveal that many concepts of identity and nationalism are based on faulty or incomplete data, and that they readily change as cultural mores shift. None of these facts, however, deflate the importance or upend the persistence of the resulting assumptions; instead, their adoption into a nation's self-definition makes them all but impervious to challenge. Indeed, as Leerssen writes in this volume, "what matters in this type of discourse and rhetoric is . . . the moral exemplar," which depends almost entirely upon the prevailing political, social, and cultural environment (24–5). Observing the patterns of identity formation in Britain, France, or Spain in the last three hundred years further suggests templates for similar contemporary and future patterns; this volume of essays thus offers an excellent place to begin.

Máire Johnson, Emporia State University