Arthurian Fantasy can be considered a subgenre of the subgenre of Mythic Fantasy (how’s that for getting somewhat meta?). Mythic Fantasy (which we have yet to get to), involves weaving mythological elements into a story’s world or plot. Arthurian Fantasy takes the King Arthur legend and incorporates it.
The King Arthur legend can be considered fantasy by itself. It involves wizards (Merlin), sorceresses, enchanted swords, and a host of other things that are generally considered to be fantasy elements. (Merlin ages backwards, in a lot of versions, which is kind of awesome but would be a bit awkward, when you look like you’re six and really, like, 500.)
Arthurian fantasy can be a straight retelling of the legends, can be from a minor character’s point of view, or can change some aspects to fit the author’s fancy. It can add new characters in that never existed in the original story, or it can even involve Arthur’s resurrection. (Arthur is one of many mythic figures from around the world that are supposed to come again when their country is in need. I saw the statue of another, Holger Danske, in Denmark.) An excellent example of the latter is Peter David’s Knight Life, where Arthur returns and runs for mayor of New York City.
There can be very little magic or a lot. People can be evil or not, depending on how the story is told. There’s a lot of variety here for the same basic story that’s been around since at least the 9th century.
One might wonder what’s so endearing about it. Is it Excalibur? The love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot? Merlin’s wisdom? The quest for the Grail? (Admittedly a later addition to the story.) Arthur’s half-sister Morgan le Fay? Whatever it is, people keep coming back for more.
Some of the best known 20th-century Arthurian books include T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle, TA Barron’s Lost Years of Merlin series (YA), and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence (also YA).
Does Arthurian fantasy float your boat, Squiders? Sick of it? What’s your very favorite interpretation, in whatever media? (I’ve always been rather partial to Disney’s The Sword in the Stone – I just wish they had done the rest of the story at some point.)