The rather outdated phrase "Dark Ages" is often applied to the centuries following the end of Roman rule in Britain and is a comment on the very limited range of original source material for anyone trying to discover what went on during those centuries. At one level Adam Ardrey's fascinating book serves to illustrate the problem very well indeed. It is a very personal account of a search that began with a desire to uncover the origins of Ardrey's unusual name, and which concluded with the discovery of something of much wider interest and significance. En route we find ourselves looking over the author's shoulder as he repeatedly runs up against the limitations of the historical record. These limitations are caused by the near complete absence or disappearance of contemporary accounts, and by the desire of later chroniclers to make the facts, such as they are, fit preconceptions: or just their desire to tell a good story without regard to the distinction between fact and fiction. And behind it all is the sense that the arrival of Christianity, whose adherents largely cornered the market in literacy, saw pre-Christian history rewritten and reinterpreted in a way that left much of it barely recognisable.
The legend of King Arthur has been told and retold many times, in many different forms, but past attempts to uncover the truth behind the legend have tended to go astray because of these problems. "Finding Arthur" by Adam Ardrey leads the reader on a voyage of discovery that seeks to address the limitations of the available material and carve through the later interpretations and reinterpretations. What emerges is a story of a very different "King Arthur". Arthur Mac Aedan was a prince and a warlord, not a king, and he lived in what is now Scotland. During this journey Ardrey demonstrates how all the "facts" we know, or think we know, about Arthur can neatly be slotted into the Scottish landscape. Avalon, Camelot and Arthur's twelve recorded battles can all be shown to have had a Scottish context, as can legends such as the Round Table, Excalibur and The Sword in the Stone.
If any of this was obvious, then there would have been nothing new or different for Ardrey to write. As you read the author's account of his Arthurian quest you know that there will be many historians left unhappy with at least some of the conclusions. But given the problems many of those same historians have had finding convincing candidates for Arthur, what emerges from Ardrey's book has a sense of underlying rightness. We may not have been convinced on every detail, but we emerged with the strong sense that Adam Ardrey's Arthur comes closer to the real man behind the legend than any other interpretation we've read or seen.