Enemy Of God: King Arthur

Is a novel (1996) by Bernard Cornwell. He also wrote The Winter King (1995) which the Netflix series The Last Kingdom was based on. I loved this book. It is historical fiction at its finest. Because it attempts to take something that is unknowable, indeed, even uncertain and give it life – authenticity. Is that possible?

The tale takes place in 495AD and imagines what life during that time was like. It takes place in what is now England and is based upon archeological remains, myth and legend. Was King Arthur a real person? Camelot? The Round Table. Guinevere? Lancelot? Galahad? Merlin?

Arthur’s despair


was only barely written down 1527 years ago. Only a very few monks, kings, and scholars, could read or write. However, there were stories and songs (bards). That was how happenings were recorded. But, there are physical remains like Stonehenge.

Some speculation about Arthur’s time can be seen here and many other places. Nevertheless King Arthur is perhaps the greatest of all heroic figures. And his wife, Guinevere, the essence of feminine beauty. Moreover her secret love of the Knight Lancelot not uncommon. It is a story of magic and belief. Of war, battle, lies and betrayal. Brutal death. This is that story.

Guinevere. Love, lust, and beauty

The enemy of God

is how Cornwell characterizes Arthur, who was the sworn protector of the boy King Mordred, a wretched man. Because Arthur doesn’t believe in the Christian God, but only in oaths sworn. He believes in men and especially kings. Kings provide order says Arthur. Consequently, they alone have the power to subdue chaos and bring peace.

On the other hand, Christians believe in a “holy ghost, a virgin, and a carpenter”. And a fish. Also, that the pagans must be killed so that Jesus will return. Moreover, this must happen by the year 500. Arthur creates Camelot and The Round Table, and has all kings and knights swear to respect one another and territorial sovereignty. But then everybody lies. Does not that ring a bell?

Derfel, Arthur’s warrior companion and the narrater, says to his friend, “You [Arthur] gave them [the Christians] peace  and peace gave them the chance to breed their madness. [That Christ was coming in five years, if …]

Arthur laments, “All kings lie. No kingdom could be ruled without lies, for lies are the things we use to build our reputations … sometimes we even believe the lies.”

That, my friends, sounds like Arthur speaking about today’s world.

Romance and Adventure

are my two favorite things and this book is all about that. However, both now are pretty much in my rear view mirror. All things must pass. So it is said. Did humans, 1500 years ago, feel the way we feel today? Did they love and lust and fight about the same things? Or is it us behaving the same way they did? Only with “better” technology, weapons, and tools. Who knows?

Is Jesus coming back, now, to save our sorry asses? Seems like the end times are here.

What this book is

is really the author’s critique of religion and the belief in a “higher power”. Cornwell masterfully disguises that in the legend of Arthur – everyman’s (and woman’s) hero. Arthur is in despair for what he sees as the foolishness of men. About all things.

If God wanted us to be equal then he would have made us equal, and if we are all the same, where would romance be?

You cannot command love, Lady, only beauty or lust does that. What is your rank but the accident of your birth.

It was arrogant of us to think that the Gods had nothing better to do than to worry about us. Do we lose sleep over the mice in the thatch?

Cornwell uses conversations between characters to put worth his point of view. Because surely that of the ancient legend cannot be known. It’s great story telling. Here is another sample of the author’s prose.

A shimmer of smoke shivered above the moon-shaft and the smell of it wafted towards us on the night’s small wind.

Almost five stars. I found the Celtic words of names and places a distraction. Because there were a lot! some real and some fictional.



2 thoughts on “Enemy Of God: King Arthur

  1. I’m impressed with your digging deeper into the author’s agenda. I almost always miss that part because I get absorbed in the characters and their stories. Dickens and Steinbeck, and many other famed authors, were making observations about their societies — the obvious ones, like George Orwell, aren’t as enchanting.

  2. Well, you know me – that’s my favorite part: The “Why did you write this book?” question. Often times the author isn’t even aware of why they did. Or, they won’t admit it.

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