Adventures in Bookland: The King of Athelney by Alfred Duggan

Oh, goodie, I thought: a book about my favourite king by one of my favourite writers of historical fiction. At long last, I’ll get to read Alfred done right. It’s been my misfortune, and ours as a nation, that our greatest king has been ill-served by writers, film makers, indeed everyone who has tried to deal with his story as art. Perhaps the most thorough going attempt in recent times, is Bernard Cornwell’s series about Uhtred, and the spin-off BBC series The Last Kingdom, but much as I love Cornwell’s writing, I must admit I can’t stand his portrayal of Alfred. Reading it, you’re hard put to see why anyone would have followed such a pusillaminous, pious hypochondriac. So, turning to Duggan, I had high hopes. Unfortunately, they were dashed. It’s true, his Alfred is not timid or hypochondriac, but I think I can confidently say that the country was not brought back from the brink of extinction by the captain of the sixth form first XI. That is how Duggan portrays Alfred. Indeed, I could imagine his Alfred slaying Danes while singing the hymn of a minor public school; something like this.

On boys on, we’re in the game of life boys,
We’ll fight it with the heartiest good will.
We’ll fight for every inch,
Not a thing will make us flinch
And we’ll play up for the honour of the school.

So, I’ve still yet to read an adequate, let alone a good, portrayal of Alfred, our greatest king. If you know of one, please tell, I’d love to read it.

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