“We’re Knights of the Round Table. We dance whene’er we’re able. We do routinesandchorus scenes with footwork impeccable. We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.”
--From “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” a
1975 movie referenced in The Arthurian Annals.
Being published by Oxford University Press. It might be described as being the Holy Grail for academic book authors, but that’s the honor attained by Nevada English professor Phillip Boardman. His annotated bibliography, The Arthurian Annals, co-written with Daniel Nastali, a collector and writer who lives in Kansas City, will be published next year by the academic reference division of Oxford University Press. For Boardman, chairman of Nevada’s Core Humanities Program, it’s the product of 24 years of work.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “In academic circles, they have as good a reputation as anyone.”
Boardman recently shipped off 2,800 pages of manuscript to Oxford, successfully making his March 31 deadline. He’s now working on the index - itself a major task since it will list works not only by titles and authors, but also by illustrators (a category never compiled before), characters and themes.
“For the last six months, it’s pretty much meant working night and day because of the deadline,” he said. “Oxford wants to publish by next spring, so the deadline was serious.”
Another thing that Oxford was serious about was the word count: one million words. Boardman had agreed to that number in the contract but didn’t really think much about it until talking to his editor.
“It was a big deal,” he said. “It’s serious because the budget is arranged based on this contractual limit. So we started adding up. We’re pretty close to the limit.”
Boardman began collecting Arthurian references in 1979, when he decided to write a book about the Arthurian legend. “To do that, you need to start tracking down your sources,” he said. Over time, the bibliography took on a life of its own and, in 1986, he hooked up with Nastali, who was doing complementary work. “It turned out we had a huge number of different things,” Boardman said.
The bibliography is massive - more than 11,000 descriptions, in chronological order, of poems, novels, plays, films, operas, and even comic books and computer games.
“The word Arthurian refers to the broad range of legends about King Arthur and all the stories that attach to it, such as the stories of the Holy Grail, Tristan and Isolde, any of the knights, Excalibur and so forth,” Boardman explained.
At a time when Nevada’s research profile in science and technology is at an all-time high, Boardman’s achievement shows that equally impressive work is taking place in the humanities. But, although the project is high on prestige, it’s unlikely to change Boardman’s lifestyle.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said with a chuckle. “I can’t tell you the amount of money I’ve spent tracking these works. Most of the 3,000 books on the shelves in my home you won’t get in the Washoe County or university libraries. It means buying lots of stuff, even stuff I don’t want to read. It’s been an investment.”
Over many years, he’s spent months at a time in England researching at sites such as the British Library and the Arts Council poetry library.
“I went through the collection starting with ‘A,’” he said. “Lifting every book of the shelf looking at the table of contents to see if anything sounded Arthurian and then leafing through. That’s the way you actually work sometimes.”
Although the work can be exacting, it can also be richly rewarding, Boardman said.
“It’s great fun,” he said. “It’s like a mystery, really, because there are always little treasures. Collectors know this feeling - the sudden discovery of something that’s really out of the way.”
As you might expect, Boardman’s knowledge of the Arthurian legend is impressive, but it’s far from rigidly academic, as his students will attest. He uses clips from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in his classes and can discuss the Arthurian legend in such incarnations as disguised in science fiction TV shows such as “Babylon 5.”
“We watch for it,” he said. “Stories where spaceships and characters in those spaceships reenact, unbeknownst to them, versions of the legend. This is a common modern way of doing it.”
When The Arthurian Annals is published, it will be targeted to libraries. It won’t be cheap, perhaps in the $200 to $250 range, but collectors, booksellers and hard-core Arthurian fans will likely also be interested.
In the meantime, Boardman will keep working on the index, eagerly awaiting the first proofs in the fall.
“Oxford isn’t particularly Arthurian, so this was a shot in the dark,” Boardman said. “We were really pleased. When we see the book physically, that’s when we’ll have the party!”
By John Wheeler, (775) 784-1581
Photo by Jean Dixon, 2003.