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The Legend of Arthur

I seem to be having an overload of Arthur these past few months. First, I saw Spamalot on the West End, which tells the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail. Then a few weeks ago, I started watching Merlin, which shows an interpretation of how the Arthurian legends came about. This BBC TV series shows the relationship between Prince Arthur and Merlin when they first meet (airing in the US from January '09).

The Arthurian legend pops up everywhere in popular culture. From Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, many parts of the Arthurian legend exist in direct, or indirect forms. More and more will follow, no doubt. Not bad going for a legend that has existed since the early 6th century - around 1550 years ago.

I knew the Arthurian legend was old, but not that old. When I think of the legend, I have to admit, my knowledge is a little woozy. It also has a high Disney influence. I know there's a dragon who lives under the castle (from the castle at Disneyworld to be precise), and then Merlin in my mind always springs up the image of Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice (from Fantasia), with The Sword in the Stone explaining Excalibur. My knowledge is a little fragmented and skewered, I must admit, especially to say Arthur is such a legend. So, how did the legend come about?

Well, the legend is huge - it spans 16 centuries after all. To look into everything would take a lifetime, but here are some snippets I thought worth mentioning:

* The Arthurian legend perhaps begins with Arthur's father - Uther Pendragon. Uther helped Merlin fetch over the stones that compromise Stonehenge (with 15,000 knights), and he is supposingly buried under there.

* Merlin is actually older than Arthur (minus points to the BBC), and his magic actually brought about Arthur's birth by allowing Uther to sneak into Camelot became the city of Arthur's realm, where his court and Round Table were. Depending on sources, there were between 12-150 knights - Lancelot, Gaiwan, Percival, Galahad and Bedivere are perhaps the most famous. The Knights had a vision of the Holy Grail, and went on a Quest for it.

* Guinevere was Arthur's Queen Consort. She was believed to have had an affair with Lancelot.

*Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, proving him to have the rightful sovereignty of Britain. She is credited for enchanting Merlin, reviving Lancelot (they were lovers), and for taking Arthur to Avalon.

* Because Arthur was taken to Avalon, it is believed he never really died. Therefore, one day, he will have a messianic return to save his people.

Speaking of which, Arthur's return is a possible book/screen idea if I ever saw one (and let's face it, his return probably already exists in the cultural world). It's safe to say however, Arthur is firmly established in British mythology. He will no doubt survive for another 1550 years.

What's your favourite bit of the legend? How did you learn about the Legend? Do you think King Arthur really existed?

3 comments:

  1. Yay, you speak to my heart with Camelot myths!

    I've been aware of King Arthur and the Camelot myth since I was in middle or high school. And you guessed it I delved into the Camelot myth further in college.

    My favorite bit of the legend is POV presented in Mists of Avalon. That book is amazing. The tv movie based on the book, is fairly decent too.

    The debate right now is who Arthur is based on. There are better sites out there than the Wikipedia one, but it's the best I could find on short notice.

    I think the thing I loved most about the Arthurian legend is that he has some of the same flaws many of our greatest historical politicians have. He was an amazing leader, but his personal life became his downfall. Everything he accomplished was overshadowed by his personal choices and who he surrounded himself with. Modern examples would be Bill Clinton, JFK, and even McCain to an extent.

    The King Arthur story is like that cliched example of a car crash. You know it's going to end terribly, but you can't help but look anyways.

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  2. I will have to check Mists of Avalon out - I really am an Arthurian novice!

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  3. Do you know - I actually have Mists of Avalon in my possession, but I've still not got round to reading it - I will do soon!

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