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Here are 8 things you may not know about King Arthur!

The legend of King Arthur, a fifth-century warrior who supposedly led the fight against Saxon invaders, continues to fascinate today. Here, as part of our Myths and Legends Week, historian John Matthews reveals eight things you probably didn’t know about King Arthur…
  
1) The once and future king

Arthur, sometimes known as ‘the king that was and the king that shall be’, is recognised all over the world as one of the most famous characters of myth and legend. Yet, if he existed at all (which few scholars agree upon), he would not have been a king, but the commander of an elite force of fighting men. Furthermore, he would have lived more than 500 years before medieval legends suggest.

All that is known, with even the least degree of certainty, is that a man named Arthur, or Arturus, led a band of heroic warriors who spearheaded the resistance of Britons against the invading Saxons, Jutes, and others from the north of Europe, sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries AD.

Another theory claims that Arthur was a Roman centurion named Lucius Artorius Castus, who fought against the Picts [northern tribes that constituted the largest kingdom in Dark Age Scotland] on Hadrian’s Wall in the second century AD, some 300 years earlier than the time at which Arthur’s dates are normally set.

Even Arthur’s birthplace and base of operations are questionable. Camelot – the castled city associated with King Arthur – was invented by the 12th-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes. Arthur’s association with Cornwall and parts of Wales is an idea fostered by 18th-century antiquarians such as William Stukeley, who carried out one of the first archaeological investigations at Cadbury Castle in Somerset, long believed in local folklore to be the original site of Camelot.

Whatever the truth – and we may never know for sure – the adventures of the legendary King Arthur, with his Round Table Fellowship of Knights based in the mythical city of Camelot, were told and retold between the 11th and 15th centuries in hundreds of manuscripts in at least a dozen languages. “What place is there within the bounds of the Empire of Christendom to which the winged praise of Arthur the Briton has not extended?” wrote the 12th-century chronicler Alanus ab Insulis (or Alain de Lille). Today Arthurian stories are told in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Icelandic, Dutch, Russian, and even Hebrew.
 
2) The Round Table

The Round Table is the centerpiece of the Arthurian world. According to the 13th-century poet Layamon, Arthur ordered the table to be built for him by a famous Cornish carpenter, who somehow made the table capable of seating 1,600 men (clearly an exaggeration), yet easily portable to wherever Arthur set up his mobile base of operations.

Other stories suggest it was Merlin, the king’s magician, who made the table – “round” he said, “in the likeness of the world” – and who sent out a call to the bravest and truest knights to join a great fellowship whose task was to care for the disenfranchised (especially women), and who would do no harm to anyone who did not deserve it.

Some 150 knights were said to have sat at the Round Table. Their adventures lead us into a magical realm of wonder: where ‘faery women’ test the nobility of the knights by offering them seemingly impossible tasks, and strange creatures lurk in the shadows of a vast forest, in whose depth are clearings where castles, chapels, hermitages, and ruins are found – some empty, others containing dangerous foes.

When they had largely rid the land of monsters, dragons, and evil customs, the knights undertook their greatest task of all – the quest for the Holy Grail. Many did not return.

 
3) Merlin

Merlin, Arthur’s advisor, appears in different legends as a magician, a prophet, a wildman, or a visionary poet. He is said to have helped bring about the birth of the future king by magically giving Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, the likeness of his rival, Gorlois of Tintagel, Duke of Cornwall, so that Uther could engender a child with Gorlois’ wife, Igraine. Once Arthur was born, Merlin is said to have carried him away to a secret location in the forest, and watched over him until he came of age.

At this point, Merlin supposedly arranged the test of the Sword in the Stone, which only the true king could draw. This sword is often confused with Arthur’s most famous weapon, Excalibur, the legendary sword said to have magical powers. In fact that blade was given to Arthur later by the Lady of the Lake (a ‘faery woman’ who appears in the stories), after the sword from the stone breaks during battle. 
It is another such faery being, Nimue, the handmaid of the Lady of the Lake, who becomes Merlin’s nemesis: Merlin falls passionately in love with the beautiful damsel, who tricks him into giving her the secrets of his magic and then uses them against him, locking him forever in a cave from which, years after, ‘the cry of Merlin’ could still be heard.
Merlin’s own origins are almost as difficult to establish as Arthur’s. A collection of poems, magical and mystical in nature, is attributed to a princely bard named Myrddin, whose British name was changed because of its unfortunate similarity to merde (excrement) in French. The 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth, who included Arthur in his History of the Kings of Britain (1138), also wrote a Life of Merlin (c1150), in which a sixth-century prince goes mad after seeing his nephews killed in battle and who hides in the forest, telling stories to a pet pig. Geoffrey clearly considered this was the same Merlin as the character included in his later History of the Kings of Britain.
 
4) Faery women
Many faery women thread together the stories of Arthur and his knights. This is probably because a good number of the stories originated not in Britain, but in Brittany – or, as it was known then, Armorica or Aermorica, where belief in ancient deities and the faery race lived on. These faery tales became interwoven with stories of chivalry beloved by the courtly circle. Within the courtly circle these stories were told by roving troubadours – poets who learned dozens of Arthurian tales by heart.
In c1150 Geoffrey of Monmouth named nine sisters in his Vita Merlini as the rulers of the enchanted island of Avalon. Among them was Morgen (more familiar to us as Morgan le Fay), who in later stories is described as Arthur’s half-sister and becomes his most implacable foe. Sir Thomas Malory, in his great 15th-century novel, Le Mort D’Arthur, tells us Morgan was “put to school on a nunnery, where she learned magic and necromancy”. 
Though this may sound odd to us today, many of the women in enclosed orders were learned, and since learning was frequently equated with magic, thus Morgan came to be considered a sorceress.

 
5) The grail
The greatest task undertaken by Arthur’s knights was the quest for the grail, a mysterious vessel linked to the Passion of Christ [the story of Jesus Christ’s arrest, trial, suffering, and eventual execution by crucifixion]. According to the 12th-century poet Robert De Boron, the grail was used to celebrate the Last Supper, and afterwards by Christ’s ‘uncle’, Joseph of Arimathea, to catch some of the blood that flowed from the Saviour as his body was taken down from the cross.
Earlier stories, from the mythology of the Celts, can be seen as precursors of the grail: they spoke of “cauldrons of plenty” that provided food for heroes and could even bring the dead to life. But once the links with Christian belief were established in the 12th century, the grail became a holy relic sought by mystics and heroes – and, most famously, by Arthur’s fellowship.
All 150 knights of the Round Table are said to have gone forth in search of the sacred vessel after it appeared at Camelot during Pentecost [a feast celebrated each year on the 50th day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter) and 10 days after the Feast of the Ascension of Christ]. Of those who went forth only three succeeded in their quest to find the grail: the saintly knight Sir Galahad, the simple Sir Percival, and the honest, plain-spoken Sir Bors.
Many other knights perished, and this undoubtedly weakened both the Round Table and Arthur’s court, preparing the way for the dark days to come when Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred rose up against him and ended the dream of Camelot.
 
6) Lancelot and Guinevere
Love stories feature a great deal in the Arthurian world. Tristan and Isolde, for example, best known these days from Wagner’s 1859 opera that retold their story, were famous doomed lovers. But another story, originating in France, became one of the best known of the Arthurian tales: the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere.
The 12th-century poet Chrétien de Troyes gave us an account of their romance in his Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart (c1177). No stories before this feature Lancelot, so we must assume that Chrétien invented him. Lancelot became known as the greatest knight of the Round Table and Arthur’s most trusted ally, but it was his illicit love for Queen Guinevere that made him famous.
Chrétien’s story tells a dramatic tale of Guinevere’s abduction by a lord named Melwas, who had fallen in love with the queen, and of Lancelot’s efforts to rescue her. In order to reach Melwas’ castle, where she is held, Lancelot is forced to ride in a cart – a vehicle reserved for criminals on their way to the gallows. But Lancelot hesitates for a moment, and when Guinevere learns of this this later on she spurns him as not worthy of her affections.
Later stories extended Lancelot and Guinevere’s love into a full-blown affair, which in the end brought down the Round Table and ushered in the end of Arthur’s reign when Lancelot rescued the queen, who had been condemned to burn at the stake, and in the process killed several of Arthur’s knights. With the king reluctantly forced to attack Lancelot, the way was left open for Mordred to attack Camelot.

 

7) The death of Arthur
Weakened by the losses incurred during the quest for the grail, and then by the scandal of Lancelot and Guinevere, Arthur’s kingdom began to break apart.
War broke out after Lancelot staged an armed rescue of Guinevere, condemned to death for her treasonous love for the great knight. In the heat of battle Lancelot killed two of Arthur’s best men, Gareth and Gaheris, who had defended the queen. Their brother, the famous knight Sir Gawain, thus became Lancelot’s most bitter foe, and as Arthur was forced to respond to Lancelot’s rescue of the queen, he reluctantly led an army to France to attack him.
While Arthur and Gawain were away attacking Lancelot, King Arthur’s son, Mordred, raised an army and declared himself king. With the hasty return of the true king to Britain, a final battle took place at Camlann. Arthur killed Mordred, but suffered a wound that seemed likely to kill him – though in the end he was taken to Avalon to be healed.
There follows one of the most famous scenes in the entire series of Arthurian stories: Arthur’s faithful follower, Sir Bedivere, throws the king’s mighty sword back into the lake from which it had come at the beginning of his reign (given him by the Lady of the Lake). A mysterious hand rises from the water and seizes the sword, drawing it under.
A ship then appears, carrying three queens, who take the wounded Arthur away, across the sea to the fabled Isle of Avalon, where it is said he would be healed of his wounds and live on, awaiting recall by his country in time of need – the ‘once and future king’ indeed.
 
8) Arthur’s bones
Belief in Arthur’s expected return to his country was kept alive in stories for many years by the people of Britain. Arthur’s bones were supposedly found at Glastonbury Abbey in 1191, though this was nothing more than a fabrication designed to quell the belief that Arthur would return to expel the invading Normans. Nevertheless, some bones were indeed interred in a black marble tomb in 1278 at the expense of Edward I.
To this day, countless new books, films, television shows and plays continue to be created about King Arthur, adding to the popularity of the legends, which remain among the most familiar and best-loved stories of all time.
John Matthews is a historian who has produced more than 100 books on myth, the Arthurian legends, and the history of the Grail. His latest book, King Arthur: Many Faces, One Hero, co-written with Caitlín Matthews, will be published by Inner Traditions in 2016.

 

 

Arthurian Timeline Part 3~ 1533-2005

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Arthurian Timeline, Part 3

c.1533-39 – “Itinerary,” the modern title given to the collection of notes made by John Leland, Henry VIII’s court antiquary, during his extensive travels for the purpose of documenting the historical treasures of England. There are several items of Arthurian significance: in his notes on the county of Somerset, Leland relates a tradition equating the ancient hillfort, Cadbury Castle, with King Arthur’s Camelot; also in Somerset, Leland tells us that “a bridge of four stone arches which is known as Pomparles (over the River Brue near Glastonbury) is the place where, “according to legend, that King Arthur cast his sword into it;” in his Cornwall notes, Leland discusses a river in the Camelford area. He says, “in some histories it is called Cablan. It was beside this river that Arthur fought his last battle (Camlann), and evidence of this, in the form of bones and harness, is uncovered when the site is ploughed.”
1534 – Polydore Vergil completes “Anglica Historia” in which he is critical of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history, in general, and his portrayal of Arthur, in particular. He even goes so far as to question Arthur’s existence.

1539 – Dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey, after which Arthur’s burial cross is said to have lain in the “Reverstry” of St. John Baptist, Glastonbury (according to a late 17th century document, Bodleian Rawlinson B.416A, folio 10v) for approximately a hundred years.

1544 – Leland publishes “Assertio Inclytissimi Arturii” (Assertions of the Renowned Arthur), a compilation of most of the archaeological and literary evidence for King Arthur, as it was known in Tudor England. Here, Leland notes the inscription on the burial cross, allegedly belonging to King Arthur’s grave, found at Glastonbury. The editor of the “Assertio” commented that “his disquisition upon Arthur is more notable for heat than light.”

1599 – Edmund Spenser dies leaving his Arthurian poem, “The Faerie Queene,” unfinished. In it Arthur portrays “magnanimity,” to Spenser’s mind, the leading virtue.

1607 – Publication of William Camden’s “Britannia,” including illustrations of King Arthur’s Burial Cross.
c.1650 – Puritans chop down original Glastonbury Thorn on Wearyall Hill, said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, which, legend says, he planted upon his arrival there in AD 63.
1691 – “King Arthur,” an opera written by John Dryden with music by Henry Purcell, told the tale of Arthur’s battles with the (fictitious) Saxon leader, Oswald.
1695, 1697 – Richard Blackmore writes “Prince Arthur” and “King Arthur,” two transparently allegorical verse epics incorporating Christian moral themes. In the poems, Arthur is William III; his antagonist, Octa, is James II, and so on.
c.1700-20 – The burial cross of King Arthur vanishes from history in the early 18th century. It was last known to be in the possession of one William Hughes, Chancellor of the cathedral of Wells.
1808 – In the preface to William Blake’s “Milton,” the poet writes:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!

I will not cease from mental flight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

It is believed that Blake’s words hark back to old tradtions which said that Joseph of Arimathea brought the boy, Jesus, to England in the time, unaccounted for in the Bible, between his 12th and 30th years of age.
These words were later made famous in a hymn entitled, “Jerusalem.” The words were set to music in 1916, by the English composer Hubert Hastings Parry, and later orchestrated by Sir Edward Elgar in 1922. “Jerusalem” was first performed at a Votes for Women concert in 1916.
1809 – Sir Walter Scott anonymously publishes “The Bridal of Triermain,” a curious blending of Arthurian legend and the Sleeping Beauty story.
1822 – William Wordsworth writes “The Egyptian Maid,” a poem featuring Merlin and the Lady of the Lake.
1840 – Arthurian poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Merlin I” and ” Merlin II”.
c.1850-c.1900 – Gothic Revival inspired many poetic and literary works based on Arthur and Arthurian themes and embodying Victorian moral attitudes and neo-chivalric enthusiasms. Some of the many artists and their works are listed below:

Matthew Arnold: “Tristram and Iseult”
Gustave Dore: French illustrator, produced a collection of thirty-six drawings to illustrate an edition of Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King.”

William Morris: “The Defense of Guinevere,” “King Arthur’s Tomb,” “Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery,” ” The Chapel in Lyonesse,” “Near Avalon”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: ” God’s Graal,” an unfinished poem: “King Arthur’s Tomb,” “Lancelot’s Vision of the Sangreal,” “Sir Tristram and La Belle Yseult Drink the Love Potion,” paintings in the pre-Raphaelite style.

Algernon Charles Swinburne: “Queen Yseult,” “Joyeuse Garde,” “Tristram of Lyonesse,” “The Tale of Balen,” “The Day Before the Trial,” “Lancelot.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson: “The Lady of Shalott,” “Sir Galahad,” “Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere: A Fragment,” “Morte d’Arthur,” “The Idylls of the King,” a cycle of Arthurian poems.

1859 – Richard Wagner completes the opera, “Tristan und Isolde.”
1882 – Wagner’s opera, “Parsifal,” is performed.
1889 – Mark Twain publishes “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”
1893-4 – Aubrey Beardsley contributes over 400 black and white drawings to illustrate John M. Dent’s edition of Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur.
1903-10 – Howard Pyle illustrates “The Story of King Arthur and His Knights” and other similar stories.
1917 – N.C.Wyeth, star student of Howard Pyle, illustrates “The Boy’s King Arthur,” an abridgement of Malory.
1923 – Thomas Hardy writes “The Queen of Cornwall,” a one-act play based on the Tristan and Isolde story.
1930-44 – Charles Williams produces most important modern reinterpretations of Arthurian mythology in “War in Heaven” (1930), “Taliessin Through Logres” (1938), and “The Region of the Summer Stars” (1944). The three works cover the entire breadth of the traditional Arthurian story, making them into a moral epic of cosmic proportions. Williams deemphasizes the Guinevere-Lancelot affair, and instead focuses on the mystical aspects of the grail quest, comparing it to human spiritual development.
1945 – C.S. Lewis concludes his Space Trilogy with “That Hideous Strength,” a tale replete with Arthurian motifs and “grail” characters.
1952 – Lewis publishes “Arthurian Torso,” a “double” volume containing his friend, Charles Williams’, previously unpublished “Figure of Arthur” and Lewis’ commentary, “Williams and the Arthuriad.”
1953 – T.H.White completes the “Once and Future King.”
1960 – “Camelot,” a Lerner and Lowe musical stageplay based on T.H. White’s “Once and Future King,” is performed on Broadway, starring Richard Burton as King Arthur and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. A Film version, starring Richard Harris as Arthur and Franco Nero as Lancelot, appeared in 1967. Camelot was brought back on stage, this time starring Goulet as Arthur, in a Summer Stock tour of 1996.
1962 – “Castle Dor,” an updated version (19th century) of the Tristan and Isolde story originally begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), was completed from his notes by Daphne du Maurier.
1963 – “Sword at Sunset” by Rosemary Sutcliff, a realistic telling of the Arthurian story from his own viewpoint.
1975 – “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” jokingly said by Geoffrey Ashe to be the most realistic of all celluloid Arthurian depictions, stars Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
1977 – “The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights,” John Steinbeck’s attempt at a modernization of Malory, is published posthumously.
1978 – Mary Stewart completes her trilogy of novels focusing on Merlin, “The Crystal Cave” (1970), “The Hollow Hills” (1973) and “The Last Enchantment” (1978).
1981 – “Excalibur,” an excellent adaptation of Malory by John Boorman, stars Nicol Williamson as Merlin.
1982 – “The Mists of Avalon,” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, adds a new wrinkle to the Arthurian story, by telling it from the point of view of the women involved in the tale: Igraine, wife of Gorlois; Morgaine, the daughter of Igraine and Gorlois; Morgause, Igraine’s younger sister; Viviane, the Lady of the Lake and Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s Queen.
1995 – “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court,” a Disney film recalling Mark Twain’s story of a modern who is transported back in time to the days of King Arthur.
1995 – “First Knight,” a slick Hollywood production starring Sean Connery as Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot.
1998 – “Merlin,” a TV mini-series produced by Robert Halmi, starring Sam Neill in the title role; loosely following Geoffrey of Monmouth in some parts and in others, purely original. Nice scenery, interesting characterization of Merlin, great special effects, but a bit too Hollywood.

“Arthurian” Inscription Found at Tintagel – On 6th August 1998, English Heritage revealed that during the last week of digging on the Eastern terraces of Tintagel Island, a broken piece of Cornish slate (8″ by 14″) was discovered bearing the name “Artognov”. It was excavated on July 4th, by Kevin Brady, an archaeologist working with a team from Glasgow University (Scotland). “As the stone came out, when I saw the letters A-R-T, I thought uh-oh…”

The stone apparently bears two inscriptions. The upper strongly incized letters have been broken off and are sadly indecipherable. The lower inscription, though fainter, clearly reads “Pater Coliavificit Artognov”, which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has carefully translated as “Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this built”. Possibly written by a Gaulish hand, the style of writing is certainly 6th century, a date confirmed by surrounding fragments of 6th century Mediterranean pottery already well known from the Tintagel site. Also found nearby was the remains of the only Spanish glass flagon known from this period of Britain’s history. Chris Morris, who has been leading the Scottish based excavation team for the past eight years, believes that the dedicatory “Arthur Stone,” as it has already been christened, was placed in the wall of a 6th century stone building which later collapsed soon after it was built. The slate was then reused as drain cover a century later.

Though “Artognou” (pronounced arth-new) proves that names similar to that of the great King existed in the, so called, Arthurian period, Chris Morris is sceptical about making too much of the obvious link with King Arthur’s traditional birthplace. He believes the stone’s importance lies in the fact that it is “the first evidence we have that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a non-religious context”. However, Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, chief archaeologist at the, normally cautious, English Heritage declared the newly discovered link should not be dismissed. “Tintagel has presented us with evidence of a Prince of Cornwall, in the Dark Ages, living in a high-status domestic settlement at the time Arthur lived. It has given us the name of a person, Arthnou. Arthnou was here, that is his name on a piece of stone. It is a massive coincidence at the very least. This is where myth meets history. It’s the find of a lifetime.”

Adrian Gilbert publicises the work of Blackett & Wilson by publishing his ‘the Holy Kingdom’.

2000 – Publication of ‘The Keys to Avalon’ in which Blake & Lloyd attempt to relocate all Arthurian locations in Wales.

2001 – “The Mists of Avalon,” a TV mini-series based on the 1982 book by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Beautiful photography and evocative music highlight this Turner Network Television (TNT) production featuring Oscar winner Anjelica Huston, Emmy winner Julianna Margulies and two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Joan Allen. According to press materials, the series “delves into the romance, bravery and deceit linking the characters of Arthur’s Kingdom and exalts the powerful women behind the throne of King Arthur,” but in actuality it merely pretends to significance and provides no analysis or insight, at all. In one of the great casting mistakes of all time (rivaling the decision to allow Kevin Costner to play Robin Hood), Arthur is portrayed as a weak, sniveling little wimp (or, perhaps, the decision was intentional given the obvious gender orientation of the program). Much emphasis seems to be placed on promoting goddess worship and in a telling scene at the end of the film, a statue of the Virgin Mary is said to be nothing more than a christianized version of the old goddess.

Establishment of the ‘Centre for Arthurian Studies’ at the North-East Wales Institute for Higher Education in Wrexham, co-founded by Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, co-authors of “The Keys of Avalon” (2000) which claims to reveal the “true location of Arthur’s kingdom.”

2003 – “The Mystery of King Arthur, Vol. 1” is released. A Mick Fowler Productions/British History Club History Club enterprise, this series of DVD’s explores Arthurian history and legend as has never been done before on-screen.

2004 – “King Arthur,” a Jerry Bruckheimer film, is released with much fanfare and high expectations. The film, while likable enough as pure entertainment, takes impermissible liberties with history and legend (which is really what the film was supposed to be about). Case in point are Arthur’s horse soldiers. Historically, these were troops conscripted out of eastern Europe (Sarmatia) by the Romans and sent to remotest Britain to shore up the island’s defenses. Their Roman commander is said to have been one Lucius Artorius Castus, the central character in a not-too-widely-held scholarly theory that casts him as the original figure behind the legend of King Arthur (see timeline entry for 184 AD). One problem with this is that these cavalrymen lived in Britain in the latter half of the second century, 300ish years before the movie was supposed to have taken place, and another is that, in the 180’s, the Saxons hadn’t arrived in Britain, yet, and wouldn’t need battling for a long time to come.

Producer Bruckheimer, in his quest to be creatively original, also for the first time in history and legend sees fit to transform the reliably feminine figure of Guinevere into a painted-up, Celtic shield-maiden, fully the equal of any of her male co-combatants in the “manly” arts of war. He might have gotten away with this, had the naturally willowy actress, Keira Knightley, had the physique to make us believe — but she didn’t — and, as a result, we’re left conflicted with memories of what should have been our always-delicate Guinevere, rampaging around a dark age battlefield clad in some of the most improbably revealing and non-protective battle gear in the long history of warfare.

In our view, however glad Arthurians worldwide might have been when they heard that yet another attempt was going to be made by a major Hollywood talent to do justice to their favorite legendary character, they are surely disappointed, now, at having seen just another tarted-up, Hollywood summer “blockbuster”.

The release period (late June – early July) was sprinkled with programs attempting to provide serious analysis of the film, “King Arthur”, and the man behind the legend. The History Channel had two such shows, totaling 3 hours of air time and ABC-TV had a 20 minute segment on its PrimeTime Friday “20/20” show. The best of the bunch was clearly the History Channel’s “Quest for King Arthur” (June 20th), featuring Arthurian academic luminaries Geoffrey Ashe (“The Discovery of King Arthur” and Secretary of the Camelot Research Committee [see entry for 1966-70]), Christopher Snyder (“The World of King Arthur”), Bonnie Wheeler (Editor of the publication, “Arthuriana”) and Jeremy Adams (noted medieval historian from Yale and SMU). Although much material was presented that could’ve been confusing to the uninitiated, this was probably the most authoritative and satisfying treatment of Arthur’s historical and legendary background ever done for television…but, then again, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t make the “King Arthur” film into anything more than another swashbuckling knight movie.

2005 – IBM’s business consulting division trades on Arthur’s reputation for wisdom and integrity in a series of TV commercials which portray Arthur as a dark-age CEO eliciting advice from his board members (knights) on a series of timeless, but confounding administrative problems.

2006 – The book, “The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History”, is released in paperback. King Arthur comes in at #3, behind “The Marlboro Man” at #1 and George Orwell’s “Big Brother” at #2 and just ahead of #4 Santa Claus.

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