I can trace my first encounters with the King Arthur mythology to two (very different) Disney adaptations: The Sword and the Stone (1963) and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995). That my interest in King Arthur began with these, er, interpretations of their source material (not to mention the earlier texts) is now quite amusing. But before I read Thomas Malory or Chrétien de Troyes or Tennyson (or even Mark Twain, T.H. White, or John Steinbeck), I knew King Arthur through endless reinterpretations, including Meg Cabot’s Avalon High, Gerald Morris’s The Squire’s Tale series, and (yes) the Keira Knightley film.
The popularity of the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table may have historically ebbed and flowed over time, but it’s undeniable how important they are to popular culture. And how these legends have been reused and revised to talk about the fabric of social life, politics, and nationhood. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Mists of Avalon act as two very prominent examples of such commentary.
With the premier of The Green Knight (starring Dev Patel!!!) on the horizon (yes, it’s based on that poem you might have read in a lit class), we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to talk about King Arthur.
Like Hannah, my earliest exposure to the legends of King Arthur come from popular media. I saw The Sword and the Stone when I was fairly young, and while I can’t specifically name the source, I know I read some kids version of the tales in grade school. Images from the Arthurian stories were abundant in both Marvel and DC comics as well. But I can trace my specific fandom to two comic book sources from the early ’80s, Camelot 3000 by Mike Barr and Brian Bolland, and Mage: The Hero Discovered by Matt Wagner. It was both of these that showed me that the Romances of Arthur and the Round Table were not just old stories, but a living mythology that could be used to address modern concerns. The symbolism can speak to universal, human concerns that are not dependent on the historical setting.
This led me to consuming vast quantities of Arthurian literature, both the classics that Hannah references above, to the many, many more modern adaptations, such as the Mary Stewart series, Firelord by Parke Godwin, The Winter King trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, and series by Jack Whyte, Rosalind Miles, A. A. Attanasio, and more. In addition to this, in the wake of the popularity of Joseph Campbell, many of the Jungian psychologists I read used the imagery of Arthurian legend as guides to therapeutic approaches. Robert Johnson used the story of Percival to explore masculine psychology and that of Tristan and Isolde to analyze romantic partnership. The Grail legend has been used by numerous writers to discuss the symbolic nature of life’s journey. As someone with more than a passing interest in history I have also delved into the evidence, and lack thereof, for actual historical precedents and influences for these characters and events. I used the myths in two of my novels, one of which is my overt attempt at writing the Arthur story, and the other is a modern horror/fantasy with the symbolism scattered covertly throughout (though some of it is incredibly obvious and not very covert).
So yeah… I’m up to my gorget in Arthurian stuff. I’m looking forward to talking about this.
How about our listeners? Do you have specific favorites of the Arthurian tales, either the classics or modern? Or does the Matter of Britain, as it has been called, simply leave you cold? Is it something that still speaks to the modern world, or is it a collection of dated cliches? And how excited are you for Dev Patel as a Knight of the Round Table? Let us know what you think in the comments.