An Arthurian Obsession:
Last night, Thur. 7/22, TCM aired “Camelot”. It was indeed a trip down memory lane. I decided to watch it again – for the umpteenth time – and was pleasantly surprised because, being TCM, it was uncut and had several scenes I did not remember ever seeing.
As I watched it – not surprisingly – it put me in mind of how much the Arthurian tales and legends [aka the Matter of Britain] had influenced my life. As mentioned in an earlier blog, it came into my life at the end of High School. From then on, it was a significant undercurrent to my development as a writer and historian. The sequence of my Arthurian readings is hopelessly mixed up in my memories, but definitely the first was Sutcliff’s romantic novel, ‘Sword at Sunset’. This was quickly followed by T.H. White’s ‘Once and Future King’. Now, as a child, I had seen, with the rest of America, Disney’s Sword in the Stone, looked through and perhaps read bits and pieces of Howard Pyle’s Knights of the Round Table, etc. etc. But as I entered college, the readings had morphed into real scholarship. And the real kickoff to Arthurian Studies was Geoffrey’s Ashe’s ‘Search for Arthur’s Britain’. (Top Shelf, Tall red book, 8th from left)
Finally, as a senior, my Bachelor’s Thesis, was ‘The British Dark Ages” which attempted to showcase, if not prove, the historicity of Arthur. And the flood began: (Lower Shelf: black vol. “Age of Arthur” to white vol. “The Celtic World” and beyond.) NB: these are only a fraction of my Arthurian Readings, many more in public and university libraries, etc.
So, where does that put me, as a historian. First, as my English History professor taught, “getting a feel and focus for your research, read the histories, but read the relevant “historical fiction” as well”. Next, there are dozens of different historical interpretations for “the Matter of Britain”. They range from “no relation to reality” to “the understanding of Arthur as a fifth century Celtic British leader holding back the Saxon, Irish, and Pictish hoards.” So, Arthurian Studies teaches one to isolate the evidence, sort that evidence into Probable, Possible, Mostly Fictional, and Pure Imagination. Then, as a historian, present the evidence and offer interpretations.
As such, my lifelong fascination with Arthur and his tales informed my understanding and interpretations of the corpus of British History 55BC – 2020 AD, American History, Ancient Near Eastern History, Biblical Studies, European pre-Christian mythologies. All of these were part and parcel of my classroom presentations for 20 years, as well as informing my approaches to Louisiana History and its cuisine.
Thus, re-watching and singing along with Lerner & Lowe’s fanciful “Camelot” brought Standing in My Study into a new focus. And a pleasant interlude it was, and a reminder that storytelling – historical or fanciful or a combination thereof will – in my mind- be forever encapsulated in the last words of the play – run away boy, live a long life, and tell the story to everyone who will listen that Once There was a Spot…
– Run, Boy, Run; Run, Boy, Run !