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Archive for December, 2011

Alfred, Lord Tennyson is perhaps my all-time favorite poet, and while I much admire his wonderful Idylls of the King, I admit I am charmed by the earliest version that survived, “The Epic” which includes what would later become “The Passing of Arthur,” the final great poem, but also this beautiful prologue that associates Arthur with Christmas and describes a bit of Tennyson’s process and self-doubt, including an earlier version of Idylls of the King he destroyed. Because of “The Epic” I always associate King Arthur with Christmas. I will not post here the longer body of the poem that became “The Passing of Arthur,” but simply the opening and closing of the poem.

And again, I wish “Happy Christmas!” to all my readers with the wish that “each evening from December to December, before you drift asleep upon your cot, [you] think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Epic

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

At Francis Allen’s on the Christmas-eve,—
The game of forfeits done—the girls all kiss’d
Beneath the sacred bush and past away—
The parson Holmes, the poet Everard Hall,
The host, and I sat round the wassail-bowl,
Then half-way ebb’d; and there we held a talk,
How all the old honor had from Christmas gone,
Or gone or dwindled down to some odd games
In some odd nooks like this; till I tired out
With cutting eights that day upon the pond,
Where, three times slipping from the outer edge,
I bump’d the ice into three several stars,
Fell in a doze; and half-awake I heard
The parson taking wide and wider sweeps,
Now harping on the church-commissioners,
Now hawking at geology and schism;
Until I woke, and found him settled down
Upon the general decay of faith
Right thro’ the world: “at home was little left,
And none abroad; there was no anchor, none,
To hold by.” Francis, laughing, clapt his hand
On Everard’s shoulder, with “I hold by him.”
“And I,” quoth Everard, “by the wassail-bowl.”
“Why yes,” I said, ” we knew your gift that way
At college; but another which you had—
I mean of verse (for so we held it then),
What came of that?” “You know,” said Frank, “he burnt
His epic, his King Arthur, some twelve books”—
And then to me demanding why: “O, sir,
He thought that nothing new was said, or else
Something so said ‘t was nothing—that a truth
Looks freshest in the fashion of the day;
God knows; he has a mint of reasons; ask.
It pleased me well enough.” “Nay, nay,” said Hall,
“Why take the style of those heroic times?
For nature brings not back the mastodon,
Nor we those times; and why should any man
Remodel models? these twelve books of mine
Were faint Homeric echoes, nothing-worth,
Mere chaff and draff, much better burnt.” “But I,”
Said Francis, “pick’d the eleventh from this hearth,
And have it; keep a thing, its use will come.
I hoard it as a sugar-plum for Holmes.”
He laugh’d, and I, tho’ sleepy, like a horse
That hears the corn-bin open, prick’d my ears;
For I remember’d Everard’s college fame
When we were Freshmen. Then at my request
He brought it; and the poet, little urged,
But with some prelude of disparagement,
Read, mouthing out his hollow oes and as
Deep-chested music, and to this result.

……………………………………………………

Here ended Hall, and our last light, that long
Had wink’d and threaten’d darkness, flared and fell;
At which the parson, sent to sleep with sound,
And waked with silence, grunted “Good!” but we
Sat rapt: it was the tone with which he read—
Perhaps some modern touches here and there
Redeem’d it from the charge of nothingness—
Or else we loved the man, and prized his work;
I know not; but we sitting, as I said,
The cock crew loud, as all that time of year
The lusty bird takes every hour for dawn.
Then Francis, muttering, like a man ill-used,
“There now—that’s nothing!” drew a little back,
And drove his heel into the smoulder’d log,
That sent a blast of sparkles up the flue.
And so to bed, where yet in sleep I seem’d
To sail with Arthur under looming shores,
Point after point; till on to dawn, when dreams
Begin to feel the truth and stir of day,
To me, methought, who waited with the crowd,
There came a bark that, blowing forward, bore
King Arthur, like a modern gentleman
Of stateliest port; and all the people cried,
“Arthur is come again: he cannot die.”
Then those that stood upon the hills behind
Repeated—”Come again, and thrice as fair;”
And, further inland, voices echoed—”Come
With all good things, and war shall be no more.”
At this a hundred bells began to peal,
That with the sound I woke, and heard indeed
The clear church-bells ring in the Christmas morn.

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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First, let me make it clear I am not advocating giving children the Starz’ Camelot series, which was terrible and not appropriate for children. What I am advocating is that you introduce a child to the Arthurian legend this holiday season.

Last year for Christmas I got one of the best gifts ever – an iTunes version of the original Broadway Cast of Camelot–my favorite musical which I listen to almost daily–and it introduced me to iTunes, which has made my music listening better than ever–and my friend who bought it for me showed me how to use iTunes and soon I was discovering the videos as well and purchased the Merlin TV seasons and the HBO production of Camelot. For me, Christmas just doesn’t seem like Christmas without King Arthur.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I remember Christmas 1992 when I received The Mists of Avalon, which soon became my favorite book. Another year I got the film version of the musical Camelot, another year Excalibur, and Bernard Cornwell’s novels, and many others. I am certain there will be something Arthurian for me under the Christmas tree this year.

But never did King Arthur mean as much to me as when I was a boy and first read the fabulous stories as depicted in Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur. They captured my imagination in a way few other stories have, and they have stayed with me for decades now.

At the end of the Broadway production of Camelot, King Arthur gives the boy Tom of Warwick the mission to spread Camelot’s story by saying:

Each evening, from December to December,

Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,

Think back on all the tales that you remember

Of Camelot.

Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story,

And tell it strong and clear if he has not,

That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory

Called Camelot.

In other words, in December we are to tell people of Camelot. Do you know someone who does not know the story and will appreciate, who will aspire to be a better person, to find more magic in life, as a result of discovering the tales of King Arthur? No matter what age, you can introduce Camelot to others.
For children, gifts could include the film version of The Sword in the Stone or picture books about the Arthurian legend.
For older children, how about the Prince Valiant comic books, the Merlin TV series DVDs, or early chapter books like Cheryl Carpinello’s wonderful Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend.

Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend by Cheryl Carpinello

For teenage readers, Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy is a good introduction (I read them when I was fifteen).
Don’t forget there are more than books and films, there are Arthurian products of all sorts out there. Maybe Mom would enjoy a King Arthur Flour cookbook. King Arthur video games can be found with little searching.
King Arthur playsets can be found at: http://howcool.com/product_info.php?products_id=24451
Think about how you came to King Arthur. Did an adult first introduce you to Camelot with a coloring book, a storybook, a record….
Keep the story of Camelot strong and inspired in the hearts of the next generation! Give the gift of Camelot to kids of all ages at Christmas!

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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In December, 1974, when I was only three and a half years old, my dad took me for the first time to Marquette’s Delft Theatre to see my first movie. It was a terrible film—at three years old, I was already smart enough to ascertain that. I remembered very little of it over the years, but I would occasionally think about that terrible first movie I saw, which had the Devil chasing Santa Claus, moving the chimney on him so he couldn’t get inside houses to deliver toys, and sicking a dog on him. My dad also thought the movie terrible. For many years, I wondered what this film was named, and I looked in many video books for it, but only thanks to the Internet did I recently discover it was the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. And, I was even more surprised to discover it had an Arthurian legend connection—yes, Merlin and Santa Claus are buddies. I didn’t remember that part of the film when I was three—but I don’t think I knew who Merlin was yet, though of course, I knew Santa Claus.

Santa Claus movie poster

Santa Claus movie poster - with "weird and wonderful" characters - weird is right!

So when I found this film on Amazon, I had to see it. Knowing it would be terrible, I opted to watch the Mystery Science Theater episode that featured it. I’m glad I did because I would have groaned through most of it, but the Mystery Science Theater’s cast made me laugh throughout.

The story is simple and lame. Santa lives in a castle on a cloud above the North Pole. Instead of elves, he has children from around the world who help him. The beginning of the film shows Santa playing the organ as we are shown scenes of children from a slew of countries: Africa, Spain, China, England, Japan, the Orient, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, the Islands of the Caribbean, South America, Central America, USA, and Mexico—I know those aren’t all technically countries, but Santa and the Narrator don’t know that—yeah, there’s a narrator; sure sign the film is bad; he sounds like he’s detailing a documentary, like one of the old Disney wildlife films. Since we have to listen to children sing from each country, this part of the film really drags.

It gets more interesting when Lucifer (the chief devil) tells the devil Pitch he must leave Hades and go to earth to make children evil and to destroy Santa Claus. Pitch isn’t a very convincing devil—he likes to dance about as if he thinks he can do ballet. He goes to Mexico where he whispers in children’s ears, trying to make them do things like steal a doll and later throw rocks at Santa. Santa, however, can see everything through his magical telescope, so he knows what Pitch is doing. Santa even has a machine so he can watch children’s dreams. He’s quite the Big Santa, and it’s only 1959!

Soon it’s time for Santa to go to earth to deliver Christmas toys. Pitch is now out to stop Santa by moving the chimney so Santa can’t get in a house, as well as other, less effective ways to hurt Santa. Santa does get back at him in one scene by shooting at him with a toy cannon.

But where does Merlin come into the story? Merlin has given Santa a magic dreaming power he can blow in children’s faces to put them to sleep. Santa also has a special invisibility flower. Of course, Pitch destroys the powder and Santa loses the flower. Then Pitch sicks a dog on Santa so he has to climb a tree and is trapped. Santa is now in big trouble since he can’t get out of the tree and morning is coming; if the sun rises before Santa gets back to the North Pole, the reindeer will turn to dust. But no worries, Santa’s voice is so loud he can yell to “Mr. Merlin” who hears him from where he lives with Santa in the castle in a cloud above the North Pole. (You have to wonder why there’s no Mrs. Claus in the film.) Merlin is decked out in the typical blue robe with the big pointy hat and moon and star pictures on his clothes. He also wobbles around when he walks. (Mystery Science Theater asks, “Why can’t Santa give him another leg?”)

Merlin, being a great wizard and capable of doing magical things, quickly solves the problem. Does he cast a fantastic spell to make Santa Claus suddenly appear back home? No. Does he turn the dog into a toad? No. Does he resurrect the Knights of the Round Table to ride to Santa’s rescue? No. No magical spells for Merlin in this film—other than the lame dreaming powder. Merlin yells back at Santa, telling him to reach into his bag of toys and pull out a toy cat on wheels, throw it down, and let the dog chase it. Once that works, Santa can climb down from the tree and escapes. Merlin tells Santa it’s time now for him to come home, but first, Santa delivers a doll to a poor little girl who has tried to be good.

The film does have a few magical moments. It is somewhat enchanting in its North Pole sets despite its overall cheesiness, and Santa is kind enough to let a child who doesn’t feel loved by his parents, see Santa Claus. He also convinces those parents to go home to their son, after giving them some sort of “drink of remembrance”—as Mystery Science Theatre says, “Booze helps parents care for their children.”

The film is overly sentimental and moralistic for our tastes today, but even in 1959, I don’t know how anyone could have considered it a good movie.

The film certainly didn’t deserve its popularity. Why ever did the Delft Theatre decide to show this strange Satanic-Christmas concoction? According to Wikipedia, Santa Claus was quite a hit: “Santa Claus was considered to be a financial success over several holiday-season theatrical releases in the 1960s and 1970s. Broadcast of the film also became a holiday tradition at several U.S. television stations. The film garnered at least one award, winning the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1959.” And apparently, it was so popular it was worthy of being shown at the Delft Theatre in Marquette, Michigan when it was fifteen years old and I was three. I can only assume this popularity was due to a lack of children’s Christmas movies at that time, and that it was a time when we only got three channels on television, and we had no VCRs, much less Netflix to choose from. If we wanted to see a movie, we went to see whatever was playing.

Today, the film is listed on IMDB as one of the worst movies of all time. Considering that even as a three old child I thought it was terrible, I’m not surprised. If you want to groan, watch this film, but if you want a lot of laughs, watch the Mystery Science Theatre episode of it. Both are available on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99 if you search simply for “Santa Claus.”

If you’ve seen this movie—especially if you saw it as a child like I did—I’d love to know your own thoughts about it.

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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