The following article I had published last winter in Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. It is reprinted with permission from the magazine owner, Roslyn McGrath:
Why King Arthur Matters Today
As the winter solstice approaches, I always think of King Arthur. Arthur was a light in the darkness of his times, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King equates Arthur with the rising of a new sun. Arthur is aligned with the light, with creating the “brief, shining moment” as the musical Camelot proclaims.
My love for King Arthur stems back to age fourteen when I first read Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur with N.C. Wyeth’s fabulous illustrations. The story of Arthur’s building a great society like Camelot and the tragedy of how it was brought down by Lancelot and Guinevere’s adultery and Mordred’s treachery was a pivotal moment in my love of great literature. Years later, I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which told the tale from the women’s point of view and made me realize how rich the legend was, how full of possibilities, and how it was ever adaptable to today’s concerns.
I soon decided to write my own King Arthur novel. In the process, I did a great deal of research that resulted in my recently published nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition—my novel is still in the works.
I became interested in King Arthur’s children because I was surprised by many obscure references to Arthur having children other than the well-known Mordred, son of incest, who slew his father. Welsh legends referred to other sons, and modern novelists were creating new children for the storyline. Who were these forgotten children, and why this recent trend to create new children for Arthur?
I came to the conclusion that the legend eventually deleted earlier references to Arthur’s children to enhance the tragic ending. However, modern readers wanted a more hopeful conclusion so novelists were creating new children for Arthur to connect the legendary king to our own times. For example, Arthur might have had a daughter, ignored by history because she was female, whose descendants live today.
My fascination with genealogy and DNA reinforced for me the significance of this possibility. Scientists have shown through mathematical calculations that everyone alive today of European descent would be descended from anyone in Europe born before 1200 A.D. who had children. Since King Arthur lived about 500 A.D., if he had children, then most likely all Europeans—as well as a good number of Africans and Asians—are his descendants. Arthur may physically be in our genes.
Scholars will debate for centuries to come whether Arthur ever lived, but either way, Arthur is in our genes—if not in our actual DNA, then in our human nature to dream of a better world. Arthur is remembered because he strove to create an idyllic world, a Round Table—an early form of democracy where justice prevailed—and for a short time, he succeeded. In the end, we might fail like he ultimately did, but we cannot aspire to anything grander ourselves, and so we carry on Arthur’s legacy of hope.
At the holidays, it’s good to be reminded of King Arthur’s final request in Camelot: “each evening from December to December…ask every 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.”