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Archive for the ‘Lancelot’ Category

On Tuesday, October 21, I had the opportunity to see Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot—The National Tour at the Rozsa Center in Houghton, Michigan. Yes, I live 100 miles from Houghton and my night vision isn’t the best, so to get there I had to get a hotel room and spend the night, but Camelot is my all-time favorite musical and movie, and having never seen it performed live, I knew it would be worth the trouble.

First, let me say I’m a Camelot addict. I have seen the movie more times than I can count, and I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I’ve listened to the movie soundtrack thousands of times—I wore out the record, wore out the cassette tape and CD, and hopefully, won’t wear out my iTunes. I also have played hundreds if not thousands of times the original Broadway Cast recording as well as the 1982 London recording and watched the HBO version from 1982 with Richard Harris. For thirty years, Camelot has been a big part of my life and a major influence on my deciding to study the Arthurian legend and write my own novel series about it.

Merlin makes a stunning departure when enchanted by Nimue. (Photo taking from https://www.facebook.com/CamelotMusicalTour)

Merlin makes a stunning departure when enchanted by Nimue. (All photos taking from https://www.facebook.com/CamelotMusicalTour – no photography is allowed during the production.)

So my expectations were very high to see this production. I find it a bit hard not to keep comparing it to the film since it’s not a film and you can’t achieve on stage what you can on film nor perfect it in the same way. Given those limitations, I was intrigued by this production. It was promoted as “Camelot like you’ve never seen it before,” and the ads with the scruffy looking knight made it seem like it would be a modernized, visually stimulating and maybe sexed-up Camelot for a new era. Would this still be President Kennedy’s beloved Camelot? I was relieved to find it was. With a few exceptions, it faithfully followed the original Broadway production, and I’m sure Kennedy, whose administration was named after it because he loved it so much, would have enjoyed last night’s performance.

Of course, I have a few criticisms, so I’ll point out what was good, what could have been better, and what made this play stand out from the film.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was that the play started with Arthur speaking—no overture! But I think this lack worked to bring about the crisis moment the show opens with of Arthur about to fight Lancelot for Guinevere, thus allowing the flashback. I admit, with the knights in the scene, it looked a bit flashy and hardcore and I felt a little uncomfortable about where it might be going, but soon the scene went back in time, and the minute King Arthur (Adam Grabau) opened his mouth to start singing “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight,” I was hooked. Guinevere (Mary McNulty) then made her entrance with her wonderful song “Where Are the Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and the show was off to a great start.

The magic came to life through the acting and the singing, but the costumes and sets definitely added to that magic. For me, the most impressive costume was Lancelot’s—metallic and shimmering and full of detail, although Guinevere’s costumes were impressive as well, as was Nimue’s. Merlin and Pellinore’s costumes could use a little trimming. Both roles were played by Mark Poppleton, who was convincing and just a tad comical without going too far in each role—but his robe got caught under the backdrop as it came down when he made his entrance and he had to yank it out, and later as Pellinore, his robe caught on the furniture. That said, because of these characters’ roles, it made it seem almost like these snafus were intended for comical effect.

The sets were a bit understated but worked well. I was a bit taken aback by the gigantic metallic structure that doubled for trees and a canopy for the throne room, but it worked well for its purpose, allowing Arthur to fall out of his tree, among other things. The most impressive set was when Nimue enchanted Merlin—a truly beautiful moment of special effects. Almost as impressive was the jousting scene with the wonderful music rarely included on recordings, and of course, the lighting for the song “Guinevere” was dramatic and spectacular. The only place I felt the lighting effects could have been better was for “The Lusty Month of May.” I think a green and blue background would have said May more than the magenta pink coloring, and I would have liked to have seen a Maypole or more flowers. Mary McNulty as Guinevere had a beautiful voice and deserved a set to match the frolicsome fun and just the slightest touch of mischief (eat your heart out, Vanessa Redgrave) she conveyed during this song. Still, both the costume and scene designers deserve kudos for their overall impressive work.

There is really little I can fault in the production, but there are a few things I would have done differently. Lancelot (Tim Rogan) really did a splendid job in his role overall. He was appropriately unlikeable in his quest for purity and goodness, yet believable. He got the audience laughing as he made a grand entrance singing “C’est Moi” while still convincing us of his manly valor. I’m afraid he’s no Franco Nero (but then even Franco Nero wasn’t quite Franco Nero since his voice was dubbed for the film), but I’d rather listen to Tim Rogan sing over Robert Goulet (Goulet was wonderful in other shows, especially The Happy Time, but he never convinced me as Lancelot). I wasn’t quite convinced that Rogan’s Lancelot was French, but better not to try the French accent probably. The miracle scene was quite well done and convincing, as were all Lancelot’s speeches about chivalry, but alas, I wish he hadn’t been so stiff when he sang “If Ever I Would Leave You.” I would have liked to have seen a little movement and emotion on his part. He honestly looked uncomfortable singing it—a little taking of Guinevere’s hand, holding her, walking about the stage would have brought it to life. I expected a lot here though since the film’s love montage for this song is breathtaking and one of the most beautiful moments in cinematic history in my opinion—and the song ranks as one of my all time three favorite songs (along with “Memory” from Cats and “And This Is My Beloved” from Kismet) and in all other ways, he was a superb Lancelot, but he could use some work in being convincing for this song. All that said, I can definitely see why Guinevere would prefer him to Arthur, as fine as Adam Grabau’s Arthur was throughout the show—worthy to stand beside Richard Burton if not quite Richard Harris.

Tim Rogan as Lancelot praising his own virtues. "But where in the world Is there in the world A man so extraordinaire?"

Tim Rogan as Lancelot praising his own virtues. “But where in the world
Is there in the world
A man so extraordinaire?”

A few key differences about this production compared to the film and other productions of it stood out concerning the songs. Most importantly, the play includes several songs that were dropped from the film: “Fie On Goodness,” “The Seven Deadly Virtues,” “Before I Gaze on You Again,” and the madrigal sung by Lancelot. All of these were included in this new production and were performed well, especially “The Seven Deadly Virtues” sung by a delightfully naughty Mordred (Kasidy Devlin). And “Before I Gaze on You Again” was very convincing and Mary McNulty made me feel the words in a way Julie Andrews never has. Also the jousting music, was a treat to hear. The only disappointment of these songs for me was the lines cut from “Fie On Goodness” regarding Scotland—who wouldn’t want to stroke someone’s bonny….

Two songs, however, from the play and film both were cut in this production—“Take Me to the Fair” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.” And both are such wonderful songs that it’s a shame they were cut. I’m not aware that they have been cut in other productions. (I know it’s a long show so maybe that was why, but I was prepared to sit there for three wonderful hours, so I was a bit disappointed it only lasted two and a half with these songs cut.)The placement of the songs was also somewhat odd. “If Ever I Would Leave You” is usually at the beginning of the second act, but instead, it was placed where “I Loved You Once in Silence” belongs. I think moving “If Ever I Would Leave You” back where it belongs and keeping this love song would have been preferable. “I Loved You Once in Silence” really adds to the love development which I felt there could have been a bit more of in this production.

One song is changed in its placement and lyrics from the play to the film. “Follow Me” in the play version is sung by Nimue when she enchants Merlin, and it is a beautiful song and a beautiful moment as she leads him “To a cave by a sapphire shore/Where we’ll walk through an emerald door,/And for thousands of breathless evermores my life you shall be.” I love this song, but I also love how it’s sung by the forest creatures in the film production to convince Arthur that “as we were, we can be, follow me.”

As for Morgan le Fay’s character, I knew she was cut from the show in the early years after it was first performed in 1960, but in the concert version in 2008, broadcast as part of PBS’ Live from Lincoln Center series, Fran Drescher played the role, so I was hoping Morgan le Fay was making her comeback in the production, but I’ll have to hope to see her in another future performance.

Overall, an enjoyable evening. If I had never seen Camelot, I’m sure I would have raved about it. The crowd gave the performance a standing ovation and everyone enjoyed it, including the woman seated beside me who had seen Robert Goulet in a 1960s production in Detroit. I was also pleased to see so many college students in the audience—of all the great musicals from the mid-twentieth century, Camelot perhaps most deserves to live on for its universal themes and appeal, so I hope future generations will continue to embrace it.

The knighting of Lancelot scene.

The knighting of Lancelot scene.

If you’ve never seen Camelot on stage or at all, go. Beyond the sets, singing, costumes, and story, there is a beautiful underlying theme about right and wrong, good and evil, and how we must fight against the darkness because whatever we do does matter in the end. Camelot long ago inspired me to “ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not.” Now I’m telling you to go see it. It’s still early in the tour and I’m sure it will just get better with each performance. To find out where Camelot is playing near you, visit http://www.camelottour.com/tickets.html

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and The Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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The following essay is an excerpt from my book King Arthur’s Children, taken from Chapter 4 about the Birth and Origins of Mordred:

Perhaps the most interesting, although far-fetched, of the new theories surrounding the birth of Mordred lies in Norma Lorre Goodrich’s study King Arthur (1986). Here Goodrich suggests that Mordred was actually a twin, and his twin was none other than Sir Lancelot. Goodrich points out that both Lancelot and Mordred have stories of being thrown into a body of water. Furthermore, she states that in the Celtic world, the birth of twins was considered as a sign that the mother had committed adultery with a devil. It was believed that the firstborn twin was the son of the earthly father while the second twin was the son of the Devil; giving birth to twins resulted in the mother being put to death for adultery. Beginning probably with the Lanzelet and carrying into later Lancelot tales, Lancelot is kidnapped by the Lady of the Lake, who then raises him as her own son. This kidnapping usually takes place when the castle of King Ban, Lancelot’s father, is besieged by its enemies. Lancelot’s mother flees the confusion with her child. She either sets her son down for a minute, or else she accidentally drops him into the water. The Lady of the Lake then appears and steals away the child. Goodrich suggests that this kidnapping may have been a late version of an earlier story in which Lancelot’s mother, because Lancelot was the second born twin, threw her son into the lake to drown him. If she could successfully hide the fact that she had twins, she would not be put to death for sleeping with a devil (163).

However, the Lanzelet is the first source for this story and it is a late source. It seems unlikely that this German author would have knowledge of an actual tradition which the English, Welsh, and French writers never mentioned; therefore, it is more probable that Zatzikhoven invented this story from his own imagination than that he found it in a now lost Arthurian source.

Furthermore, the Lanzelet states that Lancelot is a year old when he is thrown into the lake (26). Obviously, if Lancelot were a year old, his mother would not try to drown him so late after his birth when his being a twin would already be known. Perhaps this statement of Lancelot’s age, however, is also a later addition to the story. Originally, Lancelot’s mother may have thrown him into the lake, and the later romancers, not understanding why a mother would so treat her child, may have added the attack upon the castle to try and make the tale understandable (Goodrich, King Arthur, 164-5).

Howard Pyle's illustration of Sir Lancelot - could there be a resemblance to show he is Mordred's brother - compare to the illustration below.

Howard Pyle’s illustration of Sir Lancelot – could there be a resemblance to show he is Mordred’s brother – compare to the illustration below.

Is it possible then that Lancelot was Mordred’s brother and twin, and therefore, even the son of King Arthur? If so, then Lancelot’s true mother was not King Ban’s wife, commonly named Clarine or Helen, but Morgause or Morgan le Fay. In the Lanzelet, a mermaid messenger declares that Lancelot “is now proved a relative of the most generous man whom the world ever saw:  King Arthur of Cardigan was beyond doubt his uncle…Thus Lanzelet discovered he was Arthur’s sister’s child” (92-3). If tradition says Lancelot was Arthur’s nephew as Mordred is referred to as being, then is it not just as possible that he was Arthur’s son born of an incestuous relationship?

This theory leaves some confusion since it doesn’t seem necessary that if twins were born, the mother would have thrown both into the sea to hide her guilt. Perhaps Lancelot was the second born, believed to be the devil’s son, and therefore tossed into the sea to prevent his mother’s death; following this event, Arthur’s edict was made, which resulted in Mordred also being tossed into the sea. Mordred was probably the first born child since in some sources his mother wished to prevent his death by casting him out in a floating cradle that allowed him to be washed ashore (Goodrich, King Arthur, 164). However, the cradle suggests that the writer may have merely been borrowing from other sources such as the biblical tales of Moses and the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod, or the classical tales of Perseus and Oedipus. In these tales, children are ordered to be murdered by a king because that king fears a child overthrowing him when the child becomes an adult. Similarly, Arthur is afraid of Merlin’s prophecy that Mordred is the child who will result in his downfall so he orders all the children of Mordred’s age to be killed. Therefore, the tale of Mordred’s nearly drowning may have its origins in either biblical or classical sources, or it could be a universal motif that the Celtic people also frequently used.

If Goodrich’s theory is correct, then Lancelot was King Arthur’s son, since it is doubtful he would have been the son of a devil. Something else Goodrich doesn’t mention that could help back up her theory from a mythological point of view is the tale of Dylan’s birth. Arianrhod is said to have given birth to two children, Dylan and another son named Llew Llaw Gyffes. Llew was a solar god who grew so rapidly that when he was four, he was as big as if he were eight, and he was the comeliest youth ever seen (Rolleston 381). If Dylan and Llew were twins, then could Mordred and Lancelot also be twins? Loomis suggests that Lancelot may have mythological connections to Llew, and his name might even be derived from Llew (Lanzelet 15). This connection is disputed by most present day scholars, but we will return to it in Chapter 7.

Howard Pyle's depiction of Mordred - perhaps Lancelot's twin?

Howard Pyle’s depiction of Mordred – perhaps Lancelot’s twin?

If Lancelot is Arthur’s son, there is a good possibility that he is connected to Arthur’s earlier son, Llacheu, since both may have connections to solar gods. Rhys has claimed that Llacheu wore a circle of gold, and although this seems unlikely as we saw in Chapter 3, Lancelot is credited with similarly possessing a ring by the Lady of the Lake. Norma Goodrich says this ring may have been able to clear Lancelot’s head since he was subject to delusions and madness (King Arthur 164). Although Llacheu’s circle of gold does not protect or heal his head since it is chopped off, perhaps Lancelot’s need for something to protect his head is a borrowed motif from Llacheu’s losing his head. Goodrich also points out that Lohengrin’s mother put golden chains around her babies’ necks as she surrendered them to be thrown into the lake (King Arthur 164). This ring may then have a connection to the Lady of the Lake. If Llacheu is in some way a source for Mordred, who was also thrown into the sea, then it is not so surprising that Llacheu would have had such a ring.

Whether or not Lancelot is Mordred’s brother and Arthur’s son, it is an interesting theory that has some support in Mordred’s own mythological background. This background suggests that Mordred may have traditionally been Arthur’s son from the beginning, a son born through incest rather than originating as a nephew who was then twisted into the child of incest by the romancers.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about the Children of Arthur. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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As I noted in my last blog post, Sarah Luddington’s novel Lancelot and the Wolf has gained a lot of attention for its explicit sex scenes between Lancelot and Arthur. While the sex scenes are fairly spicy, the truth is that there’s little else in this novel to make a fuss over. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, but it’s obviously a self-published book (not a bad thing in itself) and one badly in need of a good editor.

Lancelot and the WolfFor those who want to explore the love between Arthur and Lancelot, they will find a few explicit sex scenes, but also a convoluted plot. The story begins with Lancelot having left Camelot in shame and in exile in France (although I was well into the book before I realized he was in France). Why he left has something to do with his love for Guinevere, but it’s never really clear what happened until halfway or better through the book (not because the author is purposely withholding information for suspense, I’m afraid). Lancelot ends up returning to Camelot after he meets Else, who turns out to be Merlin’s daughter and part fey. Her real name is Eleanor de Clare, and that’s where the string of anachronisms in the novel begins….I’ll get to those in a minute. Anyway, through his interactions with Eleanor de Clare, Lancelot comes to learn that evil spirits are threatening Camelot and he must return there to save Arthur. The plot has its twists and turns and moments where I had to go back to reread because I got bored and wasn’t paying attention to what I was reading, although at other times, the story moves forward quickly.

As for the anachronisms, Luddington drops words and names and doesn’t always follow through or explain them. At one point, she refers to Wessex—where and what is that? King Arthur lived probably in the 6th century—Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, was in its infancy if it even existed then and there are no Saxons in this novel; nor is it clear whether the story takes place in Wessex. Happy is the reader whose author provides a map. Later, there are references to England. Whatever happened to Britain? As for Eleanor de Clare, there was a historical woman of that name who was niece to King Edward II and married to Hugh le Despenser (read Susan Higginbotham’s wonderful novel The Traitor’s Wife for Eleanor de Clare’s story). Luddington’s Eleanor de Clare is not the historical woman and her Norman surname has no place in an Arthurian novel.

In her afterword, Luddington states that she likes the Arthurian world of Malory more than the historical Arthur. She has set her Camelot in a time equal to that of the Hundred Years War of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and that’s fine. A good editor could have helped clean up, smooth over, and explain the anachronisms to her later medieval period story. And Luddington does have a good imagination and an ability to write prose that moves the plot forward and can be a fun and easy read. She just needs to work at it more or find a good editor to help her. Perhaps the other novels in this series show improvement.

Unlike Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame, who claims she never read a vampire novel or saw a vampire film (a claim I don’t believe but that’s another blog and it would be hard to say whether Luddington or Meyer is the better or worse writer—but at least Meyer had a decent editor), Luddington states in her afterword, “see I’m educated, even if I can’t use commas properly” (I’m glad she realizes her punctuation problem because her comma use or lack of use irritated me quite a bit). Her use of “educated” means she has read other Arthurian works and is familiar with the literary tradition, citing such authors as Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chretien de Troyes—so she does have some knowledge, but fact checking we apparently can’t expect, considering she mentions that “In the space of the two hundred years between Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chretien de Troyes we’ve seen a vast sea change in the way the myths are presented.” Hmm, I’ll pass over the “myth vs. legend” issue here and point out that Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain around 1135 and Chretien de Troyes wrote The Knight and the Cart around 1180—hardly a 200-year difference. A good editor would have caught that mistake as well.

I read the “Special Edition” of Lancelot and the Wolf which included two extra stories and a novella in it, which left me wondering just how many gay men lived in Camelot—seems like a lot to me. By the way, the novella “Taliesin’s Song” I actually think I enjoyed more than the novel itself.

Lancelot and the Wolf is a fun book to read if you don’t have high expectations for it. If you’ve already read the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mary Stewart, Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell, Stephen Lawhead, and about a dozen other authors I could name, then you will find Lancelot and the Wolf disappointing, but you’ll maybe read it because like me, you read all the Arthuriana you can. On a scale of 1-5, I will give it 3 stars. If you are looking for gay Arthuriana, you might be more likely to enjoy it, but it’s still a 3 star book. That said, if you buy it, buy the special edition Kindle version for $3 because the proceeds go to Stonewall to fight gay discrimination. The greatest strength of this book is Luddington’s willingness and courage to write a gay Arthurian novel. I doubt it will go down in literary history as a great book, but one of those books that nevertheless made an impact and hopefully paved the way for greater books.

The ultimate question is: Was Lancelot and the Wolf good enough to make me read the next book in the series, Lancelot and the Sword? Yes, I think there’s a 50/50 chance that I will, although I won’t be rushing to buy it right away but it might be something to read while I wait for the next season of Merlin.

For more information about Luddington and her novels, visit her website http://www.darkfiction.eu/ and the site devoted specifically to the Lancelot novels, www.theknightsofcamelot.com

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Recently, Sarah Luddington published a novel Lancelot and the Wolf, with explicit gay sexual content depicting Lancelot and Arthur as lovers. The book has created a controversy and even hate mail to Luddington and her publishers. In response, she has created a special Kindle edition at Amazon, for sale for $3.00, to raise funds to help the LGBT charity Stonewall in Britain.

But what is all the fuss about? The Arthurian love triangle of Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot has always had a hint of homoerotism in it—and romantic feelings between Lancelot and Arthur seem a reasonable reason to many for why Arthur would not do anything about his best friend sleeping with his wife. Luddington may be the first one overtly to depict a homosexual relationship between Arthur and Lancelot, but the possibilities have been implied or suggested in numerous Arthurian works, especially in the twentieth century.

Even as far back as Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, there are homoerotic hints in cross-dressing scenes and a scene where two knights accidentally end up in bed together. Dorsey Armstrong’s Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur has explored this topic and how the knights of Camelot themselves are aware of the possibility of homosexual rumors surrounding a group of men in an organization like the Round Table.

Aubrey Beardsley’s image of Sir Bedivere returning the sword to the lake. Beardsley, who may have been homosexual or asexual, was known for his androgynous looking characters in his Arthurian illustrations, and for very erotic works, complete with enlarged genitalia, in other works not geared toward children.

More recently, in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958 but published in smaller pieces 1938-1941), the scenes of Lancelot’s youth where he dreams of coming to Camelot express a sort of boy crush upon King Arthur. Later, the story takes normal turns of Lancelot loving Guinevere, but is that not a more acceptable outlet for his love for Arthur? T.H. White was himself later treated at the end of his life for his own homosexuality.

In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982), Arthur endorses the romance between Guinevere and Lancelot. He cannot provide an heir so he hopes Lancelot will do it for him, leading Lancelot to his bed to sleep with Guinevere. Arthur joins them in bed, and later, Guinevere comments to Arthur that she saw how he touched Lancelot.

But White and Bradley only hint at homosexuality. Other authors introduced it into the legend, but perhaps felt creating a gay King Arthur was going too far. Furthermore, homosexuality is a negative behavior in these works that can bring about Camelot’s downfall, so other characters than Arthur are the ones afflicted with homosexuality—notably, the villains.

In Joan Wolf’s The Road to Avalon (1988), Agrivaine is homosexual and the downfall of Camelot comes largely due to his jealousy because of his crush on Bedwyr, the Lancelot character in this novel. Because he can’t have Bedwyr, he doesn’t want Guinevere to have him so he reveals their love and brings about Camelot’s downfall.

Douglas Clegg goes even further in Mordred, Bastard Son by depicting Mordred as homosexual—and while Mordred is not a villain in this book (it’s only the first of a planned trilogy), homosexuality being associated with him seems to imply a negativity to it. Mordred is hopelessly in love with Lancelot, and while he is well-meaning in this first novel, we know from the story’s frame that he will bring about Camelot’s fall nevertheless. (Clegg has not yet published the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.)

And that brings us to “Merthur.” If you don’t know what Merthur is, where have you been? I’m talking about the legions of fans for the successful BBC television series Merlin who insist and badly want Arthur and Merlin to be in love in the show. These fans are convinced there is a secret love between Arthur and Merlin and they are even making YouTube videos with clips from the TV show either to promote their argument that there is a Merthur bromance going on, or even splicing to make there be actual love glances and scenes between the two characters. Just go to YouTube and search for “Merthur” and you’ll find dozens of these videos.

So why has Lancelot and the Wolf created such a fuss? I think it’s because while these other works depict homosexual desires not acted upon, Susan Luddington is the first author to depict actual sex between Arthur and Lancelot—in fact, her reviewers are calling the book an adult version of the Merlin TV series.

And while Luddington might be getting hate mail, she’s also found a gay readership longing for such stories, and her Kindle sales are reportedly skyrocketing. With Luddington, perhaps the Arthurian legend has taken a new turn and will never be the same again, and it is always an author ready to push the story, push the boundaries, and thereby renew the legend for the next generation.

I haven’t yet read Lancelot and the Wolf, but I plan to and will review it in the near future.

Meanwhile, for more information about Lancelot and the Wolf and the special edition to raise funds to support the LGBT British charity Stonewall, visit: http://www.xtra.ca/blog/ottawa/post/2012/08/14/King-Arthur-and-Lancelot.aspx

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Knights of the Round Table – movie poster

I remember seeing advertisements for Knights of the Round Table being shown on TV when I was a kid, but I never got the chance to watch it. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get the chance because it’s surprisingly a rather distorted version of the Arthurian legend in many ways. Still, when I stumbled across it the other day, I watched it with interest.

First, let me say I’m a sucker for these old movies. Just that it is shot in Technicolor makes it beautiful in many places. There is a lot of color and pageantry, and I give it credit for being, to the best of my knowledge, the first film to try to tell the entire Arthurian story. Previously, King Arthur in Hollywood had been mostly limited to remakes of A Connecticut Yankee.

But in telling the full story, the studio must have felt they had to clean up the story. I mean, even if 1950s audiences, not to mention the movie censors, could get past Guinevere and Lancelot’s adultery, they certainly couldn’t accept Mordred being a child of incest and killing his father.

So some rather big changes had to be made. First of all, Mordred replaces King Lot of Orkney as Morgan le Fay’s ally. I was never quite clear in the film if he is her husband or just her lover, but they are obviously a couple and King Arthur’s primary enemies. The film begins with Morgan, Mordred, Arthur, and Merlin meeting to determine who will rule Britain upon Uther Pendragon’s death. Morgan believes she deserves the throne as Uther’s only legitimate child, but Merlin has Arthur draw the sword from the stone, thus leading to his being proclaimed king. Mordred and Morgan aren’t too happy about this decision and cause plenty of trouble before they finally agree to Arthur’s rule, which he achieves largely through battle and the help of Sir Lancelot, making Lancelot and Mordred enemies.

Arthur is soon pushed to the side of the story in favor of Lancelot. Although the movie is called Knights of the Round Table, the other knights get very little attention, except for Percival, who is on a quest for the Holy Grail. He meets Lancelot early in the film and tells Lancelot of his quest. In the same scene, Percival’s sister, Elaine, meets Lancelot and falls in love with him, and eventually, she is married to Lancelot, after Merlin realizes Lancelot and Guinevere have begun to have feelings for one another so it would be best to have him away from court.

I won’t give away all of the plot, and there’s not much to give away if you know the Arthurian legend, but I do need to discuss the end a bit. I do give the film some points for a stab at historical accuracy since it sets the film at the time soon after the Romans have left. That said, I think John Wayne had a stab in writing the script since upon first meeting, Lancelot says to Percival, “Declare thyself, Cowboy.” I think he should have changed “Cowboy” to “Pilgrim”—it would have been funnier.

The Holy Grail legend has always been an oddball part of the Arthurian story in my opinion, and it definitely is here. At one point, Percival comes to Lancelot’s castle to tell him the Holy Grail appeared at court, which I thought a shame, since the filmgoers never get to see the Holy Grail’s appearance in that scene, but it does lead to the knights going off to seek the Grail. At about this time, Elaine also has a dream about their son. Elaine dies soon after Galahad is born. Later the child Galahad is sent to be raised at Camelot.

And then Camelot begins to fall. After Elaine’s death, Lancelot becomes interested in Lady Vivian. Guinevere accuses him of trying to humiliate her in front of the court by making eyes at Vivian. While they are arguing alone, their enemies find them and accuse them of adultery. They manage to escape without any dramatic attempts at burning at the stake (a disappointment)—no dramatic “Guinevere” song for this movie like in “Camelot.” Things go as expected, leading to Arthur being slain by Mordred. Then Lancelot fights and kills Mordred.

The magic at the end of throwing the sword into the lake is missing because no hand rises up to catch it, but we are left with Lancelot and Percival going together to Camelot to see the Round Table in ruins. The film ends with a vision of the Grail, and Lancelot finding comfort in hearing that someday Galahad will achieve it. (A strange twist since Galahad usually achieves the Grail before Camelot falls.)

I certainly don’t think this film as entertaining as Prince Valiant or Lancelot and Guinevere (Sword of Lancelot) which followed in the next decade, although it does have its moments. People familiar with the legend will perhaps find it mostly entertaining for the fun of picking apart the changes made in the film from the usual legend and try to guess why such changes were made. (The opening credits claim the film is based on Malory, but it’s very loosely based.)

The cast has some big names—Robert Taylor as Lancelot and Ava Gardner as Guinevere, among others, but I have never felt very impressed by Robert Taylor. For me, Franco Nero is the best Lancelot. Ava Gardner is beautiful as always, but she just doesn’t have the role to make her acting skills stand out in this film.

If you’re an Arthurian enthusiast, you’ll want to watch the film, although on a scale of 1-5, I probably wouldn’t give it more than a 3. You can still catch it in reruns on TV or buy the video, or watch online at Amazon Instant Video. For more information on the film, check out IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045966/ or Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Round_Table_%28film%29

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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