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Posts Tagged ‘N.C. Wyeth’

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.”

Tyler Tichelaar is the author of King Arthur’s Children and My Marquette. Visit him at www.MarquetteFiction.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) is a cult classic. As a lover of Arthurian lore, however, I found its slapstick and cheesy humor rather off-putting when I first saw this film back in 1994, and I waited that long to watch it because I didn’t like “stupid” humor. I only watched it then because I was in graduate school and took a course in the Arthurian legend and we watched it as our end of semester class party. I was about the only one in the class who thought it stupid while everyone else thought it funny.

2001 Special Edition Release Post for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

2001 Special Edition Release Post for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

And then I watched it again this past week. Either my sense of humor has gotten better (or worse), or watching it on a larger screen as a restored version did the trick (a special edition re-release came out in 2001), but I found the film very funny. A big problem with all Arthurian films, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail is definitely such a film, is that we have preconceived notions about what the Arthurian legend should be before we watch the film, and consequently, we may fail to appreciate what the film is actually trying to do. Case in point, the first time I saw the musical film Camelot (1967), I thought it was kind of boring – when were they going to get to the quest for the Holy Grail? Well, they never do because the Arthurian legend has too much in it for any one film, even for a three hour film like Camelot, and that film focused on the love triangle between Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot and Arthur’s belief that Camelot’s ideal should be not “might is right but might for right.” Consequently, it took a second viewing for me to come to appreciate Camelot. And anyone who knows me well knows that for the last twenty-five years, I have claimed it as my favorite movie and I have worn out records, cassette tapes, and then CDs listening to the soundtrack–thank God for iTunes.

But back to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I love musicals–Camelot is my favorite–and so consequently I had to listen to the Broadway Cast Recording soundtrack to Spamalot–I have yet to see the play–but I love the music. And the musical is a vast improvement on the film. Nevertheless, I decided to watch the film again, and knowing this time what to expect, sheer humor and no real closeness to the Arthurian legend, I was able to enjoy the film a great deal, to laugh out loud in numerous places. I love the cow being catapulted, and who doesn’t love the killer rabbit! And a few things, like the mention of Joseph of Arimathea, attest to some knowledge in the film of the real legend. Furthermore, I loved the sets, the castles, and some of the songs in Spamalot, such as “Brave Sir Robin,” originated in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Finally, I remember first watching this film and thinking it had that dull, gray ’70s look that most films of that period had, but the special edition version has made Monty Python and the Holy Grail visually beautiful. I was stunned by the colors, and in some scenes, I could forget for a minute that I was watching a comedy, and think instead that I was looking at some of N.C. Wyeth’s beautiful illustrations or even some Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The only other Arthurian film that I have found so visually stunning was the NBC TV series Merlin (1998).

All in all, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a film I can appreciate for what it tries to do–make fun of the Arthurian legend in a way that is funny and not solely demeaning. It is well worth watching and deserves its status as one of the best known and most popular films about the Arthurian legend. I do find the ending of the film very disappointing, and it is far inferior to Spamalot, but overall, it’s a film worth watching and enjoying more than once. I mean, it has even inspired people to wear pajamas with killer rabbits on them, and when a film influences pajama fashions, it has to have something of value!

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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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