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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Character Study: King Arthur

King Arthur is a legendary British leader from the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Arthurian literature gained widespread appeal in the Middle Ages, but waned until a major resurgence in the 19th century. Today Arthurian legend inspires not only literature, but film, television, theater, and other media.

While there is not one definitive source for King Arthur, some of the most popular characters generally included in the tales include the wizard Merlin who tutored him, his son Mordred who destroys Camelot, and his wife Guinevere who has an affair with the king’s best knight, Lancelot. Popular legends associated with Arthurian literature include him pulling the sword from the stone to become king, establishing a Round Table as his form of governing Britain, and the search for the Holy Grail.

image from screened.com

Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone focuses on Arthur before he becomes king. He is raised by Sir Ector with Kay as his brother. Unaware of his heritage, he longs for greatness. The friendship he develops with a mouse nicknamed Otter proves to be just what he needs to fulfill his destiny – pulling the sword from the stone and becoming King of all Britain.

In the sequel, Otter and Arthur and the Round Table, Arthur has been king several years and is continuously fighting against forces trying to usurp his authority. With Otter at his side again, he comes up with the idea of a Round Table as a means of bringing forces together from throughout Britain to govern peaceably.


A Brief History of Arthurian Literature:

Arthur’s actual existence has been argued by scholars, a debate confused by some of the earliest references to Arthur in texts purporting to be factual accounts. The 9th century Historia Brittonum, attributed to a Welsh cleric named Nennius, is considered the first source to mention Arthur. It details twelve battles Arthur fought, including his final battle at Mount Badon in which he is said to have killed 960 men single-handedly.
The 11th century Welsh tales “Culhwch and Olwen” and the “Dream of Rhonabwy” appear to be the first stories to concern Arthur. However, it was Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae which truly popularized King Arthur. The work attempted to place Arthur in the official lineage of British monarchy and establish him as the leader who deterred Saxon invaders and united Britain.
In the late 12th century, French poet Chrétien de Troyes added the character of Lancelot and the quest for the Holy Grail to Arthurian legend. Those tales were expanded in the Vulgate Cycle in the first half of the next century.
Perhaps the most popular of Arthurian literature is Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. While it keeps the Arthur story set in the Dark Ages, it framed the story in the more familiar medieval pageantry settings we know today, such as the fancy court of Camelot, jousting, and knights in shining armor.

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