Wednesday, January 10, 2018

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table...

I recently finished reading King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green aloud to Ruben. Riley read it as well as part of her Beautiful Feet Intermediate Medieval History study. The BF guide suggests reading selected stories. However, Riley and I decided she would read the book in its entirety, as did Ruben and I.

I have heard of King Arthur in the past, but never read his tales until now. King Arthur is a legendary British leader, who according to medieval sources, defended Britain against the Saxons in medieval England. The tales of King Arthur are thought to be mainly composed of folklore and legend, as their authenticity has been disputed by historians throughout the ages. However, these narratives continue to shape literature, history, and cultural values of Europe and Western Civilization today.

According to the Beautiful Feet Medieval History guide...
King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table relates the story of the establishment of a code of chivalry that still influences British law and customs. The stories are an interesting mix of Christian references and pagan lore. Magic coincides with biblical stories, showing how European tribes mixed their ancient pagan beliefs with the newly arrived Christian faith. Nowadays we think of magic in terms of tricks and illusions. But in the days of Arthur people used it to explain things they did not understand. It also helped people distinguish good from evil - the dark arts were something to be feared and avoided at all costs. As you'll see in these stories, the element of magic is used to warn people of the dangers of evil and encourage right action. Good magic is often explained in terms of generosity, humility, courage, or honesty; whereas bad magic, or the dark arts, cause treachery, pride, greed, anger, murder, lust, and other moral failings. (p. 4)
In Book One, The Coming of Arthur, we learn of Arthur's beginning. He is an orphan of sorts, who is taken away by the wizard Merlin and raised by Sir Ector. At a time when the Saxons were taking over Britain, there was a gathering of knights in London, on Christmas Day. The Archbishop was performing a service in the abbey for these knights, when a "great square slab of marblestone" appeared in the churchyard. On the stone was "an anvil of iron, and set point downwards a great, shining sword of steel thrust deeply into the anvil." 

When the service ended, all went out to look at it. In gold letters on the great stone, was written:
Of course, all the men gathered tried to pull out the sword with none able. Therefore, a tournament was set for New Year's Day so that more could gather and try their hand at the sword to see who would be the king. No one was able to pull the sword, until Arthur tried and was successful. From there, he was crowned King Arthur.

The tales that follow tell the story of King Arthur's life, including how he gathered his knights of the Round Table. A physically round table so that there was no head and all would be equal. On the first day of the Round Table, the Order of Chivalry is laid down. It's a beautiful code, whereupon, each knight must return on the feast of Pentecost to swear the oath anew.

As the legends progress, there is much honor, courage and humility. As evil presents, we see the negative effects and how good overcomes. However, in the end when King Arthur and one of his knights succumb to their human desires rather than upholding the Code, we see the demise of the entire court. All is lost for lust.

Quite honestly, initially, I wasn't completely enthralled in King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. However, Book Four, clinched it. Once we finished, I totally saw the value in reading it. King Arthur's legend is a beautiful story of good vs. evil. It exemplifies character traits like courage, loyalty, and trust, as well as showing the negative side of war, revenge, greed, and lust.

Now that we've read Green's version, which I would liken to a beginner edition, I'd like to go back some day and read other versions, such as Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur or Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King. We started Idylls and The Once and Future King by T.H. White in Term One, but became bogged down for lack of understanding, and so quit. Green's narratives gave us a good base for understanding so we now have a foundation to build on in future years.

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