Corrinna Lothar is a writer with The Washington Times.
PONT AVEN, Brittany
From the fairy forest of Broceliande, where King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot made their home when they were not across the Channel in Britain, to the mysterious megaliths built 70 centuries ago, Brittany is a province of France filled with romance, legend, art and history.
The connection between the two Britains is ancient. About 500 B.C., when the Celtic Gauls arrived in what today is Brittany, they named the peninsula Armor (land of the sea). The interior was Argoat, the wooded country. The Romans arrived in the first century A.D. and remained for 400 years. During the sixth century, the Celtic Britons, driven out of England by the Angles and Saxons, emigrated to Armorica and gave it a new name, Little Brittany, which in time became just Brittany, or Bretagne in French. Britain, across the English Channel, remained Grande Bretagne, big Brittany.
The Arthurian legend arose from Celtic mythology passed down orally on both sides of the channel. In France, the familiar medieval version of romantic chivalry is primarily the creation of twelfth-century poet Chretien de Troyes, whose five romances became the basis of the legend and future works.
The forest of Broceliande--Paimpont in the modern world--is the center of Arthurian activity. To enter the forest, a visitor goes up the Valley of No Return, so named because of Morgan le Fey's curse that all unfaithful men would be unable to find their way out of the forest. The clear, calm lake is Vivienne's crystal palace; at night, the fairies come out to see their reflections in the lake. Vivienne is not to be confused with Tennyson's Lady of the Lake, who gave Excalibur to Arthur, although in some versions of the legend, Vivienne receives the sword when it is thrown back into the lake; she is the inspiration for Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
There is a real golden tree in the forest, the work of French artist Francois Davin. The tree, transformed by the sculptor from a burned ruin into golden stag antlers, symbolizes the beauty and rebirth of the forest after a terrible five-day forest fire in 1990. The sculptor painted the tree with gold leaf and surrounded it with five burned trees.
The Center for Arthurian Imagery is in the privately owned …