Literature and Film as Modern Mythology

By William K. Ferrell | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Romantic Heroes Never Die
by lack Schaefer

Shane

That a nation's image of itself emerges out of its myths is a kind of chicken- and-egg dilemma. Whichever comes first is of little consequence because the two inevitably become interwoven as a nation develops. As an example, consider the English. Much of their image is derived from the myths surrounding King Arthur and the knights of the round table. A short summary would include a high idealism supported by a regimented set of rules governing the motivations and behavior of its citizens. In each adventure, the knights' actions are bound by an oath to King Arthur and to God. This, in essence, became the guidepost for all citizens of Great Britain; a strict adherence to the rules and full submission to the Crown. The models advocating just how to apply this behavior can be found in its more famous knights: Sirs Tristram, Lancelot, Gawain, Percivale, and Galahad. The exploits of these five, plus the Arthurian rules of chivalry and the wizardry of Merlin, establish a persona that serves as a base for what it means to be British.

America too has its knights and a heroic code. Film director George Stevens, according to Harry Schein in an article for American Scholar magazine, "expressed his desire to 'enlarge' the Western legend and to have said that the pioneers presented in the Western fill the same role for the Americans as King Arthur and his knights hold in English mythology" (Summer 1955). The knights of Great Britain and the knights of America have much in common. They travel alone on horseback and routinely find themselves in situations where they must defend the weak against the strong. Although they are separated by geography and time, what really

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