Popular Arthurian Traditions

Popular Arthurian Traditions

Popular Arthurian Traditions

Popular Arthurian Traditions


From medieval history and romance through various twentieth-century renderings, this collection of essays considers themes, characters, and events of the legend and the meanings they impart. Sir Thomas Malory, Chrtien de Troyes, Mark Twain, Thomas Berger, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C. J. Cherryh, and other prose writers are discussed as are comic books and other genres. Film interpretations, photographic illustrations, and musical expressions receive analytical attention, as do poetic, religious, and mythic uses of the Arthurian world.


The students of Arthurian Legend must be tireless, for there is apparently to be no end to its treatment. It is easy to find reference to Arthurian matter in the popular culture—one TV ad supporting the Marines' quest to find a few good men features a sword that could only be Excalibur, most communities enjoy a Round Table Restaurant or Pub, the final "Twin Peaks" episode centers on events that occur within a West Coast "Glastonbury grove." If scholars have been unable to positively identify the original, the "real" King Arthur, it seems unlikely that anyone will be around to identify the final King Arthur; fortunately that King Arthur will also be "real." He is truly the Once and Future King, and the wealth of material surrounding his legend continues to be popular.

The Popular Culture Association has provided a vehicle for the study of popular Arthuriana since 1987, when Arthurian Legend was added to the Subject Areas of Study at the National Convention. Interest in the subject has been strong and the contributions varied, demonstrating broad treatments of the legend and its interpretations. This volume explores some uses of Arthurian Legend in popular culture and through the analytical approaches of popular culture.

Ladies first. Treatment of women is thought to be a courtly concern of Arthurian materials. The first essays concern women whose treatment is not so courtly as it may seem. Maureen Fries redefines the categories of women in medieval Arthurian legends according to their roles, especially their actions. Definitions of heroines, female heroes and counter-heroes provide a new and useful revaluation of the women and their functions. The females of Malory and Chrétien de Troyes seen through new eyes illuminate and inform medieval and modern texts alike. Relying on the traditional, medieval bifurcation of the character of Morgan le Fey into contradictory roles, Charlotte Spivack assesses Morgan's character as it appears in modern prose fiction of the Arthurian legend and finds a remarkable consistency in old and new concepts of Morgan as healer and destroyer. Ancient Celtic goddess lore merges in the character of Morgan and, especially in Bradley's Mists of Avalon, Morgan's powers bring her full circle. Elizabeth Sklar reconstructs Morgan le Fey's actions and character as they are sketched in Malory and transformed by modern fantasy texts—role-playing games, films and most specifically comic books—into the thoroughly wicked modern Morgan. Sklar seeks an understanding of why Morgan has become the sinister figure we now expect. Her essay "is an anatomy of popular culture's Morgan le Fey."

Turning to more recent fiction we see popular plotlines skillfully considered. Jesse Nash, inspired by the questions of young people, examines Batman old and new as representations of the Arthurian mythos. Recently, the new Batman with a postmodern approach transforms the old caped crusader into a hero more . . .

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