Arthurian Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia

Arthurian Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia

Arthurian Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia

Arthurian Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia

Synopsis

King Arthur is perhaps the central figure of the medieval world, and the lore of Camelot has captivated literary imaginations from the Middle Ages to the present. Included in this volume are extended entries on more than 30 writers who incorporate Arthurian legend in their works. Arranged chronologically, the entries trace the pervasive influence of Arthurian lore on world literature across time. Entries are written by expert contributors and discuss such writers as Geoffrey of Monmouth, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and Margaret Atwood. Each entry provides biographical information, a discussion of the author's use of Arthurian legend and contribution to the Arthurian literary tradition, and a bibliography of primary and secondary material. The volume begins with an introductory overview and concludes with suggestions for further reading.

Excerpt

Arthurian legends are a complex reworking of previously existing narratives and ideologies that are ever both anachronistic and contemporary. The costumes, characters, and settings reflect some portion of the early medieval period, but the themes of fate, guilty passion, and loyalty are universal, not in the sense of timeless meaning, but because new writers and readers in each period care enough to mutate or reinvent the lesson to be gleaned about Camelot’s tragedy; thus aesthetic judgments about the point of Arthuriana change based upon the historical present. Arthurian themes have ever lent themselves well as a veneer for social criticism; each new author pleads and persuades through language, making a particular point by shifting the narrative’s focus to change the significance assigned by readers. While it is as impossible to assess an author’s intentions as it is to predict a reader’s response, we can note each author’s particular alterations as a dialogue between past and present.

The basic Arthurian plot is as follows: Merlin influences the creation of Arthur, son of the mighty, warlike Uther Pendragon and Igraine, the beautiful wife of another powerful lord. The baby is hidden for years and finally, by pulling Excalibur from the stone on New Year’s Day, Arthur is declared the rightful monarch. Fighting bravely but fairly, Arthur and his troops beat back the Saxons and unite Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. During a shining time of peace, a fellowship of knights sit equally at a Round Table and create the laws of civilized society until many of them leave on quests for the Holy Grail. Arthur marries the young Guinevere, who betrays him by committing adultery with Lancelot, the knight of greatest prowess. After Arthur is tricked into spending a night of incestuous passion with his half-sister, Mordred is born. Although Arthur orders all male babies in the kingdom killed, Mordred lives and eventually mortally wounds his father in battle. Arthur is carried away by three queens in a boat to the Isle of Avalon from where he will return when his people most need him. This powerfully tragic tale has been convincingly rewritten from every possible angle and versions of it are found from all parts of the world.

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