Magazine article Risk Management

The Wizard and the King

Magazine article Risk Management

The Wizard and the King

Article excerpt

Among medieval literature, few titles are greater than Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, which brought together for the first time nearly every Arthurian tale from medieval tradition to forge a single narrative. Anybody familiar with the story of King Arthur has Malory to thank for it.

The best part of this book is its tragic ending. Guenevere and Lancelot's illicit romance has been discovered, and while Arthur seeks revenge against Lancelot, the villainous Mordred takes over all of England. The ensuing battle spells the end for Camelot as the Knights of the Round Table kill each other off in a spectacular final battle that is as internecine as it is inevitable. When it is done, Arthur lies on the field, thick with bodies, asking his lone surviving knight Bors to throw Excalibur back to the Lady of the Lake. Bors can hardly do it, for he knows that to follow this last order means acknowledging the end of a magical, impossible time. But do it he must, and when he returns from the task, he finds not only Arthur being borne away on a boat to Avalon, but the local peasants scavenging the dead.

Powerful stuff, this.

What gives the moment extra weight is another scene that occurs much earlier in the story. It is the opening days of Arthur's reign, when he is a hot-headed warrior who knows nothing of restraint or mercy. He has inherited a broken throne and seeks to establish his rule by force of arms over those who oppose him. First, he unites all of Britain. Then he expands to the continent, where he begins to bring the rest of Europe under his rule. Before long, however, he runs afoul of the Roman Emperor, who reminds Arthur that Britain ought to be bowing before Rome, not the other way around. Arthur responds by warring with Rome, and in the titanic battle that ensues, Arthur wins the day.

It is at this point that Arthur seeks to chase the routed Romans and destroy them all, but his advisor, the wizard Merlin, intercedes. It is enough to have defeated the Romans, Merlin suggests. Arthur need not slaughter them. But Arthur will not listen, and he casts Merlin aside and kills every Roman fleeing the field. After committing this act of savagery, Arthur immediately realizes that he should have listened to Merlin, who really knew what he was talking about, after all.

Right after that, Merlin is removed from the story (held captive forevermore by the Lady of the Lake, actually) and Arthur is left to fend for himself, an uncertain leader with little more than the example of his greatest failure to guide him. …

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