The Magnetism of Arthurian Legend for Young Readers– Guest Post


        King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table never seem to lose their appeal to readers of all ages. When I talk about the Medieval Times with kids and adults, the talk centers around the exploits of the knights, heroes like King Arthur and Lancelot, and magic and Merlin. The stories of the knights with their quests, their, jousts, their rescuing of the damsels in distress, and their fighting for the underdog dominate the conversation. Never mind that in real life, knights weren’t always so gallant, and frequently only defended the underdog if he belong to the same or a higher social class.

         The King Arthur legend has outgrown and overshadowed any historical truth. A remarkable feat considering that in today’s fast-paced, information-on-the-run world, a legend reaching as far back as 1136 about a mythical king back in the 5th or 6th century still resonates with today adults and youth and shows no signs of abating. Packed into the Arthurian stories of quests, jousts, tournaments, and battles are the cornerstones of honor, loyalty, and friendship that continue to speak to the world and particularly the young.

         These qualities are incorporated in The King’s Ransom (Young Knights of the Round Table). The Young Knights have become friends via their friendship with a beggar/vagabond called the Wild Man. Without the Wild Man, it is likely that they wouldn’t have met and become friends because they are from very different backgrounds. Eleven-year-old Gavin is the youngest prince of Pembroke Castle in southern Wales. Fifteen-year-old Bryan has been sent to Pembroke by his parents to learn to be a blacksmith. Thirteen-year-old Philip is an orphan who wandered into Pembroke village and lives and works at the church.

         In the story, someone breaks into the king’s (Gavin’s father) treasury in Pembroke Castle and not only steals the medallion The King’s Ransom, but also kills the king’s advisor. The Wild Man is captured and charged with the crime. Belief in their friend’s innocence spurs the trio to swear a knight’s oath of loyalty to the Wild Man and embark upon a quest to save him. Their individual quests test their limits and force each to confront and conquer their fears or face humiliation and/or even death. Honor. Loyalty, Friendship. These qualities are the magnetic pull of the Legend of King Arthur.

         When students are introduced to the Legend of King Arthur, they respond with enthusiasm, respect, and wonder. Arthurian Legend teaches them the boundaries of right and wrong, the limits placed on people’s actions, and the consequences for crossing those boundaries or exceeding those limits. Young people hunger for those examples.

         One such example is found in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. White tells how the Lady Morgause tricks Arthur into sleeping with her. The result of that affair is a child. The problem is that Morgause is Arthur’s half sister. Morgause and Merlin knew, but Arthur did not. T. H. White drives the lesson home with these words: “He [Arthur] did not know he was [sleeping with his half-sister], and perhaps it may have been due to her, but it seems…that innocence is not enough”(312). In other words, Arthur’s vision for a united England is doomed. As the students learn, consequences are doled out for doing wrong, even if a person did not intend to do something wrong.

         On a lighter note, students are able to see how concepts of the Arthurian legend have been adopted by others and that leaves an impression on them. One idea has made its way not only into the work of T. H. White, but also in the works of Tolkien. That idea is that heroes are not always strong, but they don’t give up or lose hope.

         At the end of White’s The Once and Future King, an older, wiser King Arthur talks with a young page Thomas of Newbold Revell near Warwick. Arthur is about to send Thomas away from the battle so he will live. He asks Thomas to spread the “ancient idea” that “force ought to be used…on behalf of justice, not on its own account…That is he could get his [knights] to [fight] for truth, and to help weak people, and to redress wrongs, then their fighting might not be such a bad thing as once it used to be” (636).

         In the movie version of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Sam tells Frodo, “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy…But…a new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer…Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on [to the ideal] that there’s some good in this world,…and it’s worth fighting for.”

         These are the reasons that the Legend of King Arthur still lives on; the reasons why kids and adults are still drawn to this Legend; the reasons why I write Arthurian Legend for middle grade readers and young adults.

About me:  I am a twice-retired high school English teacher. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who do not do retirement well. Working with kids is a passion I have never lost. I regularly conduct Medieval Writing Workshops for local elementary/middle schools and for the Colorado Girl Scouts. We explore writing and reading, and it is fulfilling to see young students excited about writing and reading. It seems I’m not the only one who loves Medieval Times and the King Arthur Legend. The kids thoroughly enjoy writing their own medieval stories complete with dragons, wizards, unicorns, and knights.

 The King’s Ransom(Young Knights of the Round Table)

2012 Silver Award recipient for YA Fiction from Children’s Literary Classics

In medieval Wales, eleven-year-old Prince Gavin, thirteen-year-old orphan Philip, and fifteen-year-old blacksmith’s apprentice Bryan are brought together in friendship by one they call the Wild Man. When an advisor to the king is killed and a jewelled medallion is stolen from the king’s treasury, the Wild Man is accused of the theft and murder.

Filled with disbelief at the arrest of the Wild Man, the three friends embark upon a knight’s quest to save their friend’s life. To succeed, the three must confront their fears and insecurities, and one of them will have to disclose the biggest secret of all.

Join Gavin, Philip, and Bryan on their quest and share the adventures that await them in the land of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

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Posted on October 23, 2012, in book, fantasy, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Lyndi, Thanks for hosting me.

  2. One of the more intriguing questions as to why the Arthurian legend has lasted so well and is so popular, and has spawned so many other books and shows, is why the Nibelungenlied did not? They are both 11-12th century epics that glorified what were probably somewhat tawdry events about the 5th century. Is it because the Arthurian legend indicates a return of Camelot (even though there is no possibility) while the Nibelungenlied adopts the more practical attitude to the end of what was then Burgundy? Is it because the Arthurian legend indicates hopes and virtues that never were and never would be while the Nibelungenlied focussed on very real failings of real people? Is it because of Wagner’s manglings?

  3. Interesting questions, Ian. My thoughts: The idea of living in a utopian society carries an attraction for nearly all, especially when one thinks with emotions and not with logic. We all do that to some extent. Also, it is exactly those virtues and hopes that people hold onto, particularly in tough times. Most want to be better people, and Arthurian Legend shows them how to do that, regardless of how unattainable that may be. When we discuss this is class, we also touch on the similarities of King Arthur and Jesus Christ. Both figures speak of returning when the time is right. Interesting parallels.

  4. Arthurian legend just has such an extraordinary potential. I took a class on it a couple of years back, and the history and mythology is so rich. It’s astounding. And I think the tale resonates today because the human element is so important. Romance, adventure, sin, redemption, magic — it’s kind of got everything going for it.

  5. Cassie, I think the reason may be because the Arthurian legend glosses over the darker aspects. Guinevere is unfaithful, but that does not really come to the fore, while the fall of Camelot again glosses over the moral decay leading to it, while Morgana and Mordred are really somewhat in the background. There may be sin, but not especially explicit sin. The Nibelungenlied has far more action (albeit a bit over the top at times), but the romance is more desire (Siegfried barely meets Kriemhild before they marry, and Gunther’s wooing of Brunhild takes some getting used to.) There is magic, but the magic is restricted to enabling the plot to start, and from then on the basic rot sets in very explicitly: Brunhild demands Siegfried’s death, Kriemhild requires revenge, and thousands, good and bad, die because of these two women’s spite. Maybe the Nibelungenlied is just too realistic in motivation.

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