Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Rightwise born King of All England

Sean e-mailed me today with a link to this post over at Caveat Lector about the new King Arthur movie called, creatively enough, King Arthur. Dorothea's thoughts are interesting, so check them out. (And by the way, I wrote about King Arthur movies in general last October.

I may rent the current film when it comes out on DVD, or perhaps check it out of the library, but I have little intention of seeing it, based on the reviews I've read. Seriously, aside from Roger Ebert's review, I have heard nothing good about it, and I get to the movies rarely enough that I have to prioritize a bit; there are enough movies out that I have heard good things about that I don't think I'll bother with this one. Even if I do love a good Arthurian story.

I must admit that I have generally found Arthurian retellings from the standpoint that he was just some Roman warlord or Celtic prince or some variant thereof to not be terribly interesting, with the exception of Mary Stuart's wonderful trilogy (appended with the fourth book, The Wicked Day, whose sympathetic portrayal of Mordred is so effective that to this day I can't totally accept it when authors give me a vile and hateful Mordred). But in general, I'm not even sure that the best storytelling gold lies in simply retelling the legend anyway. It's been told a lot of times, and the problem with retelling it anyway is that by its nature, the Matter of Britain isn't one story but a collection of them, some of which are more important than others, some of which were there in the beginning and others of which have accrued in the centuries since, and so on.

The true strength of Arthurian storytelling is, I think, to be found along the story's edges: in the rise of Uther, perhaps, or in the lesser knights whose stories exist almost as "filler" in Malory or Tennyson. I'd love to see an Arthurian novel that tells me what Britain was like after the Battle of Camlann, when Camelot fell. And of course, longtime readers will know that the novel I'm working on is based on the idea of Arthur's eventual return. (Yes, this has been done before, but not, I hope, in the way I'm doing it.)

(BTW, it annoys me that the King Arthur movie advertising seems to assume that nobody knows about the "Arthur as Roman warlord" angle, as if this was some shocking thesis that only emerged two or three years ago, as opposed to a pretty old idea that's quite familiar to anyone who has read into the Arthurian legend at all beyond Howard Pyle.)

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