“His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down from Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
‘Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:’
Sang Sir Lancelot.”
– The Lady of Shalott (1832) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Arthur. Merlin. Camelot. The legends of King Arthur and his knights are known in some form or another to the majority of the population, and have repeatedly been reinvented in television, film, and the written word. Personally I cannot pin-point my first encounter the legends, but assume it must have been through an older text, because when I first saw Jerry Zucker’s First Knight (1995), I thought they had misspelt Sir Lancelot (as far as I was concerned at the time, it should have been Sir Launcelot). It wasn’t until college that I delved deeper into the legends, after reencountering them through my studies of the Pre-Raphaelites (in particular John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott (1888)). First I read Tennyson’s accompanying poem (quoted above), and then I purchased Le Morte d’Arthur from my local Waterstones. After hunting the same store for King Arthur related books, I soon discovered my all-time favourites: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Each author’s interpretation of the legends is, of course, birthed from the same origins. But each is fundamentally and absolutely different.
What is it about the legends of King Arthur that is so expansive? You could tell a hundred authors or more to retell the legends in their own words, and no two versions would be remotely the same (unless of course they were talking, and intending to be the same). Of course, a writer’s different styles and preferences would affect any such project. But in the case of King Arthur, I think the legend’s richness is compound in the inevitable differences. There are dozens of stories within the framework offered, and hundreds of subplots countable from that. It is just so complex. Who do you focus on? Which stories do you tell? The list of the Knights of the Round Table at its most expansive runs to more than 150. The love stories are ever-changing and entwined. The quests are endless – the Holy Grail, the Questing Beast – authors need only take their pick.
My interpretation of the legends of King Arthur evolved from my own experiences and interests in life, metamorphosing into a hybrid of contemporary concerns and the raw essences of the myths. This modern reflection of the myths is set to span the arc of Arthur’s rise to power in a futuristic depiction of Britain. Book one has been written, and I have read Createspace’s lengthy user agreement and deemed it satisfactory. I am looking into the particulars of self-publishing, such as how to format a book and how to design your own cover. I can’t afford a graphic designer or a proof-reader or editor, so I (like many others) will be taking a risk and doing all of the work myself.
Perhaps it is a good sign that after all these years I am still not bored by my idea. I still believe in the concept, I still love the characters. I can re-read the first and last fifty pages again and again, and still find them interesting. Many stories of King Arthur hint at Arthur and Merlin retiring for the long sleep – destined to reawaken when Britain needs them most. I think this perhaps is one of the most attractive concepts in the legends – the promise of hope in the dark days to come.