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Writing King Arthur–What Was I Thinking?

December 2, 2010

Writing (rather, rewriting) the tales of King Arthur sounded like such a good idea.  And a cool one.

Then I actually tried it.

And I have no idea what I was thinking.

The King Arthur legends have sort of become the epitome of fantasy stories.  They are so magical, and so evocative of so many different things that people have a need for, that trying to write or rewrite the King Arthur legends is a monumental task.  Not to mention the sheer volume of material that has accumulated since the Mabinogion, possibly the first written work to include King Arthur and his court.

King Arthur can have so many different meanings and interpretations depending on the era and the culture that there literally are limitless ways to tell the story.  For Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1120 Arthur and his Court were established as part of the line of Kings of Britain, and established as part of the nation’s mythology.  For Chretien in 1170, Arthur provided a romantic setting for chivalry and knighthood and all kinds of drama.  For Malory in the 1400s, Arthur and his Court were the representatives of what a good court should be, yet never can be, a response to a country tearing itself apart in the War of the Roses.  Not to mention the harsh stance Malory takes on the Guinevere-Lancelot subplot.  Finally, for Tennyson, King Arthur was the idealization of good kingship, good court, and good nobility brought down by the machinations of wicked people (namely Guinevere–he doesn’t treat her or the other women kindly in his Idylls of the King).

Guinevere

Mercedes Lackey said in the Afterword of her latest novel “Gwynhwyfar” that pretty much every fantasy writer feels a need to attempt the King Arthur story at some point.  What I want to know is why?  The obvious answer, that King Arthur is the best fantasy storyline possible, is too obvious.  It could be because the Arthurian legends are so malleable that there is a lot of play, a lot of give, and even if you change something or make something up entirely, it can still fit into these legends.  And everyone would still know mostly what you’re talking about.

Most fantasy writers tend to enjoy making up worlds and characters and plots from scratch, coming from their own imaginations.  Why then feel the need to tackle a story that has been established for hundreds, if not thousands (oral traditions before the Welsh Mabinogion contained Arthur legends) of years?

I haven’t a clue.  I’m basically asking questions while I try to puzzle it out myself.  I’m an amateur, but I know that I would prefer to build something from scratch rather than work off someone else’s creation.  Yet, having said that, I also cannot resist the pull of the King Arthur saga.  Something about it just sucks me in and says “Try me!”

Lancelot's Rescue of Guinevere

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