Nowadays the world of King Arthur can seem stale and old, something old fogeys are interested in. But you might be surprised to know that some of the most popular stories of today, from Game of Thrones to Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings all have their roots in the legends of King Arthur. If you’re into Game of Thrones, here’s why you should care about King Arthur.
King Arthur invented the genre
Any and all epic fantasy has its roots in the legends of King Arthur—full stop! If it’s about huge medieval armies and massive wars, betrayal and adultery amongst kings, queens and knights, or wizards and enchantresses wielding magic and sorcery, King Arthur did it first.
This is real legend, not an imitation
The legends of King Arthur were told and retold by storytellers from the years 500AD to 1200AD—literally before most people could read or write. They were finally written down from 1200AD to 1500AD, with the most established version compiled in 1485 by Sir Thomas Malory.
It had real impact on history
The tales of King Arthur set down the ideals of chivalry, which became a moral code that real knights and members of royal courts sought to live by. Chivalry basically says that knights—previously just self-interested mercenaries—should protect women and the powerless, and strive to be the ideal paragons of honor and justice.
The legend is of King Arthur uniting Britain for the first time, and establishing the nation’s first laws. The Knights of the Round Table were, in a sense, Britain’s first police force, and their tales truly inspired real knights and gentlemen over centuries.
This is the original sprawling saga with multiple interweaving story arcs
The overall tale spans about 70 years and begins with Merlin’s engineering the birth of Arthur. Then Arthur drives out the Saxons and unites Britain as a country for the first time. He establishes the first laws and essentially establishes civilization in the country, which had previous been the chaos of the Dark Ages.
The second half details the decline and fall of that civilization, with mistakes made at the beginning coming back to haunt the characters. Arthur’s best friend Lancelot’s long-term adultery with his wife, Guinevere, is one major factor in the destruction of his kingdom, as is the rejection of his son, born through incest, Mordred.
No making up as we go
This entire, massive, decades-spanning, multi-character story arc, from beginning to end, was completed over 500 years ago! So there won’t be any need to start making up new stories as the source material runs out. Also, elements planted in the first years of the story bear fruit decades later, with nothing left to chance. You can’t beat the Medievals for complex, interwoven storylines!
Magic and Dragons—but with rules
Yes, the story is filled with magic and has its share of dragons, wizards, enchantresses and giants (i.e. Orcs), but they are governed by rules and tightly controlled. So you don’t get that feeling that you can throw in a dragon whenever things get a bit dull. Oh, and when people are dead, they stay dead.
It’s not boring
We’ve become so familiar with the images and characters of King Arthur—and just knowing that they’re really old—that they might seem like boring old stories. But they’re not. They’re filled with battles and magic and treachery and great clashes between monumental characters. For example, few know that the story of Merlin’s birth is of a woman impregnated by a demon, or that Lancelot was kidnapped as an infant and raised in a matriarchal society under an enchanted lake.
In fact, because they’re so old, these stories have a weirdness that today’s stories can’t match, because they’re not trying to tie everything up neatly or appeal to modern audiences. A contemporary book series such as The Swithen or other pieces of Arthurian literature can retell these stories in such a way that they retain their original strangeness—which really cannot be matched—but fill in the psychology, character motivations and expand on events in such a way that they make sense and are compelling to today’s readers of epic fantasy.
Made for Game of Thrones fans
All that said, if you’re super into Game of Thrones, you might want to check out some of the original tales of King Arthur, to see what the fuss is about, to see why these tales have endured for thousands of years, and to catch a glimpse of the original stories that inspired every single piece of epic fantasy since.