What is the King Arthur legend really about?

When you get beneath the popular image and go back to the actual sources, what is the real legend of King Arthur actually about?

Like Lord of the Rings, only dumb

All of us have heard of King Arthur, and we feel like “Oh yeah, yeah, I know all about King Arthur because I’ve seen this awful movie or I’ve watched this silly TV show, and I know that it’s kind of like Lord of the Rings, only stupid and boring.” So today we’re going to discuss; what is the legend of King Arthur actually about?

Swords and sorcery? Wizards? White men on quests? Men interested in honor and passive women being saved? That’s what most of us think when we think King Arthur, and it is definitely there, but it’s also not the whole story. It has all of that, but it has a whole lot more. In the next article and video we’re going to talk about how the Arthurian legend can be surprisingly modern; like taking a deep examination of gender roles and what today we might call toxic masculinity, and power relationships, so you should stick around for that, but today; the legend as it exists—what is it about?

The Rise and Fall of a Civilization

The story covers about 70 years, give or take, and it’s mainly about the rise and fall of a civilization. We have the state of the world prior to Arthur, which is the dark ages and chaos, then he comes and he institutes the country’s first laws and order, by establishing what is kind of the country’s first police force, which are of course the Knights of the Round Table. They are tasked with going out riding across the countryside and righting wrongs and helping the helpless as they find them.

But that’s what we know, right? Then as the story goes on we start to see the limitations of that society and how personal tensions within it erupt and finally destroy it from the inside out. So it’s incredibly epic, because we truly see this kingship rise, reign and fall, leaving the entire country permanently changed as a result.

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A guide to leading a moral life

The Arthurian legend also a little bit like the bible in that one aspect of it is meant to look at moral behavior and to encourage people to act in a morally responsible way. So you have these knights who are very worried about honor and who pursue the ideal of chivalry—the whole concept of chivalry originates with King Arthur, by the way—and a lot of the stories that are contained within the legend revolve around acting in the right way, acting responsibly toward others, at a time when there were no rules, and no real reason not to be a bad, immoral person.

The past influences the present–and the future

On a more personal, psychological level, it’s an incredibly moving story about how the events of the past influence the present, and the future. We see problems and gifts that are passed on to us from previous generations, and it’s about how the mistakes you make as a young person come back and haunt you later in life. The whole thing is incredibly interwoven and complicated. You think Game of Thrones is interwoven and complicated, but that’s nothing compared to the legend of King Arthur, in which we follow over a hundred characters, most from the time they’re kids all the way to the end of their lives, and they all intertwine and interact, and one of the things I love most about it—and definitely am reinforcing and including in my novels—is that things that appear at the beginning of the story show up years, sometimes decades later in the story and then they all have to deal with them.

There’s a lot of other stuff too, like the spiritual quests, the romance and love triangle, but overall, it’s about those three things; the rise and fall of a civilization, it’s a guide and examination of how to be a conscientious, moral person in the world, and how the stuff from the past influences the present.

Coming up: What we don’t know about King Arthur

In the next video we’ll talk about the things we don’t know about King Arthur. The surprising elements you probably haven’t heard about, but are definitely there, like the examinations of gender and power relationships, and we’ll get into the demon babies, matriarchal societies and the gay knights, so that’s all in the next video.

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2 Comments on “What is the King Arthur legend really about?

  1. Pingback: What’s it all about? [King Arthur, that is] – The Swithen

  2. Pingback: Star Wars: The Final Retcon – The Swithen

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