Camelot is the most famous fictional castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. Later romance depicts it as the fantastic capital of Arthur’s realm, from which he fought many of the battles and quests that made up his life. Camelot as a place is associated with ideals like justice, bravery and truth, the virtues Arthur and his knights embody in the romances. It is absent from the early material, and its location, if it even existed, is in England. Most modern academic scholars regard it as being entirely fictional, its geography being perfect for romance writers; Arthurian scholar Norris J. Lacy commented that “Camelot can be anywhere.” Nevertheless arguments about the location of the “real Camelot” have occurred since the 15th century and continue to rage today in popular works and for tourism purposes.
Tristan and Iseult’s conflict of love and loyalty is one of the classic tales of Western literature; in the Arthurian tradition, their tragic tragectory rivals and complements that of Lancelot and Guinevere. The basic story is one of mis-directed love: Tristan, the heroic nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, is sent to Ireland to escort the Irish king’s daughter, the beautiful Iseult, to Cornwall to become his uncle’s bride. In most versions, it is during the return voyage that Tristan and Iseult accidentally consume a love potion (meant to ensure Iseult’s happiness with Mark) together, and fall in love. Because Iseult’s engagement to Mark cannot be broken, she marries the king despite her love for Tristan, and the two lovers spend the rest of their lives attempting to satisfy their desire for each other without revealing that desire to Mark and the Cornish court. The tale of potion-induced passion has proved irresistable to artists in all media, from literature to visual arts to music, to the point that Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde is now more famous than the text on which it is based, the thirteenth century Tristan and Isolde of Gottfried von Strassburg. Virtually all versions of the legend revolve around conflicting themes of romantic love and political loyalty, though no two tellings treat these themes identically.
Arthur is no fit King. Uther’s bastard, Merlin’s pawn, he is lowborn and a fool. He is wanton and petty and cruel. A glutton and a drunkard, he lacks all civilized graces. In short, he is a sullen, ignorant brute. All these things and more men say of Arthur. Let them. When all the words are spoken and the arguements fall exhausted into silence, this single fact remains: we would follow Arthur to the very gates of Hell and beyond if he asked it. And that is the solitary truth. Show me another who can claim such loyalty. - Stephen R. Lawhead, The Pendragon Cycle (Arthur)
I chose to illustrate the Lady of the Lake out of a long-time love of medieval folklore and women in mythology. Sometimes treacherous, always mysterious, and instrumental to the plot of the Arthurian legend, the Lady of the Lake is a timeless figure in historical myth.
If you missed the kickstarter, you can still check out some of the submissions on the project’s blog @ ladiesofliterature!
1. I Will Never Die -Delta Rae2. Raise Hell -Brando Carlile3. Dust Bowl Dance -Mumford and Sons4. Blood on my Name -The Wright Brothers 5. Everybody Wants to Rule the World -Lorde 6. Toxic -Melanie Martinez7. Oh My -Gin Wigmore8. Awake O Sleeper -The Brothers Bright9. Bad Ritual - Timber Timbre10. Marked Man -Mieka Pauley 11. Sinister Kid -The Black Keys 12. Oh Death -Noah Gundersen
When the television program
debuted on BBC One in September 2008, viewers quickly noted that a number of key roles were played by actors of African, Middle Eastern and Latin American heritage, including the key roles of Guinevere and Lancelot. The reaction to this multi-ethnic casting was mixed.The following two quotes are typical of the objections and praises. An Internet blogger called
“It seems like a blatantly PC move which flouts any notion of historical accuracy. Well,maybe not historical accuracy per se, since Merlin is pure fantasy, but you know what I mean. You wouldn’t throw random European actors into Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to play Chinese noblemen, so why do the equivalent here? Since it is apparently set in Britain circa the 5th Century AD, surely they should try and capture the feel of the era. Back then, ethnic diversity meant the Angles and the Saxons.”
On the other hand,
New York Times
journalist Alessandra Stanley commented that Arthurian legend “is eternally reworked to suit the sensibilities of the age” and that the BBC’s Merlin “is tailored to the age of Obama…[where] Merry Olde
England looks a little like a White House cabinet meeting: there is a lot more diversity to the realm than just Britons and
(C1). However, both detractors and supporters, alike, largely failed to recognize that an all-white Camelot is, itself, a fiction of the modern age.
The presence of Africans in early Britain and continental Europe is attested in both archeological and historical records. While
“Moors” and“Saracens” are also featured in several medieval Arthurian romances.So the BBC’s
, and other 21
century adaptations of Arthurian legends which include Black characters, may be more historically accurate than is recognized in popular thought. But a related issue is how these characters are portrayed. While archeological and historical evidence suggests that people of African origin were integrated into real-life Roman and medieval British society, Black characters in both medieval and 21
century Arthurian fiction remain largely on the fringes: To be Black in Camelot is to occupy liminal spaces.
Check out the whole paper; it’s not very long and has included images and analyses of the BBC’s Merlin, Camelot (Starz miniseries), and The Last Legion (2007).