arthurian folklore

Forest Lore

In ancient times, the forests of Europe were said to be so vast that (reputedly) a squirrel could travel from one end of a country to another without having to come down from the tops of the trees. Europe was once covered in trees from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

The ancient ancestors took nature at heart, and they were in frequent contact with one another. Olden travellers claimed to see (supernatural) forest civilisations, magical fauna, and mythical plants.


To the ancient Greeks and Romans, trees were thought to be inhabited by female spirits called Dryad (in oak trees) or Meliae (in ash trees). In Greek drys signifies ‘Oak’ from an Indo-European root *derew(o)- 'tree’ or 'wood’. In Scottish folklore a friendly tree spirit, called the Ghillie Dhu, helps lost children find their way home. Japan is home to a rich tradition encompassing various tree spirits, generally called Kodama. Traditionally, foresters made offerings to the Kodama before cutting a tree down.

Trees are believed to possess mystical powers and spirits. The ancients had a deep respect for the spirits of the forest. The superstition “touch wood” to guard against bad luck reverts back to the Dark Ages, when trees were considered to be the link between the upper and lower worlds and were not just inert objects to be taken for granted. It is also believed that trees can carry messages to and from other spiritual worlds.

According to ancient myths, trees were mankind’s ancestors, providing man with a link to the spirits of ancestors as well as doorways into other realms. According to Norse mythology, the first man was made from an ash treeThe first woman was made from a rowan tree or elm, according to similar myths. 

For the Celts, the oak tree was the most sacred one of all. They called this tree “daur” which is the origin of the word “door”, the oak providing a doorway to the world in which faeries dwelled. Many legends tell of how after falling asleep under an oak tree, people would wake up in the realm of the faeries.

Folkloric properties of trees:

  • Rowan -  In many parts of Europe, the rowan tree was believed to protect against evil. Pieces of rowan were carried by people to ward of evil spirits and protect them against witchcraft. Crosses would be made from rowan twigs and sewn into the lining of coats, hung in houses or fastened to cattle as a way to protect themselves and animals from evil spells.
  • Birch - Long associated with fertility and healing magic, new beginnings, purification, protection, creativity, fertility & birth. It was known as ‘The Lady of the Woods’. Birch twigs were used to bestow fertility on cattle and newlyweds, and children’s cradles were made from its wood. Birch is one of the first trees to grow on bare soil and thus it births the entire forest.
  • Elder - The druids used it both bless and curse. Standing under an elder tree at Midsummer, like standing in a Fairy Ring of mushrooms, will help you see the “little people.” Elder wands can be used to drive out evil spirits or thought forms. Music on panpipes or flutes of elder have the same power as the wand.  
  • Hazel - Hazel, The Tree of Immortal Wisdom has applications for manifestation, spirit contact, protection, prosperity, divination-dowsing, dreams, wisdom-knowledge, marriage, fertility, intelligence, inspiration. Hazel is a tree that is sacred to the fae folk and a wand of hazel can be used to call the fae. It is also used for poetic inspiration.

The Holly King & The Oak King

The Holly King represents one half of the year, while the other is personified by his counterpart and adversary the Oak King: the two battle endlessly as the seasons turn. These pairs are seen as the dual aspects of the male Earth deity, one ruling the waxing year, the other ruling the waning year.

In Celtic mythology the “Oak King” and the “Holly King” were twins, pitted against each other in a never-ending fight for supremacy. Oak Tress, sacred to the Celts, lose their leaves, while the English Christmas holly trees are evergreen. As cold weather approached, the Celts marveled at how the evergreen Christmas holly trees, hidden amongst the leafy oaks the rest of the year, now stood out prominently on an otherwise barren landscape. The Holly King had won out, as it were, as the incarnations of his twin brother had shed all their leaves and stood naked in defeat.

But by the time the winter solstice arrives, the tide has turned: the Oak King’s flow in power is the Holly King’s ebb. The deciduous twin takes his first steps towards re-establishing his supremacy. The Oak King’s supremacy won’t reach its zenith until midsummer, when the oaks will be in full leaf again. At which point, it is now the Holly King who will be riding the new wave. The evergreen twin lies the foundation in the summer heat for a reign that will culminate in the winter solstice. Thus ironically, whenever either king reaches the height of his dominance, at that very time he is doomed to be supplanted.


Originating in Greek and Roman lore, the faun is a half human-half goat, (from the head to the waist being human, but with the addition of goat horns) manifestation of forest and animal spirits that would help or hinder humans at whim. The ancient faun is a playful character associated with trickery. Traditional fauns love practical jokes. They are also associated with sensuality, and with the god of wine, Dionysus.

Romans believed fauns inspired fear in men traveling in lonely, remote or wild places; but they were also capable of guiding humans in need. The Romans also had a god named Faunus and goddess Bona Dea (female faun), who, like the fauns, were goat-people. The faun loves to dance and play the flute.

  • Fawns, in original texts, are said to have feet resembling human ones.
  • They have elegant horns, like that of a fawn.
  • Fawns are considered to be delicate and (mostly) innocent.
  • Their physical appearance is overall attractive.
  • They are also said to be knowledgable and talented.

White Stag

The white stag has played a prominent role in many cultures’ mythology. 

The white stag appears as its name would suggest, a deer with all-white fur and often a towering rack of horns. But legend assigns it intriguing characteristics beyond its white coat. In folklore, sometimes the white stag has red ears or bears the sun or another symbol (some say the cross) between its horns. Other tales suggest its horns flame with fire that never consumes them, while in Persian legend, a creature like the white stag, actually had blue fur, eyes like rubies, and hooves like gold. 

The Celtic people considered them to be messengers from the otherworld.

Arthurian legends states the creature has a perennial ability to evade capture; and that the pursuit of the animal represents mankind’s spiritual quest. It also signalled that the time was nigh for the knights of the kingdom to pursue a quest.

In Scotland, the legend of the white stag is particularly strong on the island of Arran, where the sighting of the white stag is thought to signal the death of the Duke of Arran. The animal is said to appear in order to conduct the duke to the next world.  

A legend says that the white stag lead to the discovery of Japan. Versions of the legend appear in many different parts of the globe including Mayan Indian and Japanese versions. In Japanese mythology a stag is hunted by twin brothers but the beast eludes them. The twins argue about which way to take and finally split up in different direction. One goes east and one goes west. The twin that takes to the east eventually discovers Japan.

you are inky obsidian, sharp-edged and shining
sewing jagged secrets into jagged scars
under your skin.
you are fire-forged fury.

you are the gleam of dragons’ scales as they fight
high in the hidden hills where you are sleeping
and dance to the druids’ drums when
they are looking away from this world.

you are the summer solstice sun, burning bright
over the homes and halls of your ancestors and descendants
and as the year turns to winter you too will shift
like the leaves - from green to brown to bare bone
you are the desperate cry of the prince’s old tongue
as he hurls himself towards glory and gaping wounds
and the shadows on the hillsides roar with him
and you laugh with bloodied teeth and dreams

you are the child of the forest, the valleys, the lonely hilltops
you are the son of magic and mystery and mayhem
you are the prince of shadows and the ghost-lord of old
and your fingers are still strong on your sword.

—  a song for the raven king; or: folklore archetypes - the sleeping king who was and will be

Original Drawing - Aubrey Beardsley “Le Morte d`Arthur - XIII Chapter Heading Design” 1894, Ink drawing by Plum leaves
Via Flickr:
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898) English illustrator and author. His drawings in black ink were influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, 163 x 89 mm., Ink drawing Sold at Sotheby’s Auctions. ‘Le Morte D'Arthur’ (1485) by Sir Thomas Malory (c.1405-71) Reworking of traditional tales about the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword joins the list of many filmed interpretations of King Arthur’s story that came before it. The source material for these films and television shows like the BBC’s Merlin are derived from collections of stories about Arthurian Legends. Arthurian Literature is full of a rich palette of characters from Merlin to Tristan to Morgan Le Fay, but I’ve never been very invested in the iconic character of King Arthur himself. He always seemed too noble, idealistic, and more vague than any of the minor characters that surrounded him. I could not, no matter how much I tried, find a way to relate to this guy no less actually see him as a realistic person. His character was simply overwhelmed by the scale of his mission, the power of his weapon Excalibur and the importance of his destiny and heritage.

So honestly, when I first saw a snippet of the trailer for this film, I did roll my eyes because here there would be another film version of a story that I felt had been told enough times already. How many times can Hollywood recycle ideas with all its remakes and sequels and generally the inability to let something original stay original? However, I did watch the trailer and what I saw was something vastly different from the King Arthur versions I had seen and read before. The tone of the movie was hardly dull or set up an ambiguous character. This Arthur had drive, had passion and humor and overall seemed like a realistic, complex character that I could believe in. So, I decided to go see the film despite all the horrible reviews that I had read because it seemed like something special or at the very least I knew I had to find out for myself what this movie felt like.

The opening sequence immediately inserts you into the film. It’s the middle of an intense battle with giant elephants and armies and dark magic. The King, Uther Pendragon, is hardly the type of guy who sits on his horse and gives commands to his soldiers. No, he’s heavily engaged in the action and in this visually stunning sequence, Excalibur makes its first appearance and Uther uses it to defeat his enemy. Therefore, magic and the crown (the Pendragon line) are tied together and fighting with that sword, believing in it, is what helps this king rule. However, the tension certainly does not end with that battle sequence. Danger lies not only in magic but in blood, which creates an interesting dynamic for the story as it proceeds into Arthur’s timeline as a young man growing up. The entire movie creates this very dangerous, yet realistic world for young Arthur to grow up in and makes the point that we are products of the world we live in and vice versa (the world is a product of the people in it).

Due to the betrayal toward his family and awful massacre, young Arthur becomes an orphan and barely manages to escape. He grows up in a brothel and is raised by the women that work there, which certainly shapes his views of women and the way he respects them later on in the film. This future king has nothing and from nothing he finds his strength. It turns him into this epic warrior who isn’t polished with graceful moves or formal manners or fine clothes and weapons. His fighting is rough like the life he grew up in and he becomes a sort of wise con man, navigating deals and earning money. It also seems a big reason for him learning to fight was to protect the women of the brothel that raised him, who were being beaten by their customers. In that respect, Arthur is noble and chivalrous in one of the best ways possible because he values women and does not appear to treat them as his inferiors at any point in the movie.

The way that this film is shot with the cutting back and forth is a signature thing for Guy Ritchie and he’s used it in many of his films before. I think it works really well in this film because Arthur is the same way. He’s very physical sure, but he’s also an intelligent, fast talking guy and it’s almost as if the way the movie is shot is representative of Arthur’s personality. His language is notably different from that of Vortigen and the people in the castle. I don’t see that as a clumsy mistake, but a careful detail included in order to ensure the separation of classes and emphasize Arthur’s place as an outsider.

Another element that I really want to focus on is the music in this film because it felt like a whole other brilliant character. The soundtrack was done by Daniel Pemberton, whose other credits include: Steve Jobs and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I think his music was a beautiful addition to the film and that it has tremendous presence in scenes without dialogue. Particularly the scene where Arthur is riding into the castle after he is bitten by the snake, Pemberton’s song The Devil and the Huntsman featuring artist Sam Lee is playing and it transported me so vividly into that world with all its magical realism and brutality. A face moving in a tree and a giant snake could’ve easily become silly, but the film kept a nice tone of gravity in dealing with the magical elements of the Arthurian world. It set up the stage for something epic to occur. Even the shot with the famous Lady of the Lake was breathtaking and the shot right after with Arthur rising out of mud and holding up Excalibur was such a powerful image. I think it captivated the struggle of rising out of poverty and essentially thwarting all the dangerous obstacles his uncle put in his way. I suppose that’s also one of the reasons I love fantasy films because they key in on images and how powerful they can still be without words. Some people might see that as a weakness in saying that there isn’t enough dialogue in the film, but I disagree. I see it as a strength and there is certainly enough fast talking banter between Arthur and the other characters to add a wonderful layer of comedy to this film.

I also enjoyed Arthur’s teamwork with all his friends. It felt like a very different Knights of the Roundtable because it seemed like a bunch of good mates that were hardly knights. Yet, they had the qualities of knighthood and would each sacrifice their lives for each other. Also, the character of the mage was fantastic and my favorite thing was that she was not made into a love interest. She was an important part of the narrative and showed how magic helped Arthur regain his throne, but she didn’t have to become his Guinevere.

Overall, I was impressed over the attention to detail that this movie had and it really disappointed me that so many reviews were writing it off as unoriginal and accusing it of plagiarism. There was a mention of the elephant scene being too similar to Lord of The Rings. I’m a huge LOTR fan and the scene in Pelennor Fields where those massive creatures show up is totally different in my opinion to the scene in King Arthur. I just feel that scene in LOTR:ROTK is so iconic and the shots feel different, especially the way that the elephants become obstacles for people on the battlefield in LOTR is different. In King Arthur it’s really short and the elephants just don’t feel like they have as much presence. They’re just there being controlled by magic and represent the power and danger of magic in that world whereas in LOTR they were enslaved creatures trained for war. The scenes are different also because of the scale and the focus. In LOTR it’s much more of a collaboration of all these warriors and the focus is constantly switching from Eowyn and Peregrin to the other Rohirrim and then Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli. It’s the battle before the final battle. In King Arthur, this battle is just the beginning and it sets up the war setting that Arthur grows up into. The focus is on Uther solely and everything else around him is just there so he can prove himself as a capable king. Now, could other animals been used at the beginning so as not to cause such a controversy? Of course and I do see how people could easily call it plagiarism. Perhaps the director was paying tribute to other fantasy movies in his film by having creatures like the elephants, giant snakes, big rodents, bats…etc. However, I’m an English major and I want to point out that there is a serious difference between plagiarism and paying tribute to other films. Also, I’d like to point out that Arthurian Literature is much older than a lot of the fantasy stories we know well like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter…etc. All modern fantasy stories draw upon centuries of folklore and Arthurian literature is medieval. So, a lot of stories that include these strange beasts are actually not as original as we’d like to think. J.K Rowling did not create giant snakes (basilisk) just as Tolkien does not own the myth of dragons or elves. They did what great fantasy writers do and they did their research and brought new interpretations to old myths. I would say that King Arthur has also done that because it is relying upon characters that have been around for a very long time and it uses magical beasts, but why is that such a bad thing when it creates something pretty awesome and unique in the process? I recommend this movie for anyone that wants to go on an exciting, adrenaline pumping action ride and also feel like what they’re watching is witty and funny and worthy of their time. Feel free to ask me questions if you’ve seen the film ad want to discuss it!

toothlessloveshiccup  asked:

What are your thoughts on the movie "Quest for Camelot"? It's like... right up your alley, almost? Imo? And I'd love your thoughts.

I haven’t seen Quest For Camelot since I was a kid.  I remember liking it better than the really old Disney movies (like Cinderella and Snow White), but not as much as most of the more recent ones (like The Great Mouse Detective or The Lion King) or as other non-Disney cartoons (The Land Before Time, anything Rankin Bass, etc.).  I kind of hated the design of the main dragon characters - I could articulate it as a kid, but they fell into the “We have to make these horrible ugly reptiles CUTE because this time they’re good guys so let’s hide the fact that they’re reptiles as much as possible” school of dragon cartoon design.  I did enjoy Eric Idle though.

I don’t know if my opinion would change today - it might hold up better than I remember.  A lot of movies do.  At the same time, it’s called Quest for Camelot, and is technically a King Arthur adaptation as a result, and almost every adaptation of Arthurian folklore is so goddamn disrespectful to the source material that it whips me into a violent frenzy of irrational rage, and yes every word of this needed to be bolded.

I don’t talk about Arthuriana a lot because I recognize that most people don’t have a desire to read/tolerance for reading medieval ballads, and as such have, like, no one to talk to about the subject, but I care for it about as passionately as I do for the Godzilla franchise and (insert “thing I’ve rambled about at length several times on this blog before” of your choice here).  So while there are some adaptations of Arthurian legends that are good stories in their own right, I have trouble seeing their value through the haze of “why are you cutting everything I love about these old, weird as fuck folktales in favor of generic modern story telling tropes” anger that overtakes me.  The only adaptations of Arthuriana I’ve seen that don’t fill me with vicious, illogical anger are 1. a straight up comic book adaptation of my favorite ballad that changed almost nothing and kept all the weird shit, and 2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which changed/cut a lot but did so in favor of DIFFERENT weird shit and also actually understood the characters it was adapting and kept them in character, despite the plot being intentionally absurd and surreal.

So…. yeah it would be interesting to see how Quest for Camelot holds up in my eyes today.  Could be great, could be a clusterfuck of irrational anger, could be uncomfortably mixed feelings.  Who can say?

thetruezsquared  asked:

What's your opinion on the Harry Potter series? Not the story necessarily, but the creatures in it (my personal favorite is the Hungarian Horntail for its sheer ferocity)?

I’m kind of disappointed in it.  J.K. Rowling’s world building is very much tailored to the story she wanted to tell, which was about a little British wizard boy who was destined to kill British wizard Hitler.  So everything makes sense when you understand it’s there ONLY to support that story, and fleshed out just as much as it needs to be to support it.  And that’s what hampers its bestiary of creatures - they’re designed to provide some flourish to wizard boy’s story, but not to be interesting enough to distract us from it.

Most of the monsters are ones a British kid would be familiar with - either creatures from Arthurian folklore or creatures from Greco-Roman mythology, with a few outliers sprinkled in for flavor.  The original creations are generally just sort of whimsical and comic, like a literal living puffball or cats with weird faces - Dementors being one of the few exceptions, though like everything else they’re designed to fulfill a purpose in Harry’s narrative first and foremost.  Little thought is put into making interesting twists or in depth biology for these creatures - there’s not much to them that can’t fit within a single paragraph of explanation.

This is particularly telling when it comes to Rowling’s dragons.  There’s a vast amount of variety in dragon folklore, even if you’re sticking with Western Europe, and even if you’re admittedly very conservative with what qualifies for your personal definition of dragon (like I am).  Rowling uses almost none of that diversity as a basis - instead, she makes up some whimisical names inspired by dog breeds, and basically gives her dragons all variations on the same body plan.  It’s particularly bad with the Chinese Fireball, a dragon that’s supposed to represent Asian dragons, which is described as being like all the other dragons except gold and red.

Now don’t get me wrong - I still love them all as monsters in their own right.  I fell in absolute fucking love with Buckbeak and Norbert, and the scene where they break out of the bank on the back of the Ukranian Ironbelly dragon is almost everything my inner child wants to happen on a daily basis.  Rowling’s creatures serve their story purpose wonderfully - but as a bestiary on their own, they need a lot more thought and development than they got.