King Arthur has been in the media a lot the past couple of weeks. He's the subject of a new movie that is supposed to strip away the fantay side of the story and tell us the "real" story of just who King Arthur was. (I haven't seen the movie and I don't really have any overwhelming desire to run out out and fling down my five to eight bucks to see it, quite frankly). A couple of weeks ago, the History Channel aired a 2-hour special, narrated by Patrick "Captain Picard" Stewart called the Quest for the King Arthur. It was a fascinating look at how wasn't one person that you can point to from English history as the historical Arthur and it examined pieces of the mythology of Arthur.
One of the Arthur experts, Bonnie Wheeler, author of "The Journal of Arthurian Studies" had this to say about the literary King Arthur stated that one of the more interesting aspects of Arthur wasn't whether or not you could prove he existed or not, but how each age of history wants to reinterpret or tell stories about Arthur to fit its own sensibilities. At many times in the history of Great Britian, the legend was told about Arthur coming in at a time when things were disjointed or there was disharmony and bringing unified leadership and a code of chivalary and honor to the country when it was most needed. At times, it served as a rallying point for the citizens of England to rally around. Arthur also served as a unifying force against a common enemy of the English people.
In a lot of ways, the circumstances for a re-telling of the Arthurian legend sound a lot like the circumstances facing the United States today. We are facing an enemy that seeks to destroy us and instead of rallying together, we are becoming more and more divided upon lines. We are looking for a leader that will unite us in a common goal, to defeat our enemy together and to give us a golden age.
It's also interesting that I just finished reading Peter David's latest take on the Arthurian legend in One Knight Only
. The novel is a sequel to his Knight Life
which was published back at the start of his writing career, went out of print and then he updated and re-released it a few years ago. In the first book, Arthur is summoned by Merlin to rescue New York City from the depths of despair and provide it the leadership it needs. Along the way, he is reunited with a Gwenovere (called Gwen here) and does battle with Lancelot (who is Gwen's abusive boyfriend, that Arthur rescues her from) and has all kinds of adventures. In a lot of ways, the novel was a view of Arthur for its day and age.
But with the sequel, David gives us a view of the type of leader he wants to see in Washington today by giving us his idealized Arthur, who has now ascended to the office of President. (There's an interesting way that Arthur is established as a citizen so he can run). One Knight Only
is very much a reflection of the struggles facing the world today and our leader. Arthur is swept into office on good will for helping with terrorist attacks on New York (thankfully, David doesn't make Arthur a hero for 9/11, but another eerily similar attack). He now faces the prospect of fighting an enemy without a face, who is relentless. He also struggles with his role as commander in chief, who sends the troops into battle from the safety of his office. David's story is clearly a reflection of the type of leader he would like to see in the Oval Office and there are some pretty apparent criticisms made of the way Bush is handling his role since the attacks on September 11th.
I don't necessarily agree with Peter David on a lot of political issues. I just have to read his on-line blog and know that I don't. But that doesn't take away from his strengths as a writer--his New Frontier
book are the best things happening in any new Star Trek
right now. (Sorry Enterprise
). That said, I have to admit that I found it fascinating to look at the King Arthur legend re-interpreted for our own times through Peter David. Arthur faces a lot of crisises and makes choices that are interesting. At one point, he resigns the Presidency in exchange for the terrorist network in his novel being dismantled (and I do mean dismantled).
Overall, both books are very good and definitely worth the time to read them. As with all things written by David, there is a sensibility to them that can't be denied. You'll never doubt you're reading a Peter David novel and they are very unique. But I urge you to not just read them for a quick, fun read but also in the light of how the legend of Arthur's re-telling speaks to us and the world we live in today.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/16/2004 01:18:00 PM