View full lesson: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/is-there-any-truth-to-the-king-arthur-legends-alan-lupack
King Arthur has risen again and again in our collective imagination, along with his retinue of knights, Guinevere, the Round Table, Camelot, and of course Excalibur. But where do these stories come from, and is there any truth to them? Alan Lupack traces the evolution of King Arthur.
Lesson by Alan Lupack, directed by Patrick Smith.
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court
The late nineteenth century in the United States saw the peak of the buzz and commotion that is presently known as the Industrial Revolution. Caught deep within the gears of this mechanized movement, both socially and financially, was one Samuel Langhorne Clemens, best known as Mark Twain. Twain’s ideas on industrialization were based on practical experience, due in part to heavy investment in, and loss from, a newly developed type-setting machine as well as an acute interest in the universal ramifications of such modernization (Kaplan 12). It is amid such an economically turbulent and technologically elevated era that Twain conceived, wrote, and published the critically complex A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. Twain’s vision of sixth century England as seen through the eyes of “Yankee” Hank Morgan is the setting for biting social commentary on what was occurring throughout the States, especially in his home region of the Northeast.
Technology was not the only area experiencing rapid growth, but new political and economic theories abounded and Twain was aloof to these changes. A Connecticut Yankee attacks specifically three institutions which Twain had dealt with and experienced first hand: capitalism, slavery, and organized religion. Critical analysis of Twain’s piece, given a Marxist slant, dissects each of those institutions addressed and examines what are, perhaps, the “covert” intentions of the author and the social and political environments that spawned such ideology (Barry 167). Beyond the deliberate, surface level criticism of such ideas, Twain intertwines the fantastic foreground of a fictional tale with much of his own personal belief masked by the brilliant and brutal society artificially crafted by the protagonist and political mouthpiece, Hank Morgan.
The setting of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, sixth-century England, is not one naturally conducive to the economic and political products of capitalistic rule. However, as Henry Nash Smith states in his Fable of Progress, “this medieval setting is obviously not meant to represent any actual place or time. It’s a backdrop designed to allow a nineteenth-century American industrial genius to show what he can do with an underdeveloped country” (36). With a neutral setting established and a familiar plot based on Sir Thomas Malory’s legendary Morte d’Arthur, Twain creates an idyllic arena for his exploration of the effects of capitalism on a relatively “primitive” society. Once Hank adjusts to his new surroundings, he sets at once to develop a new democratic, capitalistic republic, so that he might “boss the whole country inside of three months” (Twain 50). Twain was intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of capitalism. He had experienced an admirable standard of living due to his writing, but knew poverty as a child and bankruptcy with the aforementioned failed investment later in life. With this in mind, Twain uses Hank and his financial prowess to exemplify both the advantages and ills of a free-trade economy. This “doctrinaire didacticism” (Baldanza 118) is manifest in Hank’s theoretic and specific explanations of “income versus cost of living” to the local working class, which efforts are proven futile. In Fulton’s Ethical Realism, he adroitly addresses this scene: “For all his nineteenth-century intelligence, Hank spoils the banquet that would celebrate the ultimate truth about labor and wages: the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor” (104). Also found in the same aptly titled Chapter 33, “Sixth-Century Political Economy,” are hints of Twain delving into almost purely socialistic ideas with the description of modern labor unions and a debate over minimum-wage. The detailed and explicit style of this chapter could well be Twain’s personal “manifesto” on such issues.
Twain sneaks enterprising ideals into A Connecticut Yankee from beginning of the book. This is exemplified, as Richard Slotkin states in Mark Twain’s Frontier, Hank Morgan’s Last Stand, by Hank’s insistence on the knight’s adopting advertising banners for hygienic items aimed a general populous which neither reads nor uses the products (121). Slotkin sees the political agenda of Twain as “meant to contrast the progressive spirit of nineteenth-century American values with the regressive ideologies of traditional aristocracy, political monarchism, and established religion” (121). Even such ironies as a newspaper to an essentially illiterate population sprout from Hank’s dually fueled fire of socialistic well-meaning and capitalistic greed. The eventual self-destruction of what has come to be an ideal political state is comes from this dueling sense of duty. When Hank destroys the factories and, in a sense, civilization, he does so in an effort to save what is left of the country from what were originally created for its well being. David R. Sewell suggests Hank as either a “progressive hero [. . .] sabotaged by reactionary forces” or “an authoritarian, proto-fascist,” both connote his total influence on that era due mainly to his radically reformative capitalistic ideologies (Sewell 142).
It is no mystery how Twain’s life, especially his childhood along the Mississippi River, evolved and revolved around the issue of slavery. Critics have long debated the ambiguity of Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn and A Connecticut Yankee offers similar room for debate.Twain devotes four chapters to the enslavement and eventual freedom of Hank and a disguised King Arthur. “Slaves! The word had a new sound – and how unspeakably awful!” cries Hank upon the decree that both he and the king are to become the property of someone else (319). The ensuing pages relate the horrors the pair face as stories and ideas of slavery “take a meaning, get to be very vivid, when you come to apply them to yourself” (319). Once Hank has been subjected to the inhumane existence of a slave he demands that the king abolish slavery upon their rescue. This comes as an open renunciation of slavery, especially for those who have witnessed the atrocities that accompany it firsthand, yet also hints toward in ignorance-based excuse for proponents of slavery.
Twain’s personal experience growing up in the South no doubt molded his conception of the evils of slavery, yet also afforded him the ability to honestly and objectively look at the issue from the other side, without coming to agree with it. Perhaps, in a Marxist perspective, Twain’s continual use of slavery as an issue in his works, throughout A Connecticut Yankee and beyond, represents his inner-struggle with the issue himself. “He seemed to think that both the human situation and the humans who could do nothing about it left nearly everything to be desired” (Schmitter 7). Of all the issues touched upon in this paper, none is as blatantly attacked as the age-old scapegoat, organized religion. Hank Morgan, from the beginning, openly decries the “concentrated power” and “political machine” that Catholic Church (160) and later his “project” to “overthrow the Catholic Church and set up the Protestant faith on its ruins–not as an Established Church” (365). “I was afraid of a united Church it makes a mighty power, the mightiest conceivable, and then when it by-and-by gets into selfish hands, as it is always bound to do, it means death to human liberty, and paralysis to human thought” (102). Twain was not tinkering with novel ideas behind the mask of Morgan. It is well documented that he was opposed to powerful, organized religion and such a quote could have as easily been taken from his personal notes. In fact, Smith writes, “A reviewer of A Connecticut Yankee for the Edinburgh Scots Observer called the book a Îlecture’ in dispraise of monarchic institutions and religious establishments as the roots of all evil” (73). Twain’s attack on established religion was not all-encompassing. In fact, he gives a slightly compassionate nod toward those earnest members of religious groups, specifically some priests of that era: “Not all priests were frauds and self-seekers, but that many, even the great majority, of these that were down on the ground among the common people, were sincere and right hearted and devoted to the alleviation of human troubles and suffering” (160). Hank also speaks approvingly of a fragmented, non-denominational Protestant “go-as-you-please” style church (365). However, the overall tone is clear: The separation of church and state is essential in maintaining the freedom of the individual.
Ironically, Hank’s downfall is due in a big part to the scheming of the Church, the very organization he so openly opposed, and the Interdict it decrees throughout the land. Hank Morgan’s industrialization of sixth-century England can be treated as both symbolic of progress and characteristic of corrupt imperialism. Hank’s determination to shift national focus from religion and superstition toward technology is either an amazing venture in capitalism or simply a repackaged, fiscally sound “opiate of the masses.” Mark Twain’s roots in the South show through as he jabs at all things aristocratically established, from religion to slavery. In a sense, “A Connecticut Yankee could be taken as the expression of an international crusade for democracy,” with a support for both industrialization and free enterprise (Smith 76). However, Twain’s personal experiences give away the cautionary tone toward such a generalization of his outlook towards humanity, which, if A Connecticut Yankee serves as an archetype for the human race, appears dismally accurate.
Baldanza, Frank. “Connecticut Yankee.” Mark Twain: A Collection of Criticism. Ed. Dean Morgan Schmitter. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. 117-121.
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 1995.
Fulton, Joe B. Mark Twain’s Ethical Realism: The Aesthetics of Race, Class, and Gender. Columbia and London: U of Missouri P, 1997.
Kaplan, Justin. Introduction. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. By Mark Twain. London: Penguin, 1986. 9-23.
Schmitter, Dean Morgan, ed. “Introduction: Mark Twain and the Pleasures of Pessimism.” New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. 1-8.
Sewell, David R. “Hank Morgan and the Colonization of Utopia.” Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994. 140-149.
Slotkin, Richard. “Mark Twain’s Frontier, Hank Morgan’s Last Stand.” Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994. 113-128.
Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain’s Fable of Progress: Political and Economic Ideas in “A Connecticut Yankee.” New Jersey: Rutgers UP, 1964.
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. London: Penguin, 1986.
Webster’s New World Dictionary. College Ed. Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Company, 1958.
King Arthur: five men who made up the legendary Dark Ages king
The fabled lord of Camelot may be a figure of folklore, but there are elements of truth to his legend. Archaeologist and historian Miles Russell says that King Arthur is a composite of five Dark Age characters
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Published: July 27, 2020 at 11:30 am
From marrying ‘Guinevere’ to his invasion of Gaul, many of the landmark events in the King Arthur story may have happened – but to other people. Here, archaeologist and historian Miles Russell reveals the five key characters whose lives have been absorbed into the Arthurian story.
The character of King Arthur, the heroic leader, gradually evolved in oral tradition as people celebrated and commemorated the very real fifth-century warlord Ambrosius Aurelianus. Aurelianus was “a gentleman”, the sixth-century writer Gildas assures us, being “one of the last of the Romans” whose parents had undoubtedly “worn the purple”. Wearing the purple was a euphemism for being emperor, the clothing dye being so expensive that it was reserved for the leader of state.
The fact that Gildas describes Aurelianus’s parents in this way suggests that they possessed significant authority, probably as fourth-century usurpers or rebel emperors holding power in Britain. Gildas notes that Aurelianus was a successful general, defeating Saxon armies on many occasions, the greatest victory being the siege of Mount Badon. Unfortunately, we don’t know who was besieging whom, nor indeed where ‘Mount Badon’ was (although Geoffrey of Monmouth later claims it was at Bath), but it was clearly a major engagement and was much celebrated, later becoming a key moment in Arthur’s career.
By the ninth century, it is clear that the historical Aurelianus and the legendary Arthur were already starting to take different paths. In the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) compiled by Nennius, ‘Arthur’ has acquired a number of battles, chief among which was Aurelianus’s victory at Mount Badon.
Nennius also tells us that Aurelianus was fighting British enemies, worst of which was King Guorthigirnus (Vortigern), the man who first invited the Saxons to Britain. Geoffrey of Monmouth (who calls his hero Aurelius Ambrosius), says that Vortigern tried to hide in “the castle of Genoriu” but was besieged there, dying as his fortress burnt around him. Having defeated the tyrant, Ambrosius Aurelianus established himself as master of Britain, rebuilding London in the process. In a grand ceremony, staged within Stonehenge, Aurelianus was crowned king.
Interestingly, archaeological evidence suggests that the internal bluestone setting at Stonehenge was modified in the post-Roman period. By the time Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote down the coronation story, it was the great sarsens of Stonehenge that were transported to Salisbury Plain from Ireland (with help from the wizard Merlin).
Camelot: where was King Arthur’s court and castle?
Camelot, the legendary court and castle of King Arthur, was a peerless seat of chivalry. If it did exist, where might it have been built?
Arvirargus, or Togodumnus, was a British king from the first century AD who, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, joined forces with the Roman emperor Claudius to subjugate the Orkneys. Returning home, Arvirargus married the Roman lady Gewissa, a ‘great beauty’. In the Historia, Arthur joined forces with Hoel to subjugate Ireland before returning home to marry Ganhumara, a ‘great beauty’.
Constantine (later ‘Constantine the Great’) was proclaimed emperor by his men at York in AD 306. Taking troops from Britain and Gaul, he marched on Rome, killing the western emperor Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, before defeating the eastern emperor Licinius 12 years later. Much of his campaign, from York to Rome, is later mirrored in that of Arthur.
In AD 383, Magnus Maximus, a Roman officer in Britain, was illegally proclaimed emperor. Determined to capture Rome, Maximus took an army to Gaul where he fought and killed the emperor Gratian. Later, in the Historia Regum Britanniae, Arthur, determined to capture Rome, takes an army to Gaul where he fights and kills the emperor Lucius Hiberius.
A warrior king from the first century BC, Cassivellaunus refused to pay tribute to Rome, only to see his kingdom attacked. On the verge of defeating the Roman army, Cassivellaunus was betrayed by his treacherous nephew, Mandubracius. Later, in the Historia, we hear that Arthur, refusing to pay tribute to Rome, sees his kingdom attacked. On the verge of defeating the Roman army, he is betrayed by his treacherous nephew Mordred.
Dr Miles Russell is a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman archaeology at Bournemouth University and author of Arthur and the Kings of Britain: the Historical Truth Behind the Myths (Amberley Publishing, 2017)
What Is the Best Book to Read About King Arthur?
Despite the debate on whether King Arthur was a real person, the stories awaken children’s minds to the wonders of truth, heroism, and goodness. And the timeless truths in the stories also add to its appeal for all ages.
If you want to add some classic Arthurian legend to your reading list, we’ve compiled a few that will surely delight you:
Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff published Sword at Sunset in 1963, interpreting the legend of King Arthur for adults. Cutting through and removing the many pagan, medieval, and early Christian mythological aspects, she tells a realistic, historical version of the man who possibly could have been the real King Arthur.
Sutcliff wrote the novel in a first-person point of view, exploring the thoughts and feelings of Artos the Bear, a mighty king who defended Western civilization from barbarian attacks in the fifth century. The book opens with Artos recalling different scenes from his life while lying near death.
She effectively describes the battles that Arthur waged. Her use of old Welsh names instead of the traditional names in the Arthurian legend helps the reader feel more immersed in the story.
Other than Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff also wrote a King Arthur trilogy for children, which contains the following books: The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table Light Beyond the Forest and Road to Camlann.
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, also offered his own take on the magical tale of King Arthur. His The Fall of Arthur is a book in verse about King Arthur’s last campaign.
While Arthur stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, he receives news of Mordred’s treachery. He realizes he needs to head back to Britain and rally his troops.
Despite his weakened spirit from Guinevere’s infidelity, Arthur has to lead his knights in one last battle against Mordred and his army.
Although the poem is unfinished, the passionate and powerful imagery clearly proves Tolkien’s unrivaled gift of storytelling.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
Published in 1953, Roger Lancelyn Green’s version of the King Arthur legend may well be considered a children’s book. However, adults can also enjoy this book as a great introduction to the legend.
Green collected the many legends about King Arthur and wove them into a single story, with a logical beginning, middle, and ending.
He starts the book with the story of the sword in the stone, which the young Arthur successfully—and surprisingly—pulls out. This sets him on track to become the rightful king.
The story then moves on to Arthur’s inviting the best knights of England to sit at the round table he constructed. As more knights come to join the Round Table, Green tells each of their adventures.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
T.H. White is another master who retells the story of King Arthur. The book opens with Wart, a young boy whom the magician Merlin is tutoring for an unimaginable future: over time, this boy will grow up to lead the greatest group of knights, marry a legendary lady, and unify a country with the values of chivalry.
This boy will be crowned as Arthur, legendary King of the Britons.
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
The Crystal Cave takes a different perspective of the King Arthur story by following the life of the illegitimate child of a Welsh princess: the boy who would grow up to be known as Merlin the magician.
Stewart portrays Merlin’s childhood as a perilous series of visions and inexplicable portents. But his journey takes him to prophesying before Vortigern, the High King, to crowning Uther Pendragon and eventually to identifying Arthur and serving as the king’s most trusted adviser.
The Lost Years by T.A. Barron
Another book that explores the Arthur legend through the eyes of Merlin, T.A. Barron’s The Lost Years starts off with a forgotten boy washed ashore in ancient Wales.
The little orphan boy struggles to learn who he is, and his quest leads him to the enchanted land of Camelot.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is Mark Twain’s satirical account of an Arthurian legend. The story begins with the miraculous time travel of a regular American back to the time of King Arthur.
Twain explores how medieval customs and traditions would look to a modern-day American. The first-person narrative by factory supervisor Hank Morgan is amusing, and often downright hilarious. The suspense of the scenes when Morgan needs to save his own life keeps readers glued to the pages.
However, despite the comic nature of this classic, Twain also deals with issues of the divide between the rich and the poor, the typical fear of progress and science dominant during that time, and other detrimental beliefs.
Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey
Another interesting perspective to explore in the King Arthur story is that of his wife, Guinevere. Mercedes Lackey successfully writes a story about the legendary queen, using the old Welsh name Gwenhwyfar.
The author writes about the future that Gwenhwyfar must choose: either the path of the Blessing, or the Warrior. The King’s daughter chooses the path of the Warrior, which is rarer, and eventually submits to becoming Arthur’s queen.
This decision opens her up to unexpected temptation, treachery, love, intrigue, and redemption.
The Forever King by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy
Bestselling authors Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy write an interesting twist on the story of King Arthur. The book starts with a 10-year-old boy, who coincidentally is also called Arthur, finding a strange cup that turns out to be the Holy Grail.
The antique cup takes him, its appointed guardian, on a journey through space and time, where Arthur needs to protect it from evil forces and a madman who is after the Grail’s unsurpassed power.
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
Howard Pyle’s novel published in 1903 is a great collection of stories in the legend of King Arthur and His Knights. This enthralling rendition has delighted adults and children alike over several generations.
Renowed storyteller Pyle magically transports us back to the enchanting medieval age, beginning with Arthur’s adventure as he draws the magical sword from the rock and following his journey to love and betrayal.
Arthur suffers treachery in the hands of Morgana le Fay, and sadly witnesses the tragic end of his adviser and friend, Merlin the magician.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
This unique retelling shares King Arthur’s story through the perspective of the women who helped him rise to power—and who plotted his fall.
Marion Zimmer Bradley expertly takes us through the childhood and fulfillment of these women’s destinies. These include the struggles between Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar and Viviane and Merlin, bringing the classic tale to new light before us.
The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
This first volume of Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles shows the writer’s prowess in presenting the age-old familiar tales in a fresh way.
The story begins with Arthur banished and Merlin gone, and a child-king sits on the throne with no one to protect him.
Arthur returns to this desperate Dark Age Britain, fighting to keep a shred of civilization in this world immersed in barbaric customs.
The Skystone by Jack Whyte
Jack Whyte explores the story before Arthur came to be: he opens the scene to a dark and deadly Britain, ravaged by warring tribes of Saxons, Celts, and Picts.
He unpacks the choices that the Roman citizens had to face: relocating to a foreign land, or staying and facing the madness amidst the wars.
The author then zooms in on two Romans who decide to stay and fight for the best of the Roman people—who later forge the sword known as Excalibur and live to become the great-grandfathers of the legendary King Arthur.
Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie
The enigmatic character of Guinevere renders the most sorrowful blow that can befall the great King Arthur. In her novel, Nancy McKenzie delves into the life and heart of this legendary queen.
From a prophecy of doom right in her childhood, she is given her destiny as gwenhwyfar: the white shadow symbolizing betrayal. Guinevere grows up to be an unusual beauty, and the rich tales of the courageous Arthur attract her and lead to their marriage.
This book shows us the tapestry of emotions that Guinevere faces that eventually lead to her downfall.
The name "Merlin" is derived from the Welsh Myrddin, the name of the bard who was one of the chief sources for the later legendary figure. Geoffrey of Monmouth Latinised the name to Merlinus in his works. Medievalist Gaston Paris suggests that Geoffrey chose the form Merlinus rather than the expected *Merdinus to avoid a resemblance to the Anglo-Norman word merde (from Latin merda) for feces.  A more plausible suggestion is that 'Merlin' is an adjective and that consequently we should be speaking of "The Merlin", from the French merle meaning 'blackbird',  : 79 or that the 'many names' deriving from Myrddin stem from the Welsh: myrdd: myriad.  
Clas Myrddin or Merlin's Enclosure is an early name for Great Britain stated in the Third Series of Welsh Triads.  Celticist A. O. H. Jarman suggests that the Welsh name Myrddin (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈmərðin] ) was derived from the toponym Caerfyrddin, the Welsh name for the town known in English as Carmarthen.  This contrasts with the popular folk etymology that the town was named after the bard. The name Carmarthen is derived from the town's previous Roman name Moridunum,   in turn derived from Celtic Brittonic moridunon, 'sea fortress'. 
Geoffrey and his sources Edit
Geoffrey's composite Merlin is based mostly on the poet and seer Myrddin Wyllt, also known as "Myrddin the Wild" (or Merlinus Caledonensis in later sources influenced by Geoffrey). He was also inspired by Emrys (Old Welsh: Embreis), a character based in part on the 5th-century historical war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was mentioned in one of Geoffrey's primary sources, the early 9th-century Historia Brittonum.  In British poetry, Myrddin was a bard driven mad after witnessing the horrors of war, who fled civilization to become a wild man of the wood in the 6th century.  This madman, also known as Lailoken, has parallels with the Irish Suibhne (Sweeney),  : 58 roams the Caledonian Forest, until cured of his madness by Kentigern (Saint Mungo). Geoffrey had Myrddin in mind when he wrote his earliest surviving work, the Prophetiae Merlini ("Prophecies of Merlin", c. 1130), which he claimed were the actual words of the legendary poet, however revealing little about Merlin's background.
Geoffrey included the prophet in his next work, Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). He supplemented his characterisation by attributing to Merlin stories concerning Aurelius Ambrosius, taken from Nennius' Historia Brittonum. In Nennius' account, Ambrosius was discovered when the British king Vortigern attempted to erect a tower at Dinas Emrys. More than once, the tower collapsed before completion. Vortigen's wise men advised him that the only solution was to sprinkle the foundation with the blood of a child born without a father. Ambrosius was rumoured to be such a child. When brought before the king, Ambrosius revealed that below the foundation of the tower was a lake containing two dragons, battling into each other (this represents the struggle between the invading Saxons and the native Celtic Britons). Geoffrey retold the story in his Historia Regum Britanniæ with some embellishments, and gives the fatherless child the name of the prophetic bard Merlin. He went on to add new episodes that tie Merlin with King Arthur and his predecessors. Geoffrey kept this new character separate from Aurelius Ambrosius and stated that Ambrosius was also called "Merlin", therefore Ambrosius Merlinus.
Geoffrey's account of Merlin Ambrosius' early life is based on the tale of Ambrosius in the Historia Brittonum. He added his own embellishments to the tale, which he set in Carmarthen, Wales (Welsh: Caerfyrddin). While Nennius' Ambrosius eventually reveals himself to be the son of a Roman consul, Geoffrey's Merlin is begotten on a king's daughter by an incubus demon. The name of Merlin's mother is not usually stated, but is given as Adhan in the oldest version of the Prose Brut.  The story of Vortigern's tower is the same the underground dragons, one white and one red, represent the Saxons and the Britons, and their final battle is a portent of things to come. At this point Geoffrey inserted a long section of Merlin's prophecies, taken from his earlier Prophetiae Merlini. He told two further tales of the character. In the first, Merlin creates Stonehenge as a burial place for Aurelius Ambrosius, bringing the stones from Ireland. [note 2] In the second, Merlin's magic enables the new British king Uther Pendragon to enter into Tintagel Castle in disguise and to father his son Arthur with his enemy's wife, Igerna (Igraine). These episodes appear in many later adaptations of Geoffrey's account. As Lewis Thorpe notes, Merlin disappears from the narrative subsequently. He does not tutor and advise Arthur as in later versions. 
Geoffrey dealt with Merlin again in his third work, Vita Merlini (1150). He based it on stories of the original 6th-century Myrddin, set long after his time frame for the life of Merlin Ambrosius. Geoffrey asserts that the characters and events of Vita Merlini are the same as told in the Historia Regum Britanniae. Here, Merlin survives the reign of Arthur, about the fall of whom he is told by Taliesin. Merlin spends a part of his life as a madman in the woods and marries a woman named Guendoloena (inspired by the male Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio).  : 44 He eventually retires to observing stars from his esplumoir [fr] , a house with seventy windows in the remote woods of Rhydderch. There, he is often visited by Taliesin and by his own sister Ganieda (based on Myrddin's sister Gwenddydd), who has become queen of the Cumbrians and is also endowed with prophetic powers.
Nikolai Tolstoy hypothesized that Merlin is based on a historical personage, probably a 6th-century druid living in southern Scotland. His argument was based on the fact that early references to Merlin describe him as possessing characteristics which modern scholarship (but not that of the time the sources were written) would recognize as druidical, the inference being that those characteristics were not invented by the early chroniclers, but belonged to a real person.  If so, the hypothetical Merlin would have lived about a century after the hypothetical historical Arthur. A late version of the Annales Cambriae (dubbed the "B-text", written at the end of the 13th century) and influenced by Geoffrey,  records for the year 573, that after "the battle of Arfderydd, between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio in which battle Gwenddolau fell Merlin went mad." The earliest version of the Annales Cambriae entry (in the "A-text", written c. 1100), as well as a later copy (the "C-text", written towards the end of the 13th century) do not mention Merlin.  Myrddin/Merlin furthermore shares similarities with the shamanic bard figure of Taliesin, alongside whom he appears in the Welsh Triads and in Vita Merlini. Clas Myrddin is also one of the early names for Great Britain given in the Welsh Triads.
Later developments Edit
Sometime around the turn of the next century, Robert de Boron retold and expanded on this material in Merlin, an Old French poem presenting itself as the story of Merlin's life as told by Merlin himself to the author. Only a few lines of what is believed to be the original text have survived, but a more popular prose version had a great influence on the emerging genre of Arthurian-themed chivalric romance. In Robert's account, as in Geoffrey's Historia, Merlin is created as a demon spawn, but here explicitly to become the Antichrist intended to reverse the effect of the Harrowing of Hell. [note 3] This infernal plot is thwarted when a priest named Blaise [fr] (who is also figuring in the text as the supposedly "actual" author, decades later writing down Merlin's own words in a third-person narration) is contacted by the child's mother. Blaise immediately baptizes the boy at birth, thus freeing him from the power of Satan and his intended destiny.  The demonic legacy invests Merlin (already able to speak fluently even as a newborn) with a preternatural knowledge of the past and present, which is supplemented by God, who gives the boy a prophetic knowledge of the future. The text lays great emphasis on Merlin's power to shapeshift, on his joking personality, and on his connection to the Holy Grail, the quest for which he foretells. Inspired by Wace's Roman de Brut, an Anglo-Norman adaptation of Geoffrey's Historia, Merlin was originally a part of a cycle of Robert's poems telling the story of the Grail over the centuries. The narrative of Merlin is largely based on Geoffrey's familiar tale of Vortigern's Tower, Uther's war against the Saxons, and Arthur's conception. What follows is a new episode of the young Arthur's drawing of the sword from the stone,  an event orchestrated by Merlin. Merlin also earlier instructs Uther to establish the original order of the Round Table, after creating the table itself. The prose version of Robert's poem was then continued in the 13th-century Merlin Continuation or the Suite de Merlin, describing King Arthur's early wars and Merlin's role in them as he predicts and influences the course of battles.  [note 4] He also helps Arthur in other ways, including providing him with the magic sword Excalibur through a Lady of the Lake. Here, Merlin's shapeshifting powers are also featured prominently. [note 5]
The extended prose rendering became the foundation for the vast Lancelot-Grail cyclical series of Old French prose works also known as the Vulgate Cycle. Eventually, it was directly incorporated into the Vulgate Cycle as the Estoire de Merlin, also known as the Vulgate Merlin or the Prose Merlin. A further reworking and continuation of the Prose Merlin was included within the subsequent Post-Vulgate Cycle as the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin or the Huth Merlin. All these variants have been adapted and translated into several other languages, and further modified. Notably, the Post-Vulgate Suite (along with an earlier version of the Prose Merlin) was the main source for the opening part of Thomas Malory's English-language compilation work Le Morte d'Arthur that formed a now-iconic version of the legend. Compared to his French sources, Malory limited the extent of the negative association of Merlin and his powers, relatively rarely being condemned as demonic by other characters such as King Lot.  Conversely, Merlin seems to be inherently evil in the so-called non-cyclic Lancelot, where he was born as the "fatherless child" from not a supernatural rape of a virgin but a consensual union between a lustful demon and an unmarried beautiful young lady, and was never baptized.   The Prose Lancelot further relates that, after growing up in the borderlands between Scotland (Pictish lands) and Ireland (Argyll), Merlin "possessed all the wisdom that can come from demons, which is why he was so feared by the Bretons and so revered that everyone called him a holy prophet and the ordinary people all called him their god." 
Later medieval works also deal with the Merlin legend, including through unusual stories such as Le Roman de Silence.  As the Arthurian myths were retold, Merlin's prophetic aspects were sometimes de-emphasised in favour of portraying him as a wizard and an advisor to the young Arthur, sometimes in struggle between good and evil sides of his character, and living in deep forests connected with nature. Through his ability to change his shape, he may appear as a "wild man" figure evoking that of his prototype Myrddin Wyllt,  as a civilized man of any age, or even as a talking animal.  [note 6] In the Perceval en prose (also known as the Didot Perceval and too attributed to Robert), where Merlin is the initiator of the Grail Quest, he eventually retires by turning himself into a bird. In the Vulgate Cycle's version of Merlin, his acts include arranging consummation of Arthur's desire for "the most beautiful maiden ever born," Lady Lisanor of Cardigan, resulting in the birth of Arthur's illegitimate son Lohot from before the marriage to Guinevere.   But fate cannot always be changed: the Post-Vulgate Cycle has Merlin warn Arthur of how the birth of his other son will bring great misfortune and ruin to his kingdom, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Eventually, long after Merlin is gone, his advice to dispose of the baby Mordred through an event evoking the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents leads to the deaths of many, among them Arthur.
The earliest English verse romance concerning Merlin is Of Arthour and of Merlin, which drew from the chronicles and the Vulgate Cycle. In English-language medieval texts that conflate Britain with the Kingdom of England, the Anglo-Saxon enemies against whom Merlin aids first Uther and then Arthur tend to be replaced by the Saracens  or simply just invading pagans. The Prophéties de Merlin (c. 1276) contains long prophecies of Merlin (mostly concerned with 11th to 13th-century Italian history and contemporary politics), some by his ghost after his death, interspersed with episodes relating Merlin's deeds and with assorted Arthurian adventures in which Merlin does not appear at all. Even more political Italian text was Joachim of Fiore's Expositio Sybillae et Merlini, directed against Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor whom the author regarded as the Antichrist. The earliest Merlin text in German was Caesarius of Heisterbach's Dialogus Miraculorum (1220), originally in Latin. Ulrich Füetrer's 15th-century Buch der Abenteuer presents Merlin as Uter's father, effectively making his grandson Arthur a part-devil too. Some of the many Welsh works predicting the Celtic revenge and victory over the Saxons have been reinterpreted as Merlin's (Myrddin's) prophecies, and later used by propaganda of the Welsh-descent king Henry VIII of England in the 16th century. The House of Tudor, which traced their lineage directly to Arthur, interpreted the prophecy of King Arthur's return figuratively as concerning their ascent to the throne of England that they sought to legitimise following the Wars of the Roses. 
Tales of Merlin's end Edit
In chivalric romance tradition, Merlin has a major weakness that leads him to his relatively early doom: young beautiful women of femme fatale archetype. His apprentice is often Arthur's half-sister Morgan le Fay (in the Prophéties de Merlin along with Sebile and two other witch queens), who is sometimes depicted as Merlin's lover  and sometimes as just an unrequited love interest. [note 7] While Merlin does share his magic with them, his prophetic powers cannot be passed on. Contrary to the many modern works in which they are archenemies, Merlin and Morgan are never opposed to each other in any medieval tradition, other than Morgan forcibly rejecting him in some texts in fact, his love for Morgan is so great that he even lies to the king in order to save her in the Huth Merlin, which is the only instance of him ever intentionally misleading Arthur.  [note 8] Instead, Merlin's eventual undoing comes from his lusting after another of his female students, named Viviane (among other names and spellings, including Malory's popular Nimue) also called a fairy (French fee) like Morgan, Viviane is first found in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, having been inserted into the legend by either de Boron or his continuator. Merlin's fate of either demise or eternal imprisonment, along with his destroyer or captor's motivation (from her fear of Merlin and protecting her own virginity, to her jealously for his relationship with Morgan), is recounted differently in variants of this motif but is usually placed within the enchanted forest of Brocéliande. [note 9] The form of his prison or grave can be variably a crystal cave, a hole under a large rock (as in Le Morte d'Arthur), a magic tower, or a tree.  In some texts, including in Le Morte d'Arthur, she then replaces Merlin in the role of Arthur's court mage and adviser as a Lady of the Lake (the chief Lady in case of Malory's Nimue) following the 'last enchantement'.  Malory's telling of this episode would later become a major inspiration for Romantic authors and artists of the 19th century. [note 10]
There are many different versions of their story. Common themes in most of them include Merlin usually having the prior prophetic knowledge of her plot against him (one exception is the Spanish Post-Vulgate Baladro where his ability is dampened by lust  ), but lacking either ability or will to counteract it in any way, along with her usually using one of his own spells against him. Niniane, as the Lady is known in the Livre d'Artus continuation of Merlin, breaks his heart prior to his later second relationship with Morgan, but here the text actually does not tell how exactly Merlin did vanish, other than relating his farewell to Blaise. In the Post-Vulgate Suite, the young King Bagdemagus manages to find the rock under which Merlin is entombed alive by Niviene he communicates with Merlin, but cannot lift it. What follows next is supposedly narrated in the mysterious text Conte del Brait (Tale of the Cry). [note 11] In the Prophéties de Merlin version, his tomb is unsuccessfully searched for by various parties, including by Morgan and her enchantresses, but cannot be accessed due to the deadly magic traps around it,  while the Lady of the Lake comes to taunt Merlin by asking did he rot there yet.  In the Vulgate Lancelot, which predated the later Vulgate Merlin, she (aged just 12 at the time) instead makes Merlin sleep forever in a pit in the forest of Darnantes, "and that is where he remained, for never again did anyone see or hear of him or have news to tell of him."  In a version with a happier ending, contained within the Premiers Faits section of the Livre du Graal, Niniane peacefully confines him in Brocéliande with walls of air, visible only as a mist to others but as a beautiful yet unbreakable crystal tower to him (however Merlin's disembodied voice can escape his air prison, as he does speak to Gawain  ), where they then spend almost every night together.  Besides evoking the final scenes from Vita Merlini, this one shares similarities with reverse scenarios in other works, where either Merlin himself is an object of one-sided desire by an amorous sorceress who plots to trap him or it is him who traps an unwilling lover. [note 12]
The legendary Brocéliande is often identified as the real-life Paimpont forest in Brittany.  Other purported sites of Merlin's burial include a cave deep inside Merlin's Hill (Welsh: Bryn Myrddin), outside Carmarthen. Carmarthen is also associated with Merlin more generally, including through the 13th-century manuscript known as the Black Book of Carmarthen and the local lore of Merlin's Oak. In North Welsh tradition, Merlin retires to Bardsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Enlli), where he lives in a house of glass (Welsh: Tŷ Gwydr) with the Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain (Welsh: Tri Thlws ar Ddeg Ynys Prydain).  : 200 One site of his tomb is said to be Marlborough Mound in Wiltshire,  known in medieval times as Merlebergia. [note 13] Another site associated with Merlin's burial, in his 'Merlin Silvestris' aspect, is the confluence of the Pausalyl Burn and River Tweed in Drumelzier, Scotland. The 15th-century Scotichronicon tells that Merlin himself underwent a triple-death, at the hands of some shepherds of the under-king Meldred: stoned and beaten by the shepherds, he falls over a cliff and is impaled on a stake, his head falls forward into the water, and he drowns. [note 14] The fulfilment of another prophecy, ascribed to Thomas the Rhymer, came about when a spate of the Tweed and Pausayl occurred during the reign of the Scottish James VI and I on the English throne: "When Tweed and Pausayl meet at Merlin's grave, / Scotland and England one king shall have."  : 62
Merlin and stories involving him have continued to be popular from the Renaissance to the present day, especially since the renewed interest in the legend of Arthur in modern times. As noted by Arthurian scholar Alan Lupack, "numerous novels, poems and plays centre around Merlin. In American literature and popular culture, Merlin is perhaps the most frequently portrayed Arthurian character."  Diverting from his traditional role in the legends, Merlin is sometimes portrayed as a villain, as in Mark Twain's humorous novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). 
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Arthuriana Summer 2020
Here are the contents for the Summer 2021 number of Arthuriana. It offers a good balance of scholarship on medieval and modern texts, including an updated look on film by Kevin J. Harty.
As usual, the articles can be accessed by subscribers on the journal website and to researchers on Project MUSE.
Annie Lee Narver
At the end of the Western Roman Empire there were two revolts against Rome organized by strong leaders who were based in or came from Britain. The first of these was Magnus Maximus of the late fourth century, and then there was Constantine III in the early fifth century. Both of these ‘British’ kings became emperor of Rome for a short while, but their revolts ultimately failed and they were executed.
Several venerable British historians recorded the events of these tumultuous times, including Gildas, Bede and Nennius. But none of these chroniclers said anything about the classical King Arthur, because he never existed in this era and in this region. The one or two one-sentence references we have to a warrior Arthur were actually talking about a heroic semi-divine Hercules figure, who was supposed to come to the aid of an army in its time of need. This is why Nennius records that a warlord called Arthur was involved in twelve great battles, because these were hazy recollections of the twelve labors of Hercules and therefore symbolic of the precessional zodiac.
The Boy's King Arthur : the death of Arthur and Mordred ( Public Domain )
This threadbare Arthurian history, if one can call these few moth-eaten strands a history of Arthur, takes us all the way through to the beginning of the 12th century. And perhaps it is worth reinforcing this fact. The classical story of King Arthur is totally missing from the historical record for some 600 years. Until we reach the 12th century there is absolutely no classical King Arthur whatsoever. According to the many chroniclers of this era, he simply did not exist and this is the vast lacuna that any history of King Arthur must explain, before it can become regarded at true history. And yet it can be explained quite satisfactorily, if we open our eyes to the full spectrum of possibilities.
The Fate of Merlin
In most later tales, Merlin was still alive when Arthur became king. In Didot Perceval, he outlived Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in the final battle against Mordred. It was he who guided Perceval in the final stage of the quest for the Holy Grail. Merlin told Perceval that he would not die until the end of the world.
In a few tales, a maiden or a fay had trapped Merlin in an enchantment. The most famous was the Lady of the Lake. Again, there are few versions involving his death at the hand of the Lady of the Lake.
The Lady of the Lake was a powerful sorceress and the lady of Otherworldly realm, hidden by the illusionary lake. The Lady of the Lake was known by several other names, such as Niniane, Viviane and Nimue. Further confusion resulted when some author listed several women with title the Lady of the Lake.
The variation of names depends on the authors, but whatever her name was, the most important one was foster-mother of Lancelot and sorceress who had trapped Merlin in a enchantment. She appeared as either Niniane or Viviane in the Vulgate or Post-Vulgate cycles while in Morte d’Arthur, Malory called her Nimue.
In Vulgate Merlin, Niniane or Viviane, the Lady of the Lake had first met Merlin, when she was only twelve. She was amazed by the power of Merlin. She promised to love him if Merlin would teach her all his crafts. Years later, Merlin met Niniane again. Through subterfuge, Niniane seduced and used her magic to confine in a enchanted tower in which Merlin was powerless to leave, while the Lady could visit and leave the tower at will.
In Suite du Merlin (“Merlin’s Continuation”, 1240) and Malory’s Book IV of Le Morte d’Arthur (1469), Merlin met and had fallen in love with the Lady of the Lake named Niniane (or Viviane, while Malory called her Nimue), after Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding. Niniane did not like Merlin at all, because she thought that the wizard was the son of a devil.
Niniane should not be confused with the Lady of the Lake, who gave Excalibur to Arthur, because Balin had murdered her in the king’s early reign. See New Sword and Balin about the other Lady of the Lake.
She used Merlin’s love, so that he would teach her his magic. In return, for the lessons in magic, Niniane offered to return his love, was nothing more than a subterfuge to gain power to trap the wizard. Merlin had also built her home at Lake of Diana, within the forest of Broceliande, probably in Brittany. With his power, he hid her domain from mortal eyes, so that anyone who travelled by, would only see the lake instead of her home.
the Vita Merlini (“Life of Merlin”, c. 1152) were written by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Roman de Brut (“Story of Brutus”) was written by Wace, c. 1155.
Brut was written by Layamon, c. 1200.
Dido Perceval was written in 1210.
Vulgate Merlin or Prose Merlin was adaptation of Boron’s Merlin, c. 1210.
Suite de Merlin was part of Post Vulgate Cycle, c. 1240.
Le Morte d’Arthur was written by Thomas Malory, 1469.
Death of Merlin.
Nimue (Niniane) and Merlin
Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Book of King Arthur Edit
The first section in Pyle's The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, "The Book of King Arthur", contains three separate stories: "The Winning of Kinghood", "The Winning of a Sword", and "The Winning of a Queen".
The Winning of Kinghood Edit
Howard Pyle's version of the tales of King Arthur introduces the reader to Arthur as a child. Arthur, having been raised by foster parents, has no knowledge of his noble lineage. One day, young Arthur finds a sword and succeeds in pulling it out of an enchanted anvil, a task thought be impossible. Arthur, now bearing the magic sword, learns of his royal lineage and becomes King of Britain.
The Winning of a Sword Edit
King Arthur loses to his enemy King Pellinore and suffers many wounds. Merlin, a wizard, advises Arthur to seek Excalibur, a powerful sword. With the instructions provided by the Lady of the Lake, Arthur takes Excalibur. He then meets Pellinore again and defeats the king with Excalibur's magic. The two, thereafter, make amends and become friends.
The Winning of a Queen Edit
King Arthur is captivated by Lady Guinevere, the daughter of Arthur's friend King Leodegrance. In an attempt to win her love, Arthur visits Cameliard, the castle where Lady Guinevere lives. With Merlin's help, Arthur disguises himself as a peasant and works as a gardener below Lady Guinevere's tower.
King Ryence threatens Leodegrance and demands that the Duke of North Umber be allowed to marry Guinevere. The Duke torments the people of Cameliard by parading in front of the castle, calling for someone to challenge him. Arthur accepts the challenge and defeats the Duke. After his victory, Arthur travels through the country and encounters Sir Geraint, Sir Gawaine, Sir Ewaine, and Sir Pellias. Arthur defeats the knights in battle and demands their servitude.
Arthur, disguised as a peasant, returns to Cameliard, and is challenged again by the Duke. Arthur commands his new knights to obey to him and asks to be Guinevere's champion. Arthur and his knights defeat the Duke and his companions. After the battle, Arthur reveals himself to King Leodegrance and asks for the hand of his daughter.
The Book of Three Worthies Edit
The second section of Pyle's novel is separated into three stories: "The Story of Merlin", "The Story of Sir Pellias", and "The Story of Sir Gawain".
The Story of Merlin Edit
Merlin is bewitched by an aspiring young sorceress named Vivien, a friend of Queen Morgana le Fay, who is the sister of King Arthur. Morgana seeks revenge against Arthur because he did not choose her son Sir Baudemagus to be a member of the Round Table. Merlin teaches Vivien sorcery, but she uses Merlin's teachings to concoct a potion, which incapacitates Merlin. Merlin, shortly before his death, prophesizes that Arthur will encounter trouble, and the wizard's dying wish is for Vivien to save Arthur. Vivien proceeds to have Merlin buried alive but promises to aid King Arthur.
As Vivien works against Merlin, King Arthur and Sir Accalon are lost while hunting. Searching for their way out, the two see a ship coming to shore. The ship is run by fairies, who offer Arthur and Accalon a feast and rooms for the night. Arthur wakes a prisoner in the dungeon of Sir Domas le Noir, and the only way to escape is to battle against Sir Ontzlake, Sir Domas's brother. Accalon awakes in a strange place with a fair maiden. She asks him to fight for Sir Ontzlake against Sir Domas and offers Excalibur as a reward if he accepts.
Arthur and Accalon, not recognizing each other, fight a bloody and harsh battle. Near death, Vivien leads the men to a nunnery. Vivien is able to restore Arthur's health though he must rest for a while. When Arthur asks Vivien to treat Accalon, she lies, claiming she has no more of her concoction. Accalon dies from his wounds. Morgana steals the sheath of Excalibur while Arthur rests, and she drops the sheath back into the lake where it was found.
Once Arthur wakes, he is outraged he, Vivien, and his men search for Morgana. Morgana transforms herself into a rock, but Vivien recognizes her and begs Arthur to kill her. Arthur, however, forgives his sister, upsetting Vivien.
The Story of Sir Pellias Edit
While the queen, her court, and Sir Pellias are out maying, a damsel named Parcenet approaches them. The maiden explains that she comes to see if the queen is more beautiful than her Lady Ettard, who is reputed in her area to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Sir Pellias agrees to go to Grantmesnle, the home of Lady Ettard, to settle the matter with her knight Sir Engamore of Malverat.
As Parcenet and Sir Pellias journey to Grantmesnle, they venture into the legendary Forest of Adventure. There, the two find an old woman who asks for help crossing the stream. Sir Pellias helps the old woman onto his horse and passes through stream. The knight helps the old woman down from the horse, and she transforms into the Lady of the Lake. The Lady gives Pellias a beautiful magic necklace, which makes the wearer adored by all who see him. Under the spell of the necklace, Sir Pellias becomes deeply infatuated with Lady Ettard. However, Lady Ettard feels no love for Sir Pellias once he removes off the necklace. Sir Pellias humiliates himself with his unrequited affection.
The Lady of the Lake tells Sir Gawain to go to Grantmesnle and bring sense to Sir Pellias. Sir Pellias accepts his help, and they devise a plan, but Sir Gawaine is charmed by Lady Ettard. Sir Pellias and Sir Gawaine fight, wherein Pellias, although victorious, is wounded by Gawaine. Pellias, near death, is brought to the chapel of a healing hermit. The Lady of the Lake comes, takes the charmed necklace, and revives Pellias with a potion. Although Pellias is revived, he is no longer fully mortal the knight is half-mortal and half-fairy. The Lady of the Lake and Sir Pellias travel to their fairy city hidden on the lake where they are married.
The Tale of Sir Gawaine Edit
During a procession of King Arthur and his Court, the men see a dog pursuing a deer. Immediately after, the men see a knight and a lady attacked by another knight, who takes the woman captive. Upon King Arthur's request, Sir Gawaine and his brother go to discover the meaning of these events. Gawaine and his brother arrive at a castle where they see the dog killed. In a rage, Gawaine pursues the deer into the castle courtyard and kills it, believing that the dog died because it pursued the deer.
The lady of the castle is distressed over the deer's death, so Sir Ablamor, the lord of the castle, challenges Gawaine to a fight. Gawaine bests Ablamor but does not kill him. Because Gawaine shows him mercy, Ablamor invites Gawain to dine in his castle and explains the series of strange events. Sometime earlier, Ablamor's sister-in-law went riding with Ablamor's wife when the two women came across another woman: the sorceress Vivien. Vivien gave the two a dog and deer. The two animals created conflict between Sir Ablamor and his brother.
During the Court's procession, Lord Ablamor saw the dog chasing his wife's deer and became greatly angered. When Ablamor saw his brother and sister-in-law, Ablamor concluded that the pursuit of the deer was on purpose, struck his brother, and took his sister-in-law captive. Gawaine returns to King Arthur's court and relates these events to him.
Shortly after, King Arthur leaves, seeking adventure. Arthur and his esquire are lost in a forest and seek shelter in a castle. Arthur and his esquire meet an older knight who challenges King Arthur to see who could survive getting their head cut off. Arthur strikes first, and the older knight lives. The old knight says he will spare King Arthur's life if, after a year and a day, Arthur returns and answers a riddle.
A year and a day passes wherein King Arthur seeks in vain to an answer to the riddle, but he sets out to fulfill his promise. On the way, he meets an old woman who promises to tell him the answer to the riddle on the condition that she may marry a knight of his court. King Arthur agrees to the woman's condition and defeats the old knight. To keep his promise, King Arthur brings the woman to his court and allows her to choose a knight to marry. She chose Sir Gawaine, which is upsets the knight. After they marry, the woman tests Gawaine. When he proves to be a worthy knight, she reveals herself as the Lady of the Lake.
King Arthur is the central character in Pyle's novel, but several other characters are focused on in the novel as well as the literary criticism on Pyle's work. Queen Guinevere, Vivien, and Morgana le Fay are the main female characters within the stories, and the Lady of the Lake is also a character central to the plot. King Arthur's knights Sir Gawain and Sir Pelias are the two most involved in the overall series of events, with Merlin being another central male character.
Julie Nelson Couch, in the article "Howard Pyle's The Story of King Arthur and His Knights and the Bourgeois Boy Reader", writes of how Pyle's use of social status and gender perpetuate certain aspects of medieval literature as well as of bourgeois society. Couch touches on Pyle's use of positive character traits, such as bravery and morality, and their links to characters of high social standing. Couch also writes of Pyle's use of language and how certain terms in Pyle's writing are used to engage middle-class, young, male readers. 
Rather than simply retell the stories authored by Sidney Lanier, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Sir Thomas Malory, Pyle created new versions of the Arthurian tales, including different adventures, and implementing his own imagination to embellish the plots.  Pyle's writing of the Arthurian stories "[used] text and illustrations to complement one another . in the presentation of natural description".  Helmut Nickel, in his essay "Arms and Armor in Arthurian Films", called Pyle's illustrations "glorious", and worthy of use for inspiration for any Arthurian film. 
Pyle wrote several other books concerning King Arthur and his knights, including:
¿Quién votó al Rey Arturo? ¿Desde cuándo sacar una espada de un lago, o de una piedra, es razón suficiente para establecer un sistema totalitario?
NETFLIX NOS HA PAGADO POR VER MALDITA. EL PROBLEMA ES QUE ÍBAMOS A HABLAR DE LA SERIE IGUALMENTE, ASÍ QUE TODO A SALIDO A PEDIR DE MILHOUSE.
Cuonda es un proyecto nacido en el Tow Knight Center for Entrepeneurial Journalism en CUNY (City Unviersity of New York). Ha contado con el apoyo de un beca por parte de Google DNI Fund.