• My friend Christopher Berard’s book Arthurianism in Early Plantagenet England from Henry II to Edward I was published yesterday by the Boydell Press. It represents the “first full-scale account of the use of the Arthurian legend in the long twelfth century.”
The precedent of empire and the promise of return lay at the heart of King Arthur’s appeal in the Middle Ages. Both ideas found fullness of expression in the twelfth century: monarchs and magnates sought to recreate an Arthurian golden age that was as wondrous as the biblical and classical worlds, but less remote. Arthurianism, the practice of invoking and emulating the legendary Arthur of post-Roman Britain, was thus an instance of medieval medievalism.
This book provides a comprehensive history of the first 150 years of Arthurianism, from its beginnings under Henry II of England to a highpoint under Edward I. It contends that the Plantagenet kings of England mockingly ascribed a literal understanding of the myth of King Arthur’s return to the Brittonic Celts whilst adopting for themselves a figurative and typological interpretation of the myth. A central figure in this work is Arthur of Brittany (1187-1203), who, for more than a generation, was the focus of Arthurian hopes and their disappointment.
• At Medievally Speaking, Kevin Harty interprets the movie Aquaman as an Arthurian tale:
The Arthurian elements are established by the title character’s first name, and by a variation on the traditionally problematic or unusual Arthurian parentage: for Ygraine and Uther read Atlanna and Thomas. Aquaman, like Perceval in multiple versions of the Arthurian legend, initially defeats a knight in red armor—here, of course, a sea knight. While King Arthur’s last battle is usually with his illegitimate son Mordred, Aquaman’s last battle with his half-brother Orm is a close enough parallel. Mera is part Guinevere, part good Morgan le Fay. Vulko serves as Aquaman’s Merlin, and the Trident is, of course, the film’s Excalibur. Malory has it that “whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born.” In Aquaman, the ability to retrieve the Trident similarly guarantees who is “rightwise king born” of Atlantis. Aquaman’s interrogation by the Karathen at times recalls that of Arthur and his knights by Mighty Tim in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In John Boorman’s Excalibur, Arthur learns that the secret of the Grail is that the land and the king are one. In Aquaman, the title character declares that the land and the sea are one.