King Arthur for 2019

Tell the story
“Don’t let it be forgot”
— Arthur


Yet some men say
in many parts of England
that King Arthur is not dead
— Sir Thomas Mallory
(of Warwick?)

—————–——–Click here to download a PDF of this article:  King_Arthur_for_2019_May26_2019

In dark times, we humans tend to seek assistance from some form of intervention — perhaps a knight on a horse — to save us from dangers we can’t overcome on our own.  History is full of examples; and my personal favorite example is the legend of King Arthur.  At its core, the Arthurian legend promises that British greatness is secure as long as its royal heritage endures.  Several ancient sources contain the prophecy that the ‘Rightful King’ would reveal himself by pulling an enchanted sword from a stone.  In those stories, the sword, a sword named Excalibur, had been embedded in that stone under a spell that awaited a person with enough moral courage and wisdom (and, of course, physical strength) to remove the sword and save his people at a time of great danger.  In our most enduring source of Arthurian legend, Le Morte d’Artur (1485), Sir Thomas Mallory tells us that the prophecy said: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone, is rightwise king born of all England.”  When that ‘Rightful King’ shows up to remove the sword, they were assured that he would lead his people to victory and guarantee their long-term stability.  Arthur arrived on the scene to fulfill that prophecy in the sixth century.  Presumably, all of Britain’s history follows from that moment. For centuries, many storytellers have taken up the legend — recently Alfred Tennyson in Idylls of the King (in the 1860s), T.H. White in his popular book The Once and Future King (1958), and, of course, the Broadway musical Camelot by Lerner and Loewe (1960).  You’ve heard the story, right?

Most of the stories come to us from the 12th thru 15th centuries, with tales of chivalry, Knights of the Round Table, and a famous Camelot love triangle involving Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelet; but the real, historical Arthur — and there actually was one — arrived on the scene to remove the sword and save his comrades at the Battle of Camlann in 560 AD.  In that battle, Arthur, with the help of the sword, Excalibur, killed their enemy, Mordred, to achieve victory.  Unfortunately, accounts from that time record that Arthur was mortally wounded in that battle and was taken by the sorcerer Merlin to the Isle of Avalon to die.  Historically, most believe that he was buried in the churchyard at Glastonbury Abbey (below).

BUT   Arthur’s story doesn’t end there.  Mallory continues: “Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but he was taken by the will of our Lord Jesus into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross.”  The legend provides further reassurance — we are told with the particular certainty of such powerful legends, that Arthur still waits at the Isle of Avalon (now known as Glastonbury Tor) for the day when his particular combination of greatness, goodness, and magic will be needed to save Britain again from great danger.  Now, partial disclosure, I have visited Glastonbury Tor here in the 21st century in October of 2003.  I have walked its full extent (I have pictures, below), and I must report to you that I did not see him there.  But, the legend has endured long enough and forcefully enough to suggest that I must have missed him.  I can tell you from my observation, there’s magic afoot on that hillside; so, we can be confident.

Glastonbury Tor, 2003

So, the legend endures. (And it’s a good story, no?)

Over the centuries since that day, Britain has survived a long list of well-documented threats;
—>   —>  BUT today, the time for his return has clearly arrived.

Without Arthur’s intervention, Britain may be approaching a defining ‘point-of-no-return’ if it goes through with The Brexit, its planned separation from the rest of Europe, which will precipitate disastrous results for the British economy and the stability of Europe and the West.  The entire arc of history enfolding from the 6th century to the 21st has been a constant struggle to unify and stabilize Europe under strong values and alliances. That struggle has continued through an alternating series of triumphs and setbacks over sixteen centuries. We’ve seen:  destructive wars, expansions of a vast British empire, contractions back to a single small country, demonstrably less worthy kings, tasteless food, a few embarrassing prime ministers (that is, most of them since Churchill), and one worthless one (the current one).  Arguably, the establishment of the European Union in 1993 was the greatest single step in the progress toward Arthur’s Round Table, as told to us by a succession of storytellers to our present day.  The decision is now in the hands of the current British Parliament and the Prime Minister.  If this Brexit decision goes the “wrong” way, and Britain shrinks from the responsibilities of its destiny, neither Britain nor the European Union are likely to recover from such a setback. The British people will need all of the wisdom and courage that Arthur, the “Once and Future King,” can provide to step back from the Brexit cliff.

So, the time has come, Arthur, to return and fulfill your destiny.  The world still waits.  I’m sure you are ready and waiting somewhere on that hill in Glastonbury.  Time is running out.

Or, …  maybe there is another way to think about this 

According to one version of the story, on the eve of battle, Arthur gave a gift to the future
(i.e., us).  He was mindful that the battle was not certain to go well, that he might not survive, and his Round Table could die with him.  As he brooded over that bleak future, he was startled by a young boy who had come to fight in the battle.  The boy told Arthur that he wanted to fight in the battle to preserve the values of the Round Table.  The dejected King, feeling that his life’s work was about to come to nothing, was skeptical, and asked the boy how he could possibly know about the Round Table.  The boy told him, “from stories people tell — stories about might for right, right for right, justice for all, a round table where all the knights would sit.

Arthur was encouraged by what he heard and, using Excalibur, he knighted the boy, Sir Tom of Warwick, and gave him these direct orders:
You will not fight in the battle, you will run behind the lines and hide until the battle is over; you will return home to Warwick — ALIVE!  You will grow up and grow old.  For as long as you live, will you remember what I, your King, tell you and will you do as I command?”

Yes, my Lord.”

Arthur then commanded him to tell the story, strong and clear, of the values of the kingdom he had hoped to create.  “Don’t let it be forgot,” he said. (Click on the link to hear Arthur tell the story himself.)  As the newly knighted Sir Tom of Warwick left to fulfill his orders, Arthur’s optimism is revived that “We will be remembered” and THAT would be his victory.

So, perhaps as the Brexit decision unfolds over the next few weeks, the story must be told, “strong and clear,” again and again, that Britain has an important role to play in the future of Europe and in preserving the values for which Britain, and Arthur’s Round Table, were founded.  Maybe the telling of the story can tip the balance, even if Arthur himself does not emerge from Glastonbury Tor with his sword to save Britain from itself.  Maybe the telling of the story is all that is needed.  Maybe that is the lesson we must take from the legend:
à if the guys with swords let us down, let’s put our faith in the storytellers.  Maybe the storytellers can influence the outcome, even today.

…  …  An afterthought — if Arthur can save Britain from itself, so you think he can jump across the pond and save US from … well …  oh, nevermind.

3 Responses “King Arthur for 2019”

  1. Lauren de Vore says:

    I wonder, were an Arthur to appear, if we would recognize him (or her) as such…

  2. Lauren de Vore says:

    Dan–since Memorial Day is a day when, if we’re not careful, we can too easily glorify war as we memorialize those who died in war, today might be a good day to share Mark Twain’s War Prayer.

  3. Daniel says:

    Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” can be found here: