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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Review: King Arthur - History and Legend

 I started watching King Arthur - History and Legend out of curiosity and got sucked in and ended up watching all 24 episodes on Kanopy. The lecture series started with a description of all the myths about the King Arthur of history that are in popular culture that probably never had any correspondence in history. That was enough for me to decide that it was worth listening to the rest of the series.

What was interesting, for instance, was how little we knew about the origins of the myth, and what was tacked on much later. So for instance, Lancelot was introduced by French writers and added to a myth that was borne across the water into Brittany by people who were escaping the invasions of Britan. Dorsey Armstrong would provide rules of thumb about how much time it takes to travel over water vs land, and noted that it meant that interaction between Wales and Brittany were much more frequent than between Wales and London!

The description of the King Arthur legend as a giant vacuum clean sucking in many unrelated stories from the Celts was a sticky concept that helps you remember that for instance, the story of Tristan and Isolde was probably from a completely unrelated origin that got attached to the King Arthur framework. So in some sense the Arthur legend was the original shared world universe created by writers.

It helps that the lecturer Dorsey Armstrong has good taste --- she calls Monty Python and the Holy Grail one of the best King Athur movies ever made. She praises Camelot 3000, a comic book series I read as a teenager that at that time seemed radical in its gender bending.

My major criticism of the work is that there were many places where I wanted better visual aids (such as in her description of Arthuriana in Medieval Art), but she never makes good use of the video medium to provide more detailed pictures of said art.

But regardless, it's an enjoyable watch and educational. Recommended.

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