Posts Tagged ‘ myth ’

Was King Arthur Real? King or Giant? The Facts as I See Them

Picture of Arthur looking for the holy grail

‘Arthur’, courtesy of Hartwig HKD under the Creative Commons 2.0 no deriv license available here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

The Who, What, Where and Why of King Arthur is a convoluted tale but I will attempt to break it down to the basics.

The Who

“King Arthur” is billed as the King of ancient Albion* and Arthur, supposedly, fought the Anglo-Saxon invaders. There are legends of him as a man, leader and fantastical creature which have filtered down to us today. These follow two strands: the man, and the giant.

For those interested in Etymology, the true meaning of ‘Arthur’ is unknown but there have been some estimations:

The Celtic ‘artos’ means ‘bear’, ‘viros’ is ‘man’ and ‘rigos’, ‘king’. There is also an uncommon Roman surname ‘Artorius’ in the running. In addition, the old Welsh ‘gwr’ means ‘hero’, which could be combined with the Celtic ‘Artos’.

Whatever the origins, Arthur is now a reasonably common name. If even some of the predicted origins are correct, it also has an amazing meaning! ‘Bear hero’, ‘bear king’…or he could be a wayward descendent of the Romans (not quite so interesting).

In the Cotswolds, I grew up with tales that Arthur was buried within a hill in the countryside, ready to rise to England’s defence, should we face attack again. The question is, where would that attack be coming from? What species would be coming at Britain, swords out?

The meaning of Arthur which carries most weight with me, lies in the concept of Arthur as a hero, battling ferocious beasts.

Now, why would I say that?

*(the name for England and Scotland before the Romans changed it to Britannia and eventually it became Britain / The United Kingdom).

The What

geometric image of arthur with foreign calligraphy writing

‘Parsifal’, courtesy of Hartwig HKD and used under the CC 2.0 no deriv license available here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Arthur: The King?

Is King Arthur really a King? Or, is Arthur a fixture in British folklore? Historians have argued it and said there is no definitive proof he was a King, especially as he was not listed in any known Kings lists of the time and had no direct contemporary mention under his name. In fact, the monk Gildas in The Ruin and Conquest of Britain gave a different person’s name as Briton’s leader: Ambrosius Aurelianus.

This man shares many similarities with the commonly told tale of Arthur, fighting in and winning a big battle against the Anglo-Saxons during the 5th Century. However, it is a quantum leap from Arthur to Ambrosius, even if spelling conventions back then were a little ropey.

There is no mention of Arthur’s court, round table, Merlin or Guinevere in some of the oldest tales. Instead, we have something quite different.

Snippets allude to a soldier with no parallel. For example, in ‘Y Goddin’, Arthur is referred to indirectly, with warriors being described as good but ‘no Arthur’.

It is generally accepted that Geoffrey of Monmouth (in the 12th Century), concocted the tale of King Arthur because the Celts needed a hero (and he was probably bored) but, this is not an end to the folklore and the magic.

unicorn running from stonehenge

‘open your mind, courtesy of danijela dannie under the CC 2.0 generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Arthur: The Giant?

On looking into historical references to Arthur, a representation is found that does not portray him as King. Instead, he is a folkloric, heroic leader. In these descriptions, he’s a figure far more on the edge of society than a regal representative.

He is described as ‘the leader of a band of heroes who live outside society, whose main world is one of magical animals, giants, and other wonderful happenings, located in the wild parts of the landscape’.

(By very definition, I do not think a King – at least, a good one with actual followers – could live outside society).

Or, even more fantastically, as:

‘above all else…a defender of his country against every kind of danger, both internal and external: a slayer of giants and witches, a hunter of monstrous animals — giant boars, a savage cat monster, a winged serpent (or dragon)’

Who wouldn’t want to know this guy? He’d sure as anything be less likely to snub you than a King would.

To me, this is far more interesting than the dry tale of yet another King. Fantasy and legend has had its share of Kings, Queens, bastards of a prince once removed, and so on. History is far more interesting when it has a unique twist.

A suggestion of a world still populated with fantastical, magical animals and creatures, gives me the space to imagine a Britain of the Dark Ages where Science was not yet real and magic and superstition still had their foundations in society. One could even imagine, perhaps, that these things were real, an age ago.

Why

Yes, I’m aware this is out of ‘strict’ order, but it’s more interesting this way, promise.

So, Arthur is on the scene with otherworldly creatures, battling in the defence of Briton. Why?

Well, folklore suggests Arthur and his relatives were themselves giants, or could at least alter their height. So, they’d fit right in! Who better to fight a supernatural hoard than a friendly giant? (Cue B.F.G. anyone? Ah – the memories.)

Even the equivalent of Guinevere in the older tales, Gwenhwyfar, has magical leanings. There was a popular folk tune in Wales:

Gwenhwyfar ferch Ogrfan Gawr

Drwg yn fechan, gwaeth yn fawr.

“Gwenhwyfar, daughter of Ogrfan Gawr,

Bad when little, worse when great.”

(Now, this one reminds me of the hulk!)

Where

broken cliff face with open hole to sea

‘Not so square view to sea’, courtesy of francois schnell under the CC 2.0 generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Arthur’s resting place is a tricky subject. He was here, then there, then somewhere else again. Some claims were likely for monetary gain, others had false information and some, admittedly, have a certain Romance. The TLDR version is that no one can agree. So, until he pops up out the ground, he’ll keep us guessing!

Summing Up

I love history, especially when there is an aspect of the unknown and the paranormal, two of my very favourite subjects. I love to think we as a race don’t know everything and that there is a possibility the magical still exists, somewhere we’ve not found/seen it yet. I, for one, refuse to kill a fairy. It is, after all, impossible to disprove a negative and there is still so much to be discovered.

Research

I did a lot of research on this topic a while back, when laying the foundations for my fantasy-crime novel While I Slept, which has since turned into ‘The Riftkeeper Series’, based around what would happen if Arthur (a fantasy soldier rather than a King) awoke in the modern day and all the supernatural creatures of his time re-entered our lives simultaneously. In short: few good things.

Sources, Sites and Further Reading

Early Mentions in History

http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/stanzas.html

The Man-giant and Gwenhwyfar

http://www.celtnet.org.uk/gods_g/gwenhwyfar.html

http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/n&q/figures.htm

http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_four_arthur.html

http://www.history.co.uk/shows/king-arthurs-round-table-revealed/articles/the-real-king-Arthur

http://www.caerleon.net/history/arthur/page2.htm

http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/was-king-arthur-a-real-person

http://www.britainexpress.com/History/King_Arthur.htm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/anglo_saxons/arthur_01.shtml

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/top-10-clues-to-the-real-king-arthur-2024729.html

Etymology of the name

http://www.behindthename.com/name/Arthur

http://mons-graupius.co.uk/index.php/linguistic/96-etymology-of-the-name-Arthur

http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Arthur

My Writing – Update

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As I mentioned in the last post, I finally have an idea in the works for a novel but this isn’t my only success recently.

The short story – “La Morte de La Résistance” that Almond Press highly commended has been available on kindle in “Fall” and it has received some lovely reviews. Please feel free to check it out – it’s not too expensive! (Holly Ice’s Story).

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In line with this, I’ve updated my about me page: Holly Ice’s writing.
I now have an Amazon author page, too!

Let me know what you like and if anything can be improved.

I also have a few more projects in the works. 10am Monday is the deadline for the BBC Story Award. As I have had things published, I intend to enter with a magical realism story.

Here’s a little snippet:

In this world, all men are born with antlers and knock horns for girls. It’s a femme fatale in the sense that the protagonist really does not like getting played and used as a one night stand.

If you’ve had something published, I highly suggest you enter, too. £15,000 to the winner, £3,000 to the runner up and three lots of £500 to the next three shortlisted. That’s good money for a free to enter competition!

Two anthologies also have deadlines on the horizon – The Alchemy Press and Newcon Press. I intend to enter the Urban Mythic anthology with a story based on an on Scottish fairy tale and modernized to city life rather than rural farms.

I have a few more stories on the burner I’ve yet to place, too.

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As I mentioned in the previous post, myth, legend (and even ghost stories) can be great inspiration. Let me know if there are any stories you want to share!

My friends will tell you I usually jump a mile at anything jumpy and can get really scared BUT my friend and I have a solution – a beautiful den! (Remember those from when you were little? I highly recommend it to counteract the chills!)

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As always, my twitter: Holly Emma Ice
And, again for ease of finding, my about me page: Holly’s writing.

The Inspiration of Myth & “King” Arthur

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The last few months I’ve been reading up on myth and legend. They’ve given me some great ideas for stories but not just as-is. In an altered format, they can create something original and (hopefully) brilliant.

I’ve learnt writers cannot be afraid to change things: this is our job. The world as it comes to us is not always suitable for a retelling – bits may need rearranging, adding, subtracting…but let’s not get into the realm of maths here: we’re creatives after all.

Also, do not be afraid to take a tale like Cinderella or Thumbelina and make it contemporary, change the sex of characters, or setting, or emphasis. If you make this decision in order to create a new story, don’t be afraid to leave it unique!

Put in new names, clothes, etc! Let it be new, let the inspiration, the myth or tale that spawned your story, disappear. It will still be an influence or a starting point but your reader doesn’t necessarily need to know it was for you to have a great story.

As a last little tip to those who want to go further and learn more while they’re at it: unpick the myth. Find the meaning of the names, the places and their significance. Find where or how the myth started, whether it is based on fact or legend or religion.

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I’ve found in my exploration of the King Arthur legends that Arthur was not historical at all but a myth which is first mentioned in welsh poetry. The discovery of these early mentions created a whole new vision of Arthur – a man of the Otherworld, fae, faerie, enchantresses, giants and the supernatural. He is still a hero fighting off bad forces for Britain but these are supernatural rather than historical forces.

Based on this research, I actually have a novel idea in the brewing stages. A novel where Arthur is a crime fighter of the supernatural world, once he is awaken. I’ve bought books on the Celts and Arthur in order for other titbits of Celtic religion and myth to inspire me in this project.

So, I know it sounds kind of boring…but research can be fun! The Arthur research was a mix of documentary-like reading  and old, bard-like tales of the unbeatable warrior.

Some of these old texts are very accessible and actually very enjoyable! I laughed aloud at a few and *may* have found the original inspiration for The Hulk!

Hope this helps those stuck with writer’s block. Anything on the page in a first draft is the first step!

And, as always, feel free to follow me on twitter.

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