Arthurian Mythos

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The Arthurian Mythos is a body of Historical Fantasy works highly beloved in England and France as the single greatest body of myths relating to knights in general and the High Middle Ages (or the Dark Ages, which is when the first stories developed). The Authurian Mythos is part of a larger body of work known as the "Matter of Britain," though it is the best known part of it, and stands in contrast to the "Matter of France," which largely covers the real-life (if embellished) events surrounding Charlemagne. Whilst usually considered the "mythical history" of England, the fact is that much of what the actual person knows as "canon" for this Mythos was actually developed in France by French authors before being largely codified by English and American authors in later years, particularly in the 1800s and 1900s. Even then, due to the way the story developed, its very hard to claim any one version as the definitive canon of Arthurian legend. Popular elements and storylines tend to be pulled and cross-pollinated over a wide variety of sources, with authors mixing and matching them to their preference. To really develop an understanding of the mythos, one would need to look at the broader body of work and understand when and where they came from.

For a brief overview, some of the more influential sources include:

  • History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Mallory
  • Lancelot, Knight of the Cart & Percival and the Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes
  • Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous
  • Tristan and Iseult by Thomas of Britain

More recent works that have become important in modern interpretations of the Arthurian myths include:

  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Outline[edit]

Stop us if you've heard this before... a young boy in England, guided by a mysterious wizard named Merlin, proves he is the destined King of All England when he effortlessly draws a sword from a stone. Arthur united the various warring petty kingdoms of Britain and founded the legendary city of Camelot. Later, given the magical blade Excalibur by a mysterious fey spirit known as the Lady of the Lake, he creates a kingdom where he leads the knightly order known as the Knights of the Round Table, dedicated to the highest principals of chivalric good. They have many adventures together, including seeking out the legendary Holy Grail. Camelot is ultimately toppled when King Arthur is defeated in battle by the evil knight Mordred (largely accepted as his bastard child, possibly by incest at the hands of his trickster witch half-sister Morgana le Fey), only to be ferried away to the Isle of Avalon where he will recover from his wounds and will one day return to save England from its darkest days and rule over it as a wise and perfect king.

More In Depth[edit]

The legend of King Arthur appears to have started as a possibly real person from Sub-Roman Britainnia (the Romanized Celts that ruled Britain after the fall of Rome), who fought several battles against Saxon invaders which then got distorted over generations of oral retellings into being a king who did mighty deeds. Over the years these deeds were slowly written down with multiple authors adding their own characters and quests (the French in particular were fond of pushing their Mary Sues into the mythos) until it really began to be properly codified with Geoffrey of Monmouth (though there's good evidence that Arthur's popularity outside of Britain predates even Geoffrey's account). Because the tales were so popular, though, people continued to alter and tweak the stories over the years to put their own spins on them as ideals and virtues changed with society.

So, what is the widely accepted story then?

Uther Pendragon was a warlord who, with the help of Merlin, finally manages to unite much of what would come to be called England under his rule. His final foe, Gorlois, finally bent the knee after being promised land and wealth and invited Uther to his castle to party it up. There Uther meets Gorlois's wife, Igraine, and falls madly in love with her. Wanting her for himself, he wages war once more on Gorlois but the war doesn't really go anywhere so he decides to be sneaky about it and gets Merlin to shapechange him into Gorlois so he could sneak into the castle and get it on with another man's wife. At the same time, Gorlois is killed in battle fighting Uther's men.

This shapechanging, though, comes with a price - Uther must give up his child born from this tryst to Merlin. When the time comes, Uther does so (willingly or not depending on the author), giving his son Arthur up. Merlin then pawns Arthur off on to another Duke who raises him as his own.

Uther later dies (sometimes by being murdered, sometimes in battle) and an age of anarchy descends over the realm for several years. Finally Merlin shows up, demands all of the Dukes to come to him and reveals to them the Sword in the Stone with the statement that whoever can pull it out is the rightful King of England (technically the kingdom's name is Logres since the kingdom wasn't rules by the Angles yet). This finally ends the Anarchy as people try and try and try to pull the sword out, resulting in the place becoming one of grand tournaments and jousting.

Some years later, Arthur (now a squire to the family who has been raising him) shows up and loses his "brother's" sword, running to the Sword in the Stone and effortlessly removes it in hope of giving it to his brother. Word quickly gets out that Arthur pulled it, Merlin shows up and reveals Arthur is Uther's son, and this leads to a civil war which finally ends when Arthur bests those who oppose him, gets knighted and then crowned king. Things still aren't too good though as various neighboring kingdoms and the Saxons show up to wreck shit and Arthur and his knights spend several years fighting them off. It's around this time Arthur meets his future wife Guinevere.

After all that fighting, Arthur decides to make a new capital and castle at a site known as Camelot (and historians and literature enthusiasts have fought for centuries to figure out where Camelot is to be found so best of luck figuring it out yourself). He marries Guinevere and around this time finally meets his half-sisters as well.

With peace finally showing up, Arthur gets a little antsy and rides around his kingdom where he meets Lancelot (one of those French Mary Sues mentioned earlier) who duels Arthur for some time. Arthur finally bests him (some stories say by cheating) and Lancelot becomes his greatest knight (until another French Mary Sue names Percival shows up in later stories). Lancelot then meets Guinevere and those two fall madly in love. Early stories make this out to be a great and noble thing tied up in French ideals of courtly passion but most later (and especially modern) stories make this out to be a mighty sin that sets the stage for all sorts of bullshit later one. This is also the time usually agreed upon he gets Excalibur, though some people argue about specifics. Funnily enough Excalibur is just a good sword and it's actually the scabbard that is super magical, able to heal nearly any wound.

Time goes on, quests are had, monsters bested, armies defeated and in some stories Arthur goes off to Europe to conquer Norway, the Netherlands, most of France and even threaten Rome itself before falling back to Camelot. There they finally get the quest to end all quests - TO SEEK THE HOLY GRAIL! Arthur was a little hesitant but when almost all of his knights jump at the chance he has little power to stop them from their zeal. Thus begins an incredibly long chain of quests of mighty deeds and heroics.

At some point before this, Arthur and Guinevere fail to have any children together but Arthur manages to knock up at least three different women and gets sons from each of them. His two eldest sons die (well, one for sure dies, the other just straight up disappears and is accepted as dead) but his third son, Mordred, is still around. Depending on the story Mordred is either his nephew he adopts, a proper bastard child from one of the several "queens" of the realm (it is confusing to modern people but Arthur was more like an emperor than a proper king and had several kings serve him) or is his incestuous bastard child from his sister Morgause. Yep, the idea of Mordred being his incest baby from Morgan le Fey is purely a modern take. In any event, Mordred is somewhat groomed to be his heir but kept somewhat at arms length due to the circumstances of not being a proper heir.

After a time, one (or several) knights find the Grail and either rush back to Camelot to tell Arthur or are swept up to Heaven. In either case, its around this time shit starts to hit the fan. Lancelot's affair with Guinevere is discovered, Guinevere is banished to a convent, Arthur has to rush off to deal with uprisings, famines start to hit, more Saxons invade, and Merlin disappears (either by the machinations of the Lady of the Lake or Morgan le Fay). Morgan also stops trying to murder Arthur around this time and apparently became a nun, though this is a fairly more recent change of her character in the stories (like starting in the 1800s). This is also the time Mordred decides to take the crown and attempts to marry Guinevere as well. This does not go well for him however as this only enrages Arthur all the more.

Finally Arthur and Mordred meet in battle at Camlann. Almost all of the Knights of the Round Table die and Mordred squares up against his father, spearing him in the belly or chest. Arthur, ever the badass, impales himself even more on the spear to stab Mordred to death. Now, Arthur's been fucked up before in fights but having lost his scabbard (the magical one mentioned earlier) in the fighting, he's boned. Calling over some of his remaining knights, he orders Griflet (later stories say Bedivere) to take the sword and chuck it into the nearest body of still water. Griflet (Bedivere) lies twice about doing so but finally does on the third. On his way back to Arthur after doing so, they see him on a ship surrounded by holy women (some stories have his sister Morgan on the ship with him) heading off to the Isle of Avalon to heal. Once fully healed he will return one day to save England from darkness and despair.

After Arthur leaves, the kingdom has a very brief period of calm before largely being overran by Angles, Jutes, and Saxons, thus ending the Arthurian Era.

/tg/ Relevance[edit]

Bretonnia is a part grimdark part parody send-up of the Mythos.

Fallen Camelot is a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition campaign setting based on the Mythos.

Eldraine is a Magic: The Gathering plane that combines the Arthurian Mythos with general faerie tale aesthetics and elements.

One half of the Ventrue bloodline known as the Bron believe themselves to be descended from the Fisher King of the Arthurian Mythos.

A Japanese twist on the Arthurian Mythos can be found in the Nasuverse where King Arthur is a girl. Yes, really, and it's a major plot point in Fate Stay/Night.

Pendragon, one of the mostly highly regarded RPGs of all time, is nothing BUT Arthurian Mythos with the characters all being knights around the end of Uther's (Arthur's father) reign and then their children and grandchildren taking up the knightly ways as they die/retire. If one plays the game as intended, they'll be immersed in the entire legend from the rise of Uther to the departure of Arthur.