A Pilgrim’s Search for Relics of the Once and Future King

Ancient stones and much-loved stories yield both hints and guesses about Arthur and his Camelot

Arthurian knight
Arthurian knight Wikimedia Commons

"How to account for the spell that Camelot has cast over the world's imagination? In scores of languages and shaped to all sorts of storytelling genres, from medieval epic to modern musical, tales of Arthur and his knights have been intriguing people for more than a thousand years. On plot alone, the legend is hard to resist: the undistinguished boy, Arthur, pulling the sword from the stone to become king of England; his marriage to beautiful and unfaithful Guinevere; the disastrous passion between Lancelot and the queen; the ultimate destruction of Arthur's realm; the banishment of loyalty, piety and righteousness from the land."

So writes Caroline Alexander, who has been fascinated by the story of Arthur for years. In this month's story she describes how she used a scholar's learning and a graceful writer's skills to travel to all the castles and lakes and towns associated with Arthur, as well as delving into archeology and history, trying to learn what is known, and what is surmised about whether and where Arthur existed. She links him to a 5th century king who fought to save England from the invading Angles and Saxons, and follows his story through songs and poems up through Sir Thomas Malory to Tennyson and finally T.H. White whose The Once and Future King gave rise to the Disney version and Lerner & Lowe"s "fleeting wisp of glory called Camelot."

Was Arthur real? Probably, she feels, though all the sites are equivocal. The story, however, is as real as anything can be.

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