During my early teaching career, I was a certified exceptional children’s teacher. However, my undergraduate degree was in secondary English, so to earn extra money in the summers, I taught sophomore English in summer school, which lasted six weeks. Before NC changed the tenth grade curriculum to world literature, it was a survey literature curriculum and included selections from the Arthurian legend by Malory, Tennyson, and T. H. White and also had in the textbook the short novel by Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
I also showed clips from a half dozen or more films of the story, including Knights of the Round Table, The Sword and the Stone, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Excalibur, Camelot, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and an outstanding British film with very authentic costuming called The Legend Of King Arthur, which I found today on YouTube, although the quality is very poor. I fell in love with this ancient story, which has been told and retold over so many centuries in so many variations.
I probably own close to two hundred books based on the legend. Most are novels, but some are history or literary criticism, and there are quite a few that relate to the story and its offshoot, the legend of the Holy Grail, as a path to enlightenment. Both stories are examples of the hero’s journey and are metaphors for the unfolding and development of the Soul as it gains knowledge/wisdom. There are even magical societies with rituals based on one or the other of the legends. The troubadours of the Middle Ages kept the stories alive throughout Europe, and even in countries far removed from Britain, there are versions. The Church might have liked to squelch the legends as too pagan or too gnostic, but it contented itself with Christianizing the primary elements.
If there was a real King Arthur, he probably was a Celtic warlord, perhaps with Roman ancestors, living on the western coast of Britain during the time the Angles and Saxons were settling the east coast. Roman influence still existed, but Roman soldiers had gone back across the channel to defend the continent against their own Germanic invasions. The best modern retellings, in my opinion, are set in this period of the late Roman/Dark Ages rather than the later Middle Ages when the stories became popular in the French court.
I could go on and on about aspects of the legend. That I have this obsession and have read so very many books of all different types about the legend is something very few people know about me, and even fewer are interested in learning. Indeed, I miss having a classroom full of sixteen year-olds who are, so to speak, a captive audience.
My favorite retellings of the legend are Marion Zimmerman Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s four-book Arthurian Saga, and Stephan Lawhead’s six-book Pendragon Cycle (I especially like the first book set in Atlantis). If you want a good story, give them a try or watch one of the many movies. There are several newer ones since my teaching days.