Thursday, May 2, 2013

5 Arthurian Facts

1.  The Sword young Arthur pulled out of the stone was not Excalibur.  Excalibur was a different sword entirely; it was given to King Arthur by a disembodied arm and the Lady of the Lake after he lost his first sword in battle.

The first was actually a cursed sword that set into motion a series of events that would lead to the Grail quest toward the end of Arthur's reign.

Lancelot Speed

2.  In the earliest tales, Guinevere betrays Arthur with his nephew Mordred.  Lancelot wasn't introduced until later, by a French romance author called Chretien de Troyes.  There's no earlier mention of him by that name.

3.  The Holy Grail is not a chalice.  It's never actually described, but references to the word "grail" at the time of Sir Malory and his sources use it to mean a bowl or dish.

4.  In Malory, Arthur had an illegitimate son by a noblewoman before he even laid eyes on Guinevere.  According to different traditions and sources, he had many more as well.

5.  Arthur had three half-sisters, not just the one.  Morgause and Morgan are often conflated in modern fiction.  Morgause is a woman of questionable morals, mother to Arthur's nephews.  Morgan Le Fay is the most well-known, a mysterious goddess figure with roots in pre-Christian Welsh mythology.  And Elaine is the least well known and largely absent.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth (the earlier document), Arthur had one full-blood sister named Anna.

What other common misconceptions have you encountered about King Arthur?



  1. All I know about King Arthur I learned from the 1981 film "Excalibur." :)

    Well, not completely but it still heavily colors my view of the legend.

    Thanks for the five facts. They were indeed interesting.

  2. I <3 this post! Its funny, I knew about the sword in the stone and the lady of the lake giving him a sword...didn't think about them being different swords, even though it would be impossible for them to be the same :/ Thanks for bringing that up!

    I'm trying to get through La Morte D'Arthur but its heavy going! I'm always up for new Arthur stories (although I tried T.H. White and didn't like it much) so would love any recommendations you or other commenters could give ;)

    I wonder, with so many variations of the legend, whether we can call anything a misconception if it is simply another retelling? (This thought doesn't go too far if we begin to consider Monty Python & The Holy Grail though...)

    You've reminded me of something I read recently - I don't know how interested you are in our other local legend, but someone has possibly identified the 'real' Robin Hood:

    1. You make a vital point; at what point does something become inaccurate and just become part of the evolving storytelling tradition? It's hard to say. I tend to be a purist, but I know that the stories I love are the result of hundreds, even thousands, of years of alteration.

      Monty Python & the Holy Grail is an excellent source for Arthurian facts (you know, beyond the obvious anachronisms). They had an Arthurian scholar advise them; I'll search out his name and get back to you on that because it is so interesting.

      Thank you for the link! I wanted to read Stephen Lawhead's "Hood" about the historical Robin Hood--he makes him Welsh! I hesitate because his Arthurian books were hard for me to get into.

      Hm, I like T.H. White--but my instructor was superb at teaching him. I'm generally into "the older, the better," so History of the Kings of Britain and old Welsh texts are my favorite, but I wrote my thesis on Charles Williams's Athuriad and David Jones Anathemata (20th century). I could literally rave for hours about those.

    2. P.S. Yes, Le Morte D'Arthur is dense and very hard to work out plot-wise and chronology wise. So keep that in mind about Excalibur. Balin and Balan's tragedy involving the first sword is the cause of the Fisher King's wound, which is integral to the Holy Grail quest.

    3. I completely forgot you have a degree in Arthurian lit! That's amazing, they don't do any really interesting 'niche' postgrads here :(

      Thanks for the recommendations - I've wanted to read the Monmouth text since one of my lecturers on Shakespeare said The Bard himself used the book as the basis for King Lear. I haven't heard of the others but I'll add them to my wish list right away~

      I think because Disney's film was based on the T.H. White text I gave up because the dancing tea pots didn't have the element of surprise to be funny anymore :/ I think I'll try again though once I've read more of the older texts. And I even had a science teacher who made me feel passionate about physics, so having someone to inspire you definitely helps!

      The Welsh connection is practically forgotten here. People only seem to get excited about Glastonbury Tor and Tintagel. I nearly passed out in delight and excitement when I found our Caerleon could be the 'real' Camelot, and that Tennyson wrote his Arthur text there (I went on holiday there quite a few times when I was growing up and heard/saw nothing about the Arthurian connection then - you'd think they'd use it to draw in the tourists, right? Maybe it does now, I don't know...) I do wonder...even as a child I thought there was a feeling about the place. Kind of magical. I know that sounds silly, but I do mean it , haha!


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