Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The Kingdom of Arthur
I'm sorry I've been neglectful of this blog for the past year or so. My personal life has undergone some huge shifts in the past months, one of which has been to temporarily relocate to Wales--the country adjacent to England, part of the island of Britain.
Wales is my heart's home and, as you fairy tale lovers might know, the mother of the great English-speaking tradition. It sounds paradoxical; but most scholars agree that the culture, language, and people of Wales are the most direct inheritors of pre-Roman Britain. It is unfortunate that the pre-Christian mythology did not survive intact like it did in Ireland, but the little that does remain is wealthy enough. The most influential being none other than King Arthur.
So why else should people who care about fairy tales care about Wales? The great historical scholar, Geoffrey Ashe, wrote a comprehensive volume converging British history and myth, Mythology of the British Isles, modeled on Robert Graves's book on Greek mythology. This divides the myths chronologically and by themes, with a summary of each myth and then a historical analysis. What emerges from these collected mini-volumes is a trail of bread crumbs leading back to Wales--which would have been to where the Brythonic peoples retreated during both the Roman and Anglo-Saxon invasions. What is more, there was a great deal of Irish settlement in Wales from the West, cross-pollinating the mythologies and restoring and/or preserving the mythic elements shared in common between the two Celtic peoples.*
Following Chesterton's lead that all folk stories are growths from roots of fact and seeds of history, Ashe speculates that King Arthur really lived. And out here, near the gray Irish sea-waves crashing on gray rocks and mysterious doors-in-walls, it's not a bit hard to believe.
* Though a Celtic identity was popular in the early 20th century, scholars are now in doubt as to whether or not the Celtic language-speaking peoples could justifiably be considered part of the same ethnic and cultural groups. It is doubtful whether those who lived in Britain before Roman rule even shared genetic link with the people known as Celts to the Roman Empire of the time, or if there was merely similarity from trade and cross-cultural influence.