Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, the Round Table, Guinevere, Excalibur, Camelot… From the twelfth century the characters of the Arthurian world became part of the imagination of the Western world; French historians and novelists, supported by Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of Plantagenet, who intended to become heir to Arthur, created stories about the Round Table and other Arthurian novels. The story of King Arthur, the king who defended Britain together with his knights and who set out in search of the Holy Grail would end up being the example of chivalry novels throughout Europe. For a long time it was believed that these characters had been real; however, during the 19th century, this idea was completely denied, although years later and, after archaeological investigations, it was again thought that there was some reality in the history of Arthur.
Introduction to The Arthurian Cycle
Both literature and cinema have used the figure of Arthur and his knights to create works and continue encouraging the figure of the king and his Round Table. We owe Geoffrey de Monmouth and his book The History of the Kings of Britain the presence of King Arthur in European literature. By the work and grace of this writer’s pen, Arthur went from being a Celtic hero to a champion of morality, righteousness, loyalty and all the virtues that a good knight should have, extolling him even more with the end of his life: the search for the Holy Grail. From there, many writers continued to provide data on the Arthurian cycle. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Chrétien de Troyes, a French author of knightly novels, created two essential characters: Lancelot and Perceval. Sir Thomas Malory (s. XV) wrote The Death of Arthur which will become a kind of summary of the Arthurian cycle. This book will be the basis for films made in the 20th century.
The first film adaptation was by Edwin S. Porter in 1906. From this moment on, there are countless films based on the Arthurian cycle and the search for the Holy Grail. Most focus on Arthur’s life, his marriage to Guinevere and her disloyalty to Lancelot, Merlin’s role in the king’s life and life in Camelot, without neglecting the adventures of the knights in their quest for the Grail. Not even the Disney factory could resist the figure of this king and also produced an animated film on the subject. We must not forget the Monthy Pythons and their version entitled The Knights of the Square Table, a comedy not to be missed.
Reality or myth the figure of Arthur and his knights continues to this day and is a recurring theme for other films such as Star Wars or India Jones and the last crusade, the latter with special attention to the Grail and its search. Perhaps it is the most revered object of Christianity despite there is no doubt about its Celtic origin. The Grail: glass, tray, plate… There is, to be sure, no truth about what object it was and what its destiny was. Some consider it a cup and that it remains guarded, others believe that the term “Saint Graal” refers to the Royal Blood, to the descendants of Christ and custodians of that blood. Then, more than an object, the Grail would be the symbol of the transmission of initiatory secrets that pass from generation to generation.
Cinema has also reflected this theme in films such as “The Da Vinci Code”, which forgets the object part and focuses on the continuity of real blood.
The Arthurian world has the capacity to seduce and trap in a past of magic, courage, struggle, betrayal and, being sincere, we are also trapped by that myth or reality that surpasses all human and, in a way, it becomes a kind of divinity to which one should not worship, but respect and not forget. Arthur and his knights, champions of honor and loyalty. Merlin, the magician in search of peace. Morgana and Mordred, the evil within Arthur’s own family. Geneva, disloyalty. Camelot, the refuge of all. The Holy Grail, the end of all good-heartedness.
We begin an Arthurian cycle in which we will analyze the most important figures, the events that marked their lives and the Holy Grail, object or blood offspring. A fascinating and attractive world for both readers and filmmakers.