Sunday, June 15, 2014

King Arthur, a little boy, and Howard Pyle.

The Sangreal or Holy Grail.
When I was roughly at the age of Six years old I discovered King Arthur in a big way. Huge even. I would have mock battle with my friends, dress up in improvised armour and lead battles all over my neighborhood and even go so far as to dig miniature castles and forts in the nearby Mesquite reefs in the open desert of Eastern Las Vegas.

"A Knight" by Howard Pyle.

As a small boy growing up in the wilds of the Mojave Desert, knights in shinning armour held a terrible and gripping fascination for me. I can't explain where this fascination came from. My folks were both from Texas and Oklahoma. My father and mother had both grown up on a farm and cattle ranches. The children and grandchildren of Westward Ho! settlers and immigrants. I could not have been more different from my two older brothers, if the dwellers of the Sidghe had come in the middle of the night and replaced me with small changeling.

I can remember lamenting (my family called it sniveling) about being born on the wrong side of the Atlantic, and how I would never be a Knight because I was not English. I suspect to my Bull Riding father and my mother, the daughter of Panhandle Wheat farmers, it must have seemed like Little Lord Fauntleroy had sprung up in their midst. I can remember saddling up my cousins Shetland Pony named Hiawatha, wearing my beach towel cloak and a yardstick as a handy broadsword riding off to kill giants and slay dragons!

The Knights lined up to see who was the better hand with a lance.
I didn't have to imagine Castles, The Texhoma Oklahoma Grain Growers Cooperative Silos stood in good stead. Made from loamy brown WPA 1930's concrete, they looked like a startling set of fingers jutting up 
into the cerulean prairie sky. Windmills ala Man of La Mancha were in a heaping plenty too. In my head I dubbed myself a Prince of the Prairie, and a Duke of the Mojave Desert. Then at the age of eight or so, I found: "The Story of King Arthur and His Knights" By John F Plummer and Illustrated by Howard Pyle. If I wasn't fatally afflicted with the desire to be a knight, I was well on my way. 

King Arthur Rides Through the Valley of Earthly Delights
In 1973 The MGM Casino and Resort opened for business. My father had been a construction foreman on that project. The owner of the MGM Kirk Kerkorian had also purchased the entire MGM film library. As an added bonus and attraction to his customers who might find themselves too tired to gamble or too broke, he had the MGM Movie Theater built. The entire film library was opened up and my parents, knowing of my fascination for all things King Arthur, took me to see Camelot staring Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.

Imagine a full sized movie theater screen, sitting on leather couch drinking a cold coke a cocktail waitress just brought you, with the darkness of the movie theater enfolding you into its world... watching the rise and fall of King Arthur and His Knights. Softly in the distance you could hear the hammer beating the nails in my affliction for all things medieval.

I will remember this set of images, as they warred with the images Howard Pyle had placed in my head. Here is a link below to the meeting between King Arthur and Guinevere.

King Arthur Meets Lady Guinevere 

So as you can guess I have and I guess I will always be a hopeless romantic when it comes to things related to King Arthur. I would like to see the jousting friends and associates I know, someday put on a historic based tournament where the participants dress up and assume the personas of the Knights of the Round Table. Apparently in the late XIII and early XIV Centuries, it was all the rage. One of the more notable Knights of that time frame, Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein who was said by himself no less, to have dressed as Venus the Goddess of love and traveled from Venice to Vienna dressed as a lady, breaking over 300 lances in one on one combat along the way. His second quest saw him as King Arthur himself, along with his friends who took on the persona of the Knight of the Round Table, they rode all through Styria and Austria competing and jousting along the way.

I wish I could help it but I have long since given over to my affliction for all things Arthurian. Turn on the movie Excalibur and I am done. I mean no disrespect to the cast and crew,  but it was a crap movie. Horrible. But you can tell they took a lot of cues from Howard Pyle's imagery. Still, turn it on and I am done for the next hour and half or so...

Sir Gawain Son of King Lot of Orkney

"The Herald"

I hope that this has provided you small insight into the forces that helped create the Modern Medievalist. After speaking to a lot of my friends, this affliction or desire to be a knight, like me has been around since we were small. I have a friend who lives in the UK that swears the reason some of us are so strongly drawn to these particular time lines and events, is that we had lived them.-Just that simple.I don't know about that but unless someone who has died recently and comes back to talk about the possibility of a past life, my friends theory makes as much sense as anything else I have heard.

Don't be too alarmed if when we meet I get this distant look upon my face. I might be bashing about in the lists with Sir Kay or chasing the Questing Beast with Good King Pellinore, "What, what, WHAT!"

Thank you.

DS Baker

PS-All illustrations and images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, and are in the public domain.

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