I’ll admit that I knew next to nothing about King Arthur before last year’s winter break, when I randomly picked Merlin as my show to watch. As such, everything I knew about the legend for a while came from that show, which is, admittedly, not the greatest source of knowledge.
That’s not to say I don’t adore the show—with everything I know now, I think it’s actually a brilliant re-interpretation of the story and a nice introduction to the legend. After I finished the show, I instantly wanted more. This led me to one of my favorite classes this semester: a medieval literature course based in Arthuriana.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I always kind of expected that Arthurian literature would be grandiose, sophisticated, and solemn. He is “the once and future king,” after all. The story is so epic it shouldn’t even be contained in a single book.
What I learned in this class, friends, is that medieval literature is not all flashy and serious. As I learned more and more about the legend through countless stories and books, from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, I found myself giggling. Yes, giggling. These stories are freaking hilarious.
If you haven’t been following along on Twitter, I actually created a hashtag to document some of my exploits in these readings and through the class.
Now, I don’t want to discount any of these stories for their scholarly purposes. I have loads of respect for the writers and for the legends, and these texts are extremely valuable for both history and literature. It’s just that if you’re expecting a stodgy and bland narrative, you’re in for a wonderful surprise.
My personal favorite moment was in Chretien de Troye’s “Knight of the Cart.” In this story, Lancelot goes to a castle, where he encounters some beautiful ladies. They tell him not to sleep in a certain fancy bed, but obviously he does anyway. In the middle of the night, a flaming lance comes out of nowhere and strikes the bed. It not only grazes his side, but sets his whole bed on fire. Lancelot, being the guy that he is, tosses the lance out into the hallway and puts out the fire, all without leaving his bed. Then he goes back to sleep, as if nothing had happened.
And that, my friends, is a summary of Arthurian literature. I highly recommend it.