Arthurian Legend: A Loadstone
I am a twice-retired high school English teacher. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who do not do retirement well. Working with kids is a passion I have never lost. I regularly conduct Medieval Writing Workshops for local elementary/middle schools and for the Colorado Girl Scouts. We explore writing and reading, and it is fulfilling to see young students excited about writing and reading. It seems I’m not the only one who loves Medieval Times and the King Arthur Legend. The kids thoroughly enjoy writing their own medieval stories complete with dragons, wizards, unicorns, and knights.
Why a Loadstone?
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table never seem to lose their appeal to readers of all ages. When I talk about the Medieval Times with kids and adults, the talk centers around the exploits of the knights, heroes like King Arthur and Lancelot, and magic and Merlin. The stories of the knights with their quests, their, jousts, their rescuing of the damsels in distress, and their fighting for the underdog dominate the conversation. Never mind that in real life, knights weren’t always so gallant, and frequently only defended the underdog if he belong to the same or a higher social class. The King Arthur legend complete with the Knights of the Round Table has outgrown and overshadowed any historical truth.
Early in 2012, a survey conducted by English Heritage, an online preservation and tourist site for English history, found “that people’s curiosity for history and legends is still well and truly alive.” Remarkable considering that in today’s fast-paced, information-on-the-run world, a legend reaching as far back as 1136 in printed text by Geoffrey of Monmouth about a mythical king back in the 5th or 6th century still resonates with today adults and youth and shows no signs of abating. If anything, it is the cornerstones of the legend that continue to speak to the world and particularly the young. Packed into the Arthurian stories of quests, jousts, tournaments, and battles are the cornerstones of honor, loyalty, and friendship. These qualities are the loadstone for the entire legend.
How have you incorporated those qualities in The King’s Ransom (Young Knights of the Round Table)?
The Young Knights are three kids who have become friends via their friendship with a beggar/vagabond called the Wild Man. Without the Wild Man, it is likely that they wouldn’t have met and become friends because they are from very different backgrounds. Eleven-year-old Gavin is the youngest prince of Pembroke Castle in southern Wales. Fifteen-year-old Bryan has been sent to Pembroke by his parents to learn to be a blacksmith. Thirteen-year-old Philip is an orphan who wandered into Pembroke village and lives and works at the church. Someone breaks into the king’s (Gavin’s father) treasury in Pembroke Castle and not only steals the medallion The King’s Ransom, but also kills the king’s advisor. Being a beggar/vagabond, the Wild Man is captured and charged with the crime. It doesn’t help that a bloody knife is found with his belongings. Gavin, Bryan and Philip believe in the innocence of their friend the Wild Man. They swear a knight’s oath of loyalty to the Wild Man and embark upon a quest to save him. Their individual quests will test their limits and force each to confront and conquer their fears or face humiliation and/or even death. Honor. Loyalty, Friendship.
Have you drawn on other aspects of the legend for The King’s Ransom?
Yes, but more from the modern versions than from the earlier texts like Geoffrey. In a comparison of authors White and Tolkien, one idea is present throughout that has its roots in Arthurian legend. Heroes are not always strong, but they don’t give up or lose hope. At the end of White’s The Once and Future King, an older, wiser King Arthur talks with a young page Thomas of Newbold Revell near Warwick. Arthur is about to send Thomas away from the battle so he will live. He asks Thomas to spread the “ancient idea” that “force ought to be used…on behalf of justice, not on its own account…That is he could get his [knights] to [fight] for truth, and to help weak people, and to redress wrongs, then their fighting might not be such a bad thing as once it used to be.”
In the movie version of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Sam tells Frodo “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy…But…a new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer…Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on [to the ideal] that there’s some good in this world,…and it’s worth fighting for.”
In The King’s Ransom, Gavin and Philip touch bottom, but refuse to continue to doubt their friend the Wild Man. This is shown in this excerpt where Gavin and Philip have been listening to Gavin’s father, the king, talk with his two oldest sons about the Wild Man who has been arrested for murder.
“Father, he had to have done it. The bloody knife was found in his blanket,” argued Sean, Gavin’s oldest brother. “We don’t know where he’s from or how he came to be here. Besides, how could he have gotten inside the castle if Aldred didn’t know him?”
“I’m not so certain he killed Aldred,” said Robert. “He’s pretty harmless from what I’ve heard and seen.”
“What do you mean ‘harmless’?” Sean asked. “He killed Aldred to cover up the theft and to keep him from spreading the alarm.”
“I’ve seen him with Gavin and his friends, Philip and Bryan.”
“The boys worship him. He often watches Gavin practice and gives him good suggestions for improvement. I’ve even seen him instructing Bryan in sword fighting. He’s handy with a sword. He also works for the friar and helps Philip with repairs around the church.”
“I don’t call a stranger who shows up out of nowhere and is good with a sword ‘harmless.’ And why’s a man like that passing time with a prince of Pembroke?” Sean asked.
“That has little bearing here,” King Wallace pointed out.
“I disagree. The people are angry over Aldred’s death. I’m afraid if we don’t convict this Wild Man, the people may take that to mean we are unwilling to prosecute a guilty man because of his friendship with Gavin,” Sean said. “Maybe that’s what he counted on.”
Philip gripped Gavin’s arm. What if the Wild Man had killed Aldred and stolen the King’s Ransom? What if he’d used Gavin’s friendship to do just that? What if the Wild Man had used them all? Philip calmed himself and squeezed Gavin’s arm harder, knowing he was thinking the same thing. When Gavin turned, Philip shook his head and mouthed the word “No!” twice. Gavin nodded.
“The people do not enforce the law here. I do!” King Wallace declared. “I’ll decide if the man is guilty or not, and the people will live with my decision.”
“As you say, Father,” both sons replied, subdued.
“What about King Arthur?”
“He will be here in four to five days. Either I have the medallion to present to him, or I give him the man’s head. Close the door behind you. I need to think.”
Gavin signaled Philip to return the way they had come. When they reached the tapestry, Philip let Gavin move ahead to make sure the way was clear.
Once outside, they sat on a shadowed bench across from the dungeon.
“If we can’t prove the Wild Man’s innocent, then your father, I mean the king, will have him killed,” Philip said.
Both boys sat quietly.
Finally Philip said, “Gavin?”
“Do you think the Wild Man would use our friendship?” Philip’s voice trembled.
Gavin didn’t answer.
What’s next in your writing? Are you working on a new story?
My current work-in-progress takes my readers out of Medieval England and back to Ancient Egypt. It will be a mystery for tweens and will introduce readers to a famous boy pharaoh. I’m also doing brainwork on a sequel to Guinevere. I’ve had several readers ask me what becomes of Guinevere’s friend Cedwyn, so I’m working on a storyline there. And, somewhere soon, I’m going to do another Young Knights. Enough to keep me busy for a few years!
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
Outside of spending time with my family, I love to travel. I even spent 12 years working nights after school for a major airline so that we could literally travel the world. My husband and I have been all over the United States, especially in the fall to catch college football games. Las Vegas has to be my favorite city. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there! We traveled several times to Mexico and the Caribbean, and spent two weeks on our own in Egypt. There is a place I would love to return and explore more. Our next big trip will be next spring to England and Wales. I just have to see the birthplace of King Arthur!
Tell us about your website and what information we can find there about “The King’s Ransom” and the “Young Knights of the Round Table” series.
Beyond Today (Educator) contains information on the King Arthur Legend and both Guinevere and The King’s Ransom. The events section is a picture gallery of my Medieval writing workshops I do with the Colorado Girl Scouts. The education section currently shows how Guinevere aligns with the Colorado State Standards for Reading and Writing. I’m working on updating that page in the coming months.
On my blog Carpinello’s Writing Pages , I review Children/MG/Tween/YA books, conduct interviews with authors, and post ideas to get kids involved in reading and writing.
- Carnagecast 34: Arthur, King of Time and Space (carnagecon.com)
- Significant stories in Other Cultures (ask.metafilter.com)