What is a legend?
Have you ever played the game “Telephone”? You start with a group of people, and the first person whispers a phrase in the next person’s ear. That person then repeats what they heard in the ear of the other person next to them, and it continues like that until it goes around the whole circle. The person at the end then tells what it was they heard. It is always quite different from what was originally said, and it is so funny! Today we are going to learn about a legend. A legend is like a game of telephone! A legend is a story that has been told for a really long time and has parts that are probably true, but it has changed over time. And by the time we hear about it, we aren’t really sure where the true parts end and where the extra things that have been added to it begin. Even though we aren’t sure what is true and what isn’t, legends are still fun to learn about because it still is history! Just more of story history.
Legend of King Arthur
One of the most famous legends to ever come out of the country of England is the legend of King Arthur. People first started talking about him in books during the 9th century, with stories starting to be written about him in the 12th century. That means people have been talking about Arthur for over 1,200 years! That’s a really long time! And during that time, there have been hundreds of stories written about him. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the very first. Other famous authors to write about him include Thomas Mallory (Le Morte D’Arthur), T. H. White (The Once and Future King), Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), and Howard Pyle -who also wrote Robin Hood! Alfred Lord Tennyson visited Tintagel (which we will talk about later) twice and wrote a series of poems about King Arthur from the inspiration he got there. There have also been movies and tv shows about him as well, the most well-known being The Sword in the Stone by Disney.
Origin of King Arthur
One thing about legends is there are lots of different versions, so there are lots of different versions of King Arthur too! But here is the main story: Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, and as a baby, he was given to Merlin to be kept safe and taught. When he was a young teenager, he pulled a sword from a stone which proved that he was the rightful king. Later on, he receives another sword named Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake. When Arthur grew up, he took his place as king of the Britons. The Britons were (the ancient people that lived in England or Britain) The wizard Merlin was his advisor. Arthur married Guinevere and lived in Camelot. He and his knights became known as the Order of the Round Table. Some of them were Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, and Perceval. Eventually, Mordred, King Arthur’s nephew, rebelled against his uncle and badly wounded Arthur in battle. His body was taken to Avalon to be healed, and according to legend, sometime in the future he will return and rule again.
Sword in the Stone
There are a few very important episodes in the King Arthur legend: the first one is the Sword in the Stone. The Sword in the Stone was kind of like a prophecy, it said “Whoso pulleth out this sword out of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born.” It was prophesied by Merlin. Many strong and powerful nobles had tried pulling the sword out of the stone, but all had failed. Arthur was able to pull the sword out even though he was just a boy where so many others had failed. The other important part of the story is about the round table. The special thing about the shape is that it is round, so it doesn’t have a head, which means no one is in a position of power! King Arthur valued all of his knights’ opinions and wanted to hear them as much as he wanted to be heard, it showed that they were all equal. People think that it was Arthur’s father, Uther, who was the original owner of the table. But Arthur eventually inherited it and is the one who actually made it famous. Arthur’s knights were a symbol of chivalry and because of this the Round Table came to represent chivalry as well. If you followed the code of chivalry, it meant that you believed in things like bravery, courtesy, honor, and great respect towards women.
Was Arthur based on a real person?
There are some people that believe that Arthur was based on a real person who lived during the 400s or 500s AD in Britain. These historians believe that he was Celtic and led his people against the invading Saxons. The Celts were a group of people that lived in Britain and the Saxons were people that were from what is now Germany and the Netherlands. They invaded Britain many times, which is why they would have loved a leader standing up to the Saxons. It is believed that this historical Arthur was the hero of a battle named Battle of Badon Hill. He was eventually killed in battle and his people ran to Brittany (now part of France) and Wales for safety. What makes people think Arthur could be real is that the very first person to write about Arthur was a Welsh monk named Neenius, which makes sense if Arthur’s people really went to Wales.
There is a castle ruin in Cornwall, England that is supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur. It was a stronghold called Tintagel. It is right on the ocean, and it was there long before Arthur would have been born. Because of the legend surrounding Tintagel, in the 1230s the Earl of Cornwall built a castle there. It is a beautiful and mysterious place that has sparked the imagination of many authors who have visited there.
We probably will never know how much of the King Arthur legend is true and how much is simply a very old story, but one thing is certain, King Arthur has captured the imaginations of people young and old for over 1,000 years- and will continue to do so. What stories capture your imagination and why? How would you feel if a story about you (or a story you wrote) was talked about for hundreds and hundreds of years? What would you say? Would you live your life differently?
Buy one of these great books about King Arthur!