Changing History: Adaptations of the Arthur Legend
“Whoso pulleth out this sword is by the right of birth king of England.”
—Tales from King Arthur
Since they emerged, the legends of Arthur Pendragon have been subject to change. There have been, and I hope will continue to be, quite a few books written on and films made concerning this long dead per-son. He may have died and have been buried long ago, but his legend lives on. The movie King Arthur starring Keira Knightley as Guine-vere is a nice example of Arthur having a lead in his own tale. How-ever, I will be discussing A Quest for Camelot and the series Merlin, where the legendary Arthur had to make place for a different central figure in a change of perspective (get it?).
A QUEST FOR CAMELOT (1998)
This Warner Bros. film is so old it was released on a videocassette. As it is common for an early ‘musical’ film, the story is supported by songs which have been stuck in my memory since childhood. It tells the tale of Kayley, a rebellious father, Sir Lionel of the round table, and takes up the task to collect Excalibur after a failed attempt by Baron Ruber to steal it from King Arthur. With this she shows that you don't have to be a man to be brave. The sword ends up lost in the Forbidden Forest and Kayley happens to meet the blind, former stable boy, Garett, with whom she will save Camelot. Oh right, there is also a two-headed dragon, its two (very distinct) identi-ties called Devon and Cornwall, who have a complicated hate-love rela-tionship, and—most importantly— cannot fly. Though Arthur is part of the tale (he gets injured in the attack where his sword is stolen), he has no further key role in the development of the plot. With an aged Merlin at his side, he is a passive agent until the epic battle in the end. Arthur's falcon Eyden on the other hand – yes, he had a falcon – tries to retrieve Excalibur by attacking the monster which had taken it in the first place, a not-so-intelligent pet griffin working for Ruber. This results in the sword becoming lost in the Forbidden Forest. Eyden then helps the blind Garret in his solemn life (hence the song “I Stand Alone”) in the forest and joins him and Kayley on their journey to save Camelot. Consequently, one could argue that Arthur does have an active role in this movie, through his falcon. Also, the moral and wisdom which Arthur seems to radiate in his tales is intact in Quest for Camelot, as can be seen at the end of the movie (which I will not spoil): “You have reminded us that the strength of a kingdom is not based on the strength of the king, but on the strength of its people.” So, do you want to get nostalgic and sing songs for the rest of the week? This one should be high on your list!
Merlin was one of my favourite series until the film makers decided to make a final season and stop. For me, it could have gone on forever. However, that is not the case and I will always bemoan it. In order to introduce the series, here is a quote from the beginning of each episode, where an old imprisoned dragon says: “In a land of myth, and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy. His name... Merlin.” This series revolves around Merlin – shocker, I know – a young apprentice of the elderly court physician Gaius and Arthur's servant. He slowly discovers he has magical powers, but has to keep them from everyone else, for magic is forbidden in Uther Pendragon’s Kingdom. Yes, in this series, Arthur does not start out as the famous hero and king, but as a rather spoiled and arrogant young man. Arthur tries to be the prince he is expected to be, while Merlin attempts to keep his powers a secret and save the spoiled prince time and time again from trouble. Slowly, they grow to respect each other and even become friends. In this series Arthur is very present, and even more characters from the legendary tales make an appearance. Guinevere is a darkskinned servant girl who initially is not accepted by Arthur's father, but soon proves that she is more than worthy of the prince’s courtship because of her popularity amongst the people. The three of them form a team and fight off all sorts of dangers, often accompanied by Knights of the, then not yet, round table, such as the well-known Sir Percival and Sir Lancelot. Through the series you will see parts of Arthur's adventures as described in various books (such as The Wordsworth Collection of Children's Classic Tales, where I my inspiration came from). Though I dislikethe ending of the series for multiple reasons which I will not tire you with, Merlin does give a great, though edited, overview of Arthur and Merlin’s lives. A must watch!
By Josephine Mackenbach
“Tales from King Arthur.” The Wordsworth Collection of Children's Classic Tales. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2009. 645 -781. Print.
King Arthur. Dir. Antoine Fuqua. Perf. Keira Knightley, Clive Owen. Buena Vista Pictures, 2004. DVD.
Merlin. Perf. John Hurt, Colin Morgan, Bradley James. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 2008-2012. DVD.
Quest for Camelot. Dir. Frederik Du Chau. Warner Bros., 1998. Videocassette.