The Birth of Camelot: The Literary Origins of the Hollywood Arthuriana

  • Susan Aronstein
Part of the Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)


Round Table Pizza, Excalibur Hotel, King Arthur’s Flour, Camelot Restaurant: Arthur and his knights are everywhere—at the movies, on television, in comic books, popular music, theme parks, renaissance fairs, and “medieval” restaurants—and selling everything from literal products— flour, pizza, dry cleaning, car repairs—to symbolic capital—idealism, utopia, democracy, loyalty, bravery.1 When America dreams the medieval past, it dreams of the high chivalric age of Arthur’s court, a dream that, as Christopher Baswell and William Sharpe remind us, dates back to a medieval medievalism: “There is no Arthurian ‘now.’At every stage of the tradition, the narrative moment, the moment of the tale’s telling, hesitates between a past irrevocably lost and a future forever waiting.”2 King Arthur is always-already dead and his kingdom always-already fallen; from its first appearance to its latest popular culture iteration, Arthurian legend presents a golden past that never was in order to argue for a future that could be. In this golden age, Arthur reigned over a court characterized by power and plentitude—in it the best men and the most beautiful ladies gathered to feast and, from it, brave warriors rode forth to defend their boundaries and rights from all challengers.


National Identity Round Table Comic Book Masculine Identity Ideal Past 
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  1. 11.
    R. Howard Bloch, Medieval French Literature and Law (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 258. For an overview of the plight of the French aristocracy during this time, see, BlochGoogle Scholar
  2. Georges Duby The Knight, the Lady and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage in Medieval France trans. Barbara Bray (New York: Pantheon, 1983) and France in the Middle Ages: 987–1460 trans. Juliet Vale (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991); Ernst Kohler, L’Aventure Chevaleresque: Idéal et Réalité dans le Roman Courtois (Paris: Gallimard, 1974), and Gabrielle Spiegel, Romancing the Past: The Rise of Vernacular Historiography in Thirteenth Century France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    Robert De Boron, Le Roman de L’estoire dou Graal ed. William Nitze (Paris: Librairie Honoré Champion, 1971); La Queste del Saint Graal ed. Albert Pauphilet (Paris: Librairie Honoré Champion, 1965).Google Scholar
  4. 40.
    Debra N. Mancoff “To Take Excalibur: King Arthur and the Construction of Victorian Manhood,” in King Arthur: A Casebook ed. E. Donald Kennedy (New York: Garland, 1996), p. 258 [256–280].Google Scholar

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© Susan Aronstein 2005

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  • Susan Aronstein

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