The Return of the King: Arthur and the Quest for True Manhood

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


Although at odds with the alternative politics of George Romero’s Knightriders, the Arthurian legend’s vision of a lost utopia, ruled over by a benevolent patriarch, and combined with its emphasis on military prowess and glory, was an ideal vehicle for the themes of Reaganite entertainment and, as the country longed for a vision of positive authority, the narratives of medievalism provided a dream of a “true patriarchy” capable of restoring America to cultural and economic health. This search for the “true masculine” was often framed as a Grail narrative—a tale of a wasteland, marked by a loss of fertility and virility, saved by the recollection and reinstatement of a forgotten truth, reified in the healthy body of the king. In their chronicles of the interconnected healing of a land and its king, Grail narratives extended the quest to recover a lost political and global authority from the political to the personal—and back to the political. In the following pages, I examine the era’s multiple quests for the healing Grail of masculinity, beginning with Reagan’s own use of the wasteland motif to justify his social and economic policies. I then move to a discussion of the decade’s most pervasive Grail legend: the mythopoetic men’s movement’s translation of the tale into the key to “masculine psychology.”


Round Table Utopian Vision Hard Body True Manhood Male Mentor 
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© Susan Aronstein 2005

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  • Susan Aronstein

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