Joerg O. Fichte

title.none: Lupack, New Directions in Arthurian Studies (Joerg O. Fichte )

identifier.other: baj9928.0212.009 02.12.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Joerg O. Fichte , Universitdt T|bingen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Lupack, Alan, ed. New Directions in Arthurian Studies. Series: Arthurian Studies, vol. 51. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002. Pp. ix, 168. $70.00 0-85991-642-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.12.09

Lupack, Alan, ed. New Directions in Arthurian Studies. Series: Arthurian Studies, vol. 51. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002. Pp. ix, 168. $70.00 0-85991-642-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Joerg O. Fichte
Universitdt T|bingen

The collection of essays, which grew out of "the keynote addresses and from...overviews of a particular area of Arthurian Studies" (vii) that were presented at the conference "Camelot 2000: A Millennial Conference on the Arthurian Legends," hosted by the University of Rochester, should have been called more accurately: New Directions in Arthurian Studies in North America and Great Britain. Although Norris J. Lacy, Professor of French literature, posits two categories of Arthurian literature, the first-tier literatures consisting of English (i.e., British- American), French and German and the second-tier literatures of Dutch, Norse/Icelandic, Italian and Hispanic material (7), the first tier appears to be represented exclusively by British- American Arthurian literature and criticism. In view of the timeless, global significance which many of the key-note speakers attribute to Arthur as an archetypal icon, reincarnated in multifarious literary forms and media, the narrow focus on the quondam et futurus Arthur of the Americans and the British and their expectations for their discipline is a little disconcerting. The annual Biographical Bulletin of the International Arthurian Society offers ample proof of the new directions Arthurian studies have taken in the rest of the world. A paper dealing with these "national" approaches to Arthuriana and supplementing the brief discussion of approaches of American and British critics in general by Lacy (11-12) and to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in particular by Blanch and Wasserman (75-76) would have been a welcome addition to New Directions in Arthurian Studies.

The volume consists of eleven essays. Four of these are dedicated to individual authors or works: two to Malory, one to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -- illustrating Lacy's observation that of the medieval English works the Morte Darthur and Sir Gawain receive the bulk of critical attention -- and one to Tennyson. These essays deal with specific topics like "Malory and His Audience" by P.J.C. Field, "The Paradoxes of Honour in Malory" by Derek Brewer, "Judging Camelot: Changing Critical Perspectives in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" by Robert J. Blanch and Julian N. Wasserman, and "Tennyson's Guinevere and Her Idylls of the King" by David Staines.

The remaining seven essays can be divided into two groups: one, prospects and projects (two essays), and two, overviews (five essays). The essays by Norris J. Lacy and Bonnie Wheeler are both assessments of the present state of (Anglo-American) Arthurian studies and their prospects in the twenty-first century. Whereas Lacy is more textually-oriented, emphasizing the need for multi-manuscript editions and the study of less-known texts (16), Wheeler pleads for the analysis "of the Arthurian Aryan metanarratives by deploying tools of linguistic, anthropological, and postcolonial analysis," that is, she stresses Arthurian cultural studies as a worthwhile future subject of Arthurian studies (130).

The five overviews illustrate the following topics: Sian Echard, "'Hic est Artur': Reading Latin and Reading Arthur" -- the role of Arthur in the medieval Latin tradition; Raymond H. Thompson, "Darkness over Camelot: Enemies of the Arthurian Dream" -- the hostile elements in modern Arthurian literature; Barbara Tepa Lupack, "King Arthur and Black American Popular Culture" -- Arthurian mythology in the Harlem Renaissance and in Black American material culture; Kevin J. Harty, "'Arthur? Arthur? Arthur?'- Where Exactly Is the Cinematic Arthur to Be Found?" -- an overview of film adaptations of the Connecticut Yankee and the Morte Darthur together with a brief survey of recent Arthurian screen adaptations; and Peter H. Goodrich, "Merlin in the Twenty-First Century" -- a history of the figure of Merlin in literature and in other media.

Sian Echard's thesis is "that most Latin Arthurian writers use their language as a weapon in a competition with vernacular tellers of oral story -- a competition that is about style as much as it is about truth" (53-54). Stylistic excellence is certainly a goal pursued by Latin writers -- William of Rennes' Gesta regum Britanniae quoted by Echard testifies to this -- yet the historians seem to have objected more to the fabulous nature of Geoffrey's Arthurian account in the Historia regum Britanniae than to the fact that he dressed them up "in the ornaments of the Latin tongue" (52). In contrast to Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmesbury never tires of adducing "historical" documents on which his Gesta regum Anglorum, written in artful, but difficult Latin, are based. Needless to say, Geoffrey's own clever manipulation of the inherited rhetorical tradition adds to the astonishing boldness of his enterprise as a "historiographer." In this respect Echard's thesis is at least partially substantiated.

Raymond H. Thompson's "Darkness over Camelot" identifies three conflicts in modern Arthurian fiction and illustrates them through recourse to a number of novels: "...first, Arthur and his followers must defeat external threats launched by invaders from outside the realm; second, they must put down revolts by disaffected elements within the realm; and third, they must deal with disruptive impulses within themselves" (98). Thompson singles out "demonic possession, religious fanaticism, and self-deception" (102) as the three dominant threats against which "Arthur offers freedom of choice" (103).

One of the most impressive and informative articles in this collection of essays is Barbara Tepa Lupack's "King Arthur and Black American Popular Culture," which could be seen as a supplementary chapter to Alan and Barbara Tepa Lupack's excellent study, King Arthur in America. The first part of Barbara Tepa Lupack's paper traces the impact of Arthurian themes and ideals on black culture from the nineteenth century through the Harlem Renaissance to the modern comic books (like Camelot 3000) in which black Arthurian characters are featured. The second part deals with a black institution modelled on Arthur's Table Round, the Post Office Knights of the Round Table, the origin and goals of which are presented and discussed in reference to the cultural identity of the black communities.

Kevin J. Harty, well-known for his many studies of the Cinema Arthuriana and the Reel Middle Ages, focuses his attention on the two classics, Malory's Morte Darthur and Twain's A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court, to illustrate how screen adaptations of these two works reflect the changing taste of movie audiences and the altered outlook of directors who made use of them. The Sixth Sense, Four Diamonds and The Mighty, three recent films, "attest to the continuing viability of the Arthurian legend" (142), that is, the reel Arthuriad, far from being a stable entity, is constantly reinvented.

The final essay by Peter H. Goodrich, "Merlin in the Twenty-First Century," follows the fortunes of Merlin. "He has been progressively (and sometimes regressively) the shaman, Biblical prophet, Antichrist, classical incubus, wonder child, unholy wild man, holy anchorite, druid and bard" (155). As Goodrich maintains, "Merlin enters the twenty-first century as the magic touchstone he has always been, an icon of human consciousness, a mediator of tensions, and the elixir to the creative imagination" (159).

It may be added that as an embodiment of the artistic imagination Merlin also appears in Tankred Dorst's Merlin oder das wueste Land (1981), yet this imagination is deeply warped. Looking ahead into the distant future and witnessing man's never-ending inhumanity and cruelty, Merlin laughs and says: "Ich bin ein Kuenstler, was geht es mich an" (195). Being an artist, so Merlin claims, puts him above any moral norms. The end, however, proves him wrong. The artist like any other man is responsible for his visions. As a matter of fact, Dorst seems to suggest, he is even more responsible because men live by his visions. Once the Merlins of this world, that is, the artists, the magicians, the magistri ludi, leave the stage, fantasy dies. There will be no more utopian visions.

Dorst's Merlin, recapitulating the history of the world, is a dark vision, which adds a more somber note to the mythic story of Arthur's ascent to power, his founding of the Round Table as an implementation of the concept of a perfect society, and his subsequent decline, than is found in many of the British-American adaptations of the Arthuriad. Still, it is part of that corpus of Arthuriana that the eleven essays in New Directions in Arthurian Studies have successfully analysed. As a whole, the volume succeeds in providing a competent summary of Arthurian studies and in outlining new directions of Arthurian reseach.