Camelot: A Land Both Far Away and Contemporary

>Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a practically perfect kingdom where knights were noble and ladies were fair. The tales of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table touch on civilization’s oldest quests for beauty, law, and order. These are the things of our fantasies and fairy tales, as well as our Broadway musicals.

A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That's how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!
I know it gives a person pause,
But in Camelot, Camelot
Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

(from Camelot, by Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe)

Even cultural mega-machine Disney tapped into the Arthur legends with its animated The Sword in the Stone, released on Christmas in 1963. Google the term “King Arthur” and there are 346,000 entries. The legend has seeped into contemporary politics as well, with the Kennedy administration of the 1960’s and the seemingly idyllic Kennedy family, who some consider America’s own royal family. It would be difficult to find an adult in the modern world who does not have at least some familiarity with the Camelot legends.

But there is a song by Harry Chapin that says: “Anywhere’s a better place to be.” In other words, we cherish our dreams of better places; they give us hope of a respite from our sometimes dull, everyday life. Visions of courteous knights, lovely damsels, and a Utopian society give us the possibility of escape, even if only in our fantasies. We would like be believe our society has descended from such noble mores and moralities.

Even better, the Arthur tales are not without their humanity and human fallibility. When young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, the story plucks our Cinderella heart strings and we are all the mislabeled and mistreated underdog who becomes one of history’s greatest kings. When the fair maid of Astolat suffers and dies for her love of Sir Lancelot, it is lauded one of the great stories of romance; never mind how it might remind you of Glen Close stalking Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction. Arthur’s death echoes that of Christ, as men said his tomb is inscribed with “Here lies Arthur, the once and future king.”

Many of our fairy tales involve characters wandering into the forest to face their fears and emerge victorious, but while these stories may have human protagonists, many of the antagonists in these stories are non-human. The stories of Arthur involve the same quest for an understanding of life, relationships, honor, power, as other fables, but both protagonist and antagonist are human. These stories’ humanity brings them closer to home, closer to our hearts, and the stories resonate deeper than most other tales from our past.

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