lotesse: (curioser)
I forget how much I dislike reading historical!KingArthur scholarship until I try it out again, ugh. It's all that thing in "The Monsters and the Critics" - the questions that are being pursued in the research are overwhelmingly documentarian-historicist when what i want is mythopoetics and sacred/social anthropology, I don't care if Arthur was real or not I just want to talk about who was telling what stories when and with what meanings -

I was trying to find out about Arthur, land-magic, and British-Isles colonialism. I want to know if I can legitimately make the land of the Thames valley react to Bran Davies as the rightful king come again, being that he's not English but Welsh. I would be confident having the Welsh mountains react that way to Bran, and the Thames valley would absolutely react to say T.H. White's Arthur, who isn't Welsh at all - but I'm not entirely clear on how it works, having a Welsh king function as a unification figure for Britain, when Wales has had a subordinated position in the British Empire since basically forever.

T.H. White's is the version of the canon that I know the best, and it doesn't deal with that aspect, being pretty post-Tennysonian in its characterization of Arthur and the meaning of his reign; and I mean I've also got a bunch of MZB bouncing around in the back of my head, but that's not likely to help me much in terms of either clear politics or good history. I turned up a book by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, whose work I've liked before, on the postcolonial Arthur that I mean to read, and I've had Graham Robb's book on sacral Britain on loan from my dad for about forever; but unless I turn up something explicit to prohibit it, I do think that Susan Cooper gives me enough in-text justification to cross British regional folklore traditions, if not to completely intermingle them. I feel like DiR very much lets particular traditions wash over each of the books in the series, leaving behind a series of overlapping residua. There's the never-explained Bran/Herne connection, for one thing, to justify the linkage; Herne is very solidly Thames-region-specific, and Bran Davies has his eyes.
lotesse: (merlin_rexfuturus)
My sibling is rereading The Once and Future King. It's so strange - she was present at my first formative encounter with T.H. White, when daddy read it to us out loud as a bedtime story, but if I was a small girl at the time then she was a baby, and she scarcely remembers this massively important moment of my life. Talking on the phone last night she asked me not to spoil the ending! Of the Matter of Britain! But while King Arthur dominated my childhood she seems to be almost totally ignorant of the Death of Arthur. I can't imagine not knowing that story. I can't imagine it at all. But after talking to her about it, I went back to poking one of my old sore spots: queer/feminist criticism of White, which tends to cause me terrible cognitive dissonance, because I am loath to be the person who says, no that's not misogynistic, what are you talking about. I can see why Sylvia Townsend Warner saw White's Morgause as sexist, really I can - but unlike so many other feminist literary and cultural critiques, this one just doesn't feel right in my bones.

My father used White to teach me my first lessons about ethics, and one of the things I absorbed from the text was a sense of the necessity of sexual ethics in particular. Yes, Morgause is a nasty piece of work, sluttish and domineering, but I always felt that White made it clear: she is what her world has made her, the world where her mother was raped by Uther Pendragon. When White diagrams out the tragedy, it's Uther's acts that condemn them all, not Arthur's, not Morgause's. Morgause is less a passive, sweet victim than Arthur, but I think she is legible as a victim none the less - the same way that her son Agravaine, possibly a nastier piece of work than even his mother, is also in a way more victim than villain. White taught me to see the entire Matter of Britain as the consequence of an act of sexual violence done by a man against a woman, an act that involved deception, forced sex, forced impregnation, forced marriage, and massive, national-scale gaslighting. Morgause passes the trauma of her mother's triple rape on to her sons, and they repeat it to each other obsessively, and the resonance of that pain is what takes down Camelot in the end, and she's a weapon given impetus primarily by Igraine's rape. The Once and Future King is sexist mainly in the way that all the good old fantasy novels are: they center on men, and women are relegated to the margins. As a girl-child reader, I could only regard Guenever as a puzzle, Elaine as a profoundly pitiable embarrassment. But as a girl-child reader willing to identify with male characters, as nearly all girl-child readers are (boy-children being notably less flexible), well, then I feel like this book actually gave me a fairly good picture of the paternal/patriarchal parts of the workings of power.

One of the bits of agreeable crit that I found in this round of poking the wound was at Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, which puts White's issues with women into the context of his sexual sadism and history of abuse. And it is true that one of the overriding themes of the tome is child abuse: Morgause's emotional and in some cases sexual abuse of her children, but also the horrible kind old men who break the hearts and spirits of young Arthur and Lancelot with the weight of their expectations, or their Ideas. One of the (mostly subconscious, but I can see it now) reasons why I recorded The Book of Merlyn, the unincluded last part of The Once and Future King, as a Christmas present for my daddy last year was the passage when both Arthur and the narrator recognize the cruelty of Merlyn's use of the Wart as a way to bring about his political philosophies, the truth that Arthur might have been a happier man if he hadn't become the student of a genius revolutionary - because father and I have always played Merlyn and the Wart, Lancelot and Uncle Dap, and there is something terrible about feeling like a vessel for great expectations.

daughter of the sea, oregano's first cousin


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