Pop Culture Arthurian Legend

Bernard Cornwell: The Winter KingThis month’s reading in my Goodreads book club is Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King. I won’t be reading it; I don’t have time because of my writing schedule, and also because although Edmund has been after me since 1997 to read this book which he really loved, I never got past the first chapter because it just wasn’t grabbing me.

In fact, I’ve yet to finish any Cornwell novel; I failed on the Sharpe novels (though I saw a number of the British television versions starring Sean Bean, but still wasn’t that interested), and I loved The Archer’s Tale exactly as much as my attempt to read the first Thomas Covenant novel, and for the same reason. After the latter book, I decided I wasn’t going to try any more of his books.

Monty Python and the Holy GrailStill, there is plenty of pop culture material around the Arthurian legends; on the Goodreads discussion, Rachel started a thread on other uses of the legend in fantasy and science fiction books. I’ll be brief and picky here because there is so much material.

There are so many movies based on the Arthurian cycle that Wikipedia has a whole page to tally them, as well as one to list other works based on the material. The ones I remember best are:

  • Excalibur (John Boorman, 1981). I hate that movie so much, but lots of my friends adore it.
  • Monty Python’s and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975). I still love it, so that’s three reasons in  a row for readers to hate me.
  • The Sword in the Stone (Walt Disney, 1963). I was enough of a geek even at ag4e 10 to pooh-pooh it because it was departing from the legends, particularly regarding the character of Merlin…
  • Indirectly, I suppose we could add Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989).  Another one I still love.

Prince Valiant RPGThe Arthurian legend was also pillaged in individual episodes of Babylon Five, Doctor Who, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, etc.

Pendragon RPG coverFor my fellow role-players, here are three games of note:

  • Pendragon (written by Greg Stafford), a game which is now in its fifth edition. I was never in love with the system but it works. The source material is very good, and it has in fact been used to play specifically with the flavour found in Cornwell’s The Winter King.
  • Prince Valiant, the Story-Telling Game (written by Greg Stafford), based on the Prince Valiant comic books by Hal Foster. Out of print but still found used on eBay or in used book stores, and well worth the purchase.
  • CAMELOT Trigger (written by Rod Wieland), a setting for the Fate Core system found in Evil Hat Productions’ recently published Fate Worlds Volume 2: Worlds in Shadow. A re-telling as a solar system-spanning epic with giant mech suits.

One thought on “Pop Culture Arthurian Legend

  1. CAMELOT Trigger looks a bit like Camelot 3000, another retelling of the Arthurian legends in a future setting. I remember taking a class on Arthurian literature. Some of the earlier stories of Arthur and Merlin were very different from the popular depictions. Merlin especially… very especially.

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