Here is a ever-growing collection of material on King Arthur and his knights that has been found rooting around in various books. It really is a trashcan full of little oddments that just didn't fit in anywhere else!
Below are the first two verses taken from a bellicose patriotic poem that was found in an anthology (AN ANTHOLOGY OF HUMOROUS VERSE, edidted by Theodore Andrea Cook, published 1902 by George Virtue of London). Alongside Arthur and his father other heroic figures of history and fable are ridiculed in like style; Guy of Warwick, Tamerlain, Thalestris, the Gemini, Hannibal and Domitian.
ST. GEORGE FOR ENGLAND. BY J. GRUBBE. THE story of King Arthur old Is very memorable, The number of his valiant knights, And the roundness of his table: The knights around his table in A circle sate, d'ye see: And altogether made up one Large hoop of chivalry. He had a sword, both broad and sharp, Y-cleped Caliburn, Would cut a flint more easily Than pen knife cuts a corn; As case knife does a capon carve, So would it carve a rock, And split a man at single slash, From noddle down to nick. As Roman Augur's steel of yore Dissected Tarquin's riddle, So this would cut both conjuror And whetstone through the middle. He was the cream of Brecknock, And flower of all the Welsh: But St George he did the dragon fell, And gave him a plaguey squelsh. St. George he was for England; St. Dennis was for France; Sing, Honi soit qui mal y pense. Pendragon, like his father Jove, Was fed with milk of goat; And like him made a noble shield Of she-goat's shaggy coat: On top of burnisht helmet he Did wear a crest of leeks; And onions' heads, whose dreadful nod Drew tears down hostile cheeks. Itch and Welsh blood did make him hot, And very prone to ire; He was ting'd with brimstone, like a match, And would as soon take fire. As brimstone he took inwardly When scurf gave him occasion, His postern puff of wind was a Sulphureous exhalation. The Briton never tergivers'd, But was for adverse drubbing, And never turn'd his back to aught, But to a post for scrubbing. His sword would serve for battle, or For dinner, if you please; When it had slain a Cheshire man, 'Twould toast a Cheshire cheese. He wounded, and, in their own blood, Did anabaptize Pagans: But George he made a dragon an Example to all dragons. St. George he was for England; St. Dennis was for France; Sing, Honi soit qui mal y pense.
The following is taken from a work that was originally published under the title (at great length) of:-
Lexicon Balantroniicum A DICTIONALRY OF Buckish Slang, University Wit, AND PICKPOCKET ELOQUENCE. Compiled originally by Captain Grose. AND NOW CONSIDERABLY ALTERED AND ENLARGED, WITH MODERN CHANGES AND IMPROVEMENTS, BY A MEMBER OF THE WHIP CLUB. ASSISTED BY HELL-FIRE DICK, AND JAMES GORDON, ESQURS, OF CAMBRIDGE; AND WILLIAM SOAMES, ESQ. OF THE HON. SOCIETY OF NEWMAN'S HOTEL.
ARTHUR: KING ARTHUR. A game used at sea, when near the line, or in a hot latitude. It is performed thus: A man who is to represent King Arthur, ridiculously dressed, having a large wig made out of oakum, or some old swabs, is seated on the side, or over a large vessel of water. Every person in his turn is to be ceremoniously introduced to him, and to pour a bucket of water over him, crying, hail King Arthur! if during this ceremony the person introduced laughs or smiles (to which his majesty endeavours to excite him, by all sorts of ridiculous gestures), he changes places with, and then becomes , king Arthur, till relieved by some other tar, who has as little command over his muscles as himself.
The 1811 Dictionary of the vulgar tounge, Senate: London, 1994
This series of five children's books will seem an odd choice for a web page concerned with Arthuriana. However, the Arthurian world is in the background of all books. Not the Arthurian world that we know so well from the mediaeval cycle of tales, but one that relates more directly to the world of Welsh myth.
I am an admirer of Susan Cooper's books; particularly of the 'Dark is Rising' sequence. One of which, 'The Grey King', was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1975. Many will compare these books with J. K . Rowling's series of Harry Potter books. True they both have child heroes, but there the resemblance ends. Where the Harry Potter books slavishly use the 'public school story', a format that has become increasingly tired and overworked since the nineteenth century, Susan Cooper makes use of the 'holiday adventure format' in a lively and original way. In her books the everyday world and the magical interpenetrate each other without a laboriously contrived alternative world, with it's exaggerated and stereotypical characters.
The five books of the sequence involve children from two families who only come together in third book (GREENWITCH) and in the final book (SILVER ON THE TREE). The first book, OVER SEA, UNDER STONE, relates how the 'Grail' was found by the three children of the Drew family (Jane, Barney and Simon). In the second book, THE DARK IS RISING, a single boy (Will Stanton) is pitted against the forces of the 'Dark' which seek to bring an eternal winter to England. This invasion of Britain by the 'Dark' occurs in parallel with Will Stanton's coming of age as a magician; one of the 'Old Ones'. The third book, GREENWITCH, has all the heroes of the first two books recovering the stolen 'Grail' and discovering it's secret in the locale of the first book; the fictional Cornish village of Trewissick. Fourth comes THE GREY KING. Here Will Stanton is again the hero of an adventure that sees him in Wales, defeating the brooding menace of the Grey King (the Brennin LLwyd) and releasing the Six Sleepers from their agelong sleep. He does this in the company of the son of King Arthur (Bran Davies). The last book, SILVER ON THE TREE, brings all the heroes of the previous books, including Arthur's son, together in Wales to finally destroy the power of the 'Dark' upon the earth. A victory that also leads to the withdrawal of the benevolent magic of the 'Light' from the world of man.
In all the books the character Merriman Lyon provides a connecting link. Acting as an adviser and a protector of the main characters, his identity is made explicit at the end of the first book. Here, Barnabas Drew, youngest of the three Drew children, speculates that the name Merryman Lyon can be contracted in to following way; "Merry Lyon...Merlion...Merlin". So we are drawn, almost accidentally, into an Arthurian world that not only existed in the past, but still exerts an influence in the contemporary world
This mention of King Arthur's magician, Merlin, brings us to the topic of magic and the part it plays in the 'sequence'. Magic is here perceived as a force penetrating the the whole universe. Overarching all is a 'High Magic' which is specific to each galaxy of the universe and which binds the lower forms of magic to its rules. Below this a veritable maeslstrom of magical forces pervade the Earth. There is the 'Old Magic of the Earth', the 'Wild Magic of Living Things' and the two opposing magical forces of the 'Dark' and the 'Light'. Yet despite these four magical forces, it is ultimately humankind who control the world and its fate.
The two forces that impinge most directly upon man are the 'Dark' and the 'Light'. These are sovreign forces which 'merely exist'. Their struggle is for the soul of humankind. The 'Dark' seeks to dominate this collective soul so that it may, in the end, use man as its agent to control the earth. The 'Light' seeks to thwart this ambition by driving the 'Dark' from the earth, so leaving humankind free to control their own destiny. Agents of both the 'Dark' and the 'Light' are telepathic, have the ability to travel through time, and to manipulate time by making the ordinary world enter a phase of stasis while the magicians of the 'Dark' and 'Light' pursue their activities. They are also able to make ordinary people forget the penetration of magic into their world.
The 'Light' is represented by the the world-wide circle of the 'Old Ones', who are born to their role. Classically, as was Will Stanton, by being the seventh son of a seventh son. They are under the domination of the oldest of the 'Old Ones' - Merlin. While the 'Dark' recruits its human members from people who deliberately 'chose to be changed into something more dread and powerful' than their fellows. They who thus chose to serve the 'Dark' take on the persona of the archetypical figure of the' Dark'; the 'Black Rider'. He, like the the 'Old Ones' of the 'Light', has been present on the Earth from its very beginning:-
'when magic was at large in the world; magic that was the power of rocks and fire and water and living things, so that the first men lived in it and with it, as a fish lives in the water.
Cooper, S., THE DARK IS RISING SEQUENCE, Puffin Books: London, 1977, P. 256.
The 'Dark' manifests itself in the periodic destructive invasions that the island of Britain has suffered. However, each wave of invaders 'in turn grew peaceful as it grew to know and love the land', so that the 'Light' flourished again and the influence of the 'Dark' became insignificant. The first great struggle of the 'Light' against the 'Dark' lasted for roughly those three centuries that this island was a part of the Roman Empire. It ended with the help of the 'Light's' 'greatest leader lost in the saving unless one day he might wake and return again.' Here we have a direct allusion to King Arthur, who is held by legend to be sleeping underground, in various places, until he will be awakened to deal with the greatest crisis that will ever invade the island of Britain.
.... This where we live is a world of men, ordinary men, and although in it is the Old Magic of the Earth, and the Wild Magic of living things, it is men who control what the world shall be like ... But beyond the world is the universe, bound by the law of the High Magic, as every universe must be. And beneath the High Magic are ... two poles ... that we call the Dark and the Light. No other power orders them. they merely exist. The Dark seeks by its dark nature to influence men so that in the end, through them, it may control the earth. The Light has the task of stopping that from happening. From time to time the Dark has come rising and has been driven back, but now very soon it will rise for the last and most perilous time. It has been gathering strength for that last rising, and it is almost ready. And therefore, for the last time, until the end of Time, we must drive it back so that the world of men may be free ... We are the Old Ones ... There is a great circle of us, all over the world and beyond the world, from all places and all corners of time.
Cooper, S., THE DARK IS RISING SEQUENCE, Puffin Books: London, 1977, pp. 599-600.
This brings us to the 'Wild Magic'. A force that may have no dealings eith either the 'Dark' or the 'Light', but is powerful nonetheless. 'It is without discipline or pattern' and is invincible when rampaging upon earth - even able to defeat agents of the 'Dark'. When loose upon the earth it brings terrors to the minds of people: 'calling up all the terrors they have ever had, or their forefathers have ever had.'
Finally, the 'Old Magic', a shadowy force that Susan Cooper does not describe directly. It created the crystal sword Eirias at the request of the 'Light'. This being the sword with which the flowering mistletoe will be cut at the end of the 'sequence': an act that will banish all the forces of magic from the earth. Eirias was made by Gwyddno Garanhir, the lost king of the 'Lost Land'. This land is governed by its own rules of 'Old Magic', though its inhabitants are clearly sympathetic to the forces of the 'Light'. The 'Lost Land' is that which is said to have once existed in Cardigan Bay, but which was drowned when a storm broke through the sea-wall that protected this low-lying region from flooding. It was also known as the Cantr'er Gwaelod, the Lowland Hundred.
The climax of the 'Dark is Rising' comes with the cutting of the flowering mistletoe from the 'World Tree' with the sword Eirias. An act, as has been said before, that will abolish all magic from the world, leaving all that happens in it, both good and the evil, the sole responsiblity of humankind:-
The tree of life, the pillar of the world ... Once every seven hundred years it may be seen in this land, and on it the mistletoe that will bear its silver blooms on that one day. And whoever shall cut the blossom, at the moment when it opens fully from the bud, shall turn events and have the right to command the Old Magic and the Wild Magic, to drive all rival powers out of the world and out of Time.
Cooper, S., THE DARK IS RISING SEQUENCE, Puffin Books: London, 1984, pp. 760-1
Having dealt with the part that the force of magic plays in the world created by Susan Cooper, it is time to examine a figure whose nature partakes of more than a little of this magic; King Arthur. From the books can be pieced together a history of Arthur that relates more to Welsh myth than to the King Arthur who we are familiar with from Sir Thomas Malory and related mediaeval tales.
Firstly, Arthur is the victor of the battle of Badon. An earthly battle that was the overt aspect of the continuing struggle between the 'Dark' and the 'Light'. This battle temporarily set back the attempts of the 'Dark' to take over the world of men. The deciding of the battle in the 'Light's' favour being due to the prescence of the girdle of the six linked signs of the 'Light' that was Will Stanton's quest to obtain in 'THE DARK IS RISING'. Signs that had the ancient Celtic sun-wheel form in common: a circle quartered by two crossed lines.
Next comes the infidelity of Guinevere. The partner in this is not mentioned, however marital relationships with Arthur were restored and a son has been born. Though Guinevere is fearful that Arthur will have suspicions that this son is not his and will reject the boy. To avoid this she has Merlin bring her son and herself into this present age. Here she is taken in by a Welsh shepherd, Owen Davies, who falls in love with her. However, while she is alone in his cottage, and playing on a golden harp, she is attacked by Caradoc Pritchard. Owen Davies comes upon the couple and would have killed Pritchard had he not been restrained. Perhaps in this incident we see the influence of the abduction of Guinevere by Meliagraunce and her rescue by Lancelot? A story that we are familiar with from Malory. The idyll between Guinevere and Owen Davies is destined not to last, for she is taken back to her own time by Merlin. She leaves behind her son, in the care of Owen Davies, with only a pencilled note saying that his name is Bran (raven). This naming of Arthur's son recalls the tradition that Arthur himself inhabits the present day world in the guise of a raven.
There is also a mention of the incident in which Arthur banished the afanc from Llyn Barfog, by dragging it with his horse to another lake Llyn Cau, for the benefit of those living around Llyn Barfog. Afance is said to mean beaver in modern Welsh, but the exact nature of this creature is uncertain; though it supposed to be related to the Scottish kelpie. In 'SILVER ON THE TREE', Susan Cooper depicts the afanc of Llyn Barfog as having a long sinuous neck topped with a small pointed triangular head and an open black-toothed mouth. The head also bore two antennae that moved like those of a snail. Between the antennae began a fringe, very like a mane, that ran down the whole length of the creature's neck. In colour the creature was a dark green with gleams of iridescence, while its underside was a silvery white. It menaces Susan Drew, but is forced to retreat back into Llyn Barfog when challenged by Bran Davies in the name of his true father, King Arthur.
The last incident of Arthur's life upon this earth comes with his final defeat at an un-named battle (presumably Camlan). Bedwin, one of Arthur's warriors, though wounded, escapes to the West, to Cornwall, with the 'Grail'. Here he entrusts this precious relic to the care of a local family who pass it down from father to son. The last male member of this family, fearful that it will fall into the hands of relatives who are closely allied to the invading Saxons (who here represent the 'Dark'), hides the 'Grail' in a cave whose entrance is only open at the lowest of low tides. It is here that the 'Grail' is discovered by the Drew children in 'OVER SEA, UNDER STONE'.
After his defeat, Arthur did not die, but became one of those Lords of 'High Magic' who are responsible for caring for the golden harp, whose acquisition by the forces of the 'Light', epitomised by Will Stanton and Bran Davies, will lead to thewakening of the Six Sleepers: this is the theme of 'THE GREY KING'. In this book Arthur appears as one of the three Lords of 'High Magic' who question Will Stanton and Bran Davies. The successful answering of their three questions releases the golden harp into the possession of Will Stanton. Arthur, who appears in a sea-green robe, recognises Bran Davies as his son and clearly feels a great affection for the boy. As he also does for Bran's dog, Cavall. Who seems to be a reincarnation of Arthur's favourite dog Cavall, which killed the Chief Boar Ysgithyrwyn in the Mabinogion tale of 'Culhwch and Olwen'.
Arthur reappears in the final book of the sequence 'SILVER ON THE TREE' as a version of the Lord of the Dead, whose ship takes souls from the earth to the otherworld. The name of his ship, Pridwen, is taken directly from Welsh myth. After the climax of the 'SILVER ON THE TREE', the cutting of the flowering mistletoe from the 'World Tree' by Bran Davies, the ship carries off the souls of the 'Old Ones' of the 'Light' to beyond the North Wind where they will enjoy an elysian existence free from the endless struggle against the 'Dark' that they were involved in while they were upon the earth . Arthur offers his son Bran a place upon this boat so he can too be transported to this Celtic Elysium, which is symbolised in the sky by the constellation of Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown). However, Bran refuses to leave the world of man. He opts to live out his life as a human being with no knowledge of being the son of the great King Arthur, and the rightful inheritor of the title of Pendragon of the island of Britain. In rejecting his heritage he also abandons the magical inheritance of the 'High Magic' into which he naturally grew in the two books of the 'Sequence' in which he appeared.
In one allusion to Arthur, Susan Cooper shows deep knowledge of Welsh lore. This is where she names the mountain Cader Idris as being Arthur's Seat. According to John Rhys (Celtic Folklore, P. 203), it was out 'of excessive fondness for our Arthur English people translate this name into Arthur's Seat instead of Idris' Seat.' Could Susan Cooper be making a naive mistake? Fortunately, Susan Cooper saves herself from appearing the superficial English onlooker by displaying her knowledge of Welsh tradition. For she has the human villain of 'THE GREY KING', Caradoc Pritchard, spend a night on the summit of Cader Idris in the hope of gaining the gift of poetic inspiration. Though his eventual descent into madness, under the influence of the Brennin Llwyd (the Grey King), shows that she was aware of the following tradition that relates to Cader Idris. For Cader Idris is a place where one who spends the night in the chair of the giant Idris (the summit of Cader Idris) is found the following morning either 'inspired or mad' (Squires, Celtic Myth and Legend, P. 305). Idris was, according to Rhys (Celtic Folklore, P. 202), 'a giant with a liking for the study of the stars, so that the top of a mountain was an appropriate place for his habitation.'
It is now time to finish this superficial examination of the magical assumptions and the Arthurian background behind Susan Cooper's 'THE DARK IS RISING SEQUENCE'. Obviously there are many other topics to explore. Such as the identity of the mysterious lady who seems to be the most important of the 'Old Ones'. I hope that this little account of the magical world, and the Arthurian associations, that lie beneath the surface of Susan Cooper's quintology, or pentology, will be of interest to someone.
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