Monday, 30 March 2009

Let's Get this Over With

Before I go through snarking Arthurian movie costumes, I need to address a basic point about them and history:

King Arthur did not exist.

Blah blah blah Geoffrey Ashe blah blah Layamon blah blah Cadbury blah blah Alcock blah blah blah Glastonbury graves. I know, I know.

Hillforts and tribal/regional warlords defending them in Britain were a dime a dozen from a few hundred years BCE to about 980 CE or so. There was a military leader referred to as 'Riothamus', who had an army from Britain in the Loire area circa 470; there was an Artuir, son of Aedan of Dalriada who was killed, probably fighting Picts, circa 600; there was a Lucius Artorius Castus, praefectus of the Sixth Legion in York, who led two legions against the Armoricans in north-west Gaul circa 200. None of these fine blokes were alive around the time the Romans stopped sending legions to Britain, in case that needed spelling out.

At some point, probably circa 410, Rome stopped sending military support to Britain. The Romans in Britain, who were probably mostly of native descent, maintained the local administrative structure and continued to defend their part of the Roman Empire - at least for a while. (Maintaining the Roman Empire was a hobby until at least the late Medieval period. It took the Victorians to decide that the Roman Empire had been dead for a while.)

At some point, a number of migrations took place. Irish settled in northern and western Britain, Britons went to Armorica and to north-west Spain, and (deep breath), Jutes, Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Rugians, Danes, Huns, Bructeri, Franks, Norse, and possibly a few blokes from Sweden all came to Britain, where they (and native Britons as well, I am NOT listing the tribes) mostly eventually re-identified themselves as Angles, Saxons, or Jutes because they couldn't keep track of all that either.

At any rate, while groups of people were wandering all over the map and creating, or adopting, little mixed kingdoms all over Britain, they tended to squabble with each other a lot.
For example, around the early 600s there were some battles which may be interpreted as Irish and Angles disputing control over the British kingdom of Gododdin (the old tribal Votadini territory); the power of Dal Riata (Irish in Scotland if you're keeping track) lessened but Irish church influence increased, and actually the Britons of the kingdom of Strathclyde were the ones who killed the king of Dal Riata, Domnall Brecc. Anyway the Angles probably won control of Gododdin because the next thing you know the Picts, who may have been a confederation of different groups, were kicking Ecgfrith's butt back south of the Forth. Don't even ask who was winning here; I haven't even gotten into the intermarriages yet.

So about three or four hundred years later, some dude is writing the Historia Brittonum and it gets a bit dry, so he throws in some folktales about a guy called Arthur quite similar to legends about a guy called Finn from Ireland (didn't exist either). What with re-dating and all, this is probably the first mention of an Arthur, and it's all about how his dog Cabal left a footprint in a rock and typical folktale things like that.

And then people thought hey, there were a whole lot of warlord/kings for a while, and some of them did pretty well, maybe this folktale Arthur is based on one of them. I assume those same people are busy looking for a detective-monk named Cadfael around the time of Stephen's reign and maybe checking the airports for a real guy with a name similar to 'Borat'.

But wait! This is good news. If the story of King Arthur is fantasy in the first place, you can't go wrong! People have been making up any old thing they liked about Arthur since, well, the 800s anyway; it's now a long and proud tradition. King Arthur in a tutu, Lancelot in full Elizabethan, and Mordred in a spacesuit? It's not wrong! (And I believe the second two have been done.)

...unless you declare a place and time. If you say 'it's Arthurian. It happens once upon a time in a kingdom of Britain', have fun with your storytelling. On the other hand, if you say 'it's about King Arthur as a Roman Briton circa 500', then I would like to see costumes that make sense for a Roman Briton circa 500. Hey, I'm not the one who wanted to drag history into this in the first place.

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