King Arthur and Camelot in Once Upon a Time Season 5a: The Antithesis of Ideal
by Lori J. Fitzgerald (@MedievalLit)
The realm of King Arthur lies on the border of folklore and history. Its stories are brought to life in the pages of literature and echoing in the wind over the archeological sites of Cadbury Hillfort (Camelot) and Glastonbury Tor (Avalon). It is a place of magic and chivalric ideals of behavior and leadership, woven into the songs of minstrels so that all of medieval Europe knew of King Arthur and his knights. Here be wondrous tournaments and adventures for the mysterious questing beast, or the otherworldly Grail, or to rescue a fair damosel in distress. Knights in shining armor display great feats of strength and chivalry, right judgement, and courtly love. In Camelot, striving for your best self, for trouthe (integrity), is the utmost ideal. It is no wonder that Once Upon a Time, a show known for its unique twists on fairy tale characters, has reached into the mists to draw out King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. Unfortunately, in Season 5a, the show has presented a very warped view of the medieval ideal of Camelot and chivalric leadership.
By Lori J. Fitzgerald
In Episode 3x02 of Once Upon a Time, “Lost Girl,” Snow White finds the inner strength and commitment to lead her people through what she thinks is a magical weapon, the Sword in the Stone. Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, is an iconic symbol of kingship. In true Once Upon a Time fashion, this sword not only proves Snow White worthy of the throne but also connects to the greater theme of acknowledging one’s true self in “Lost Girl."
Above: Illustration by Howard Pyle
In medieval Arthurian literature, the Sword in the Stone and Excalibur are actually two different swords, although popular culture and Prince Charming treat them as one and the same. Sir Thomas Malory, in compiling the various Arthurian legends of his day and crafting them into the definitive version Le Morte Darthur, combines the tales of the two Excaliburs, thus solidifying them as one sword in our minds. Prince Charming claims that the Sword in the Stone, called Excalibur, was forged by the benevolent mage Merlin from the realm of Camelot. In Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (1470), England is in political chaos for many years after the death of the king, Uther Pendragon. Merlyn (as spelled in Malory) finally sends for all the knights and lords of the realm to gather in London at Christmas because Christ the King would show them by some miraculous sign who should be king of England. “When matins and the first Mass were done, there was seen in the churchyard opposite the high altar a great stone, four-square and like unto a marble stone; in the middle thereof was an anvil of steel a foot in height, and therein stuck a fair naked sword by the point. There were letters written in gold about the sword that said thus: Whoso pulleth this sword out of this stone and anvil is rightfully-born king of all England” (8). Arthur is in London with his foster-father, Sir Ector. As squire to his foster-brother, Sir Kay, Arthur is instructed to go back to their lodgings to fetch Sir Kay’s forgotten sword, but the lodgings are locked. Arthur then takes the sword from the stone and gives it to Sir Kay, not realizing what it is. Sir Kay attempts to claim kingship, but his father gets the truth out of him. However, although Arthur is crowned king, many of the lords of the realm do not fully accept this sign, and he has to wage war to solidify his claim to the throne. He “drew his sword Excalibur, and it was so bright in his enemies’ eyes that it gave light like thirty torches” (13).
Explore the Arthurian legend surrounding Lancelot, take a trip into the woods to discover the mythology behind Red Riding Hood or learn more about a modern day hero called Snow White. Origins provides unique insights and perspectives from talented writers into the characters we know and love, going far beyond the boundaries of Storybrooke.