Sunday, August 05, 2007
Arthur: from the Mabinogion to John Heath-Stubbs' Artorius
Being slightly closer to Birmingham now - all of five miles closer! - I took a trip there this week and bought a newish guide from the Oxford stable, this time the Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend, by Alan Lupack.
This respectably thick paperback weighs in at just under 500 pps of dense text and covers more or less everything you could possibly want to know about King Arthur and his associated knights, relatives and hangers-on. Most interestingly, it also includes details of how these stories have been retold and repackaged through the centuries, from the Middle Ages (i.e. the likes of Marie de France and Chretien de Troyes) through to the latest (up to about 2004, that is) versions of the stories, including Arthurian-related poems like Gawain and the Green Knight. Different versions of some of the most popular stories and legends are compared for similarities and differences, and some explanation for each differing version is usually given.
I've always been interested in the Arthurian complex of stories, and I'm not alone in that, of course. At the moment, I think it might be interesting to take one or even several of these Arthurian stories and reinvent them for the twenty-first century, either in poetry or prose, as so many other writers have done, but hopefully putting my own individual stamp on them.
My personal inclination is towards creating a collection of poems around one central character or theme. Probably one of the less well-known female characters, but not necessarily. It all depends on what I need to say at the time of writing and how well the story or character in question fits that need. With Boudicca, the choice was simple. But with Arthurian legend, writers wanting to work with such well-worn material soon find themselves drowning in a sea of other versions, with no clear way 'in' to something original and worthwhile.
I'm still reading, researching and mulling this over, of course. When the right idea strikes me, or rather when the right angle into the legend opens up for me, one which will fit my style and voice as a poet, that will be the moment when I can finally start work. And there's no hurrying that process ...