King Arthur Now


July 26, 2009 by David Gillaspie


If reading fairy tales of kings and queens encourage a child’s imagination, then dragging them up the treacherous goat trails of Tintagel Castle makes it real.     

From one outcropping to another doom waits one misstep away.  

It was magical, but from a practical point of view the question remains, why build here when there’s beautiful flat land half a kilometer inland?  TinTagCliff

 Because it’s a myth?


America has enough mythical figures to fill the Library of Congress.  Paul Bunyan clear cuts the great north woods.  Pecos Bill rides a tornado and changes the landscape. Rulon Gardner wins Olympic Greco Gold and enters the hearts of all big guys.  We all applaud.  Except for Rulon, who is not a myth but did perform legendary tasks, we don’t want to know too much about our mythical characters. 

Their deeds are grand enough. 

Do we care about Paul Bunyan’s childhood?  Everyone knows he was raised by Stihl chainsaws.  Was ol’ Pecos a cowboy or a tectonic plate?  His tornado ridin’ created the Grand Canyon and Death Valley when either one would have been more than enough.  Our legends do big things. 

(Thank you, Rulon.)

Following the ghost of King Arthur around Tintagel changes one of the most enduring of myths.  He was born there…or not.  He lived there…maybe.  I’m humping hills like the boot camp firebreak marches at Fort Ord, standing on the edge of believing or not, when I get the epiphany. 

This is a certain history.  This is a real place.  It’s not Santa Claus in the North Pole, or the Easter Bunny.  It’s King Arthur’s birth castle in spectacular ruin. 

From one Inca-civilizatioin view to another, I’m in. 

King Arthur in the here and now.  Instead of a museum diorama, or re-enactors at a round table from Parker Brothers, I walk his land, breath his air.  But it’s not enough, not with Glastonbury further on down the road.  ArthurGraveFar 

Most planned trips work the same: pick interesting sites and make time to get there.  The rest, the transport and lodging, works itself out.  You leave with a plan, but how do you plan the impact any one place leaves with you? 

Tintagel Castle?  Sure, let’s see it.  Castle here, cathedral there, it’s England.  You’re watching out for the family, distracted, and then you get the hit. 

King Arthur?  Yes.  You want to know more.  You want a souvenir.  Maybe a henna tattoo?  You feel the joy of birth on a colossal scale at Tintagel.  Birth of a King, or birth of the mythical King, it doesn’t matter.  You’re in. 

Joy turns somber at Glastonbury near King Arthur and Genevieve’s tombstones.

The walls left free standing after Henry VIII crushed the Abbey leads to their graves.  ArtGraveNear 

You’re still in.

Greek gods springing from an ear are more dramatic.  Roman gods ruling the weather are more spectacular.  King Arthur of Tintagel is more human.  He might not clip a forest, or change the face of an entire region, but he has Camelot. 

You need Camelot.  I need Camelot.  We all need Camelot. 

Only King Arthur gives us Camelot:

“It’s true! It’s true! The crown has made it clear.
The climate must be perfect all the year.

A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.

“The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot.



“I know it sounds a bit bizarre,

“But in Camelot,


“That’s how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.



“I know it gives a person pause,
But in Camelot,


“Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here


— Alan Jay Lerner


2 thoughts on “King Arthur Now

  1. David Gillaspie says:

    Long Live The King, right Sandy? I believe in Camelot.

  2. Sandy (Swann) says:

    I’d give a lot to come back in a thousand years to learn what remains – fact and myth – about Elvis, Marilyn, Michael, the Holocaust, the AIDS epidemic, 9-11.

    It’s impossible to separate it all out, but it’s all part of the fascinating story of human beings on earth. We don’t know what’s real and not about King Arthur’s life; maybe it’s enough, as your essay reminds us, to know that he did, truly, live. And something did really happen while he was King.

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