Defining Arthur: Morgan le Fay’s Influence on King Arthur’s Unexamined Moral Code in Malory and Zimmer-Bradley
Dr. William Reynolds
In the late 15th century, Sir Thomas Malory, the accepted author of what would later be printed as Le Morte d’Arthur, penned the words that would haunt the legend of King Arthur forever: HIC IACET ARTHURUS, REX QUONDAM REXQUE FUTURUS. In 1958, writer T.H. White would provide a succinct translation of that famous phrase in the title of his own novel, The Once and Future King. These words, said to have been inscribed on Arthur’s tomb, would soon become synonymous with his character. Despite popular belief, however, Arthur’s moral obligations as a monarch tend to overshadow his true, personal moral code. Even contemporary literature like Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, while certainly attempting to deduce the character of Arthur from his actions and decisions, fails to examine Arthur’s moral code in conjunction with his position as king. Yet by combining Malory’s compilation of Arthurian tradition in Morte and the relationship between Arthur and his half-sister in Mists, the character of the universal Arthur becomes clear. While commonly considered the perfect Christian king, Arthur’s complex character, created through his interactions with Morgan le Fay, further reveals his connection to and consideration of the paganism present in his origin, life, and death. This project focuses on this unexamined, personal moral code of King Arthur, seeking to dispel the stereotypes around Arthur’s seemingly flawless, primarily Christian character while at the same time examining his personal commitment to paganism.
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