TTL 4a: “The Calling of Arthur.” — by Arthur Harrow

ttl rssHere is Post #4a in the Series on Taliessin through Logres! Please visit the INTRODUCTION to this series first, and here is the INDEX to the other posts in the series.

Today we have two posts about “The Calling of Arthur.” This first one is by Arthur Harrow.

Arthur S. Harrow received a BA in Biochemistry from Rice University in Houston, Texas, in 1979 and an MD from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas in 1984. He is currently a member of the Faculty of Internal Medicine at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, where he serves as the Director of Ambulatory Medicine. unnamedHe has served as Assistant and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical College of Virginia, and is currently an Instructor in Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
He has published on medical topics including Beer Potomania; he has written in less formal fashion on topics ranging from Jewish medical ethics to the Jewish themes in comic books. Dr. Harrow has been reading fantasy and science fiction from an early age. He is currently a student at the Mythgard Academy, and ranks among his proudest accomplishments being the only person in his medical school class who can legitimately list “comic book villain” on his curriculum vitae. 

Yo! Arthur! Read this!

When I started to look at this, my first thought was “Thank goodness Arthur is getting ‘called’ this time.” Perhaps it’s because I’m an Arthur, but I have gotten tired of The Fall of Arthur, or The Death of Arthur. I mean, really. Why can’t it ever be “The Spending of a Nice Weekend at a Spa with perhaps a Mani-Pedi of Arthur?”

Well, this isn’t that, but it is something different from the Arthurs I’m used to, whether it’s the Sword-in-the-Stone Arthur, the Richard Burton-Pretending-He-Can-Sing Arthur, or even the “king because he’s not covered with poop” Arthur.

I read through this a few times and had an evolving take each time, which is for me a mark of a good work.

excalibur-1981-05-gThe first thing that struck me is that this is one disgusting Merlin. He’s not a wise older Dumbledore; he’s not a wacky backwards-living mentor. This is a guy who is hairy, hungry, and covered in cattle poop. And he says “I am Camelot; now am I to be builded.” Then all of a sudden we’re dealing with a King Cradlemas, who sounds like a pretty good guy. He has tears for the poor, he fears that the winter is hard on the poor. And then it’s a spring moon, and Bors (who I remember as one of Arthur’s knights) shows up and his wife is doing the farm work and getting French food (I guess the big strong man can’t do that; but that’s another discussion entirely), and then Lancelot shows up in a hurry. We hear again “I am Camelot; Arthur, raise me.” Then the nice king who worried about the poor in the winter is dead; Merlin came, and Camelot grew. And we end with Lancelot showing up (and even if all you know about Camelot is the musical, you have to have mixed feelings about that!).

Second time through, I noticed that King Cradlemas ain’t so nice. He’s worried about the poor, but he’s looking at them through an emerald. He has a guilded mask. His rump is in cushions and his seat is a fragilely carved shell. And he’s eating nice food and keeping warm. His spirit has withered and died (right after we hear that he is in callous comfort). All of a sudden I have the feeling I wouldn’t want to live in a kingdom he was running if I was poor. And I wonder if the death of Cradlemas isn’t necessary for Camelot to be raised.

Third time: I’m wondering about the sequence of events. Poopy Merlin appears to Arthur and then Arthur stands bold. It is not until then that Merlin speaks and calls him to build Camelot. Is it because Arthur, a youngster, doesn’t back away from the poopy stranger? He is not afraid of someone who looks like the epitome of a poor peasant, filthy and hungry. And Arthur does not retreat from him. This is the opposite of Cradlemas.

Then I wondered: Cradlemas? The Mass of the Cradle? I am not a christian, but I think  I can get that reference. This king is the birthing point of the better king that is to come. The one who is not separating himself from the disgusting poopy peasant, for instance.

I’m now on my fourth iteration and here’s my next revelation. We’re at the most miserable part of winter. The mallet and scythe (tools of manufacture and agriculture) are idle and the children are dying (“Oh dear, the winter is hard for the poor…”). But Bors has showed up and that is a signal worthy of Elijah, indexwhose appearance presages the coming of the messiah: where’s the king? Everyone knows that Cradlemas is down by the river with his gold mask, emerald eye, and snail-chair. So there must be another king, come to make changes. Bors brings his wife, active farms, and food. The hammer and sickle wake up and are raised in revolt; French food has arrived, along with Lancelot. And no longer do we hear “Camelot is to be builded” in an anonymous passive voice; we hear the call “Arthur, raise me.”

So Arthur ran, and the people marched (what a change from the defeated attitude described above) and the old order dies. All because (poopy) Merlin came, and because of that Camelot grew. But we can’t be content with a happily ever after, because the king’s friend Lancelot landed, Lancelot of Gaul.

Fifth reading: Poopy Merlin calls to Arthur. He tells him the story of how Cradlemas is a one-percenter who lives in luxury and talks false compassion whilst the people suffer. And he tells him that friends are on the way; Bors and his wife, and Lancelot. And lo! When these things come to pass, the Pendragon wave (which does not take place in the stands at a cricket match, I presume) will wipe away the old. And Camelot will be built. And by the way, the trigger has been pulled: Lancelot has arrived and the sequence of events can begin.

So: Arthur passes the test and is not dismayed by the disgusting peasant. The once king surveys the misery around him from his cocoon of wealth and says “oh, the poor; too bad so sad.” Friends and allies presage the future king by bringing food, agriculture, and hope (not to mention symbols of an anti-autocratic movement); and the coming of the future king brings an end to the reign of the once king; and Camelot grows.

And the arrival of Lancelot is either the pebble which begins the avalanche, or the cliffhanger that tells us there’s a sequel on the way.

Wow. Just wow.



About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a PhD student in English and Presidential Scholar at Baylor University. She also serves as Chair of the Language and Literature Department at Signum University, online. Her latest publication is an academic essay collection on "The Inklings and King Arthur" (Apocryphile Press, December 2017). Her interests include British Modernism, the Inklings, Arthuriana, theatre, and magic. She holds an M.A. from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Sørina blogs about British poet Charles Williams at The Oddest Inkling, wrote the introduction to a new edition of Williams’s "Taliessin through Logres" (Apocryphile, 2016), and edited Williams’s "The Chapel of the Thorn" (Apocryphile, 2014). As a creative writer, Sørina has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" (2007) and "Caduceus" (2012).
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1 Response to TTL 4a: “The Calling of Arthur.” — by Arthur Harrow

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow, in turn, Dr. Harrow – what a lively, finely-observed developing exposition!

    I felt sure I used to know something about Cradlemas, so I extracted my Everyman’s Library edition of Caxton’s Malory from a teetering stack of books, and – in I, 12 (“How eleven Kings gathered a great host against King Arthur”), “there swore King Cradelmas to bring five thousand men on horseback.” In I, 14, his name has changed a bit: “Then King Arthur as a lion, ran unto King Cradelment of North Wales, and smote him through the left side” – but he carries on, on foot, till one of his allied kings knocks Sir Ector (Arthur’s foster father) off his horse and gives it to Cradelment.When Arthur saw this, “he was wroth and with his sword he smote the king on the helm, that a quarter of the helm and shield fell down, and the sword carved down unto the horse’s neck” – so Cradelment is down again, but not yet out: he’s fighting on in I, 15-17 – till Merlin reveals that the 11 kings will have more than enough to keep them busy on another front for the next 3 years. I’m not sure we ever clearly read what happens to him, but Williams has obviously liked one form of the name and developed his own Cradlemas – with, as you say, a spelling more full of suggestions. (I’ve heard a comparison attentive to tyrannous overtones made with ‘Childermas’, another name the Feast of the Holy Innocents slaughtered at Idumaean Herod’s command.)


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