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Defining Arthurian-ness

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  • Jason Tondro
    Everyone, I agree as Alan suggested that just because there is a knight in a story the work is not necessarily Arthurian. However, I am not so sure that there
    Message 1 of 13 , Jan 12, 2001
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      Everyone,

      I agree as Alan suggested that just because there is a knight in a story
      the work is not necessarily Arthurian. However, I am not so sure that
      there has to be a "smoking gun" or authorial intent in order for a theme
      or character to be Arthurian. It's just my opinion and one not held by
      the majority, but I'll argue what I can for it.

      Let's take "Spaceknights" as an example. Jim Starlin, the writer, has
      chosen a couple of Arthurian names for his characters. Now, to you and
      me, Balin and Tristan are instantly recognizable. But to someone whose
      sole knowledge of Arthur comes from TV and film, these names are
      meaningless. Balin has to draw his father's sidearm from out of a force
      field in order to prove his right to the throne, but not everyone may
      recognize this as a Sword in the Stone motif. Now, does Starlin -intend-
      for these things to be recognized by the general public? I don't know if
      you can authoritatively answer that question one way or another. He's
      clearly inspired by an Arthurian theme, however.

      If the standard for an Arthurian comic is "the author intends the
      Arthurian elements to be recognized" then we enter a quagmire of what
      the author intends. What if the author intentionally obscures his
      intent? Does that make the work "less Arthurian"? And what if someone
      finds Arthurian themes and motifs in a work that the author claims is
      "not Arthurian"? Who is right? How can we be sure?

      In the end, the only thing we know for sure is the words and the
      pictures on the page. And we find Arthurian elements in these works the
      same way we find motifs and influences in any other piece of literature.
      We look. We put it under the microscope and analyze and debate. And
      usually we have to do this on a case by case basis. If Arthur or Morgan
      or Merlin are named, well, then the first part of the job is done. But
      sometimes those characters are disguised, and we have to do a little
      detective work.

      Still fightin,
      Jason
    • Nastali@aol.com
      Jason is absolutely right when he says that we identify Arthurian elements in comics just as we do in other forms of literature, and that can mean personal
      Message 2 of 13 , Jan 12, 2001
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        Jason is absolutely right when he says that we identify Arthurian elements in
        comics just as we do in other forms of literature, and that can mean personal
        interpretation as well as identification of explicit associations.  I'm
        always grateful to have someone point out a new "Arthurian" work, even if it
        turns out in my judgment not to make the grade.  I can decide, for my own
        purposes, whether to exclude it or not and so can everyone else.

        I do wonder if it isn't possible to set some parameters for some other common
        situations, however, typified perhaps by the Spawn character who is
        identified with Merlin.  I would agree that the story in which that
        association is made is an "Arthurian" story, but I wouldn't consider
        subsequent stories to be so except in cases where the connection is
        explicitly made again.  And this would also be true for other comics
        featuring characters with "Arthurian" origins--e.g., the Black Knight, the
        Shining Knight, the Demon.  Stories in which these characters appear, it
        seems to me, are "Arthurian" only when an Arthurian element is incorporated.  
        Where it is not, how is the story Arthurian?

        Dan
      • Cory Rushton
        Hi all: Great discussion! But it seems as though we might need to expand our field a little. By that I mean that there may be differing and equally valid
        Message 3 of 13 , Jan 12, 2001
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          Hi all:

          Great discussion! But it seems as though we might need to expand our field
          a little.

          By that I mean that there may be differing and equally valid definitions of
          "Arthurian-ness" that can be seen not as exclusive but heirarchical:
          "Arthurian" works, "Marginally Arthurian" works and "Thematically Arthurian"
          works.

          Arthurian works would include any telling, re-tellings or expansions o the
          basic legend: Malory's "Morte Darthur", Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," the
          film "Excalibur," and the comics "Camelot 3000" and "Prince Valiant." These
          are fairly easy to isolate and identify.

          Marginally Arthurian works would be any text in which an Arthurian character
          or object, or any new character explicitly connected to the Arthurian
          stories, makes an appearance. The work itself, however, is not first and
          foremost Arthurian. Examples might include Spenser's "Fairie Queene," the
          film "Dragonheart," any Avengers comics in which the Black Knight appears,
          or Cogliostro, or the Demon Etrigan. (Especially in the case of Cogliostro,
          where his identification of Merlin says nothing substantial about either
          Cogliostro himself or the Merlin tradition. Like his identification as
          Prospero, it is mumbo-jumbo meant only to give the illusion of literary
          allusion.)

          Thematically Arthurian works are trickier, and might include the film "The
          Natural" and Evelyn Waugh's novel "A Handful of Dust." The trick here is
          that the Arthurian legend is such a prominent part of western culture that
          its themes become universal (or vice versa). The theme would have to be
          somewhat explicit either in the text or in authorial intent before it could
          be accepted.

          Just a few(!) thoughts

          Cory Rushton
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        • Bert Olton
          ... story ... that ... theme ... by ... I don t think that there s too much disagreement on this point Jason, unless I m misunderstanding what folks have been
          Message 4 of 13 , Jan 14, 2001
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            --- In arthurian_comixlist@egroups.com, Jason Tondro <jvester@e...>
            wrote:
            > Everyone,
            >
            > I agree as Alan suggested that just because there is a knight in a
            story
            > the work is not necessarily Arthurian. However, I am not so sure
            that
            > there has to be a "smoking gun" or authorial intent in order for a
            theme
            > or character to be Arthurian. It's just my opinion and one not held
            by
            > the majority, but I'll argue what I can for it.


            I don't think that there's too much disagreement on this point Jason,
            unless I'm misunderstanding what folks have been saying. I do agree,
            there doesn't have to be authorial intent for an Arthurian theme to
            be detected by a reader.

            >
            > Let's take "Spaceknights" as an example. Jim Starlin, the writer,
            has
            > chosen a couple of Arthurian names for his characters. Now, to you
            and
            > me, Balin and Tristan are instantly recognizable. But to someone
            whose
            > sole knowledge of Arthur comes from TV and film, these names are
            > meaningless. Balin has to draw his father's sidearm from out of a
            force
            > field in order to prove his right to the throne, but not everyone
            may
            > recognize this as a Sword in the Stone motif. Now, does Starlin -
            intend-
            > for these things to be recognized by the general public? I don't
            know if
            > you can authoritatively answer that question one way or another.
            He's
            > clearly inspired by an Arthurian theme, however.


            Exactly right. Someone completely unfamiliar with Arthurian legend
            might become curious about the names and either ask someone else or
            look them up. Balin wouldn't be as easily found but even in a small
            collegiate dictionary, Tristan is described as an Arthurian
            character. The bells would begin to go off. Had Starlin chosen the
            names Herakles and Jason a completely different set of myths and/or
            legends would be brought to mind.



            > If the standard for an Arthurian comic is "the author intends the
            > Arthurian elements to be recognized" then we enter a quagmire of
            what
            > the author intends. What if the author intentionally obscures his
            > intent? Does that make the work "less Arthurian"? And what if
            someone
            > finds Arthurian themes and motifs in a work that the author claims
            is
            > "not Arthurian"? Who is right? How can we be sure?
            > In the end, the only thing we know for sure is the words and the
            > pictures on the page. And we find Arthurian elements in these works
            the
            > same way we find motifs and influences in any other piece of
            literature.
            > We look. We put it under the microscope and analyze and debate. And
            > usually we have to do this on a case by case basis. If Arthur or
            Morgan
            > or Merlin are named, well, then the first part of the job is done.
            But
            > sometimes those characters are disguised, and we have to do a little
            > detective work.


            Again, I agree. It does not matter that an author had no intention
            of writing an Arthurian story. If an Arthurian theme is in it, then
            the story includes an element, at whatever level of expliciteness or
            vagueness, of Arthurian-ness. (enough of -nesses, eh?). Sorry to
            use a film as an example again, but "Nevada Smith" was a back story
            from Harold Robbins' novel "The Carpetbaggers". If for the sake of
            the argument we assume Robbins didn't dream of including Arthurian
            elements, that does not change the fact that the Perceval/Parsifal
            theme is present in "Nevada Smith". We know so because the crucial
            elements of the Parsifal story are there to see, even though the
            story is _not_ Arthurian.

            It isn't a quagmire at all, but an example of what is so frequently
            stated about the Arthurian legends, namely that they are the primary
            myths of Western culture. That elements of them appear even
            inadvertently should be no surprise. (As an anecdotal 'other-side-of-
            the-coin', Steinbeck was disgruntled that the reviewers he always
            hated hadn't recognized that "Tortilla Flat" _was_ intended as an
            Arthurian tale!) The whole psychiatric and cultural unconscious
            thing could be brought in, but Campbell and Jung should probably be a
            different discussion.


            Bert Olton
          • Alan Stewart
            I like Cory s suggestion of dividing the works under consideration into the categories of Arthurian, marginally Arthurian, and thematically Arthurian. My own
            Message 5 of 13 , Jan 15, 2001
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              I like Cory's suggestion of dividing the works under consideration
              into the categories of Arthurian, marginally Arthurian, and
              thematically Arthurian. My own interest and research is mostly
              concentrated on the first category and secondarily on the second, but
              the third category is obviously just as valid an area for study.
              Perhaps we still need a subcategory under "thematically Arthurian" for
              "speculatively Arthurian" works -- works in which someone may see an
              Arthurian reference (e.g., Thor's origin) while others see broader
              folkloric or mythical themes.

              Also, from the standpoint of bibliography, there is still a question
              concerning such series as "The Demon" or "Mage". In "Camelot 3000 and
              Beyond", Michael only lists the individual issues which include an
              appearance by a specifically Arthurian character or artifact (Merlin,
              Excalibur, etc.). In my opinion, this works OK for the Demon, but not
              so well for "Mage" -- if the two "Mage" series are seen as single
              works published in installments (as I would argue they should be
              seen), then it make sense to categorize both series (including
              individual issues) as Arthurian in their entirety.

              Other thoughts?

              Alan
            • Alan Stewart
              ... either ... identification as ... literary ... Cory, I m still interested in tracking down the specific issue or issues of Spawn and related series which
              Message 6 of 13 , Jan 16, 2001
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                --- In arthurian_comixlist@egroups.com, "Cory Rushton"
                <derishton@h...> wrote:
                >
                ><snip>
                > ... (Especially in the case of Cogliostro,
                > where his identification of Merlin says nothing substantial about
                either
                > Cogliostro himself or the Merlin tradition. Like his
                identification as
                > Prospero, it is mumbo-jumbo meant only to give the illusion of
                literary
                > allusion.)

                Cory, I'm still interested in tracking down the specific issue or
                issues of "Spawn" and related series which have made the
                identification. Since you were familiar with the Prospero reference,
                perhaps you know?

                On the same subject, it's interesting to note that Nicol Williamson,
                the actor who played Merlin in Boorman's "Excalibur," also played
                Cogliostro in the film version of "Spawn".

                Alan
              • Cory Rushton
                Hi Alan: Sorry it took so long to respond to this! I checked my collection and I seem to have sold all my Spawn comics, possibly to buy food during my student
                Message 7 of 13 , Jan 24, 2001
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                  Hi Alan:

                  Sorry it took so long to respond to this!  I checked my collection and I seem to have sold all my Spawn comics, possibly to buy food during my student days, so I'm afraid I am of no use to you!  Is there a guide to Spawn or anything?  You would think that McFarlane would put some sort of guide or bibliography/timeline on his website. He's so aggressive with every other aspect of the property.

                   

                  Cory



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                • Alan Stewart
                  Thanks for responding, Cory. I ve done quite a bit of web searching, but the only site I found that seemed to make the Cogliostro/Merlin connection was a
                  Message 8 of 13 , Jan 26, 2001
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                    Thanks for responding, Cory. I've done quite a bit of web searching,
                    but the only site I found that seemed to make the Cogliostro/Merlin
                    connection was a German site about Spawn: The Dark Ages #1! I've
                    ordered the first five issues of that series via eBay -- fingers
                    crossed!

                    Alan
                  • Michael Torregrossa
                    I have not yet seen the Spawn film. Does it have any Arthurian content? (I plan to start collecting the Spawn TPBs to track down the references in the comics
                    Message 9 of 13 , Jan 29, 2001
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                      I have not yet seen the Spawn film. Does it have any Arthurian content? (I
                      plan to start collecting the Spawn TPBs to track down the references in the
                      comics Cogliogstro appears to play a major role in issues 40+).

                      Michael


                      ----- Original Message -----
                      From: Alan Stewart <lljhas@...>
                      To: <arthurian_comixlist@egroups.com>
                      Sent: Tuesday, January 16, 2001 2:33 PM
                      Subject: [arthurian_comixlist] Still seeking Spawn's Merlin (was: Re:
                      Defining Arthurian-ness)


                      >
                      > On the same subject, it's interesting to note that Nicol Williamson,
                      > the actor who played Merlin in Boorman's "Excalibur," also played
                      > Cogliostro in the film version of "Spawn".
                      >
                      > Alan
                      >
                      >
                      > To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
                      > arthurian_comixlist-unsubscribe@egroups.com
                      >
                      >
                      >
                    • Alan Stewart
                      ... I haven t seen the film either (maybe this weekend...). The articles I ve read refer to Williamson s portrayaal of Cogliostro being reminiscent of his
                      Message 10 of 13 , Jan 30, 2001
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                        --- In arthurian_comixlist@y..., "Michael Torregrossa" <mtorregrossa@a...> wrote:
                        > I have not yet seen the Spawn film. Does it have any Arthurian content? (I
                        > plan to start collecting the Spawn TPBs to track down the references in the
                        > comics Cogliogstro appears to play a major role in issues 40+).
                        >
                        > Michael
                        >
                        >

                        I haven't seen the film either (maybe this weekend...). The articles I've read refer to
                        Williamson's portrayaal of Cogliostro being reminiscent of his Merlin, but I don't recall
                        any references to a connection being made in the film itself.

                        Alan
                      • Michael Torregrossa
                        Another follow-up (sorry)--In the Spawn film Cogliostro claims the following: I am an assassin like you [Al Simons, the current Spawn]. Only I killed for the
                        Message 11 of 13 , Feb 14, 2001
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                          Another follow-up (sorry)--In the Spawn film Cogliostro claims the following: "I am an assassin like you [Al Simons, the current Spawn].  Only I killed for the kingdom of Saxony 500 years ago.  I am Cogliostro.  That's all you need to know."  Cogliostro (played by Nicol Williamson) is indeed reminiscent of his portrayal of Merlin, but no overt Arthurian matter here. 
                           
                          (As a side note, Fandom.com was offering a number of the Spawn TPB at a reduced rate--I picked up numbers 5-8 last week.)
                           
                          Michael
                          ----- Original Message -----
                          Sent: Tuesday, January 30, 2001 10:10 PM
                          Subject: [arthurian_comixlist] Still seeking Spawn's Merlin (was: Re: Defining Arthurian-ness)

                          --- In arthurian_comixlist@y..., "Michael Torregrossa" <mtorregrossa@a...> wrote:
                          > I have not yet seen the Spawn film.  Does it have any Arthurian content?  (I
                          > plan to start collecting the Spawn TPBs to track down the references in the
                          > comics Cogliogstro appears to play a major role in issues 40+).
                          >
                          > Michael
                          >
                          >

                          I haven't seen the film either (maybe this weekend...). The articles I've read refer to
                          Williamson's portrayaal of Cogliostro being reminiscent of his Merlin, but I don't recall
                          any references to a connection being made in the film itself.

                          Alan

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