The Return of King Arthur

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

After King Arthur is seemingly killed by Mordred at the end of Le Morte Darthur, the fifteenth-century author Sir Thomas Malory reports, “somme men say in many partyes of Englond that kyng Arthur is not deed” and may “come ageyn” in the future. The literal return of King Arthur has not yet taken place, but the literary return did happen: in 1816, Malory’s retelling of the Arthurian legend was republished in two new editions after a 182-year hiatus.

Since then, the figure of Arthur has grown in imaginative scope and popular appeal. Tennyson’s Idylls of the King reinvented Arthur for the nineteenth century and its commercial and critical success encouraged even more authors to retell the Arthurian legend themselves. By the end of the nineteenth century, the figure of Arthur had become a cultural icon as well as a literary character, lending his name to mass-produced chocolates, coat buttons, ceramic tiles, and bags of flour.

This course tracks the return of King Arthur through British and American novels, poetry, plays, films, short stories, and comics. We look at the ways that writers have reproduced and remade Arthur: from paragon of chivalry to cruel despot; powerful warrior to compassionate peacemaker. Ultimately, we will find answers to the question Tennyson posed in 1842, in an introduction to his Arthurian retelling: “‘why should any man / Remodel models?’”

Course Schedule

This course includes two 90-minute lectures per week plus one 60-minute discussion session as assigned to credit and discussion audit students.

PART I: “He is All Fault Who Hath No Fault At All”: Idolizing Arthur, Criticizing Arthur

Week 1

  • “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (poetry, 1832 & 1842)
  • “The Lady of the Fountain” translated by Lady Charlotte Guest (prose romance, 1838)
  • “The Epic” and “Morte d’Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (poetry, 1842)
  • “Guinevere” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (poetry, 1859)

Digital Field Trip: Camelot

Week 2

  • “Dedication” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (poetry, 1862)
  • “The Coming of Arthur” and “The Passing of Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (poetry, 1869)
  • “To the Queen” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (poetry, 1873)
  • Illustrations by Julia Margaret Cameron of Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and Other Poems by Julia Margaret Cameron (photographs, 1875)
  • King Arthur: A Drama in a Prologue and Four Acts by J. Comyns Carr (play, 1895)

Week 3

  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (novel, 1889)

Week 4

  • The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis by Clemence Housman (novel, 1905)
  • “King Arthur in Michigan” by Thomas Wood Stevens (short story, 1906)

PART II: “There’s a Cloud Coming Over Camelot”: King Arthur in the World Wars

Week 5

  • Merlin by Edwin Arlington Robinson (poetry, 1917)
  • “Hospital Barge” by Wilfred Owen (poetry, 1917)
  • Lancelot by Edwin Arlington Robinson (poetry, 1920)

Digital Field Trip: Tintagel

Week 6

  • The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White (novel, 1938; revised and republished, 1958)

Week 7

  • The Queen of Air and Darkness by T.H. White (novel, 1939; revised and republished, 1958)
  • The Ill-Made Knight by T.H. White (novel, 1940)

Week 8

  • “The Sword” in Captain Courageous Comics 6 and Super-Mystery Comics 4.1 and 4.6 (comic, 1942-5)
  • “The Unknown Soldier” by Clemence Dane (radio-play, 1942)
  • “The Candle in the Wind” in The Once and Future King by T.H. White (novel, 1958)

PART III: “Not as Before”: The Re-turn of King Arthur

Week 9

  • Chs. 1-8 of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (novel, 1983)

Digital Field Trip: Avalon

Week 10

  • Camelot 3,000 by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland (graphic novel, 1982-5)
  • “The Sword and the Stone” by Jane Yolen (short story, 1985)

Week 11

  • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword directed by Guy Ritchie (film, 2017)
  • The Kid Who Would Be King directed by Joe Cornish (film, 2019)

Week 12

  • “The Once and Future Qadi” by Ausma Zehanat Khan (short story, 2021)
  • “Mayday” by Maria Dahvana Headley (short story, 2021)
  • “Heartbeat” by Waubgeshig Rice (short story, 2021)
  • “Flat White” by Jessica Plummer (short story, 2021)

Required Texts

Students may use any edition of the following required texts. The links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish.

Recommended Texts

Some texts are available copyright-free online or will be supplied by the instructor in the form of short extracts. The following print editions are recommended for students who wish to avoid reading long texts on a screen:

This course explores modern retellings of the Arthurian legend in novels, poetry, plays, films, short stories, and comics.

START: January 10, 2022

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITD 5308