Sir Thomas Malory have spent a lot of time in prison and thus had the opportunity to investigate the mythical figure of King Arthur. As a source for his research he used the enormous cycle of prose romances in French. His idea was to gather these romances and arrange them into one single book, which tells the story of Arthur and his knights. That work is called “Le Morte Darthur” and it brings together not only the Arthurian romances but also different displays of magic and the supernatural.
In his work Malory abounds supernatural events and religion content. The most vivid magical figure in “Le Morte Darthur” is undoubtedly the wizard Merlyn. He has figured Arthur’s destiny even before the future king was born. The wizard is an odd combination, which embodies both Christian and mythical characteristics. In the first chapter of the book Merlyn helps king Uther Pandragon by shapeshifting him into Ingrein’s husband so he can reach her easily. That results into the conception of Arthur. An interesting moment here is that the conception takes place instantly after the death of Gorlois (Ingrain’s husband), which leads to the thought that this is not accidental and there is a “mystical cause-effect relationship between the two events” (“Celtic Influencs in Malory.” Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table). The magical powers and the mystifying knowledge sketch Merlyn as a supernatural creature. Moreover, the wizard has many associations to the Otherworld. For the Celts that was another parallel realm, separated from ours, which is inhabited by supernatural creatures. In “Le Morte Darthur” the reader can notice numerous manifestations of the supernatural world and most of them occur at significant points in Malory’s work. For example, the moment when Merlyn reveals to Arthur the truth about his parents. He first turns into a young boy and after that to an old man. Further in the work Merlyn advises Arthur to seek help from allies abroad, who came on the night of the All Hallowmass, today now known as Halloween. According to the Celt’s mythology that is the night when the boundaries between the worlds are blurred or weakened. The Otherworld is inhabited mostly with female supernatural creatures. A good example from “Le Morte Darthur” is the lady of the Lake, who makes an exchange with Arthur. She gives him a sword and in return he should give her something that she will name later. The act of giving the sword can be interpreted as a symbol of power. The supernatural creature assists Arthur on his way of becoming a king.
A lot of wizardry and witchcraft can be found in “Le Morte Darthur”. There is another character that stands out with Merlyn when one thinks of the supernatural forces in Malory’s work. The character goes by the title of “quene Morgan le Fay” and is one of the two highly supernatural figures besides Merlyn. The other one is The Lady of the Lake, who was already mentioned. She is Arthur’s half sister and reminding the reader of a fairy queen. Her role in Malory’s work is to torture the knights. With her practice of dark magic malevolent spells she afflicts not only the knights but also the villagers. However when one speaks of supernatural objects the first thing to come to mind is Excalibur. That is a sword that was enchanted by Merlyn and put into a stone. According to the legend whoever draws the sword out would be the new king. Arthur becomes the new ruler by doing so, by gaining possession of the magical tool, a token of the power. However the pulling out of Excalibur is more of a miraculous act than supernatural. The receiving of a sword is repeated later in the scene with the Lady of the Lake. These scenes affirm that Arthur is the rightful king for both worlds – the world of man and the Otherworld. Another parallel between the two scenes is again Merlyn, who arranged and prophesized everything for the new king.
There are also some other occult and mystical elements in “Le Morte Darthur”. The king and his knights often go against giants and monsters. Still one of the most fascinating and mystical of all the supernatural features in Sir Thomas Malory’s work is the legendary Avalon. The name of this mythical place comes from the British word “lava” and means apple, so it is also known as the “Island of Apples” (“Avalon.”). After Arthur’s final battle with his nephew Mordred (or Modred), son of Morgan le Fay, he is taken to Avalon, where he will rest in peace. It is a mystic island from where no one has ever returned. Some believe that someday King Arthur will return and reclaim his crown. “The Britons still believe that he [Arthur] is alive, living in Avalon with the fairest of spirits and they still continue to expect Arthur to come back.” According to Malory, there is written upon Arthur’s tomb: Hic iacet Arthurus, Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus, or Here lies Arthur, the Once and Future King” (“Avalon.”). This is just another manifestation of the supernatural in “Le Morte Darthur”. All the creatures associated with the Otherworld that Arthur was surrounded by throughout the whole work, foreshadow the fact that he is an extraordinary being. All the prophecies and help the king received from the unnatural elements hints that the he is a character, who stands between the two worlds. He was destined to something great and he achieved it but it came with a price he had to pay. King Arthur was born in an unusual, supernatural way so the most logical thing is to finish his path with in an equally mysterious way. After the end of his earthly pilgrimage he withdraws to rest, in the mysterious land he belongs to.
On the other hand, Arthur did not only receive help from the Otherworld beings. As it was mentioned earlier in the essay the king and the knights often battle monsters and giants. He was conveyed to the Island of Avalon by the powers of his half-sister Morgan. In other words she helps him go to the supernatural sphere. That might be seen as some kind of settlement of the conflict between the enemies.
In Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte Darthur” the supernatural events and beings play a major role. Such elements help the story be improved, enrich it and provoke the reader to use his or hers own imagination. Throughout the whole work we can see signs of enchantment, magic, witchcraft and mystic phenomenon and beings. They all are present in the most significant moments for King Arthur. Moreover, they direct the course of the events even before they happen. The unnatural follows the king from the day of his conception and in the face of Merlyn, of his possessions and his enemies. The supernatural is so interwoven in the Arthurian legends, more specifically in “Le Morte Darthur” that at some point the reader starts asking him/herself if King Arthur belongs to the world of man or to the Island of Avalon – the Otherworld. One is for sure. The figure of King Arthur is mythical and that has an air of supernatural all through Malory’s work.
“Avalon.” Avalon. 14 Jan. 2013
“Celtic Influencs in Malory.” Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table, Volume 1. Http://corilan.tripod.com/arthur1.html. 13 Jan. 2013
Field, P.J. C. “Le Morte Darthur: The seventh and eighth tales.” Google Books. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 14 Jan. 2013
Fritscher, John J. “Religion and the supernatural in Malory’s Morte Darthur.” Jackfritscher.com.
“Le Morte d’Arthur By Thomas Malory Book Summary.” Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory CliffsNotes. 13 Jan. 2013
“Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table, Volume 1.” Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table, Volume 1. 13 Jan. 2013
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