OF THE BABY NAME ARTHUR
King Arthur is the monarch of British legend, the defender of the country against invading Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century. As he has come down to us through myth, King Arthur is a nobleman, a good and generous ruler, who gathers the finest knights to his service (The Knights of the Round Table), reigns over the idyllic kingdom of Camelot with his beautiful queen, Guinevere, and strives to find the Holy Grail for the good of mankind. First committed to written narration by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century, the Arthurian legends were perpetrated with “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Thomas Malory and the works of Cretien de Troyes in the 15th century. Following a lapse in popularity, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” revived public interest in the 1800s, and it has hardly abated since. Whatever the legitimacy of its historical claims, the legend of Arthur continues to entrance with its romantic fascination, generation after generation.
Arthur “Boo” Radley is a shadowy but ultimately endearing character in Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, upon which the equally beloved film of 1962 was based. As the neighborhood recluse, “Boo” gives the children a wonderful palette upon which to project their fears and fantasies. Tall tales abound, and initiation rites involve running up to his house and banging on the door. In reality, “Boo” is a lonely man who stores little gifts for the Finch children in a tree knothole. As the unsavory events of the Robinson trial unfold, the children begin to understand why someone would opt for loneliness in favor of avoiding the hatred and prejudice displayed by the townspeople. At the denouement of the novel , Arthur Radley is the “super-hero” who is drawn out of his seclusion by that very intolerance, in an effort to save the innocent children. Arthur Radley, the simple-minded but heroic young man, risks his own life to save Jem and Scout. In the movie, a young Robert Duvall played his first screen role brilliantly.
Arthur Shelby is a minor but pivotal character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is his action upon which the novel turns. Arthur Shelby is a kindhearted Kentucky farmer who, needing funds, decides to sell two of his slaves, the eponymous Uncle Tom and Harry, the son of Mrs. Shelby’s maid, Eliza. Both Mrs. Shelby and her son, George, are very upset, but the decision is made. Eliza escapes with her son by night, and Uncle Tom is sold “upriver”. The heartrending results of Arthur Shelby’s action unfold chapter by chapter in Ms. Stowe’s sentimental novel, with varying outcomes for various characters. In the end, George Shelby, having arrived to buy Uncle Tom out of the rapacious ownership of Simon Legree, finds he is too late; Uncle Tom is dead. Returning home, George frees all the farm’s slaves. And we proceed to the Civil War.
Arthur Dimmesdale is a main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter. He is a Puritan reverend who just happens to have fathered the illegitimate child of Hester Prynne, and uses up most of his energy, spiritual and otherwise, in hiding this inconvenient truth. Hester, of course, due to the obvious nature of female biology, has no such solution at hand. Not to worry, however, for Arthur Dimmesdale is absolutely miserable throughout the book, as well he should be. While Hester raises her child alone, spurned by the community and forced to wear the red letter “A” for adultery, Arthur becomes more and more revered by his flock, who see his self-abnegation as a proper attitude for their reverend to take. To be fair, it is Hester who refuses to allow the townspeople the truth, but Arthur goes along with it, to his ultimate destruction. Physically weakened and mentally anguished by years of hypocrisy, Arthur finally confesses just before dying. We would excoriate him for grabbing heaven on his deathbed, but we do have to admit, his whole life has been excruciating. Perhaps he has earned that redemption, after all.
“The Fonz” is arguably the most popular character in the 1970/80s comedy series, Happy Days, set in 1950s middle-class Milwaukee. As played by the young Henry Winkler, he was the embodiment of “cool” – an irreverent, sarcastic, leather-jacketed, motorcycle riding high school dropout popular with the ladies. In addition to that, he espouses racial equality, rights for those with disabilities, and higher education. With his typical thumbs-up “Ay” exclamation, he has moved into a permanent place in popular culture, as evidenced by his status as TV Guide’s ranking of him as number 4 of the “50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time”.
Sir Lionel is the younger son of King Bors of Gaul who, when his father is killed in battle, is taken by the Lady of the Lake to her underwater kingdom. Here he is raised along with his brother, Bors and his cousin, Lancelot, and they all eventually become Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. Lionel is ever loyal to Lancelot, accompanying him on his many chivalric voyages and defending him in le affaire Guinevere. Lionel is also, however, a rather hot-tempered fellow, who is angered by his brother’s knightly decision to save a damsel in distress rather than his own brother. Lionel tries to avenge himself on his brother, but Bors refuses to fight him. After a hermit and a fellow knight try to intervene and are killed by Lionel, the heavenly powers step in and send a lightning bolt out of the sky, effectively ending the fight. This seems to have a sobering effect on Lionel, and he repents of his sins. Well-aimed lightning bolts have a way of doing that to a person.
Elaine of Astolat is a character in Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th century Le Morte d’Arthur, a compilation of romantic tales about the legend of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and their ladies fair. Elaine meets the renowned knight, Sir Lancelot, when her father arranges for a jousting tournament. Lancelot stays at her father’s house and the young girl is immediately smitten. She asks him to wear her “favor” in his helmet at the joust, which he does while appearing in disguise. When Lancelot is severely wounded, Elaine persuades her father to allow her to nurse him back to health, at which time she declares her love for him. Lancelot, being smitten himself, only by Queen Guinevere, gently but firmly puts her off. When he is back at court, a barge bearing the dead body of Elaine floats along the river to Camelot. Elaine’s letter, held in her hand, tells the story of her unrequited love for Lancelot and requests burial at Camelot. A chastened Lancelot steps forward to bear the expense.
Lancelot is one of the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur’s court, as portrayed by Sir Thomas Malory in his Arthurian legends of the 15th century (although he appears earlier in the works of Chretien de Troyes, a writer in the 12th century) Lancelot is instrumental in the search for the Holy Grail and is often described as the most trusted and bravest of all the king’s knights. Alas, he is also, perhaps, the most human of all – immediately upon arriving at the court he falls in love with Arthur’s queen, Guinevere. True knight that he is, he rescues her from Arthur’s enemy, Meleagant. True man that he is, he pursues her until she yields to him. It is her acquiescence to him and her betrayal of King Arthur that ultimately lead to the downfall of Camelot. Sir Lancelot, however, repents of his sins and after King Arthur’s death, he goes to a hermitage and spends the rest of his life atoning for them. (Sorry, but we just can’t help thinking of Desi Arnaz playing Ricky Ricardo playing Sir Lancelot: “I am the good Sir Lancelot, I love to sing and dance a lot…”).