Sunday, June 27, 2010

Discussing Arthur's Roundtable at a Sbux Brown Table

“We seem to discuss this idea every few months, so it must be important.” --Nichole

While reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, I realized I wanted to talk about the section titled Incipit Liber Primus, translated from Latin meaning “the book’s first section, which discusses Merlyn’s education of Arthur while he was a young boy. Disney recounts this portion of the book in its 1963 movie The Sword and the Stone. As a kid, I never liked a lot of kid entertainment. Sesame Street never held my attention, and I found many Disney films unbearable. But I always liked The Sword and the Stone. I still don’t know why, but I do know why I liked the first part of this book: it deals with teaching. When Merlyn uses his magic to Wart (Arthur’s nickname as a youth) into an owl, or a fish, or one of Robin [H]ood’s Merry Men, he is giving the young king the equivalent to a liberal arts education. Arthur experiences new worlds and new ways of seeing, all so that he can one day bring forth a new Europe, a continent freed from the inequity of feudalism.

I love books that chronicle how people are trained to do great things. And since our group is made up mostly of teachers, we spent time on it. In fact, Ben pointed out that Merlyn’s teaching was often begrudging. For example, he felt games like jousting were a waste of time, yet he shows Arthur a jousting match. Nichole talked of how much of Merlyn’s teaching didn’t involve much instruction but more putting him in a certain situation and then leaving Arthur to learn on his own, similar to how a teacher may give a vague assignment and leave it to the student to mold it. But that is just one section of the book.

And White does more than simply tell a story. He uses the Arthurian legend to show dispel some of the romance surrounding our concept of knightly chivalry. The Round Table is broken apart by jealousy, greed, and resentment. True chivalry, true change, and true legends don’t come merely from great actions; great sacrifice is a prerequisite. And that sacrifice could destroy you. For example, Lancelot returns from his Grail Quest broken…but more godly.

So implicit in this discussion is a question our group seems to return to every few months: how far does sacrifice go? How much should we give? And what should we give? And to whom? These are not easy questions. But if we are to transcend ourselves, should we not ask them? And, just as importantly, how do we answer them? Of course, the answers are different for everyone, which is why we switch books every 4 weeks…

Next book: The Watchmen by Alan Moore

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