The Role Of The Supernatural
In Arthurian Legends, supernatural phenomenon plays a major role. Such phenomenon may include magic and other worldly beasts. Merlin and an animal known as the Griffin are prime examples of the paranormal. These events and creatures help to enhance the story and force people to use their imaginations. The role of the supernatural is an essential element portrayed in all Arthurian Legends.
Magic or events caused by wizardry and witchcraft are encountered in Arthurian Legends. Both Merlin and Queen Morgause practice the art of magic. However, unlike Queen Morgause who has an interest in Black Magic, Merlin practices White Magic. He has a huge impact on King Arthur?s life, especially when he predicts future events that Arthur will have to endure. He served as Arthur?s tutor and ?educated Arthur as a youth? (The World Book Encyclopedia 418). However, he goes about educating Arthur in a different manner than a normal tutor would approach it. Merlin uses his magical powers to change Arthur into a variety of animals such as a fish, bird, and an ant. When Merlin changed Arthur into a fish, he ?took off his hat,
raised his staff of lignum vitae politely in the air, and
said slowly, ?Snylrem stenemilpmoc ot enutpen dna lliw eh yldnik tpecca siht yob sa a hsif??? (White 41) and immediately, Arthur felt himself transforming into the animal. The magician?s rationalization to morphing Arthur is to provide the young king with knowledge of such things as kindness and helping others who are in distress. Merlin uses his powers to help prepare Arthur for things to come. An event that depicts Merlin doing this is when he says, ??I have told you about Guenever, haven?t I??? (White 293). This refers to the infidelity of Arthur?s future wife. Merlin forewarns his student to better prepare him for his misfortunes. Since Merlin is closely related to the paranormal, it is obvious that one of the roles of the supernatural is that of an educator and protector of Arthur.
Magic does not always have a positive effect in Arthurian Legends. Queen Morgause uses magic in a disturbing manner. Although she does not practice magic to a great extent, there are two instances when she does, and both are used for evil purposes. When Queen Morgause is bored one evening, she decides to boil her cat alive because the ?Queen knew that every pure black cat had a certain bone in it, which, if it were held in the mouth after boiling the cat alive, was able to make you invisible? (White 222).
After many unsuccessful bones, she lost interest and threw
the rest away. Later, Queen Morgause hears about a strong and popular king whose name is Arthur. Therefore, she uses a magical tool called a Spancel to seduce him. It is apparent that magic, a supernatural art, is also used as an antagonist in Arthurian Legends because what Arthur and Queen Morgause are not aware of, is the fact that she is his half-sister.
Supernatural creatures are also present in Arthurian Legends. One such beast is the Griffin, which is ?a fabulous beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion? (William 579). When Arthur and Kay embark on a quest to save some of their friends who were captured and held in Morgan le Fay?s castle, the Griffin attacks them before they are able to bring their friends to safety. The Griffin?s attack poses as an obstacle that must be overcome to complete their quest. Since the Griffin is a supernatural animal, it can be concluded that the supernatural is also used as obstacles that must be defeated to accomplish one?s goals.
Arthurian Legends were not only written in serious tones. Humor was present as well. Another paranormal creature is the Questing Beast. This animal helps to incorporate humor into the story. It is described to have
?an enormous snake?s head…At the other end of the snake?s
head there was a long, lean, yellow body with spots on it. At the end of the body there were some lion?s legs which ended in the slots of a hart? (White 152). This beast is said to be the curse of the Pellinore family. The Questing Beast causes humor during the time when Sir Grummore and Sir Palomides disguise themselves as a male Questing Beast in attempt to bring joy to King Pellinore. Then, unsuspectingly, the real Questing Beast returns and falls in love with the two knights in disguise. It continues to chase them up a mountain until King Pellinore comes to their rescue. The purpose of the Questing Beast is to add humor to the story. Therefore, it is evident that the supernatural was used to add comedy to Arthurian Legends.
Supernatural creatures known as fairies also play a role in Arthurian Legends. A fairy is ?a tiny supernatural being in human form, depicted as clever, mischievous, and capable of assisting or harassing humans? (William 471). The role of these creatures is best described in the following quote taken from T.H. White?s The Once And Future King:
?One of the few things we know,? said Robin, ?about the Blessed Ones, is that they go by the names of animals.
For instance, they may be called Cow, or Goat, or Pig, Keang 5
and so forth. So, if you happen to calling one of
your own cows, you must always point to it when you call. Otherwise you may summon a fairy- a Little Person I ought to have said- who goes by the same name, and, once you have summoned it, it comes, and it can take you away.? (99)
This is what happens to some of Arthur?s friends. An event like this helps support the idea that another role of the supernatural is to be the antagonist of troublemakers in Arthurian Legends.
Supernatural objects and places are present throughout Arthurian Legends. Such objects and places include Avalon, the Holy Grail, Excalibur, and the Spancel. Avalon, the Land of Heroes, is the place where Arthur was taken when he suffered mortal wounds during his last battle with Mordred. He was ?taken into a fairy barge and carried away to Avalon, the land of immortal heroes? (Cavendish 125) where Arthur was healed and returned to be king again. This shows how the supernatural has the role of being the protector and caretaker of King Arthur.
The Spancel is an evil object that belongs to Queen Morgause. It is a tape of human skin, cut from the silhouette of the dead man. In order to use this item, ?you
had to find the man you loved while he was asleep. Then you
had to throw it over his head without waking him, and tie it
in a bow. If he woke while you were doing this, he could be dead within the year. If he did not wake until the operation was over, he would be bound to fall in love with you? (White 317). Queen Morgause used this object to seduce King Arthur into falling in love with her. This caused the birth of Mordred, which marked the end of King Arthur. In this case, the supernatural plays a sinister role. Thus, this proves that the supernatural can work for both sides of a story, good and bad.
The Holy Grail and the Excalibur have roles closely related to each other. They are both a symbol of the power to overcome Might with Right. It is believed that the Holy Grail has the power to overcome evil. However, when the Holy Grail was acquire by Sir Galahad, the unsuspected happens, ?Galahad died and the Grail is carried up to heaven? (Cavendish 1065). This leads to the downfall of Arthur. The Excalibur is a magical sword that belongs to Arthur and ?represents justice and symbolizes Christ…? (Lacy 536). The Holy Grail and the Excalibur, both objects of the supernatural, help to portray the role of the supernatural as one that can both work for Might and Right. This proves that the supernatural is a source of conflict in all Arthurian Legends.
Without magic, beasts, and strange events or
occurrences, Arthurian Legends would not be the same. It would lack the fundamental elements that make these stories the way they are- full of adventures and quests, daring sword fights, paranormal creatures, and magic spells. The presence of the supernatural in these legends enables the reader to become creative and imaginative. It forces readers to create their own world of magic in their minds. The supernatural is a necessity in Arthurian Legends for it fills in the gaps and adds suspense to the stories.
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