Sunday, February 4, 2018

Grail Matters - The Other Arthurian Lore In Old School Campaigns

Sometimes you've got to go back to basics to just keep perspective, in this case it was watching one of John Boorman's classics. Excalibur today isn't mentioned except within certain circles of old school gaming & by film fans.
"Excalibur is a 1981 American epic fantasy film directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman that retells the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, based on the 15th century Arthurian romance Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory." This film has all of the classic John Boorman touches from his camera layout, pacing, sweeping weirdness of Boorman's take on not only Britain but the Arthurian legend.  This is a top drawer & stellar casts, "Nigel Terry as Arthur, Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Liam Neeson as Gawain, Corin Redgrave as Cornwall, and Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance."

It still has one killer of the best Arthurian casts & this film's  impact still resonates with certain corners of the old school gaming community to this day. Back in '81 I had to sneak into the Warner theater & this film blew me away. Lots of Arthurian violence, a heaping of nudity & sex, etc. this film wouldn't be seen again until many late night viewings on HBO. Director John Boorman was channeling a bit of Lord of the Rings in Excalibur because he was supposed to have made the film.

And its impact on old school gaming? Well, just ask Games Workshop who 'borrowed' their designs for the space marine armor from this film. And let's not even get into the number of 'historical' armor designs in fantasy gaming that also went down that same road.But let's get into some deeper connections to the Mythos or more specifically the writings of Manly Wade Wellman Whose Devil Is Not Mocked. 
This story was the inspiration for F. Paul Wilson's The Keep  A part of the Adversary cycle novel
The ideas of an Outer God trapped within the confines of an Arthurian era castle structure have vast over reaching ideas for a sort of reverse dungeon and these style of legends invoke echos of the mythology of sleeping kings and gods. And this symbolism  also been a part of the numerous legends of the sleeping kings. Not to mention the weirdness surrounding the
The Holy Grail.

How at the Castle of Corbin a Maiden Bare in the Sangreal and Foretold the Achievements of Galahad: illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1917

This also ties in with the sword of power Excalibur having been forged by the pagan gods in Boorman's film. But its the betray of Queen Guenevere & Lancelot against Arthur that ties into the back bone of the film & various iterations of the Arthurian literature's plot.
During the Thirty Years War there was a resurgence in the legends of Arthur & his knights within the circles of Alchemy. And this ties into the Lion & Dragon retroclone rpg quite nicely.

When the forces of Fairy are taking advantage of the action of the various battles to touch the world of men the chaos laden realm creates the wasteland which ties in directly to the emotional states of the local inhabitants specifically royalty. A lift curse,  cure wounds, or a miracle of God  is going to be needed to lift the curse of the Wasteland.

"In the Arthurian Grail material, the Wasteland's condition is usually tied to the impotence of its leader. Often the infirmity is preceded by some form of the Dolorous Stroke, in which the king is injured tragically for his sins but kept alive by the Grail. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail, the Fisher King has been wounded in a misfortune that is not revealed in the incomplete text, and his land suffers with him. He can be healed only if the hero Perceval asks the appropriate question about whom the Grail serves, but warned against talking too much, Perceval remains silent. In the First Continuation of Chrétien's work, the anonymous author recounts how Gawain partially heals the land, but is not destined to complete the restoration. Over the course of time romances place less emphasis on the Wasteland and more on the king's wound. In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle the link between the devastated land and the wounded king is not absolute, and in the Post-Vulgate Cycle much more emphasis is placed on King Pellehan's injury by Sir Balin than on the devastation this causes to his kingdom.
Scholars of the earlier 20th century devoted much study to the Wasteland motif. In one of the more popular works on the subject, From Ritual to Romance, author Jessie Weston suggested that the origin of the motif lies with an otherwise unattested pagan fertility cult. The book is mostly disregarded today, though T. S. Eliot credited it as the source of the title and the largest single influence on his famous poem The Waste Land."

Wizards, alchemists, & magic wielders are essential when the forces of Fairyland & Chaos are at play. During the Thirty Years War the blood shed & battles were like ringing the dinner bell for the powers of the Devil & Chaos. Morgan Le Fay after the fall of Camelot made a deal with the Devil & became one of the Queens of Fairy.

Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys (1864)

The witch cults of Dark Europe might be spreading terror across the lands acting as fulcrum & levers where needed by the Elven royalty. This includes Ireland and across Europe; "In Irish folklore, the last High Queen of the Daoine Sidhe - and wife of the High King Finvarra - was named Una (or Oonagh, or Oona, or Uonaidh etc.). In the ballad tradition of Northern England and Lowland Scotland, she was called the Queen of Elphame.

The character is also associated with the name Morgan (as with the Arthurian character of Morgan Le Fey, or Morgan of the Fairies), or a variant of Mab (such as Maeve or Mabd). In the Child Ballads Tam Lin (Child 39) and Thomas the Rhymer (Child 37), she is represented as both beautiful and seductive, and also as terrible and deadly. The Fairy Queen is said to pay a tithe to Hell every seven years, and her mortal lovers often provide this sacrifice. In Tam Lin, the title character tells his mortal lover:
At the end of seven years
She pays a tithe to Hell
I so fair and full of flesh

I fear it be myself"
These are the degenerated remains of the Roman mystery cults & pagan grove cults still doing the Elves & the demonic 'Gods' works across the lands.

"Both Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare used folklore concerning the Fairy Queen to create characters and poetry, Spenser in The Faerie Queene and Shakespeare most notably in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In The Faerie Queene, Spenser's fairy queen is named Gloriana, and is also referred to as Tanaquill, which "appears to be an epithet for Gloriana, Queen of Faeries" derived from the name of the wife of Tarquinius Priscus.[1] She is the daughter of Oberon, who in Shakespeare's later play is married to Titania, a name derived from Ovid as an epithet of the Roman goddess Diana. Diana was regularly portrayed as the ruler of the fairy kingdom in demonological literature, such as King James VI of Scotland's Daemonologie, which says that she belongs to "the fourth kind of spirits, which by the Gentiles [non-Jews] was called Diana and her wandering court, and amongst us is called Fairy (as I told you) or our good neighbours."
These evil forces are out to kill and destroy both Catholic & Protestant alike within the bonds of war while they clean up the remains of Europe.

Morgan Le Fay by John R. Spencer Stanhope (1880)

This isn't light weight stuff here, these are the ancient powers of evil pure & simple. They will have their day and it comes fast during the events of the Thirty Year War. Lion & Dragon has these forces of Fairy being confined but they have many names and when they spread they do so where & when the chaos realm of Fairyland washes against reality. Mutation, horror, & magick are the rule not the exception. All of the old places and hates are their anchors and they will come to call. The Arthurian legends & Celtic mythologies have hints bits of the over all horror.
But the power is there & they come to call.

All of this ties back into X2 Castle Amber & matters I was speaking about in yesterday's blog entry. The Soceress of Averoigne / The Tower of Istarelle 1941 by Clark Ashton Smith talks about the exactly the sort of juxtaposition of the forces of magic & the works of mankind. This sort of thing was eluded to in the Arthurian literature & Boorman's film but also we see this a bit in the X2 The Castle Amber adventure. We'll get into the how's & why's in tomorrows blog entry coming up!

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