My Medieval Roots of Pulp Fiction

With the death of my beloved Mother on January 22, 2022, I have found myself reflecting deeply on who I am and how I have become such a person.

The truth is, I won the jackpot. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. 

Why, you ask?  

Because my Mother always supported my dreams of Western Warriordom, and nurtured them early on from an early age. She was the Lady Philosophy of the Classical Tradition, the Ezer Kenegdo of the Bible. 

My best friend and mentor. 

I couldn’t have had a better Mom. 

So in that spirit, I began looking back, and deep in my thoughts I remembered the roots of my love of Pulp Fiction. 

The History, Legend, and Lore of the Medieval Times. 

NONE MORE FAMOUS 

As a young child from ages 5-10, I was absolutely wild about the Knights of the Middle Ages, and for a long time after that, too. 

I read every book I could get my hands on on the most Noble of Western Warriors, studied all the paintings and pictures within for hours, and for many more my Mom read to me many accounts and tales of those heroic Knights of old. 

And of course, none was more famous than King Arthur!

THE KING ARTHUR CONNECTION  

As a young child, my favorite account of King Arthur was published by Baronet Books, under a series called “Great Illustrated Classics.”

It was a series of adaptations of classic literature for young readers, featuring a full-page black-and-white illustration of the action on every other page within a gorgeous full-color painted hardcover! 

I loved many: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper, The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas…

But my first favorite was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Howard Pyle, adapted by Joshua E. Hanft. 

My mom read it over and over again to me, theatrically doing elaborately unique English and French accents for each of the characters, bringing the characters to life alongside the illustrious illustrations, set to a background of soothing classical music by the likes of Debussy and Pachabel and Bach and Tchaikovsky. 

Heck, the illustrations, font, and layout of the book looked just like the Pulp Fiction magazines of the 1930s, a connection I only made upon recent investigation these past few months! 

And the ideas within? 

Well, you might recognize a few! 

CATCH THE WARRIOR CULTURE?  

Take a look at Chapter 8 of the adaptation, “To Battle Again!”

In the preceding chapters, King Arthur has been defeated in mano-a-mano combat against the rogue Knight Sir Pellinor. 

Merlin retrieves his wounded body and removes him to safety, where Quinevere finds Arthur, falls in love with him, and has her personal physician heal him of his wounds. 

After that, he meets the mysterious Lady of the Lake, and is proven worthy to be bestowed the magical enchanted sword, Excalibur! 

Now in Chapter 8,  he rides forth into battle once more to settle his old score with Honor and Glory.

Before the battle, he says:

“‘Now Merlin,’ said King Arthur, ‘I strictly forbid you to enter this quarrel. No magic shall determine right. It shall be between bold knights defending their valor.’”[1] 

Challenging Sir Pellinore to battle by banging on the shield outside of the castle, he issues this ultimatum: 

“‘Sir Pellinore, we now know one another well, and each has his own opinions as to the cause of our quarrel. 

“You feel that I have taken away your kingly estate and have driven you to this forest. I feel that you have set yourself here to do injury and affront to the knights of my kingdom. 

“Let us fight, man to man, until one of us has conquered the other.’”[2]  

Into battle they ride with the clash of swords, and King Arthur proves himself the champion!

Upon his victory he declares to Sir Pellinore:  

“‘I will spare you and do more than that. For now that you have yielded yourself to me, I will restore you to your power and your land. I bear no ill-will, Pellinore. 

“’But I can brook no rebels in this realm. As God judges me, I do rule singly in this kingdom. He who is against me is against my people, and he who is against my people is against me. 

“’As a pledge to your good faith, you will send to me your two sons, Sir Aglaval and Sir Lamorack, to serve as knights in my court.’”[3] 

A CODE ETERNAL 

It’s all right there. The Confrontational Warrior Ethos. The desire to go mano-a-mano in single combat, upfront and personal. Straight shooting. No backstabbing. No shooting fish in a barrel. 

In fact, when Merlin reveals to King Arthur after the fight that Excalibur’s sheath makes him invulnerable to wounds in battle, King Arthur is disgusted! 

He says: 

“Merlin, I do declare that you have taken from the entire glory of that battle. For what credit may fall to any knight who fights his enemy by means of enchantment? I have half a mind to take this glorious sword back to the magic lake and cast it where it belongs.’”[4] 

However, Merlin makes him see things a different way. 

“My lord,’ said Merlin, ‘assuredly you are right in what you say. Bear in mind that you are no ordinary knight, but a king. Your life belongs not to you but to your people. You have no right to imperil it, but should do all that lies in your power to preserve it. Keep the sword so that it may safeguard your life.’”[5] 

But even with that view, the text makes clear that King Arthur values his Confrontational Ethos of Fairness above all else, and will only use the enchantment of Excalibur under the most dire of circumstances. 

The text of the adaptation reads: 

“King Arthur meditated for a while and realized Merlin was right. But he decided to use the sword only in serious battle. Therefore he did no battle in sport except with a lance and on horseback.”[6] 

THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING 

There you have it, my friends. The seeds of my belief system were planted years ago, long before I had ever heard of Pulp Fiction. 

It was planted in my early readings of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

And it was planted by my very own Lady of the Lake. 

Thanks Mom!

And if you too would like an easy introduction to a deeper mythological understanding of Pulp Fiction and the Confrontational Western Warrior Culture of which it is a part, then forget the Wikipedia summary. 

Pick up a copy of Great Illustrated Classics’ King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Howard Pyle, adapted by Joshua E. Hanft, and begin your journey into the depths of the Confrontational Western Warrior Culture today! 

Richard Barrett

05-22-2022

SOURCES CITED 

[1] Pyle, Howard. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Adapted by Joshua E. Hanft. Great Illustrated Classics. New York, NY: Baronet Books, 1993. Pg. 87.

[2] Ibid. Pg. 88.

[3] Ibid. Pg. 90.

[4] Ibid. Pgs. 92-94.

[5] Ibid. Pg. 94. 

[6] Ibid. Pg. 94.

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