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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Stop Trivialising Folk Heroes, Part 2 - Robin Hood and King Arthur.

The second part in Reecey of Nine Over Five's two part guest post. Part One can be found here.

Stop Trivialising Folk Heroes
Part 2 - Robin Hood and King Arthur.

Guest post by Reecey.

So, as mentioned in the last post, King Arthur is a Celtic folk hero reflecting the struggles of the Welsh against the Saxons.

Unlike Boudica, we’re not sure this man actually existed.

He may be like Jesus in that there was a man of that name who lived in that time and did some of the things we commonly believe he did, but has been so heavily mythologised that what we think of now definitely wasn’t real.

A lot of folk heroes, legendary characters and religious figures are like that.

Jesus is a good thing to bring up here because there is a strong religious bent to the Matter of Britain. The Holy Grail, the iron spear, and Sir Galahad, are examples of Christian imagery that has been worked into the Celtic legends of King Arthur.

The pseudo-religious nature of these legends only adds weight to the argument that you shouldn’t treat the tales of King Arthur and his knights like they’re fairy tales.

The biggest reason why you shouldn’t is that, once again, trivialising tales of a native ruler resisting an invading force is an awful thing to do. Particularly in this case because the invading force ultimately won.

I live in Angle-land, not Logres for a reason.

We call Cymru ‘Wales’ because, to the invading Anglo-Saxons, they were foreigners.

The ethnic struggles of the Celts/Welsh are obviously woven throughout all of these legends.

One such example is of the dragons fighting in the foundations of a castle in Merlin’s youth. One white and one red.

The Welsh flag. They also have 'We serve the red dragon' written on some of their coins.

Trivialising King Arthur to the level of a fairy tale is trivialising the efforts and tales of a people resisting invasion only to ultimately lose.

Why does that sound so familiar?

(I brought Native Americans up in my previous post for a reason.)

Robin Hood is a somewhat similar story, although the context is different from Boudica and King Arthur.

Our problem is still an ethnic one, this time between the Saxons and the invading Normans.

I won’t get into the messy details of the Norman invaders as 1066 and the run up to it are largely irrelevant to the point I’m making.

Robin Hood is a Saxon folk hero that started emerging a few decades later anyway, along with his contemporary folk hero Ivanhoe, he represents the struggle of the oppressed majority of Saxons.

Saxon culture was largely overwritten by Norman culture. We saw a shift from German derived names to French derived ones in a mere matter of decades.

Robin Hood robbed the rich and gave to the poor.

In this case the ‘rich’ were largely Norman and the ‘poor’ were almost exclusively Saxon.

Once again this is an ethnic struggle.

Hmm, class and wealth distinctions based along ethnic lines with an overwriting culture thrown into the mix?

That sounds a bit familiar too, doesn’t it?

Now, I’m aware that the comparisons I’m making aren’t perfect, but the fact remains that the circumstances in these folk tales, legends and histories do reflect the problems of that people in other places and other times have had, and do have, to this day.

Trivialising these stories to the level of fairy tales is taking stories that people may feel can represent them and turning them into boy meets girl stories designed to sell toys. Which is a dick move to say the least.

On top of all of those problems, there’s an additional problem.

When I talk about King Arthur and Robin Hood being trivialised to the level of fairy tales, I’m specifically thinking of Once Upon a Time and Ever After High.

American properties made by Americans aimed at Americans.

These are British folk tales of varying origins being taken, stripped of their original meaning and context and being called fairy tales by Americans. (In the case of Ryse, this is Germans taking a British historical figure and stripping her of her original meaning and context to sell to Americans).

There’s a heavy level of that propaganda that Murphy talked about in his Is The USA a Classic Dystopia editorial involved here.

These folk heroes are British, there is no mistake about that. They are made for and by British people to represent some struggle within their lives that they were experiencing.

In the case of Boudica, this was a real British woman.

When it comes to Robin Hood representing class struggle, we still are experiencing those problems even if they aren’t ethnically derived as they once were.

They reflect us. Both our struggles and inherent aspects of our culture.

For example, Robin Hood used a bow. For a long time men in England were required to learn how to use and to practice using a bow by law. The use of the longbow was crucial to various military victories, such as Agincourt and Crecy, and the imagery of the bowman was used all the way up until World War I to comfort and embolden people.

But they don’t just reflect us, they shaped us.

Arthurian legend, the tales of Robin Hood and the history of Boudica helped shape our culture and who we are today.

When these stories are taken and trivialised, watered down to the level of Disney Princesses for American audiences, our culture is being trivialised.

Americans rewriting folk heroes as fairy tale characters or one dimensional villains only serves to take something that speaks to and for a different culture and repackage it as something that is palatable to them. Something non-threatening.

Something that takes Britain and presents it in the fetishised state they like to think that it is really like.

By all means, enjoy our folk tales and take inspiration from our folk heroes.

But remember who they represent and who they are for and treat them, and us, with some respect.

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