Does the Matter of Britain (Still) Matter? (Roundtable)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / British

Michael Torregrossa (Independent Scholar)

The purpose of this session is to explore the reasons for the separation of the stories of Arthur from the popular consciousness. In conceiving this session, we are interested in exploring the answers to several questions. First, why has the Matter of Britain—once an important part of what J. R. R. Tolkien has termed “the cauldron of story”—now become something that is sampled by few artists with the means to promote their work to the larger segment of the global population that once devoured such stories with enthusiasm? Continuing with this idea, do these works, when noticed, not receive acclaim simply because of their creators’ failure to overcome what Norris J. Lacy has termed the “tyranny of tradition” and produce something that is both recognizable and innovative, or has the legend truly become a niche brand, a fascination to a few cognoscenti but something totally off the radar of most individuals? Similarly, when versions of the legend are produced by individuals with the means to create something that transcends the financial and distributive restrictions that hold back other works (and that might thus have the potential to shape how the current generation perceives the Arthurian story), why do they so often not succeed? Have these creators also simply failed to negotiate the tyranny of tradition, or are audiences at large just not interested in Arthur and all that he represents anymore? Lastly, if the legend no longer appeals, what is the future of Arthurian Studies (and Arthurian scholars) in the remainder of the twenty-first century? Should we entrench ourselves and hope for the best, or can we fight for our field and the glory that was Camelot?

The Arthurian legend is now more a millennium and a half old and continues to inspire new creative works each year. However, texts with widespread distribution and/or lasting impact are rare. Consequently, the Matter of Britain now often seems very distant from our daily lives. The purpose of this session is to explore the reasons for this separation of the stories of Arthur from the popular consciousness.