Gateway to the Classics: King Arthur and His Knights by Maude Radford Warren
King Arthur and His Knights by  Maude Radford Warren

Back Matter


Suggestions to Teachers


T O form an accurate setting for the story of King Arthur  is difficult because of the composite character of the story and the great uncertainties as to its nature, date, and place. A large part of the story in the form in which it came to Malory (whose version is for us the most acceptable) took its shape and color probably from the work of Chrétien de Troyes, who wrote in the second half of the twelfth century, and Robert de Barron, who wrote about the end of the thirteenth century. It seems safe, therefore, to treat the story as a reflection of the life, not of the Briton of the sixth century, but of the much more refined society which existed in England and France in the age of chivalry.

In constructing the setting of the Arthur stories, then, it is advisable to put before the children scenery no more definite than that depicted by painters and poets. On the other hand, they should have as definite an idea as possible of the customs and manners of the chivalric age, and of the architecture, armor, costumes, and furnishings which were in use at this time. One of the best books on this subject is Chivalry, by Leon Gautier, translated from the French by Henry Frith, and published by Routledge. The book is a scholarly and concrete history of chivalry, and is copiously illustrated. Many of the pictured castles, armor, and furniture the children can reproduce with the help of cardboard, plaster, chalk, and a sand-table. Certain of the costumes, trappings, and banners can be made in cheap fabrics. Such reproduction, however imperfect, will help the children to realize the age. Other books less valuable are Batty's Essay on the Spirit and Influence of Chivalry, Bulfinch's Age of Chivalry, chapters I.-III.; Lanier's The Boy's King Arthur, books I.-IV. For sources of the story, the teacher should consult Malory's Morte d'Arthur, especially the edition by Oskar Sommer. Tennyson's Idylls of the King  is of course very valuable.

If possible, some of the pictures illustrating the Arthur cycle should be secured. Mr. Edwin Abbey's paintings of the "Quest of the Holy Grail" are reproduced in the rather expensive Copley prints. However, on receipt of postage, the Curtis & Cameron Co., Pierce Building, Boston, will send a little catalogue of the Copley prints of the "Quest of the Holy Grail," which contains some small pictures. Other reproductions which can be ordered at any good art store are: "The Innsbruck Arthur," a copy of the figure of Arthur in armor, from the Innsbruck museum; Watts' "Sir Galahad", Rosenthal's "Burial of Elaine"; Burne-Jones' "Dream of Lancelot at the Door of the Chapel of Saint Grael," "The Quest of the Grail," and "The Lady of Shallott"; Rossetti's "Arthur's Tomb" and "Lancelot Escaping"; Watts' "Merlin and Nimue" (Vivien).

The King Arthur stories as Malory has given them to us, embody a deep and poetic message. Malory presented them in order that they should be an example to the people of his time. They can be of equal moral value to the children of this day, for they teach the best virtues of the chivalric age: gentleness to the weak, loyalty to friends, mercy to foes. The tales should help to inculcate a love of truth and courage, should show the value of discipline, unselfishness, and courtesy, and should also develop an appreciation of grace and beauty. Moreover, as these stories have become our national hero cycle, they are less alien than the myths of Greece and Rome, and a study of them should be valuable in developing a wholesome pride of race. In order that the children understand the "moral" of each story, its central idea and the particular phase of chivalric life which it represents, they must actually live  in the story, not only what is stated but also what is suggested, by giving construction work, as has already been advised, and above all, by letting them dramatize the action.

For example, in preparing to teach "How Arthur Became King," the teacher might read this material in Malory. Then Gautier's book might be consulted, and the following pictures noted: in Chapters XII., reproductions of castles and gates which the children could easily construct; in Chapters VII., VIII., and XVIII., swords, shields, hauberks, knights on horseback in various positions; in Chapter V., games; in Chapters X., and XI., costumes of ladies, tapestries, furnishings; in Chapter XIII., the picture of the arrival of guests; in Chapter XI., feasting. A reading of our story called "Arthur's Court and the Order of the Round[should be T instead of t] Table" will be of value. Then, after illustrating the narrative with pictures, and asking questions as suggested, the teacher should have the children dramatize such scenes as those on pages 12-14, 21-24, and 26-28. She can also help them create for themselves the pictures on pages 12, 14, 17, 19, 20, 27, 28, which they should be asked to draw. After the story is treated in this way, the children will better feel the lesson it teaches: the worth of Arthur's modesty, justice, and courtesy, the value of the long, severe, self-forgetting training a squire underwent before he became a knight, and the power of religion over the men of the age.

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