The appeal of Arthuriana, or, ‘why would you want to read the same story over and over again’

This is not a story about what makes an ‘enduring legend’.* It’s about a student question which threw me for a loop the other day. I can talk about how Arthurian literature is full of exciting adventures, Important Themes, attractive people, etc, but I had never expected to need an answer to the question

But why would you want to read the same story over and over again?

Granted, our students are being treated to a fast gallop through selections of Arthuriana, Geoffrey of Monmouth through to Monty Python; it’s a rare medieval audience-member who would have had access to more than a handful of different Arthurian texts. But surely that only makes it more likely that they would read (or hear) theexact same story over and over again?

I can only assume that Student hasn’t a fannish bone in zir body. How else do franchises like Dr Who, Star Trek, or, for that matter, CSI survive, if not by people enjoying watching the same people or kinds of people do more or less the same thing, in the same sorts of places, at the same time every week? Assuming you liked the story in the first place, I’m a little bemused by the notion that you might not want to read it again, or read the further adventures of,  or, or or…

But then, you’re talking to someone who read the entire Anne of Green Gables series on loop for most of her childhood, and then, having been coaxed into reading something else – just once! – proceeded to read Alanna: the First Adventure eleven times back-to-back until she figured out how to get her hands on the sequel.

Needless to say, somewhere in my teens I got my hands on an Arthurian novel, and now here I am, driving Middle English Reading group mad by making them read assorted Middle English romances which are, I am informed, inferior to the work of the great Middle English poets.

I repeat: why wouldn’t you want to read about the same characters over and over again?


* Although tomorrow I have to give a lecture which covers why Tristan and Iseult are just such a legend. Ho hum.


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