It’s not because they have found Camelot or have dug up a mythic sword in Glastonbury. It’s because there must have been someone like an Arthur who could stand in the power vacuum between Rome’s collapse and the Anglo-Saxon’s invasion. Someone must have fought hard enough that the Pagan raiders settled down to become Christian farmers.
So, Arthur was real.
But no historian believes that King Arthur was actually a king, or that he ruled a group of knights on horseback, or that he had a stone castle called Camelot, or that he knew anyone named Merlin or Guinevere. These were Medieval extrapolations on a Dark Ages man. When those stories were told, society had regained its equilibrium and had made Arthur its mascot.
But he was never anyone’s mascot. The true Arthur lived at a time when society had utterly broken down. He fought on, nonetheless.
And I’m suggesting, at least as far as publishing is concerned, that we have Camelot Now.
It’s not that we have white walls and purple banners, shining knights and chivalry–no. Those all are the inventions of civilization. Instead, we have Arthur, or a number of them–pragmatic, gritty, hardworking people who are standing up to imagine a new way out of this present Dark Age.
That’s where publishing is right now. The great empires are crumbling around us. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Harper Collins, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times–who would have thought that such august empires could collapse in the space of a decade? But that’s what’s happening.
In the time of empires, the collective means everything and the individual means nothing. How many times have you dealt with a juggernaut corporation staffed by clueless nebbishes? Somehow, the worthlessness of the individuals did not impact the power of the whole–much as the worthlessness of a given Roman soldier had no impact on the might of the Roman Empire.
But when the Roman Empire fell, there was no overarcing power. Suddenly, the collective meant nothing and the individual–the Arthur–meant everything.
In publishing, we’re living in such a time. The major publishers are imploding, and yet everyone (including yours truly) is writing a blog, as if we are all trying to be the New York Times editorial page. We’re all on social media, promoting ourselves and our works as if marketing departments had never existed.
We rightly understand that the empires can no longer save us. They cannot save themselves. But we also rightly understand that we cannot save ourselves. We need someone bigger, better, stronger.
That’s what Arthur was–a dux bellorum. He was a clear-eyed, hard-edged, pragmatic warlord who could rally others to his side. At best, Arthur had an earthwork fort and a small band of warriors around him.
No, that’s not true.
At best, Arthur had vision and charisma. In the power vacuum left by the collapse of Rome, in the mini-ice age that settled over Europe, in the time of plague that would claim a third of the population, in the time of the Viking scourge–this Artus imagined a better world and led others to it.
That’s why this is Camelot Now. It’s not a golden age. It’s a dark one. But the best advice for getting to the bright world on the other side is to find someone with vision and pragmatism and charisma and lend your blade.
Sure, you may just be a thug now, but people looking back will think you were a knight in shining armor.May 21st, 2010
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