Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Trials of Reading King Arthur's Autobiography

Awhile back, I came across King Arthur Uther Pendragon on the internet and immediately wondered who is this man? I needed to know, and like, now. Well that 'now' didn't happen until a year and a half later, when I finally ordered his 2003 published autobiography off of Amazon, at a whopping $0.97. I dove right into the book, written by Arthur and CJ Stone, a successful writer known for his publishings on "the counter culture of contemporary Britain and its protesters, hippies, punks, neo-pagans, ravers, and New Age travellers." Let's just say my love for Arthur remains strong, but his biography was...well it was a lot of things. Mostly terribly written. Mostly glorified and weird. So weird.

King Arthur Uther Pendragon was born John Timothy Rothwell in 1954 in Yorkshire, England. He joined the army, did his time, and then left after he "out-maneuvered the whole of the British army." Stone is referring to Rothwell being allowed to discharge from the army before his end date. He was allowed to discharge himself by a military officer. If that's out-maneuvering "the whole of the British army," then I think we've all out-maneuvered them in one way or another. After his army stint, Rothwell got married, became a biker (as one does), embraced their 'I'm a certifiable badass' culture, and got married. His "drugs were sweet tea, cigarettes, chips, and danger." cool.

With his parents now deceased and a pending divorce from his wife, Rothwell was left to his own devices, his own destiny. He felt a higher power beckoning to him and that power was the legendary King Arthur (mine is cake, but whatevs). So he began claiming he was King Arthur incarnate, gave up all of his materialistic comforts, and began establishing himself by legally changing his name. Rothwell's 'I'm King Arthur but still a certifiable badass' new life path was decided upon by a strong sense of fate and a series of odd coincidences.

While reading about King Arthur in a book, Rothwell began noticing similarities between him and the legendary King. Phrases like 'Arthur in his triumph' when Rothwell had a Triumph motorcycle himself, and 'His wife in Tintagel' when Rothwell's wife was in Tintagel resonated with him. Based on those two similarities alone, "He thought, 'Oh fuck, this is real shit.'" and said to his friend "You know, if I go for this, I go for it all the way? There's no turning back?" Later, on a visit to Stonehenge, a raven flew by him and its wing brushed his face in a "ghostly if something from nature had, priest-like, laid a hand upon his forehead to offer blessings for his chosen if his soul had been engineered for this task, and this task alone." So, um, that was enough reason for Rothwell. And the 20th century King Arthur Uther Pendragon was born.

At this point Stone feels like a couple disclaimers are needed, to ya know, convince you that Arthur isn't crazy. "Arthur was never what you would call clinically paranoid," to which Stone then gives you the standard definition of paranoia to drive his point home. Pages later we get another disclaimer explaining that Arthur "took the Mensa test and passed it. Mensa is an organisation that caters for people with the highest IQs - the top 2%." Ok, we get it.

Stone then goes on to create the super-awkward-tense moment when Arthur acquired his sword. "If the lights hadn't turned red, Angela would not have looked. If Angela hadn't have looked, she would never have seen. If she hadn't seen, they would have driven on oblivious. But the lights did turn, she did look, and she did see." Arthur's girlfriend spotted the medieval armory shop where Arthur purchased his sword, Excalibur, named after the legendary magical sword of King Arthur. Finding this sword was like divine intervention to Arthur and further proof (to himself and his island of misfit toy followers) that he is indeed King Arthur reborn.

So Arthur did what any valiant, noble king of Britain has done in centuries past: he became a Druid, campaigned tirelessly to prevent the destruction of trees, and made it his personal quest to reclaim Stonehenge from English Heritage's grip by making visitation free and accessible for all. He was repeatedly arrested during his protests and often chose to remain in jail (Stone will tell you it's because he would only be released if his conditions were met but maybe he was sick of sleeping under a tree and shitting in a self-dug hole (which was mentioned more than once)). Arthur continues the fight to this day.

The main issue I have with this biography is the writing and many indications that Stone was greatly embellishing events. I'm not an expert or anything. I can't construct perfect sentences and my grammar is ridonkulous, but I do attempt to sound coherent. Examples:
  • "Names are for the naming." wut?
  • "The myth is the living culture within us." wut?
  • "The only true magic is the magic of friends." wut?
  • "with a tongue that tasted like he'd been licking the inside of a dog's bottom all night." the inside?
  • Stone also uses picturesque metaphors to describe the English country landscape such as "like the opening of a uterus" and "like soft buttocks."
  • "He meets his daughter for the first time in 15 years, and then promptly gets her arrested. What date is it now? We have no idea. It was sometime in the 90s." It was the first time Arthur had ever met her. Call me fucking crazy, but if you take the date she was born, add 15 to that, you may get the present date.
  • "He had a keen wit and serious amount of writing skill." Stone modestly describing himself.

Besides the absurdity of the writing, there were also comments that I might have taken offense to if I was a rape survivor, deaf person, vegan, or cripple:
  • On trees being torn down to make way for a highway: "It was rape, no less." No less than rape? mmm you sure?
  • "So he had that odd nasal cadence in his tone that a lot of deaf people have." Oh, you abnormal sounding deaf people you...
  • "Not every vegan is a fascist by the way. Only some of them are. It probably arises out of the fact that, actually, they'd really like to tuck into a nice, juicy steak." I'm sure that's their problem.
  • "Arise Sir Knight, oops sorry you can't." On Arthur knighting a wheelchair-bound man.

The part that sums up Arthur best is something not even written by Stone, but by a Professor of History at Bristol University, in a letter published in the appendage of the book:

Regardless of his eccentricities, Arthur is a successful/totally lovable eco-campaigner and if you watch any videos of him floating around on the internet, he is super intelligent and educated about his causes. It's just, he thinks his farts smell like roses.

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