Thursday, 31 December 2009

Year in Review 2009

Welcome to our annual Year in Review, a rundown of our favorite articles from throughout 2009. We celebrating our official second anniversary of this weblog, supplying resources for fans of Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances, Gothic Horror, Imperialist Adventure and Retro-Futurism. We also created the Voyages Extraordinaires Anthlogy, a year-long project in which we posted chapters from the great classics of the genre. Then there was the Steampunk Anime: Scientific Romances in the Land of the Rising Sun lecture we gave at OtaFest 2009. On top of that, we found time to fulfil a lifelong ambition by taking a trip to Japan.

The year got underway, as they do by routine, with our chronological run-down of episodes and audio-dramas featuring the first, original and greatest Doctor Who. In a few days, our next round will get started, so it is a good time to catch up by reading our past entries. Provided you're a so-called Whovian. If not, well, see you in February!

Last February was "Scientific Romances in the Magic Kingdom", where we joined the Disney blogosphere for a month. Thank you to the large numbers of Disney fans who frequent this weblog and have adopted us as an honorary one of your legions, even if we stray for the better part of the year! Of note this past year was our exegesis on form and content in Disneyland and a handful of posts stemming from our January, 2008, visit to Disneyland Paris: Space Mountain: Mission 2, Les Mystères du Nautilus and a suite of DLP attraction posters.

A review of Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire segued nicely into a "Davy Jones Locker" theme month focusing on the legend of Atlantis, derivatives like the Vincent Price vehicle War Gods of the Deep and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in silent film and amusement park incarnations.

During our Japanese-themed month, Rei Shaw gave us an extended weekend look at the Sakura Wars franchise and, on weekdays, we featured a handful of our most favorite anime, including Galaxy Express 999, A Night on the Galactic Railway, Iblard Jikan and Simoun (not to mention sniping at Steamboy). Speaking of favorites, just prior to that we reviewed The Prestige, The Fountain (having to give actor Hugh Jackman his own category) and the 1909 silent film Battle in the Clouds.

Heading into the celestial spheres, we took a look at Orson Welles' classic War of the Worlds broadcast from 1938 and the Great Moon Hoax from 1835. Heading into the distant past - in time for the Darwin Bicentennial - we looked at the early era of dinosaur fiction, including our favorite novel and favorite film, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. Since this same year was the centennial of the Burgess Shale discovery, we snuck in some legitimately educational content (after which we immediately launched into some controversial theological subject matter).

We took a look at Orientalism in August, took a break in September, and returned with a French horror-themed October. Among the topics were Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol and the Decline of Horror, the cabarets Néant, Ciel and l'Enfer, and two more favorite films, Vampyr and Beauty and the Beast.

From French Horror in October to French Scientific Romances and Retro-Futurism in November. The main focus of our annual anniversary month was on the 1900 L'Exposition Universelle and its own Gothic Revivalism. This included footage from Thomas Edison, reports from Làquarium de Paris, the Celestial Globe and Albert Robida's Le Vieux Paris. Also courtesy of Robida: Locomotionisme, The Extraordinary Voyages of Saturnin Farandoul and its silent film adaptation. This in turn led us to December's Fairy Tale month and the Victorian Era Arthurian Revival.

There is still plenty to look forward to in the coming year. The VEx Anthology has reached its conclusion but remains online for those who have yet to peruse its content. Meanwhile, back here, we'll be enjoying further travelogues from our exploits in Japan, as well as the Weird West, California the Golden, Pulp-Era Scientifiction, and Old Dark Houses. Leave the dials of your electrotelegraphical engine untouched!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

G.K. Chesterton on Imagination

...the first fact is that the most simple people have the most subtle ideas. Everybody ought to know that, for everybody has been a child. Ignorant as a child is, he knows more than he can say and feels not only atmospheres but fine shades. And in this matter there are several fine shades. Nobody understands it who has not had what can only be called the ache of the artist to find some sense and some story in the beautiful things he sees; his hunger for secrets and his anger at any tower or tree escaping with its tale untold. He feels that nothing is perfect unless it is personal. Without that the blind unconscious beauty of the world stands in its garden like a headless statue. One need only be a very minor poet to have wrestled with the tower or the tree until it spoke like a titan or a dryad. It is often said that pagan mythology was a personification of the powers of nature. The phrase is true in a sense, but it is very unsatisfactory; because it implies that the forces are abstractions and the personification is artificial. Myths are not allegories. Natural powers are not in this case abstractions. It is not as if there were a God of Gravitation. There may be a genius of the waterfall; but not of mere falling, even less than of mere water. The impersonation is not of something impersonal. The point is that the personality perfects the water with significance. Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens, so that snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold. The test therefore is purely imaginative. But imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.

- G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

National Geographic's Top Ten Stories of 2009

The National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to "increase and diffuse geographic knowledge," the Society's mission is to inspire people to care about the planet.

Throughout its 120-year history, the Society has encouraged conservation of natural resources and raised public awareness of the importance of natural places, the plants and wildlife that inhabit them, and the environmental problems that threaten them. National Geographic's explorers, writers and photographers have traveled the Earth, sharing its amazing stories with each new generation. The Society has funded more than 9,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects around the globe, and grantees make exciting new discoveries every day in both traditional and emerging fields.

Once again, the globally renowned National Geographic Society has tabulated the top science and nature stories from 2009 based on those articles most viewed by readers. Click on the links below to catch up on what's new in the world!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

In the Bleak Midwinter (1872)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Because we can't resist when on the subject of King Arthur, here are some favorite clips courtesy of the official Monty Python YouTube channel. We do, however, remain a ni-free zone.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)

Few foibles of modern society escaped the notice of America's preeminent humourist, Samuel Clemmens, aka. Mark Twain. Through his novels and stories, he ripped apart and burnt away countless bits of nonsense and traditions. Not letting Mediaeval Romanticism get a free pass, Twain prefigured Monty Python by a century with his satire A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Connecticut Yankee can be more rightly said to be a satire than a proper Scientific Romance. The Macguffin recalls the work of a century prior because there is none. Even Swift and De Bergerac put some superfluous thought into how their protagonists reached their far flung destinations, even if by bottles of rising morning dew. Twain can't be bothered: his proxy, like Rip Van Winkle, simply falls to sleep in the 1800's and wakes in the 500's. Actually, the method is decidedly unscientific. Hank Morgan is hit in the head by a coworker during a disagreement.

Thrown back into Camelot, Morgan quickly rises from accusations of witchcraft over his strange ways and clothes to being second only to Arthur himself. He pulls the old trick of predicting an eclipse, which Europeans like Christopher Columbus and Allan Quartermain were renowned for using on savage natives in the colonies. The irony is not lost on readers. Foregoing a lordship, he is dubbed "The Boss" and begins a program of educating the savage and backwards Britons.

Among his improvements are capitalism and industry, a free media and disestablished church. The full effect is to inch towards an American-style republic, undermining the aristocracy and creating a new, secret order loyal to his idea of higher virtues. Twain underscores The Boss' efforts by exposing the underbelly of Arthurian Romance. The injustice of the aristocratic system and the Divine Right of kings is shown in numerous vignettes, including an extended sequence in which Arthur and The Boss become slaves because they cannot prove they are free.

The whole parcel of American industrial society comes along with The Boss' changes. There isn't a stretch of castle wall or a suit and knightly armour that doesn't have an advertisement plastered on it. The newspapers spend more time covering jousts and "Grailing" - the regular, ill-starred quests for the Holy Grail - than affairs of State. Then there are the darker parts, the invention of apocalyptic industrial warfare.

What one can't help but wonder is if there is more of a satire on the Gilded Age here than one originally thinks. The modernism that The Boss brings to Camelot, on the one hand, looks to be unquestioned progress. It is always explained as being better, superior, to the squalor of the Middle Ages. However, the image of a knight sandwiched between billboards is a bit ridiculous.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Gustave Doré's Idylls of the King

Then rode Geraint into the castle court,
His charger trampling many a prickly star
Of sprouted thistle on the broken stones.
He looked and saw that all was ruinous.
Here stood a shattered archway plumed with fern;
And here had fallen a great part of a tower,
Whole, like a crag that tumbles from the cliff,
And like a crag was gay with wilding flowers:
And high above a piece of turret stair,
Worn by the feet that now were silent, wound
Bare to the sun, and monstrous ivy-stems
Claspt the gray walls with hairy-fibred arms,
And sucked the joining of the stones, and looked
A knot, beneath, of snakes, aloft, a grove.

‘Then, Edyrn, son of Nudd,’ replied Geraint,
‘These two things shalt thou do, or else thou diest.
First, thou thyself, with damsel and with dwarf,
Shalt ride to Arthur’s court, and coming there,
Crave pardon for that insult done the Queen,
And shalt abide her judgment on it; next,
Thou shalt give back their earldom to thy kin.
These two things shalt thou do, or thou shalt die.’
And Edyrn answered, ‘These things will I do,
For I have never yet been overthrown,
And thou hast overthrown me, and my pride
Is broken down, for Enid sees my fall!’
And rising up, he rode to Arthur’s court,
And there the Queen forgave him easily.
And being young, he changed and came to loathe
His crime of traitor, slowly drew himself
Bright from his old dark life, and fell at last
In the great battle fighting for the King.

And in the moment after, wild Limours,
Borne on a black horse, like a thunder-cloud
Whose skirts are loosened by the breaking storm,
Half ridden off with by the thing he rode,
And all in passion uttering a dry shriek,
Dashed down on Geraint, who closed with him, and bore
Down by the length of lance and arm beyond
The crupper, and so left him stunned or dead,
And overthrew the next that followed him,
And blindly rushed on all the rout behind.

And Enid could not say one tender word,
She felt so blunt and stupid at the heart:
She only prayed him, ‘Fly, they will return
And slay you; fly, your charger is without,
My palfrey lost.’ ‘Then, Enid, shall you ride
Behind me.’ ‘Yea,’ said Enid, ‘let us go.’
And moving out they found the stately horse,
Who now no more a vassal to the thief,
But free to stretch his limbs in lawful fight,
Neighed with all gladness as they came, and stooped
With a low whinny toward the pair: and she
Kissed the white star upon his noble front,
Glad also; then Geraint upon the horse
Mounted, and reached a hand, and on his foot
She set her own and climbed; he turned his face
And kissed her climbing, and she cast her arms
About him, and at once they rode away.

The Knights' Progress.

A storm was coming, but the winds were still,
And in the wild woods of Broceliande,
Before an oak, so hollow, huge and old
It looked a tower of ivied masonwork,
At Merlin’s feet the wily Vivien lay.

For Arthur, long before they crowned him King,
Roving the trackless realms of Lyonnesse,
Had found a glen, gray boulder and black tarn.
A horror lived about the tarn, and clave
Like its own mists to all the mountain side:
For here two brothers, one a king, had met
And fought together; but their names were lost;
And each had slain his brother at a blow;
And down they fell and made the glen abhorred:
And there they lay till all their bones were bleached,
And lichened into colour with the crags:
And he, that once was king, had on a crown
Of diamonds, one in front, and four aside.
And Arthur came, and labouring up the pass,
All in a misty moonshine, unawares
Had trodden that crowned skeleton, and the skull
Brake from the nape, and from the skull the crown
Rolled into light, and turning on its rims
Fled like a glittering rivulet to the tarn:
And down the shingly scaur he plunged, and caught,
And set it on his head, and in his heart
Heard murmurs, ‘Lo, thou likewise shalt be King.’

Then got Sir Lancelot suddenly to horse,
Wroth at himself. Not willing to be known,
He left the barren-beaten thoroughfare,
Chose the green path that showed the rarer foot,
And there among the solitary downs,
Full often lost in fancy, lost his way;
Till as he traced a faintly-shadowed track,
That all in loops and links among the dales
Ran to the Castle of Astolat, he saw
Fired from the west, far on a hill, the towers.
Thither he made, and blew the gateway horn.

Then rose the dumb old servitor, and the dead,
Oared by the dumb, went upward with the flood—
In her right hand the lily, in her left
The letter—all her bright hair streaming down—
And all the coverlid was cloth of gold
Drawn to her waist, and she herself in white
All but her face, and that clear-featured face
Was lovely, for she did not seem as dead,
But fast asleep, and lay as though she smiled.

Words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, illustrations by Gustave Doré.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Snow White (1916)

Excerpt from Snow White (1916).

In 1916, the very first screen adaptation of the Brothers Grimm's iconic fairy tale Snow White flickered across the nickleodeon screens all over America. In one of these darkened theatres in Marceline, Missourri, the film left an indelible impression on the mind of a young patron by the name of Walt Disney. When young Walt would come of age, the memories of this magical film inspired him to return to the story of the fair-skinned princess and her companions as the subject for the first ever feature-length animated film.

To say that the 1916 version of Snow White inspired the 1937 Disney version is an understatement, for the inspiration runs deep. So deeply, in fact, that it would be proper to say that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is an outright remake of the silent film. Similarities reach out further than the common source material, as there are some conventions in the silent film that echo two decades later.

However, this original version is considerably different in its own way. It is at once more economical as the pacing is more drawn out. Without dwarven sing-alongs to occupy screentime, the story is better developed. A full half of the film passes before Snow White escapes the Queen's death plot in the shadows of the Dwarves' forest. In that time we are introduced to Snow White's true mother, the ugly stepmother Queen Brangomar turned beautiful by the witch Hex on the condition of receiving Snow White's still-beating heart, Prince Florimond the love interest, Snow White's gaggle of handmaidens, Berthold the huntsman and his family. As you may glean simply by the fact that these characters have names, we enter more richly into the world of Snow White than in other versions.

We also have here a version that is truer to the Brothers Grimm version than later renditions. That has pluses and minuses, however. The incomparable romance of the young woman's sexual awakening with love's first kiss was the invention of that boy from Marceline. The Grimms were far more practical.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Legend of Briar Rose (1885-1890)

The Briar Wood
The fateful slumber floats and flows
About the tangle of the rose.
But lo the fated hand and heart
To rend the slumberous curse apart.

The Council Chamber
The threat of war the hope of peace
The Kingdoms peril and increase
Sleep on and bide the latter day
When fate shall take his chain away.

The Garden Court
The maiden plaisance of the land
Knoweth no stir of voice or hand
No cup the sleeping waters fill
The restless shuttle lieth still.

The Rose Bower
Here lies the hoarded love the key
To All the treasure that shall be
Come fated heart the gift to take
And smite the sleeping world awake.

The Legend of Briar Rose is a series of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones, installed in Buscot Park, Oxfordshire. Inspired by the Brothers Grimm version of the Sleeping Beauty tale, each piece of the series - which was completed between 1885 and 1890 - is narrated by a poetic inscription by William Morris. The series captures a single moment in the story, as the prince happens across the slumbering castle.

Buscot Park

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Lady of Shalott (1842)

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veiled,
Slide the heavy barges trailed
By slow horses; and unhailed
The shallop flitteth silken-sailed
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to towered Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Part II
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
Goes by to towered Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneeled
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glittered free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazoned baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burned like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often through the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed;
On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flowed
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse,
Like some bold seer in a trance
Seeing all his own mischance,
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Through the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turned to towered Camelot.
For ere she reached upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Paintings by John William Waterhouse.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Victorian Era Arthurian Revival

The story of King Arthur and his exploits have drawn attention in every era. Sir Thomas Malory, in Le Morte D'Arthur defined the image of the legendary post-Roman general as the chivalric king, head of the Round Table, and seeker of "graal" (later, even, to be confirmed as the Holy Grail) during the Middle Ages. This same code of chivalry and romantic love would be darkened by addition of the story of Sir Tristan and Isolde. In modern times, the legend has become fodder for science fiction authors positing Arthur's legendary second coming and for neo-pagans expressing their popular sentimentality about pre-Christian Celtic culture.

But Queen Victoria's reign saw an explosion of interest in the Arthurian legend. In our current appraisal of the myth, what isn't owed to Monty Python or Disney is owed to the Victorians (and even they owe to the Victorians). It was the rise of the novel in the 1800s that provided us with a more readable account of his exploits, while epic poetry caught more profound imaginations. At the same time, artists burned their impressions of the Knights of the Round into our collective imaginations.

The single most important person in the this revival, the figure at the centre of the storm, was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Tennyson's Idylls of the King, an epic poem, served as the true spark igniting the public interest. A likely explanation as to why, over and above Tennyson's obvious skill as a poet, was his veiled subject matter: the recently deceased Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria and arguably the true mover behind the Crown. Though the Idylls were started before Albert's death, their emphasis grew as a eulogy to him, looking back on his co-reign as a golden age for the Empire and his death as its dissolution. So strong was Tennyson's tribute that critics often referred to his work as "Idylls of the Prince Consort" or "Le Morte D'Albert"... A critique that Tennyson’s dedication of the Idylls to the Prince did nothing to dissuade:
These to His Memory—since he held them dear,
Perchance as finding there unconsciously
Some image of himself—I dedicate,
I dedicate, I consecrate with tears—
These Idylls.

Looking at it from the perspective of Tennyson's work, it is easy to see at least one of the reasons there was such a revival of Arthuriana in the 1800s and early 1900s. The British Empire marked an era that was England's greatest since Queen Elizabeth I, and it would be natural to draw parallels to King Arthur's mythic reign in Camelot. It was yet a justification for empire -"Arthur was great, and we shall be greater still!" - while being an ideal to live up too, as the Victorian era was not so golden for all peoples. Arthur's quest for the Grail hearkened back to Blake's famous poem Jerusalem (made into a hymn by Hubert Parry) which served as a rallying cry for the temperance, workers, and suffragette movements:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Also, the Idylls provided, along with a proclamation of Victorian culture, a vision of the Romantic love that same society stifled. Pursuing this ideal was the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; a union of painters, sculptors, and writers begun by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sir John Everett Millais, and William Holden Hunt. The goal of the "PRB" was to buck the conventions of art imposed by The Royal Academy. They felt that the subject was to control the artist, not the other way around, and that any subject should be one worth painting. Therein, their paintings tend towards the hyper-detailed, colourful, and fantastic. More often than not, their work portrayed Romantic figures, in both senses of the word, and fewer figures are more romantic than those of the Round Table. Three scenes dominate the PRB's Arthurian cycle: The Lady of Shalott (who was cursed not to look out of her window, but did when she saw Lancelot), Tristan and Isolde, and King Arthur's funerary rites. While the PRB and their imitators did paint other Arthurian scenes, one notices a significant continuity between their favoured subjects, and their various other paintings of Ophelia (from Hamlet), nymphs, Greek deities, and certain Biblical scenes.

An associate of the PRB was William Morris, a designer who spearheaded the British Arts and Crafts Movement during the Victorian era. Rather than finding his inspiration in industrialization, he sought it in an idealistic Middle Ages, and for it became a celebrated figure. Besides his designs and the designs of his firm Morris and Co., Morris sought a society modeled on his idealistic medaevalism, and established several artistic collectives based on the guild system. A firm socialist, he expounded upon his own ideas in two fiction novels - News from Nowhere, set in a Utopian 2001, and The Well at the World's End - as well as copious political tracts and essays.

Arthuriana was not simply limited to the British with dreams of Empire and desire for a more Romantic time. American writer and illustrator Howard Pyle wrote a 4-book children's adaptation of Le Morte D'Arthur. Entitled The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, The Story of the Champions of the Round Table, The Story of Lancelot and his Companions, and The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur, they present another romantic vision of the past intended to serve modern purposes. The books themselves are peppered with moral messages intended to build strong youth, and as a whole, the prosperous kingdom of Camelot is meant to represent America at the turn of the century: a land of promise and prosperity, of nobility. Every new place is more wonderful than the last, every new person more beautiful and comely than the previous. This was the land of hope and glory that a burgeoning world power was fast becoming. Conspicuous in their absence are any classes beneath the nobility; the serfs, the "freemen", the slaves.

But almost single-handedly, Mark Twain rips Arthurian romance apart. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court sees can-do American industrialist Hank Morgan get an awful bump on his head and wake up in Olde England. There he soon becomes The Boss (after some judicial use of scientific "magic") and brings the 500s into the 1900s. Twain uses this to bring on a scathing critique of Monarchy, aristocracy, established Church, (especially the Roman Catholic Church) and many more social ills. One particularly memorable incident sees Arthur, King of the Britons, sold into slavery. Where the poor, the tired, and the huddled masses are ignored in the romantic visions, they are front and centre in Twain's novel. But while Hank Morgan constantly notes that the simple-minded Olde English are a product of their times, it is easy enough to see that Hank is a product of his: uncritiqued is industrialization. Not long into the novel, The Boss has billboards on every knight and ads painted on every venerable stone wall.

Expanding an empire is to walk a thin line. Growth and decay comes hand-in-hand, and that quest for order and power is the exact thing that leads to stagnation and corruption. By retreating into myths of the Arthurian Age, the Victorians were able both to assuage their anxiety over the path of imperialism – the golden age simultaneously rising and declining – and to critique it.