Monday, October 6, 2014

The Sword and the Stone: Disney's Version of Medieval Christianity

tale Geoffrey of Monmouth presents. In The Sword and the Stone Merlin is an elderly man, Arthur apparently has no parents and is raised as a servant in a castle, and Arthur becomes king not because of his personality or his bravery, but because he manages to pull a sword out of the stone (hence the title). However, what does stay consistent between Geoffrey’s tale and the Disney movie is Arthur’s undeniably Christian persona: humble, forgiving, loving, and very white.
            Tales of medieval Christianity were very much focused on the forgiving nature of Christians, as opposed to the harsh and angry nature of the Jews. In “The Jewish Boy” the Jews and the Christians are starkly contrasted when the Jewish father tries to put his own child in the oven, and that same Jewish child is saved by Mary, the mother of all Christians. The Jew (the father) doesn’t have a problem killing his child while the Christian (Mary) saves a boy that is not even of the same religion. The forgiving and loving nature of Christians in “The Jewish Boy” is the same forgiving and loving nature that Arthur shows in The Sword and the Stone. At the end of the movie, after everyone realizes Arthur is meant to be king, Sir Ector, who has belittled and mocked Arthur the entire movie, gets on one knee and apologizes to Arthur for how he has treated him. Arthur immediately forgives Sir Ector, saying he doesn’t have to apologize for anything. This is exactly the kind of image medieval Christians wanted the world to have of Christianity: humble, kind and forgiving. Obviously, the actual Christians were less forgiving and humble and more brutal and murderous, but they attempted to give the appearance of humility and kindness in stories with characters such as King Arthur.
            We’ve talked in class about how many stories focus on young boys. “The Jewish Boy,” “The Prioress’s Tale,” and “The Child Slain by Jews” all focuses on young boys, two Christians and one Jewish. These boys all have the same character traits: innocence, naivety and kindness. Arthur fits in perfectly with these boys; he’s not really sure what’s going on, he doesn’t know or care if he’s special; he’s just trying to make everyone around him happy. Just like the boy in “The Jewish Boy” who goes into the church because it looks beautiful, or the boy in “The Prioress’s Tale” who sings so he can give praise to Mary, everything Arthur does contains a certain element of wonder and love, from when he turns into random animals with Merlin, to when he tries to figure what to do as king. This persona of wonder and love ties back into the Christianity that the medieval Christians tried to advertise. There is no maliciousness or evilness in Arthur’s actions, just love, which is what Christians argued all people would be like once they became a “child of Christ.”
 As a young boy Christian, Arthur is also the most precious and valuable of all human beings: he is not corrupted by sin like some men, he is not a woman, so he doesn’t need to worry about the sinfulness of menstruation or having a vagina, and he doesn’t have to worry about going to hell like the Pagans, Muslims and Jews. He is simply just a young boy, trying to do what’s right in the world. Although it is never explicitly stated that Arthur in The Sword in the Stone is a Christian, the actions he takes and the words he says makes it clear that Arthur is shaped by the ideals of medieval Christianity.

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