“Aluen hine iuengen”: Fairies, Arthur, and Ideal Kingship in Lawman’s Brut


  • Nicholas Dalbey


The supernatural themes that most readers know from the Arthurian stories, such as Merlin and Avalon, did not always serve as the primary focus in early Arthurian myths. Instead, Arthurian writers attempted to establish a reliable historical link with the past. Between the mid-12th and early 13th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, and Lawman wrote a series of historical narratives that helped establish the foundation myth of Britain. Although each author built on the work of his predecessor, each writer also expanded and redacted scenes for his own literary purposes—particularly in relation to supernatural events. Compared to Geoffrey and Wace, Lawman uses supernatural elements more freely and emphatically. Not only does Arthur in Brut possess spiritual overtones, he also becomes a kind of liminal figure who has one foot in the world of men and one foot in the world of fairies. Much of Arthur’s liminality stems from Lawman’s use of Anglo-Saxon heroic tradition, especially when compared to a hero like Beowulf. And while it is tempting to read English literature as a vehicle for creating English nationalism, especially considering that many scholars seem to read Lawman’s Arthur as a co-opted hero for English nationalism, literature can serve other purposes than ideologically upholding nascent notions of nationhood. Unlike Geoffrey and Wace, both of whom use Arthur for predominantly political purposes, I argue that Lawman’s emphasis on Arthur’s spiritual qualities is meant not just to be emblematic of an English king but also to create a complex literary character who functions primarily to critique both Norman and English forms of ideal kingship.