Repository for my Zanier Ideas... on writing, and life.
|Why senseless worship is as demeaning as outright contempt.
Set aside your modern day life and imagine what it's like to live in the beginnings of Camelot under the aegis of the greatest king in history. This man Arthur used his charismatic zeal to draw the best men in the land -- emphasis unfortunately on men. When they arrived to serve, he informed them in no uncertain terms that simply being the best would not suffice. He called them to him because he wanted people who could uphold a still-higher standard of bravery, nobility and loyalty, one the world had never known. They would have to challenge themselves, take on quests and expand their goodness. Yes, they were bright, attractive, educated and charming—they would need all these things—but this only got them in the door. All the men counted as the king's equal; each man would be judged on the latest deed he had done.
Imagine how exciting it would be to marry to such a man. Great men flock to his side, and he spurns their initial offering because he knows they are capable of much more. He would rather lose a great man than keep him at less than his potential. At first, such things would inspire. His legendary charm and chivalric flattery would be dizzying, considering how hard the men have to work to be acknowledged at all. Eventually, however, you would want to know what he needed from you. This, I fear, is where Arthur (and Camelot) failed.
Those conversations have never been written down, so far as I know, but I can hear them, nonetheless. "Oh, my dear, you are charming and graceful and lovely in all your worst days. Nothing you would do could ever make me love you less."
Sweet nothings like that have gotten many a man married and kept many wives happy. Surely they drew Guinevere close, made her think she could not be happier, but just as clearly they hurt in a way she could not define. If nothing you do could change what I feel, then nothing you do could be important. Being told, "It's not important:" that message rings familiar. I have heard it as well. It was offered to calm me, to make me feel better when I had failed the authority I served. It worked, even saved my life as I pushed myself to the breaking point. Yet, the thing that dubbed 'not important' was my contribution, the only thing I had to offer. So even though hearing that it wasn't important helped calm me down, even though I didn't believe it exactly, it pained me. That wound damaged me, disrupted my life. Can anybody claim that Guinevere felt differently when the man she loved, a man who valued great deeds above life itself, refused to even ask her to take noble action? No wonder she obeyed him, with malicious obedience, when he said that she need only be her charming self.
I have been a fan of Arthurian legend for as long as I can remember. I have ruminated at length about Lancelot's errors, bragged that I did not need to indulge so foolishly despite my passions. I consider myself to be anything but a chauvinist and keep myself well under control, and yet here, I discover I have done a terrible disservice. Worse, for I have also had at least one relationship tainted by this error.
I loved my fiancée1 with a mad passion. I moved across country, abandoning alike friend and family. If she spoke, I listened. If she demanded, I agreed. I gave up my vices at her behest (to the point of wasting away, by accident, though I dismissed that because I still needed to lose weight.) I think if not for her actively cooking I would have visited the hospital. I dallied with vices I could not be paid to touch before. My obedience stopped only at the paradoxical and insane: be ambitious above your station, don't be arrogant. Push yourself to get lots done, and never get excited or aggressive. As she criticized me, I fell to tears. When she apologized for being needlessly harsh, I smiled and nodded, pretending to understand.
I had changed, in a score of wonderful ways; every moment I watched my behavior. The transformation would surprise Merlin or even King Midas yet paled against my promises, so I did not understand. She had all the justification she needed, and though painful, her cutting words came like a whisper in the wind.
I cannot say for sure what actually happened. It could have been the practical things got too much. Something about the reality differed from the promise. I cannot delve into her mind, cannot even reach her to ask. I do know that I made this error, of putting her above my reproach. One of the things I loved about her was that she always asked me to better myself. Given how much we had in common, she may well have hated the fact that I never returned the favor. If you cannot do that one thing for her, perhaps you are right—perhaps she deserves someone better.