The allure of Arthurian stories has held people spellbound since before the time of the printing press. Thomas Malory brought King Arthur and the Round Table to English readers in the 15th century with his famous Le Morte D' Arthur, but the stories are much older than he and known in many other lands and languages. Today, the list of stories and poems that have taken King Arthur and his knights as their subject is inexhaustible. The fascination has led Robert Bruce Fruehling to write a book that equates the enduring appeal of the “once and future king” with the appeal that the Antichrist will have in the future. Fruehling's book, The Revelation of King Arthur: Deceit, Intrigue, and the Guards' Account explores the possibility of the future Antichrist aligning himself in the popular imagination with the messianic King Arthur.
The Revelation of King Arthur opens by explaining the innate need of humanity for a hero-king to look up to and follow. This need historically has led entire nations to be deceived into following men who claim to be the hero and national leader the people are looking for. Adolf Hitler in Germany is an example of someone able to deceive “even the elect.”
But the great deception of the Antichrist during the end-times and how this deception will be accomplished is the focus of the book. A principle part of the deception, according to Fruehling, is to de-legitimize the messiah-ship of Jesus and his status as the hero who has come to save us. If Christ is not our savior then we still need “another Christ,” the Antichrist, to save us. One popular heresy that is seeing a reemergence today is that Jesus did not die on the cross but instead married Mary Magdalene and fled Judea. In this heresy Jesus himself becomes unimportant and instead the “Holy Grail” takes on significance. Those familiar with The Da Vinci Code know that in this heresy, “the 'Grail' became a code word for the womb of Mary Magdalene, who carried the 'holy child of Christ.' The quest itself was the search for the holy bloodline” (60). What better leader to elevate to the status of Antichrist than one who claims to be a living descendant of Jesus?
The real meat of the book starts on page 51 when Fruehling describes this heresy and traces some of the subsequent stories about where the supposed descendants and relatives of Jesus settled. According to one of these legends, Mary Magdalene traveled to France where the Merovingian line of Frankish kings were descended from her. In true Da Vinci Code style, Fruehling includes photos of religious artwork depicting Mary with the Fleur-de-lys—the French emblem of the royal line—on them. Laugh if you will, but the point is that even the most ludicrous deceptions are believed by some.
Where does King Arthur fit into all this? Robert Fruehling quotes a published genealogist of Scottish royalty, Laurence Gardner. Writing about the house of Steward, Gardner makes the incredible claim: “this senior Steward descent goes all the way back to King Arthur's father, King Aedan of the Scots (notice not Uther Pendragon of England or Wales), on the one hand and to Prince Nascien of the Septimanian Midi on the other... The Midi succession stems from the Merovingians' male ancestral line through the Fisher Kings to Jesus and Mary Magdalene (104). Fruehling explains what this means: “amazing as it sounds, the whole legend of King Arthur and the Holy Grail refers to Arthur himself! He is in the Grail lineage, as we will see, and is known as the Grail King... the story of the Holy Grail connects the bloodline of Jesus to King Arthur and on through Arthur's descendants” (103). It is important to remember that the author does not believe any of these heresies about descendants of Jesus, he is merely warning that people are being deceived by heresies such as this one about the descent of Arthur and the related one in The Da Vinci Code.
What Fruehling does believe is that the prophesies about “the once and future king” Arthur are disturbingly similar to the prophesies about the Antichrist in the book of Revelation. Anyone familiar with their Malory knows that Arthur's last wound is a wound to the head. Compare to Rev. 13:3, 12, 13. The “red dragon” of Rev 12: 3 was embossed on King Arthur's standard as it still is on the flag of Wales today. When Arthur was born the midwife exclaimed: “Here is a Dragon!” Fruehling notes: “Coupled with the surname 'Pendragon' or 'Chief dragon' the prophetic significance will become apparent” (98). “He once was, now is not, and yet will come.” Rev. 17:8 “The once and future king.” Coincidence? Maybe. If you ask Fruehling, the similarity is more than coincidence (127-128).
When I received my copy of the book from WinePress Publishing, I was overjoyed to see—tucked away near the end of the book—a chapter on two of my favorite authors: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Not surprisingly in a book that equates Arthurian myth with the end-times and Antichrist, the treatment of Lewis and Tolkien is not as blindly enthusiastic as most Christian readers. Fruehling examines their interest in the Arthurian legends in light of their friendship with the heterodox authors Charles Williams and Owen Barfield. Charles Williams, whose supernatural thrillers have a small but ardent readership, had an unhealthy interest in the occult. The influence of these men—particularly on Lewis—is a little mentioned fact and I was pleased to see it addressed in the book.
Fruehling explores what he finds to be a disturbing openness to the pagan elements of the Arthurian legends on the part of Christians. Christians are proud to heap accolades on C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Steven R. Lawhead for their novels and poems in the Arthurian genre; however, Fruehling warns that these “Christian” authors veer dangerously into the pagan and occult in their writings on the theme. Speaking of Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength, which tells of a reincarnated Arthur and a magical Merlin in twentieth century England who save the world from a diabolical evil, he states his opinion that, “combining Christianity with esoteric thought and myth destroys the message rather than makes it easier to take” (145). Such a view about myth and story is completely opposite to that of Lewis himself who thought that myths could be used to convey valuable truths.
Fruehling accurately pegs the important contribution of That Hideous Strength to the corpus of Arthuriana and raises a valid argument about the use of pagan elements in a “Christian” book, but why he includes The Lord of the Rings in that corpus is not clear. To classify it as Arthurian literature is a stretch, although it would be hard for any fantasy writer to entirely escape the shadow of the Round Table. There are bound to be superficial similarities and Fruehling gives but three. Perhaps strongest of the three is the mentor/apprentice relationship of Gandalf and Aragorn compared to Merlin and Arthur (147). What Mr. Fruehling fails to mention, however, is that the motif of a mentor guiding a hero is common throughout heroic literature and could be equally applied to many works in the genre. Theorist Joseph Campbell points this out as one of the defining features of mythic quest stories.
Anyone interested in Arthuriana or the end-times will find The Revelation of King Arthur very interesting. At only 164 pages it is a quick read but the 8 pages of endnotes makes it feel like a full meal rather than an appetizer. Not all of Fruehling's points convinced me, but the mystery around King Arthur has always intrigued me and he offers a thought provoking scenario to tie up the mysteriously open-ended story of King Arthur.
Robert Bruce Fruehling, The Revelation of King Arthur: Deceit, Intrigue and the Guard's Account. WinePress Publishing, 2009.