How would King Arthur’s knights cope with a climate-changed world?

King Arthur painting
James Archer painted The Death of Arthur in 1861. King Arthur lays mortally wounded after his final battle. He waits for a ship to take him to the Isle of Avalon.

My wife and I drove from Seattle to Powell’s Books in Portland a couple of weeks ago to satisfy an itch. At this point, I’ve written three novels and eight shorts in the world of Carbon Run, but the project has run its course. Is there another way to explore the idea of a post-global warming world in which protecting the environment is the society’s single most important value?

For a variety of reasons, my mind turned to fantasy, which is odd, because I’ve never been attracted to epic fantasy, or high fantasy. I found Tolkien too dense and I shrugged at most other dragons-and-magic stories. Having said that, I enjoyed the early novels in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). He plays down the wand-waving and flying lizards shtick in favor of character development and relationships.

This led to a realization: I do enjoy at least one fantasy tradition: the Arthurian legends. It’s easy to forget that these romances were the literary fiction of the High Middle Ages, and they’re full of magic objects, fabulous beasts, and so on. The stories of King Arthur are as much about greed, lust, pride, loyalty, bravery, and family drama as they are about enchantments and floating castles. Merlin, as an archetype, gets a lot of play in modern fantasy, but his role is relatively limited, though important, in the Arthurian stories. I like that.

I do enjoy at least one fantasy tradition: the Arthurian legends.

I wondered if I could somehow mash-up my interest in the well-known and still-popular Arthur stories with a world damaged by climate change. I think the answer is yes. Even the Holy Grail story fits if you spin it in a certain way. My thinking is still murky, but I feel ready to tackle this.

That brings me back to the trip to Powells. After some cursory reading, I realized I knew very little about the Arthur story. I brought home books on the legends, and I’m watching a series of lectures by Dorsey Armstrong, a professor of medieval literature at Purdue University. I’ve also reacquinted myself with the bible of Arthur fiction, Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, and I’m reading a modern retelling, The Winter King, by Bernard Cornwell.

With any luck, I’ll end up with something like The Once and Future King meets Oryx and Crake. Stay tuned for something wonderful. I hope.

Tell me about when you decided to end a project and start a new one.

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