Compositions in Connellsville is a new series of posts I’m starting where I take a look at children’s media outside of Adventures in Odyssey. In this first part of the series, I’ll be taking a look at Arthur’s belief in divine intervention in Howard Pyle’s The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. Pyle’s book is a 1903 version of the legends of Arthur written for children.
King Arthur goes into battle without fear, confident that God wants him as King, and therefore believes that other knights cannot slay him unless God allows. Therefore, whenever going into a battle with another knight who claims that he will kill Arthur, Arthur tells his opponent that he will only die in that battle if God, or the heavens, allow it. Howard Pyle exemplifies these ideas of God’s sovereignty in different places throughout The Book of King Arthur, the first part of his publication The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, but he shows these ideas especially the first time that Arthur mentions them. Even when not referring to God directly, Arthur believes that some supernatural, spiritual being, or beings, continually protect him so that he can serve the people of his kingdom as long as God plans for him to remain king. Ever since Arthur pulled the sword out of the iron anvil, he has known that God wanted him to rule the kingdom, and so he knows that he needs to stay alive and healthy as long as possible in order to better serve and protect the people of his kingdom. Arthur displays his belief in divine intervention in order to keep himself alive as king as long as God wills for the first time before his battle with the Sable Knight. Before that battle, the Sable Knight tells King Arthur that he will surely slay him and hang his shield on the apple tree with all the other shields that the Sable Knight has collected. Later, he battles the Duke of North Umber for the Lady Guinevere and King Leodegrance and demonstrates the same beliefs as he had previously shown in his battle with the Sable Knight. Pyle illustrates King Arthur’s biblical confidence in the fact that God has the power to veto humans’ desires to kill or to let another person live, a display of faith in God that readers should emulate in their Christian life.
In the most important instance of King Arthur displaying his belief in God’s sovereignty, Arthur had gone to challenge a sable knight who had rudely killed a man and taken his shield as a trophy. This scenario shows Arthur’s belief that God will allow him to die only when His perfect timing has come. When Arthur arrived and challenged the Sable Knight to a battle, the Sable Knight told him that he would surely defeat King Arthur, although he did not recognize Arthur as the king. Arthur calmly replied that the Sable Knight could only slay him if the heavens allowed, saying “I do believe that that shall be as Heaven willeth, and not as thou willest,” (Pyle 34) displaying his underlying belief in God’s sovereignty over human life. Scripture clearly supports this fact when the psalmist writes “Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death,” (English Standard Version, Psalm 68.20) acknowledging God’s control over “deliverances from death.” King Arthur’s faith in divine sovereignty causes his fearlessness in battle as if he dies he knows that God planned it that way, and if he lives he can continue serving as king in the way that God leads him to. Paul’s ideas about life and death line up with the interpretation of Arthur’s statement about what Heaven willeth when he writes in his letter to the Philippians, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Phil. 1.21) By comparing Arthur’s belief with the biblical concept, one can see how Arthur believed in the biblical concept of divine intervention.
Modern society would benefit from such unwavering faith in God’s sovereignty and ability to intervene in human affairs. When Christians apply the same kind of incredible faith that Arthur had in their everyday lives, the results have dramatic effects. Similarly to how King Arthur demonstrated his faith in God’s control over Arthur’s life during battle, modern Christians can apply faith in God’s sovereignty to a wide range of situations. For example, if events do not go according to human plans, the Apostle Paul’s words can comfort Christians making them aware of the fact that God works all things for His greater good. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans saying that we know that “for those who love God all things work together for good,” (Rom. 8.28) and Christians can draw this out of the context of King Arthur’s words in The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. Christians should have faith that God ultimately controls life and death, as well as smaller things, not humans.
Bible, The. The English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001.
Pyle, Howard. The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903.