Historians have been lit by the fire within for generations in the quest to find distinct clues that will conclusively point the way to the “real” Arthur. And even though several important scholars have voiced their convincing theories in the last few generations, conclusive proof remains elusive. Romantics and historians alike undoubtedly hope in no small part that no conclusive proof is ever found.
Why? To find the real Arthur is to cast down into the realm of lies and falsehood all the glorious stories one has grown up with and nurtured. The Matter of Britain has been adapted to every generation’s plight, in many different ways. The promise of the Once and Future King’s return to help his people in their time of need is a powerful panacea amidst a realm in ruins. Were some enterprising archaeologists to find that elusive body and proof positive that is was Arthur Rex, then an entire genre of myth, fantasy, and religious belief would be thrown into disarray. (It could be argued as well that the same could be said if someone ever found the body of Jesus. The argument is the same: If we have his body, then he can’t come again and all those stories about the Second Coming were a lie.)
Now, this argument operates under a tremendous assumption: that the true story of Arthur will be disappointing in comparison to the supposed story of Arthur. Even from a historical point of view, Arthur is said to have been a great war leader who won at least a few smashing victories and with whose help the Britons stayed the Saxon migrations for many years. How would such historians feel if presented with evidence that the “real” Arthur was a lowly lieutenant whose name was misrepresented in early accounts and whose misrepresentation was perpetuated into full-blown mistaken identity? Does this sound silly? It might be. It also might not be. We simply don’t know who Arthur was (or if his name really was Arthur), where he lived, where he fought, or any other of a long list of details. With such ignorance to go on, we can’t rule out the possibility that he was a nobody. Some historians might very well be afraid to prove such a reality. We also can’t rule out the possibility that he was a tremendously gifted warrior whose ability to win battles and inspire the hearts and strengths of men was as legendary as his deeds are said to be.
In the final analysis, Arthur’s reality remains shrouded in the mists of time and ignorance. Arthur’s legend, on the other hand, continues to grow, inspiring each successive generation to aspire to greatness in mind and body and soul and accomplishment, to adhere to the ideals of justice and right, and to set out for itself the idea that the Once and Future King will watch over his realm as needed. In the absence of hard fact, legends create themselves. Only facts can bring them down.