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The Overview Effect and the Camelot Effect

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The story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table has been told and retold for centuries.  At the heart of the legend is the mystical city of Camelot, where Arthur held court and the knights gathered before embarking on their quests.

To this day, debate rages over whether there was ever a “real Camelot” and/or a “real King Arthur.”  Numerous sites in Britain are said to be Camelot’s location, and I have visited one of them in South Cadbury.  King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are said to be buried in nearby Glastonbury.

Skeptics argue that these stories are myths, meaning they are untrue and have no historical grounding.  However, the debates about “history vs. myth” obscure the meaning of the narratives that are passed on century after century.  The discussion overlooks the fact that most history has an overlay of myth, and most myth has a foundation in history.  For this reason, I have coined the term “mythis” (plural: mythies) to describe these tales.

Moreover, these debates would easily subside if we understood Camelot and similar locales to be as much a state of mind as a physical place.  As Charles Smith writes in The Merlin Factor, Camelot is:

Not so much a place as a moment in time when life is a work of art.  Camelot happens when great accomplishment, surprise, and cooperative effort brilliantly coalesce to acknowledge that this is a “great place to be.(1)

Camelot is among the most enduring and important of these mythies, and there is a line in the 1960’s Broadway musical by the same name that echoes Smith’s insight.  When he first meets her, King Arthur sings to his Queen-to-be, Guinevere: “In short, there’s simply not…a more congenial spot…for happily-ever-aftering, than here in Camelot.”(2)

Smith also notes that what makes Camelot possible is a leader who is open to it and who integrates the rare qualities of personal vulnerability and strength of character to take bold and extraordinary action for the success of the kingdom and the well being of the people.(3)  The Arthur archetype is precisely this kind of ruler.  He comes to the throne as a young man of questionable birth, with a knack for empowering others rather than taking all the glory to himself. (4)

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