"Time to clean house in Camelot," Goodrich said
at the time her first book on King Arthur was published. Goodrich viewed
ancient writings not as staid, already discovered treasures, but as
dynamic works that kept yielding truths. She spoke numerous languages,
which aided her as she pored over ancient works.
Goodrich died Sept. 19, 2006, of natural causes at her home
in Claremont. She was 89. She was born May 10, 1917, in Huntington, Vt.,
the daughter of Charles Edmund and Edyth Annie Falby. She graduated from
the University of Vermont in 1938 with a bachelor's degree and continued
her studies at universities in France, where she lived for many years and
once owned and directed a school. She married Joseph Lorre and had a son, Jean-Joseph Lorre. They divorced in 1946.
Using the pen name Goodrich, she began publishing in 1960,
with "Myths of the Hero," an exploration of myths from ancient
and medieval times.
In 1964, Goodrich married John Hereford Howard and began
teaching French and comparative literature at USC. In 1965, she earned
doctoral degrees in French and Roman philology from Columbia University. "I have only
recently discovered this, to my own chagrin: Great literature has always
hated women as inferior, and even much worse," she told the Times in
1971, the year she became dean of the faculty at Scripps College, a
women's college in Claremont.
By 1986, Goodrich was professor emerita at the Claremont
Colleges and had turned her attention to the legend of King Arthur after
discovering what she felt was a void in the scholarship. With the help of
Howard, Goodrich spent many years meticulously researching the book.
During the summers, the pair traveled to Scotland and followed routes laid
out by ancient maps, unearthing the historical King Arthur. The feat was
an exercise in detective work, piecing together clues from linguistics,
archeology, geography and anthropology.
At the National Library in Paris, Goodrich read
manuscripts dated from 1066 to 1399, including a manuscript written by
Geoffrey of Monmouth. Monmouth listed the battles of Arthur not in
Gaelic but in Latin. She translated the Latin back into Gaelic and
made claims that the names coincided with places in Scotland. From this,
she determined that King Arthur was an actual person who once lived in
Scotland, not in southwestern England or Wales. Guinevere was a Pictish
queen, and Lancelot was a Scottish king. The fact that her King Arthur
findings contradicted those of other scholars did not trouble Goodrich.
In October 1990, she and her husband were knighted into
Goodrich followed the book with related works on Merlin,
Guinevere and the Holy Grail. In her 1994 work, "Heroines:
Demigoddess, Prima Donna, Movie Star," Goodrich explores the women of
operas, novels and screenplays.
As Sigurd Towrie stated, the validity of Goodrich's claims is a question that raises its head often in the
Arthurian newsgroups. Goodrich joined the ranks years ago of the historical research authors out of grace with Arthurian
scholars. She was controversial in her opinions and not well regarded, to the extent that her conclusions are not only queried as
to their validity but sometimes derided. As Kim Headlee
(http://home.usaa.net/~kimheadlee/) and others pointed out, she was
not even given a mention in Lacy's The Arthurian Encyclopedia.
Every study into the real King Arthur must contain a degree of speculation, a detailed analysis combined
with a synthesis of available sources. Goodrich claimed to address the problems from a language viewpoint and falls into the
group of scholars that would place Arthur in Northern Britain. If you can struggle through her books with an open mind, you
may find that she occasionally has flashes of insight. A number of her ideas are insightful and clever. Being a professor emeritus
of French and comparative languages and the author of a number of other non-Arthurian books, she shows her strengths in the
vast array of source material she draws on.
However, I place her amongst the growing group of Arthurian scholars that for many reasons can not
substantiate their main claims. Her writing often shows a lack of focus and the concept of clarity never enters the picture.
She has a strong tendency to draw on a speculation as if it were fact, using it to validate all later points of her narrative.
I do find myself agreeing with her on some points, but discover that the points we most often agree on have been
covered in other earlier works (such issues cannot be avoided). One such is the concept of the Round Table versus the Tabled
Round or Rotunda. Goodrich points out that one of the main differences between the Romance and Germanic languages is the
placement of adjectives. Wace, being the first author to mention the Round Table and a Jersey man that rendered Geoffrey into
French may have improperly inverted the adjectives (or used another account in which it was, as there were a number of similar
attempts at translation including Gaiman's) and the rest is history. In other words, the Round Table was not a table but
a structure built in the round, in her case, a rotunda chapel located just south of Stirling in Scotland. John Darrah in his 1981
book The Real Camelot follows a similar path but makes his the most famous rotunda in England - Stonehenge.
Another area that we partly agree on is Lancelot. But you will have to look for that discussion in the Lancelot
There is a vast collection of works, both historical and fictional, on Arthur. At one time or another, every one
was considered suspect. At least, the continued discussion of Goodrich shows that our search continues and is renewed by each
generation. I would say, buy a selection of studies including Ashe, Morris, Alcock, Matthews, Turner, and Markale. Try to find
translations of some of the Latin, French and Welsh sources. And if you have money left over, buy and read Goodrich. Her
books include King Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Priestesses, Medieval Myths, Ancient Myths, and The Holy Grail.
King Arthur, Norma Lorre Goodrich, HarperCollins, December 1988, ISBN: 0060971827
Paperback, 416 pages