American Arthuriana

Lonesome Dove retells ancient legends

Lonesome Dove … became
a kind of American Arthuriad”

Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove
(Source: McMurtry, Walter Benjamin, page 55)

There’s a reason people love Lonesome Dove. The novel stayed on the New York Times best seller list for more than four months after it was published in 1985, and it won a Pulitzer Prize. A screen adaptation was one of the highest-rated miniseries in television history and it won seven Emmy Awards. People love Lonesome Dove because it retells Arthurian legends.

The Arthurian legends, in their turn, are retellings of Celtic mythology, with the various knights and ladies of King Arthur’s court taking the places of ancient gods, goddesses, and heroes.

We respond to these mythological stories at the deepest level of our thoughts and feelings.

Arthurian references begin with the title Lonesome Dove. In Arthuriana, the dove is “the emblem of the Grail” (Campbell, page 475). Sigune “was fed in her abstracted state from the bounty of the Grail, which itself received its powers from a dove that on Good Friday annually flew from heaven with a wafer, which it placed on the stone: a sign substantial of God’s love, not derived from the sacrament of the altar, but directly from the sphere of grace itself” (Campbell, page 477).