With the patience of an archaeologist excavating an ancient site, writer Norma Lorre Goodrich spent years unearthing the story of King Arthur...
LOS ANGELES — With the patience of an archaeologist excavating an ancient site, writer Norma Lorre Goodrich spent years unearthing the story of King Arthur.
The story for centuries was thought to be a fable, with British roots and a powerful appeal to generations. But beneath the legend of Camelot and Queen Guinevere, the Knights of the Round Table and Lancelot, Ms. Goodrich discovered what she called the true story: King Arthur was an actual person, born to a royal family. He did not live in Britain or Wales but in Scotland.
Although her findings clashed with years of scholarship and conventional wisdom, Ms. Goodrich was confident: “Time to clean house in Camelot,” she said when her book was published.
Ms. Goodrich, a prolific author and former professor at the University of Southern California and Claremont Colleges who surprised students and colleagues with her sometimes controversial discoveries, died Sept. 19 at her home in Claremont, Calif., said her personal assistant, Darin Stewart. She was 89. No cause of death was disclosed.
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Ms. Goodrich was born May 10, 1917, in Huntington, Vt., the daughter of Charles Edmund and Edyth Annie Falby. At age 5, she received a copy of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s book “The Idylls of the King,” setting her on a literary path.
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 earned doctoral degrees in French and Roman philology from Columbia University in 1965.
Published in 1960, “Myths of the Hero” was one of Ms. Goodrich’s earliest explorations of myths from ancient and medieval times. A Los Angeles Times critic called the myths as retold by Ms. Goodrich a “remarkable collection” that generates a sense of universal connectedness, a link with the heroic thrust in all men.
She continued a practice of writing a book a year, “always beginning her writing the day after Labor Day,” Stewart said.
By 1986, Ms. Goodrich was professor emerita at the Claremont Colleges and had turned her attention to the legend of King Arthur after discovering a void in the scholarship: “All the books on Arthur have been on the mythology, the legend,” she told a Los Angeles Times reporter then.
With the help of John Hereford Howard, her second husband, Ms. Goodrich spent many years researching the book. The couple traveled to Scotland during summers 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, archaeology, geography and anthropology.
Manuscripts a clue
At the National Library in Paris, Ms. Goodrich read manuscripts dated from 1066 to 1399, including a manuscript written by a 12th-century scholar, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who shared Ms. Goodrich’s belief that Arthur had not been in England. But the view was unpopular, so Monmouth listed the battles of Arthur not in Gaelic — the Celtic language of Scotland — but in Latin.
“When I finally figured out what he was doing, I translated the Latin back into Gaelic,” Ms. Goodrich said in 1994. She then found that the names coincided with places in Scotland.
She determined that King Arthur was an actual person who once lived in Scotland, not in southwestern England or Wales as others had postulated. Guinevere was a Pictish queen, and Lancelot was a Scottish king.
The scholarly book, “King Arthur,” published in 1989, was a tough sell for a commercial market, but it was well-written and sold well in paperback, said Harold Schmidt, Ms. Goodrich’s literary agent. The book also was published in other languages.
“Norma had such remarkable enthusiasm,” Schmidt said. “That’s one thing I’ll always remember about her was the excitement she had about every project she worked on. It was something to behold.”
Her life provided examples for her students as well, said Kate Mueller, a former student of Ms. Goodrich’s who is dean of students at Orange Coast College.
“She totally captured my imagination,” Mueller said. “She had a passion for exciting your brain. It wasn’t ever just rote memorization.”
Among Ms. Goodrich’s survivors are sister Nita Thelma Falby, granddaughters Jennifer Lorre and Olivia Graham, three great-grandchildren, niece Maude Dunn Shumaker and nephew Frederick Dunn.
Howard and a son, Jean-Joseph Lorre, born during her first marriage, which ended in 1946, preceded Ms. Goodrich in death.