Mermaids and Camelot

Each evening, from December to December . . .

This past weekend, my wife and I had the opportunity to watch the film Jackie starring Natalie Portman[1]. The story deals with Jackie Kennedy’s struggle through grief and trauma following the assassination of her husband, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 36th President of the United States. His time in office is often referred to as “the Camelot years”. The Lerner and Lowe musical, Camelot opened on Broadway on December 3rd, 1960 and closed on January 5th, 1963. JFK would be assassinated ten and one-half months later.

The Music

The original cast album was part of the first family’s regular evening listening at the White House and JFK’s favourite lines were found in the closing scene of the play. It is pre-dawn and the final battle between the two warring factions of King Arthur’s round table will soon begin. A young lad of fourteen years has stowed away in the van and seeks to become a knight. Arthur is touched by the boy’s idealism but the battlefield is no place for a boy. Instead, Arthur knights him as Sir Tom of Warwick with the charge to return home and keep the memory of Camelot alive.

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot

Natalie Portman’s character speaks of the play and its music, focusing on the third line, “For one brief shining moment”. The remainder of this essay deals with those five words.

It All Started in High School

Early in my high school career[2], the Drama Club at Hopewell High School staged the musical Camelot and by all accounts, it was to be a magical and grand event[3]. In one way or another, a significant portion of the student body were involved with the production. This was my first exposure to the play and I was hooked. My parents gave me a copy of the original cast album the following Christmas. This was so much better than the bog standard underwear and socks. I think I played that LP to death.

A couple of years later, the theme for the Miss Hopewell High pageant was One Brief Shining Moment. I found that to be rather appropriate. After all, it embodied the transience of such glory. This year’s beauty queen is next year’s “once upon a time.”

Time Marches On

I held on to the phrase over the years. I would occasionally hear or read it, though that quickly diminished as the decades passed. The phrase was my treasure although I never got to use it in any way.

All that changed when I wrote Urban Mermaid. There, in Chapter 9, in the 5th paragraph on page 192, the character, Peter MacPherson, mentions “the one brief shining moment of being a bride . . .” and vows that his fiancée, Penelope Tench, will have what every mermaid on Colony Island longs for; a wedding.

And now you know the rest of the story[4].

[1] The ‘extremely talented Natalie Portman’ is a more apt description.

[2] The Autumn of 1965.

[3] It was so grand that someone made copies of the tickets and sold them to unsuspecting attendees. Of course, the inevitable happened and there were more theatre-goers than seats at the performances. To my knowledge, the culprits were never discovered.

[4] There is also a line from National Lampoon’s Animal House in Urban Mermaid. All I will tell you is the line appears in the last chapter of the book and the last big scene in the movie.

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