Obituary: Norma Lorre Goodrich / She unearthed the story of King Arthur

May 10, 1917 - Sept. 19, 2006

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With the patience of an archaeologist excavating an ancient site, writer Norma Lorre Goodrich spent years unearthing the story of King Arthur.

For centuries the story 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 not a myth but an actual person, born to a royal family. He did not live in Britain or Wales but in Scotland.

Though 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 of natural causes at her home in Claremont, Calif., said her personal assistant, Darin Stewart. She was 89.

In 45 years of teaching comparative literature and writing, Ms. Goodrich viewed writings not as staid, already discovered treasures but as dynamic works that kept yielding truths.

"Literature has the answers to the problems of our times," Ms. Goodrich told a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1967. "Young people study literature because they are looking for answers, and if they come for that reason, they're going to be writers."

Ms. Goodrich was born May 10, 1917, in Huntington, Vt. When she was 5, an aunt gave her a copy of Alfred Lord Tennyson's book "The Idylls of the King" and set her on a literary path. Ms. Goodrich 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 the couple had a son, Jean-Joseph Lorre. They divorced in 1946. In 1965 she earned doctoral degrees in French and Roman philology from Columbia University.

Published in 1960, "Myths of the Hero" was one of her earliest explorations of myths from ancient and medieval times. In it she wrote, "The hero myth may be the one that has most influenced culture down the centuries." A 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.

In 1964 Ms. Goodrich married John Hereford Howard and began teaching French and comparative literature at USC.

She continued a practice of writing a book a year, "always beginning her writing the day after Labor Day" said Stewart."

In 1971 she became dean of the faculty at Scripps College, a women's college in Claremont.

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 Times reporter then.

With the help of Mr. Howard, Ms. Goodrich spent years researching. 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, archaeology, geography and anthropology.

Ms. Goodrich 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.


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