Love and lust, friendship and betrayal, action and romance, heroes and villains, right and might -- all are parts of the legend of King Arthur.
And the History Channel adds the element of mystery as it tries to determine the truth behind the legend in "Quest for King Arthur." The special debuts on Sunday at 9 p.m. and is narrated by Patrick Stewart.
Was the legend ever true? Were the heroes ever real? These are just two of the many questions investigated by the two-hour program, which was filmed in England and uses reenactments of battles and other events to delve into what's history and what's myth.
In its sleuthing, the documentary also uses maps, art, historic writings, and interviews with experts who discuss archaeology and medieval warfare as well as history and literature.
"Quest for King Arthur" began about two years ago in a brainstorming session, said Beth Dietrich Segarra, vice president of historical programming for the channel and executive producer of the program.
"We were trying to think of topics that are known by a lot of the population -- but maybe they don't know the whole story," she said.
"One topic that came up was King Arthur. There are schools that believe he was a real person, but did Arthur really exist? Was there a king who united England? There were a number of men who kind of fit a profile that could give little bits and pieces of the legend."
Christopher A. Snyder, chair of the history and politics department at Marymount University in Arlington and a consultant for "Quest," said he thinks a strength of the documentary is that it begins by telling the story of Arthur and Camelot.
"It gives respect to the literature and looks at how history influenced that literature," said Snyder, who also has authored "The World of King Arthur" and "The Britons."
Snyder said he got interested in the topic "not in any highbrow way" but by playing "Dungeons and Dragons" in his youth.
"It was a creative way to put yourself in another world," he said.
"Then I began reading the medieval legends and left gaming behind." He earned his doctorate in medieval history from Emory University.
In watching the documentary, viewers may find the truth isn't what they imagined, said executive producer Segarra. For instance, Arthur might have lived in a mud hut rather than a castle.
The timing of "Quest" also is fortunate, she said, because it airs just before "King Arthur," a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Antoine Fuqua that will open in theaters on July 7.
Work on the documentary began "before we knew there would be a [theatrical] film on Arthur," she said, noting the film probably will stir even more interest in the legend.
A half-hour "Behind the Scenes" program on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. visits the set of the Disney "King Arthur" movie and also features filmmakers and historians discussing the challenges of making the documentary.
"Quest for King Arthur" explores the ideas of knights in shining armor, jousting and warfare, the Round Table, and chivalry.
"There's a little for everyone," Segarra said, "because everyone knows the story -- but now they'll know the facts."
The Essence of a Legend
The History Channel sums up the story of King Arthur:
As a boy, Arthur pulls a sword from a stone and learns of his birthright.
The boy grows up to become Arthur, King of the Britons.
He marries Guinevere and rules his kingdom from the utopia-like Camelot.
Arthur assembles the top knights of the era around the Round Table. The greatest of these knights -- Lancelot -- betrays his king and friend by having an affair with Guinevere.
The results crack the foundations of Arthurian society and ignite war.
After a battle at Camlann and a final confrontation with his illegitimate son, Mordred, Arthur is carried off to Avalon, where he rests until Britain needs him again.