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Archive for the ‘King Arthur’s Children’ Category

Due to my continuing interest in fictional creations of Arthur’s descendants, I was very excited when I heard about David Pilling’s new book Caesar’s Sword, Book One: The Red Death. This book offers a new take on Arthur’s descendants, resurrecting the overlooked son of Arthur named Amhar, who in the Historia Brittonum, is listed as Arthur’s son whom he slew, and who may have been the source for Mordred later being treated as Arthur’s son.

Caesar'sSwordIn Pilling’s version, Amhar decides to side with the traitor Mordred against his father, Arthur. When Arthur learns of Amhar’s treachery, he fights Amhar and slays him prior to the Battle of Camlann. But that’s just the beginning of this book. Amhar has a son named Coel, Arthur’s grandson, and it is Coel who is the main character of Caesar’s Sword.

Coel and his mother fear that Arthur will be angry with them so they flee Britain. But a few days later, Arthur dies at Camlann and Coel and his mother’s existence is basically forgotten in Britain, which is caught up in battles between its kings.

Coel and his mother, Eliffer, are accompanied in their flight by Owain, one of Arthur’s knights. Owain has retrieved Arthur’s sword, Caledfwlch, which was knocked from his hand during his battle with Amhar. Owain keeps the sword for Coel until he is old enough to wield it. The sword is said to have belonged to Julius Caesar and to have been forged by a god, so Coel treasures it.

Coel, Owain, and Eliffer seek refuge at the French court, but after Owain dies fighting for the French king, Coel and Eliffer decide to travel to Constantinople. They make a long journey, during which Eliffer tells Coel all about his grandfather, Arthur.

So far, so good, but it is when Coel reaches Constantinople that the story really took off for me since I have long been fascinated by the history of the Byzantine Empire, and the rest of the novel covers much of the reign of the Emperor Justinian, the greatest of all the emperors. I won’t give away all the plot here, but it is sufficient to say that Coel will have Caledfwlch stolen from him and he will set out on a quest to win it back. In the process, he will find himself in slavery, working in the Hippodrome’s Circus, and making an enemy of a harlot who ends up becoming an empress and seeking revenge on him.

While the Arthurian elements are strongest in the novel’s beginning, David Pilling brings back the significance of Arthur at the end of the novel. Coel finds himself having to fight his own sense of dishonor in having been Amhar’s son, and he feels his grandfather is watching over him, perhaps displeased with him, and he has to come to realize he is his own man and not his father. How he comes to this realization I’ll leave for readers to enjoy discovering themselves.

Pilling writes smooth, clear prose that moves the story along. The plot is not overly tight, but it never lags, as the reader follows Coel through his many experiences. Pilling plans to continue the story, and I am curious to know what will happen next. Perhaps Coel will return to Britain or father more descendants of King Arthur.

Pilling is an extremely prolific author of historical fiction. He has written several other novels set in English history and about other legends, such as Robin Hood, but Caesar’s Sword is, I believe, his only Arthurian novel to date. You can find out more about Pilling and his books at www.DavidPillingAuthor.com

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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The following essay is an excerpt from my book King Arthur’s Children, taken from Chapter 4 about the Birth and Origins of Mordred:

Perhaps the most interesting, although far-fetched, of the new theories surrounding the birth of Mordred lies in Norma Lorre Goodrich’s study King Arthur (1986). Here Goodrich suggests that Mordred was actually a twin, and his twin was none other than Sir Lancelot. Goodrich points out that both Lancelot and Mordred have stories of being thrown into a body of water. Furthermore, she states that in the Celtic world, the birth of twins was considered as a sign that the mother had committed adultery with a devil. It was believed that the firstborn twin was the son of the earthly father while the second twin was the son of the Devil; giving birth to twins resulted in the mother being put to death for adultery. Beginning probably with the Lanzelet and carrying into later Lancelot tales, Lancelot is kidnapped by the Lady of the Lake, who then raises him as her own son. This kidnapping usually takes place when the castle of King Ban, Lancelot’s father, is besieged by its enemies. Lancelot’s mother flees the confusion with her child. She either sets her son down for a minute, or else she accidentally drops him into the water. The Lady of the Lake then appears and steals away the child. Goodrich suggests that this kidnapping may have been a late version of an earlier story in which Lancelot’s mother, because Lancelot was the second born twin, threw her son into the lake to drown him. If she could successfully hide the fact that she had twins, she would not be put to death for sleeping with a devil (163).

However, the Lanzelet is the first source for this story and it is a late source. It seems unlikely that this German author would have knowledge of an actual tradition which the English, Welsh, and French writers never mentioned; therefore, it is more probable that Zatzikhoven invented this story from his own imagination than that he found it in a now lost Arthurian source.

Furthermore, the Lanzelet states that Lancelot is a year old when he is thrown into the lake (26). Obviously, if Lancelot were a year old, his mother would not try to drown him so late after his birth when his being a twin would already be known. Perhaps this statement of Lancelot’s age, however, is also a later addition to the story. Originally, Lancelot’s mother may have thrown him into the lake, and the later romancers, not understanding why a mother would so treat her child, may have added the attack upon the castle to try and make the tale understandable (Goodrich, King Arthur, 164-5).

Howard Pyle's illustration of Sir Lancelot - could there be a resemblance to show he is Mordred's brother - compare to the illustration below.

Howard Pyle’s illustration of Sir Lancelot – could there be a resemblance to show he is Mordred’s brother – compare to the illustration below.

Is it possible then that Lancelot was Mordred’s brother and twin, and therefore, even the son of King Arthur? If so, then Lancelot’s true mother was not King Ban’s wife, commonly named Clarine or Helen, but Morgause or Morgan le Fay. In the Lanzelet, a mermaid messenger declares that Lancelot “is now proved a relative of the most generous man whom the world ever saw:  King Arthur of Cardigan was beyond doubt his uncle…Thus Lanzelet discovered he was Arthur’s sister’s child” (92-3). If tradition says Lancelot was Arthur’s nephew as Mordred is referred to as being, then is it not just as possible that he was Arthur’s son born of an incestuous relationship?

This theory leaves some confusion since it doesn’t seem necessary that if twins were born, the mother would have thrown both into the sea to hide her guilt. Perhaps Lancelot was the second born, believed to be the devil’s son, and therefore tossed into the sea to prevent his mother’s death; following this event, Arthur’s edict was made, which resulted in Mordred also being tossed into the sea. Mordred was probably the first born child since in some sources his mother wished to prevent his death by casting him out in a floating cradle that allowed him to be washed ashore (Goodrich, King Arthur, 164). However, the cradle suggests that the writer may have merely been borrowing from other sources such as the biblical tales of Moses and the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod, or the classical tales of Perseus and Oedipus. In these tales, children are ordered to be murdered by a king because that king fears a child overthrowing him when the child becomes an adult. Similarly, Arthur is afraid of Merlin’s prophecy that Mordred is the child who will result in his downfall so he orders all the children of Mordred’s age to be killed. Therefore, the tale of Mordred’s nearly drowning may have its origins in either biblical or classical sources, or it could be a universal motif that the Celtic people also frequently used.

If Goodrich’s theory is correct, then Lancelot was King Arthur’s son, since it is doubtful he would have been the son of a devil. Something else Goodrich doesn’t mention that could help back up her theory from a mythological point of view is the tale of Dylan’s birth. Arianrhod is said to have given birth to two children, Dylan and another son named Llew Llaw Gyffes. Llew was a solar god who grew so rapidly that when he was four, he was as big as if he were eight, and he was the comeliest youth ever seen (Rolleston 381). If Dylan and Llew were twins, then could Mordred and Lancelot also be twins? Loomis suggests that Lancelot may have mythological connections to Llew, and his name might even be derived from Llew (Lanzelet 15). This connection is disputed by most present day scholars, but we will return to it in Chapter 7.

Howard Pyle's depiction of Mordred - perhaps Lancelot's twin?

Howard Pyle’s depiction of Mordred – perhaps Lancelot’s twin?

If Lancelot is Arthur’s son, there is a good possibility that he is connected to Arthur’s earlier son, Llacheu, since both may have connections to solar gods. Rhys has claimed that Llacheu wore a circle of gold, and although this seems unlikely as we saw in Chapter 3, Lancelot is credited with similarly possessing a ring by the Lady of the Lake. Norma Goodrich says this ring may have been able to clear Lancelot’s head since he was subject to delusions and madness (King Arthur 164). Although Llacheu’s circle of gold does not protect or heal his head since it is chopped off, perhaps Lancelot’s need for something to protect his head is a borrowed motif from Llacheu’s losing his head. Goodrich also points out that Lohengrin’s mother put golden chains around her babies’ necks as she surrendered them to be thrown into the lake (King Arthur 164). This ring may then have a connection to the Lady of the Lake. If Llacheu is in some way a source for Mordred, who was also thrown into the sea, then it is not so surprising that Llacheu would have had such a ring.

Whether or not Lancelot is Mordred’s brother and Arthur’s son, it is an interesting theory that has some support in Mordred’s own mythological background. This background suggests that Mordred may have traditionally been Arthur’s son from the beginning, a son born through incest rather than originating as a nephew who was then twisted into the child of incest by the romancers.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about the Children of Arthur. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Llacheu is Arthur’s son in the earliest Welsh legends and the only of the three sons mentioned in Welsh tradition–Amr and Gwydre being the others–who made it into the later continental romances.

A strange tradition also exists that Llacheu may have been killed by Sir Kay. The following is a passage discussing this possibility from my book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, which contains a much longer discussion of Llacheu and is available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

            The French, however, when they learned the Welsh tradition that Arthur had a son, either ignored or did not know his true place in the legends and simply let their imaginations run wild (Bruce, “Arthuriana,” 184). It may be Geoffrey of Monmouth’s responsibility that Arthur’s sons disappeared from later versions of the legends; The History of the Kings of Britain was so popular that it firmly placed a structure on the way the tale would be told from then on, and since Geoffrey did not give Arthur any sons, his successors avoided creating sons for Arthur. And if writers had added sons to the legend, they would have had to come up with explanations for why these sons did not succeed their father. However, the fact that Llacheu does appear in romances written after Geoffrey of Monmouth is a clear indication that the French writers had some knowledge (however limited it may have been) of the Welsh traditions from Breton traditions, independent of Geoffrey of Monmouth (Bruce, “Arthuriana,” 179).

One aspect of Llacheu’s story the French appear to have added was his illegitimacy through his mother Lisanor, a woman who is probably completely fictional. More importantly, the French and their followers created a whole new death story for Llacheu that has come down to us in two different, but closely related versions.

In all of these versions, Llacheu is slain by Sir Kay. Several scholars have suggested that the source for Kay’s murdering Llacheu was Llacheu and Kay’s names being mentioned together in The Black Book of Caermarthen as follows:

Unless it were God who accomplished it,

Cai’s death were unattainable.

Cai the fair and Llachau,

they performed battles

before the pain of blue spears [ended the conflict].

(Bromwich, Arthur of the Welsh, 43)

The two warriors may have fallen together in battle, but Bruce and other scholars believe it is evident from the way the names are coupled that Kay was not Llacheu’s slayer in Welsh tradition (Bruce, “Arthuriana,” 184). Kay seems to have been accused of murdering Llacheu, much as the mention of Arthur and Mordred falling together at Camlann in the Annales Cambriae may have been interpreted as Mordred revolting against Arthur.

In his Studies in the Arthurian Legend, John Rhys gives one version of Llacheu’s murder which he takes from the second part of the Welsh version of the Grail, the Seint Greal. In this version, Llacheu seeks adventure and fights a giant named Logrin, who has proven himself one of King Arthur’s cruelest foes and allows no one to live in the same country with him. Llacheu succeeds in killing the giant and then lies down on the giant’s body and falls asleep. Kay then rides up, discovers this strange sight, and beheads Llacheu and the giant. He then returns to court, claiming he slew the giant. The court makes much of him, but soon his treachery is known and hostility grows between Arthur and Kay, causing Kay to flee to his own castle (61).

Another version of this story occurs in the Perlesvaus, a French work of the early thirteenth century. Here everything occurs as in the last story up to where Kay kills Llacheu. This time, Kay cuts off both the giant and Llacheu’s heads and brings Llacheu’s body, along with the giant’s head, back to court, claiming he killed the giant who had killed Llacheu. Later a damsel comes to court with a coffer containing Llacheu’s head, and she tells the story of his death. Guinevere recognizes the head as having belonged to her son from a scar that is on it; the sight of it causes her to die of grief (Bruce, “Arthuriana,” 182).

Caitlin and John Matthews, in the The Arthurian Book of Days (1990), give a version of the tale that makes Kay look more like a victim than a murderer; however, they do not give their source. It appears in the entry for March 15, as follows:

 

Arthur sat in solemn justice to hear the defence of his foster brother. Kay stammered his sorry tale:  “Upon my last quest I encountered a giant who made me play a beheading game. I knew the way of it, I thought, since Gawain’s contest those many Christmases ago. Instead of himself, the giant sent forth against me a knight who acquitted himself nobly, but I overcame him and struck off his head. It was not till the helmet was off that I saw it was Loholt, and that I had been tricked into treachery. Until the ending of my life, I repent that stroke.” (45-6)

Here Morgain interrupts to relate that the giant is the brother of King Arthur’s enemy, King Rhitta, and that this event is the sorrow she foretold.

And since Kay had been shamed by such a trick, Arthur forgave him before all, though Guinevere was less forgiving. (45-6)

Since Caitlin and John Matthews do not give a source for this version of Llachue’s death, it seems logical to assume that they were merely rewriting the tale as it appeared in the Perlesvaus since Kay’s motive for murdering Llacheu is not expressed in that work; furthermore, they also added in the detail of Gawain playing a beheading game, an event that occurs in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a late fourteenth century Middle English work; the Matthews reinterpret the tale by giving Kay a form of motivation for killing Llacheu, which makes Llacheu’s murder more plausible.

In the two earlier versions, Kay is clearly an intended murderer, rather than a victim of someone else’s evil deeds. This depiction of Kay is surprising since in the Welsh tales he usually appears as the greatest, or at least one of the greatest of Arthur’s warriors, plus his loyal subject, friend, and foster-brother. However, Kay is sometimes depicted as being touchy toward Arthur as at the end of “Culwch and Olwen,” where a hint of some discord between Arthur and Kay exists, although it seems unlikely that in the Welsh tradition Kay would have stooped to murdering Arthur’s son; therefore, the story of Llacheu’s murder is probably of continental origin.

 

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I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my latest book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, Gothic Fiction from 1794-Present by Modern History Press, which formerly published my book King Arthur’s Children. This new book has been about fifteen years in the making, having begun as my doctoral dissertation at Western Michigan University, and it has since been expanded and updated to include discussion of why I love the Gothic, and not only the classic nineteenth century British Gothic novels, but to explore how that tradition influenced works throughout the twentieth century and to the present day.

Here is some information from the back cover about the book:

From the horrors of sixteenth century Italian castles to twenty-first century plagues, from the French Revolution to the liberation of Libya, Tyler R. Tichelaar takes readers on far more than a journey through literary history. The Gothic Wanderer is an exploration of man’s deepest fears, his efforts to rise above them for the last two centuries, and how he may be on the brink finally of succeeding. Whether it’s seeking immortal life, the fabulous philosopher’s stone that will change lead into gold, or human blood as a vampire, or coping with more common “transgressions” like being a woman in a patriarchal society, being a Jew in a Christian land, or simply being addicted to gambling, the Gothic wanderer’s journey toward damnation or redemption is never dull and always enlightening.

Tichelaar examines the figure of the Gothic wanderer in such well-known Gothic novels as The Mysteries of Udolpho, Frankenstein, and Dracula, as well as lesser known works like Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni. He also finds surprising Gothic elements in classics like Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. From Matthew Lewis’ The Monk to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Tichelaar explores a literary tradition whose characters reflect our greatest fears and deepest hopes. Readers will find here the revelation that not only are we all Gothic wanderers—but we are so only by our own choosing.

With the publication of The Gothic Wanderer, I have also launched a new website www.GothicWanderer.com, designed by my good friend Larry Alexander of Storyteller’s Friend. At this website, not only can you find more information about the book, but I will also be blogging about all things Gothic, and for those of you interested in the Arthurian legend and my blog at ChildrenofArthur.com, I’ll be tying the Gothic and the Arthurian legend together into my upcoming series of novels based on the Arthurian legend, so watch for many Gothic and Arthurian topics on both blogs.

Please visit www.GothicWanderer.com – if you ever wondered about the story behind the story of great books like Dracula and Frankenstein, you won’t be disappointed.

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The following discussion is taken from my book King Arthur’s Children:

Perhaps the work that takes the most liberty with the Arthurian legend, and therefore, opens itself to create larger roles for Arthur’s children and descendants is The Keltiad series by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison (widow of Jim Morrison). The author intended to write eighteen novels in the series, but after publication of the eighth novel, the publisher HarperCollins decided to drop the series. The Arthurian world of these novels is placed in outer space, allowing the stories a freedom beyond a typical medieval setting in Britain. The premise behind the series is that a group of Keltic people left earth in 453 C.E. in their spaceships and travelled to outer space to create a new kingdom, Keltia.

Only three novels in The Keltiad series deal specifically with Arthur and are known as the “Tales of Arthur”; they include The Hawk’s Gray Feather (1990), The Oak Above the Kings (1994) and The Hedge of Mist (1996). The plot of this trilogy is long and complicated, but the length provides for an extensive treatment of Arthur’s descendants and their history.

The Hawk's Gray Feather

The Hawk’s Gray Feather

At the opening of the “Tales of Arthur” trilogy, some fifteen centuries have passed since the Kelts first left earth in the fifth century. The nation of Keltia is now divided between the royal House of Don, which is in exile, and the evil Archdruid Edeyrn who has usurped the kingdom. The plot of the first two novels is how Arthur, heir to the House of Don, regains the kingdom.

Arthur has four children over the course of this trilogy, although none of these children is Mordred. There is a character, Mordryth, who is Arthur’s nephew, the son of his evil half-sister Marguessan, but although Mordryth is a villain, Arthur outlives his nephew. Arthur’s own death is in a sort of black hole where his spaceship becomes trapped. Even though he disappears from Keltia when he enters this black hole, Arthur promises his people he will return. The Kelts decide the throne will pass to Arthur’s heirs, but the ruler will always hold the kingdom as a type of regent until Arthur’s return whenever that may be.

The first child born to Arthur is Malgan in The Hawk’s Gray Feather. During the wars with Edeyrn, Arthur takes a mistress named Gwenwynbar, who follows him about on his campaigns. However, Arthur’s men do not like Gwenwynbar, and because Arthur will not make her his queen, she decides to leave him and join his enemies’ side. Soon after, Gwenwynbar becomes the wife of Owain, who is Edeyrn’s heir. Seven months after this marriage, Gwenwynbar gives birth to a son, Malgan. Throughout the remainder of the trilogy, the question remains whether Malgan is Arthur or Owain’s son. Unfortunately, the genealogy charts at the end of the book give away the suspense by showing he is Arthur’s child. After Arthur defeats Edeyrn and Owain, Gwenwynbar plots against Arthur, but her plots are discovered and she is put to death. Arthur adopts and raises Malgan, wanting to believe the boy is his own. Malgan, however, grows up holding a grudge against Arthur for the death of his mother. Malgan soon joins his evil aunt Marguessan in her plans to take over the kingdom. Arthur tries to reconcile with Malgan, but eventually, they battle and Malgan is slain while Arthur survives.

The Oak Above the Kings

The Oak Above the Kings

In The Oak Above the Kings, Arthur marries his cousin, Gweniver, but their marriage remains without issue for many years. Now that Edeyrn is defeated, Arthur seeks to punish those foreign nations which allied themselves to Edeyrn. During this campaign, Arthur visits the planet Aojun and has an affair with the princess, Majanah. Their relationship produces a daughter, Donah, who divides her time between the worlds of Aojun and Keltia. When Marguessan steals the Grail, Donah adopts the role traditionally held by Percival’s sister in Arthurian legend of the female who assists in finding the Grail. Donah also assumes Guinevere’s traditional role of being kidnapped by Melwas. When Donah reaches adulthood, she marries a man named Harodin, and we are told she has “three children, including her heir, Sarinah” (Hedge 449). After Donah’s mother, Majanah, dies, Donah becomes the next queen of the planet Aojun.

After many years of barrenness, Gweniver also produces children for Arthur, first a son, Arawn, who after Arthur’s death, becomes king and is thought “a worthy successor to his great parents” (Hedge 432). Gweniver also gives birth to a daughter, Arwenna, who is not born until after Arthur’s death. While the novels do not say much about these children’s futures, the genealogy charts indicate that Arawn has a child, Arianwen, who rules Keltia after him, and Arianwen also has children. Arthur’s daughter, Arwenna, has a child named Blythan, who also produces children. Finally, the charts indicate that Donah’s heir, Sarinah, also has descendants not pictured on the chart.

Kennealy-Morrison’s novels, therefore, create an extensive family tree that continues beyond King Arthur, providing for his descendants to succeed him as rulers of the kingdom. Toward the end of The Hedge of Mist, Taliesin, Arthur’s brother-in-law and the novels’ narrator, has a vision of the future, in which he sees a great queen who will look like Arthur and Gweniver from whom she will be descended (287). Though not named, this queen is doubtless Aeron, the heroine of another of the Keltiad trilogies, the “Tales of Aeron,” which were written before the “Tales of Arthur” but chronologically follow the “Tales of Arthur.”The novels in the “Tales of Aeron” also contain more genealogy charts which detail Aeron’s descent from Arthur and Gweniver for over nine generations. Because these novels do not deal with Arthur or his children specifically, they will not be discussed further, but they do continue Kennealy-Morrison’s vision of an Arthurian family tree that extends centuries after Arthur’s passing.

The Hedge of Mist

The Hedge of Mist

By setting her novels in outer space, Kennealy-Morrison does not provide Arthur with a bloodline that connects him to the humans of twentieth century earth. Rather the “Tales of Arthur” novels take place in the twenty-first century, while the “Tales of Aeron” are set in the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth centuries. However, this outer space setting is also what leaves the novels open for such extensive creation of descendants for Arthur, providing interesting possibilities for the legend, even if they are greatly removed from the traditional story.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Arthurian literature fell out of favor in the eighteenth century and it would not be until Victorian poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Morris and Pre-Raphaelite artists would again make the legend popular, but one work from this time when Arthur was rarely featured in literature was Sir Walter Scott’s “The Bridal of Triermain.” The poem was first published in 1813 and its use of the names of Triermain and Sir Roland De Vaux bear resemblance to Coleridge’s equally famous poem “Christabel” which was written in 1797-1800 but not published until 1816, yet it seems that Scott, who was friends with Coleridge, may have seen the manuscript and been influenced by it. Nevertheless, the two works bear little resemble in plot or character.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

For Arthurian scholars and enthusiasts, “The Bridal of Triermain” holds interest because it creates an illegitimate daughter for King Arthur. Unlike other works where Arthur has illegitimate children before his marriage to Guinevere, Arthur is married to Guinevere already at the time of this poem, and she is already involved with Sir Lancelot.

The poem is told in the present day (early 1800s) by a narrator named Arthur who is trying to court a female named Lucy. Arthur tells Lucy the tale of Roland De Vaux, who sought to wed King Arthur’s daughter Gyneth. Within this story is Lyulph’s Tale, in which Roland’s bard Lyulph tells Roland the story of Gyneth, who has been asleep for five hundred years, and whom Roland wishes to win as his bride.

Gyneth became King Arthur’s daughter after he met and fell in love with a maiden named Guendolen. Scott describes this woman who seduces Arthur as follows:

But Guendolen’s might far outshine
Each maid of merely mortal line.
Her mother was of human birth,
Her sire a Genie of the earth,
In days of old deem’d to preside
O’er lovers’ wiles and beauty’s pride,
By youths and virgins worshipp’d long
With festive dance and choral song,
Till, when the cross to Britain came,
On heathen alters died the flame.
Now, deep in Wastdale solitude,
The downfall of his rights he rued,
And, born of his resentment heir,
He train’d to guile that lady fair,
To sink in slothful sin and shame
The champions of the Christian name.

In other words, Guendolen is the weapon of her father, the genie, against good Christian knights. She seduces Arthur, and while it is unclear whether she loves Arthur or not, she clearly wants him to stay with her and wastes his time in making love to her so he forgets his kingly duties for three months. Finally, Arthur comes to his senses and decides to leave her. When she begs him not to go, he tells her if she’s worried he has gotten her pregnant, he will do right by their child:

I swear by sceptre and by sword,
As belted knight and Britain’s lord,
That if a boy shall claim my care,
That boy is born a kingdom’s heir;
But if a maiden Fate allows,
To choose that maid a fitting spouse,
A summer-day in lists shall strive
My knights, the bravest knights alive,
And he, the best and bravest tried,
Shall Arthur’s daughter claim for bride.

Nevertheless, Guendolen does not want Arthur to leave, and in her anger, she tries to poison him by giving him a cup to drink from, but Arthur spills a drop on his horse and it burns the horse so Arthur flings the cup from him and rides away.

Years later, Arthur’s daughter Gyneth shows up at court on Pentecost, saying her mother has died and asking her father to keep his promise. Guinevere is notably not upset to learn of Arthur’s human weakness that led to an illegitimate child, bur rather, she just smiles on Lancelot, acknowledging her own weakness.

Arthur keeps his promise by holding a tournament for all the knights to compete for Gyneth’s hand, but before long, he realizes what a bad idea it was because all his knights are being slain. He tries to talk Gyneth out of the tournament, telling her he’ll pick the best knight for her, but she refuses and the tournament continues. The narrator then comments:

‘Seem’d in this dismal hour, that Fate
Would Camlan’s ruin antedate,
And spare dark Mordred’s crime;
Already gasping on the ground
Lie twenty of the Table Round,
Of chivalry the prime.

However, when Merlin’s own son Vanoc dies, Merlin suddenly appears, ending the tournament and punishing Gyneth to sleep for centuries:

Sleep, until a knight shall awake thee,
For feats of arms as far renown’d
As warrior of the Table Round.

Lyulph now completes his tale of how Gyneth sleeps by stating:

‘Still she bears her weird alone,
In the Valley of Saint John;
And her semblance oft will seem,
Mingling in a champion’s dream,
Of her weary lot to ’plain,
And crave his aid to burst her chain.

 

Few have braved the yawning door,
And those few return’d no more.

Despite the unlikeliness of solving the quest and winning Arthur’s daughter for his bride, Sir Roland de Vaux, who is lord of Triermain, is determined to succeed. He rides in quest of the sleeping princess and eventually comes to a castle in the Valley of St. John where he must pass through the Hall of Fear and overcome its snares to succeed:

‘It is his, the first who e’er
Dared the dimal Hall of Fear;
His, who hath the snares defied
Spread by pleasure, wealth and pride.

Of course, he succeeds and manages to kiss and wake Gyneth. And the two live happily ever after, having many descendants for King Arthur:

Our lovers, briefly be it said,
Wedded as lovers wont to wed,
When tale or play is o’er;
Lived long and blest, loved fond and true,
And saw a numerous race renew
The honours that they bore.

I admit that while I admire the music of Scott’s meter and rhyme, I’m not overly impressed with the poem. I don’t understand why Roland would want to wed Gyneth when she’s a type of female Mordred who was intent on destroying Camelot, but I guess the quest itself and that she is King Arthur’s daughter makes her attractive enough to him.

Scott’s poem was well known throughout the nineteenth century, so doubtless many writers of Arthurian poems and novels in the Victorian period were influenced by his work. It should be noted that the narrator named Arthur equally is successful in winning the love of his Lucy.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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The following excerpt is from my book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition upon a little discussed aspect of Arthur’s perhaps forgotten brother in early Arthurian legends:

Sir Mordred at the Battle of Camlann

Before we leave Mordred, we should notice that there may be some confusion between him as either Arthur’s son or brother, and between Mordred and a brother of Arthur’s named Modron. The confusion is further increased since Modron usually appears as Arthur’s sister rather than brother.

R.S. Loomis tells us that the ravens of The Mabinogion who battle with Arthur’s knights are Arthur’s nephew Owain’s mother, Modron, and her sisters, the daughters of Avallach (Wales 96-7). Loomis also states that Morgan le Fay and Modron have a connection because both are daughters of Avallach (Celtic Myth 192). If Morgan le Fay and Modron are sisters, we must first wonder whether they are Arthur’s sisters, making them the daughters of one of Arthur’s parents, or are they the children of Avallach? If Modron is Owain’s mother, it seems strange that Morgan is also frequently credited with having a child named Owain. Perhaps the two are not sisters, but merely the same person with a confused identity. This situation may be a similar case to Arthur’s Welsh sons becoming confused or integrated into Mordred.

Celtic scholars are in agreement that Modron, who seems to be Morgan le Fay’s sister, is the old Gallo-Roman goddess Matrona, who gave her name to the river Marne, and therefore, seems to be connected with water (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 193). If this connection to a river is true, it should not surprise us that Modron is sister to Morgan, who is often the Lady of the Lake.

When the Welsh wrote of Modron in their legends, they made her the mother of both Owain and Mabon (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 193). This son, Mabon, can be traced back to Apollo Maponos, who was worshiped in both Gaul and Britain (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 4).

What is strange is that if Modron were a female, she should later appear as Arthur’s brother in a modern novel such as in Edward Franklin’s The Bear of Britain (1944), where he is treacherous, along with Mordred, who is here Arthur’s nephew (Thompson 41).

In other works, Mordred has been depicted as Arthur’s brother, which may be another confusion with Modron, but more likely authors just taking license with the story. In Edison Marshall’s novel The Pagan King (1959), Mordred is Arthur’s half-brother. Why would Arthur have both a treacherous brother and nephew? In Marshall’s opinion, it must have seemed easier to combine the two into one character. We may then wonder whether Mordred and Modron have an older mythological connection or at least these writers are drawing upon what they want to believe is a lost connection.

In the Prince Valiant comic strip, begun by Hal Foster in 1937 and still running in more than 300 newspapers each Sunday, Mordred is also Arthur’s half-brother. In this case Mordred has a daughter, but she is not King Arthur’s direct descendant as a result. Mordred’s daughter Maeve marries Arn, the son of Prince Valiant. Arn and Maeve’s daughter Ingrid (born in the 1987 comic strip) has been designated as Arthur’s heir. Mordred has been removed from the line of succession. My guess is that Foster chose to depict Mordred as Arthur’s half-brother to avoid the issue of incest in a comic strip; I doubt Foster was interested in the relationship between Mordred and Modron.

Modron cannot be readily accepted as an early brother of Arthur. Nowhere in early traditions does he appear as such. However, in Welsh tradition is a tale where Arthur speaks to an eagle, which reveals itself to be his deceased nephew, Elewlod, the son of Madawg, son of Uthr (Bromwich, Arthur Welsh, 58). That Madawg’s son should become an eagle, may remind us of Modron as a raven, and also the legends which tell of Arthur being turned into a raven rather than dying. Perhaps then we can accept Madawg as being Modron.

Modron’s reasons for becoming confused with Mordred may also have explanations. We have seen Modron’s possibility as a sister to Morgan le Fay, Lady of the Lake. Modron herself is connected to river goddesses. Mordred definitely has a connection to water through his mythological ancestor, Dylan. Suggested connections have also been made betwen Pryderi and Rhiannon and Modron and Mabon, who was also taken away when three nights old from his mother (MacCana 83). In “Culhwch and Olwen,” Cei and Gwrhyr search for Mabon and must ask all the oldest animals where he may be. In her chapter “Chrétien de Troyes,” Jean Frappier points out that in Yvain are blended in traditions of Modron as a water nymph (Loomis, Arthurian Literature,163), and in an Irish tale, a character named Fraech is wounded by a water-monster and is then carried away by his fairy kinswomen to be healed. In her chapter “The Vulgate Cycle,” Jean Frappier makes notice of another Irish tale that tells of Fergus mac Leite being wounded by a water-monster, and as he lays by the lake dying, he charges his people that his sword Caladcolg (the original of Excalibur) should be preserved till it can be given to a fitting lord (Loomis, Arthurian Literature, 310). Could Mordred then have an origin as a water monster or as a female goddess of the sea? Or could there be a lost tradition that Mordred is the son of Modron? Why not, since we already have Morgan le Fay and Morgause as possible mothers for him.

Accurate connections between Mordred and Modron have not yet been made, but the similarities may point to a need for further investigation into this matter.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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One of the earliest “modern” treatments of King Arthur having children comes from a play by Henry Fielding (1707-1754) who is better known for his novels Joseph Andrews (1742) and Tom Jones (1749). Fielding wrote satirical novels – he particularly liked to mock Samuel Richardson, author of what is regarded as the first novel Pamela (1740).

Henry Fielding

Fielding’s play The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great (1731) was written during a period when the Arthurian legend was rarely treated in literature. This play’s connection to the Arthurian legends is extremely distant, only containing the traditional King Arthur and Merlin. King Arthur’s wife is here named Dollallolla, and the daughter of the couple is Huncamunca. The plot includes Tom Thumb, of dwarf stature, famed for slaying giants, who must compete for Huncamunca’s hand with Lord Grizzle. After the two suitors fight, Tom Thumb wins and proceeds then to the castle to marry Huncamunca, but on the way he is swallowed by a cow, thereby meeting his end just as Merlin prophesied his death. When the messenger brings the sad news to the court, the queen, who also loved Tom Thumb, repays the messenger for his sad news by slaying him. The messenger’s wife then slays the queen in revenge. Huncamunca then slays her mother’s murderer, and a courtier named Doodle slays Huncamunca for an old grudge. In the end, everyone but King Arthur has been killed, and then he kills himself, thereby ending the foolish story.

Throughout the play, Huncamunca is unable to make up her mind whom to marry, and then decides she is willing to take two husbands; however, both she and her would-be husbands die before any marriage can take place, which means she has no children and therefore, King Arthur’s line dies out. Although Fielding was not trying to write serious Arthurian literature, but rather, he was satirizing the stage plays of his time, I for one am thankful that Fielding did not create any more ridiculous children for King Arthur. However, fans of satire and humor might enjoy the play’s comic elements.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. Visit him also at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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The following article I had published last winter in Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. It is reprinted with permission from the magazine owner, Roslyn McGrath:

Why King Arthur Matters Today

As the winter solstice approaches, I always think of King Arthur. Arthur was a light in the darkness of his times, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King equates Arthur with the rising of a new sun. Arthur is aligned with the light, with creating the “brief, shining moment” as the musical Camelot proclaims.

My love for King Arthur stems back to age fourteen when I first read Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur with N.C. Wyeth’s fabulous illustrations. The story of Arthur’s building a great society like Camelot and the tragedy of how it was brought down by Lancelot and Guinevere’s adultery and Mordred’s treachery was a pivotal moment in my love of great literature. Years later, I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which told the tale from the women’s point of view and made me realize how rich the legend was, how full of possibilities, and how it was ever adaptable to today’s concerns.

I soon decided to write my own King Arthur novel. In the process, I did a great deal of research that resulted in my recently published nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition—my novel is still in the works.

I became interested in King Arthur’s children because I was surprised by many obscure references to Arthur having children other than the well-known Mordred, son of incest, who slew his father. Welsh legends referred to other sons, and modern novelists were creating new children for the storyline. Who were these forgotten children, and why this recent trend to create new children for Arthur?

I came to the conclusion that the legend eventually deleted earlier references to Arthur’s children to enhance the tragic ending. However, modern readers wanted a more hopeful conclusion so novelists were creating new children for Arthur to connect the legendary king to our own times. For example, Arthur might have had a daughter, ignored by history because she was female, whose descendants live today.

My fascination with genealogy and DNA reinforced for me the significance of this possibility. Scientists have shown through mathematical calculations that everyone alive today of European descent would be descended from anyone in Europe born before 1200 A.D. who had children. Since King Arthur lived about 500 A.D., if he had children, then most likely all Europeans—as well as a good number of Africans and Asians—are his descendants. Arthur may physically be in our genes.

Scholars will debate for centuries to come whether Arthur ever lived, but either way, Arthur is in our genes—if not in our actual DNA, then in our human nature to dream of a better world. Arthur is remembered because he strove to create an idyllic world, a Round Table—an early form of democracy where justice prevailed—and for a short time, he succeeded. In the end, we might fail like he ultimately did, but we cannot aspire to anything grander ourselves, and so we carry on Arthur’s legacy of hope.

At the holidays, it’s good to be reminded of King Arthur’s final request in Camelot: “each evening from December to December…ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not, that once there was a fleeting wisp of glory called Camelot.”

Tyler Tichelaar is the author of King Arthur’s Children and My Marquette. Visit him at www.MarquetteFiction.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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I have probably forgotten more Arthurian novels than I can count, so while I know there are dozens if not hundreds out there, and I’ve read a fair number of them, I’ve tried to pick the novels that have remained in my head for years, and those I see as extremely significant in shaping the legend in new ways even if I didn’t particularly enjoy them. Placing them in an appropriate order was also difficult. I’d be interested in hearing from readers whether they feel I left any significant books off the list or if they feel I should have placed them in a different order since I spent many hours debating this list and most I think could be considered classics of modern Arthurian fiction today, or at least of significant influence.

10. The Coming of the King (1988) by Nikolai Tolstoy. This book was supposed to be the first in a trilogy of books about Merlin, but Tolstoy never published the rest of the series, or wrote it perhaps. And admittedly, it was not a well-written or engaging novel, but Tolstoy did a superb job at trying to recreate the Welsh world that Merlin and Arthur would have lived within. He was obviously influenced by The Mabinogion, and is one of the few novelists who has used those most ancient of Arthurian legends as his primary source. It is worth a read for that reason alone and hopefully future novelists will come along to give us authentic feeling Welsh Arthurian worlds in the future.

9. The Once and Future King (1958) by T.H. White. I’ve always felt this novel was highly overrated and its writing style less than engaging, but it’s influence on the great musical Camelot which in turn inspired John F. Kennedy and is my all-time favorite film and musical makes it worth mentioning. Its merits lie in its humor, its fantasy, and its presentation of Arthur as a child, which also inspired Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. White is also the first novelist to suggest homosexual attraction as having a role in the legend, particularly in the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle.

8. King Arthur’s Daughter (1978) by Vera Chapman. I believe this was the first novel where a child of Arthur, and a girl at that, plays a significant role in the storyline. Many other novels of Arthur’s children, and especially daughters, would follow and other novels suggesting that Arthur’s descendants live to the present day. This young adult novel is engaging and fun for all ages.

7. The Road to Avalon (1989) by Joan Wolf. Contains a love story between Arthur and Morgan, but also, it contains an interesting twist on the Fall of Camelot. Overall, this was one I couldn’t put down and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s historical and fast-paced and has an interesting take on Mordred and Constantine.

6. Merlin Novels (1970-1983) by Mary Stewart. More than any other novelist, Mary Stewart brought Arthurian fiction into fashion. Her three Merlin novels (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment) and The Wicked Day about Camelot’s Fall were a wonderful historical rendering of Arthurian times told from Merlin’s point of view. I read these books as a teenager twenty-five years ago, and there are scenes from them that are still vivid in my head. I reread very few books, but these would definitely be books to read time and again. (But avoid Stewart’s later pseudo-Arthurian novel The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)—boring.)

5. The Pendragon Cycle (1987-1989) by Stephen Lawhead. The first three novels of this series Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur are phenomenal books—I read all three in a week. Lawhead’s other three novels are a bit disappointing but don’t miss the beginning of the series. They begin in Atlantis and then follow characters to Britain and build toward the reign of King Arthur. The story is engaging and captivating throughout. Other novelists have also linked the Arthurian legend to Avalon, but none in such an entertaining and complete way.

4. The Camulod Chronicles (1992-2000) by Jack Whyte. Whyte went farther than any other novelist in trying to recreate the Roman world in the decades before King Arthur. He depicts how Camelot was founded by Arthur’s ancestors in the time when the Romans were departing and brings the story up to Arthur’s birth. I could not put these books down and read each one—they’re all around 500 or more pages, within a few days. There are six novels altogether, but Whyte also wrote Uther, and the two Golden Eagle novels about Lancelot, which were disappointing by comparison.

3. Sword at Sunset (1963) by Rosemary Sutcliff. This book is the grandmother of modern Arthurian fiction. It is the first historical treatment of the Arthurian legend depicting King Arthur not as a fantasy figure but trying to place him in his historical context as a war leader. I found the book rather boring, actually, but many people have enjoyed it and its importance cannot be denied. Sutcliff was also the first novelist to create a child other than Mordred for Arthur (a daughter actually, even predating King Arthur’s Daughter, although the daughter dies as an infant).

2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) by Mark Twain. I’m not a huge Mark Twain fan, but this book is brilliantly written. In my opinion it leaves Huckleberry Finn in the dust. It is one of the first “time travel” novels in literature while also serving as a social commentary on nineteenth century America. More than any other Arthurian work, it has been retold in plays and films and spinoffs. But while many of the versions of it, ranging from Spacemen to baseball playing boys in King Arthur’s court are silly, the book itself is fascinating. Hank Morgan is truly one of the great characters of literature.

1. The Mists of Avalon (1982) by Marion Zimmer Bradley. No doubt, The Mists of Avalon is the best known modern Arthurian novel but it is fully deserving of that designation. Bradley took the legend to new lengths by retelling the story from the woman’s point of view and introducing the Celtic religion and its aspects into the novel to an extent not previously done in Arthurian fiction. As a novelist myself, this book had a huge impact on me, both in my writing and my spiritual beliefs. It’s one of those books that stays with you for life, and it may well be my all-time favorite novel.

Remember, I would love to hear about your favorite Arthurian novels!

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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