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Scott Telek’s Swithen series about the Arthurian legend just keeps getting better and better. The fourth book, The Flower of Chivalry, has just been published, and in it, Telek imagines an incredible childhood for King Arthur, culminating in his pulling the sword from the stone.

I have previously reviewed the first three books in the series, beginning with Our Man on Earth. The first two books focused on Merlin’s early life and the third book on Arthur’s conception. This fourth book begins with Arthur as a young boy living with his foster parents, Sir Carlyle Ector and Nerida, and foster brother, Kay. Neither his adopted family, nor Arthur know who he really is, and Arthur does not even know he is not Carlyle and Nerida’s real son, although as the novel progresses, Kay comes to guess the truth, resulting in Arthur becoming very conflicted about who he is.

Telek’s goal is to retell the Arthurian legend, sticking to the early and most revered of the medieval texts without in any way swaying from them, other than to fill in the blanks. Here he has had a lot of room for liberties since little was written of Arthur’s childhood by the medieval authors other than that Arthur went to a tournament with his brother Kay as Kay’s squire, forgot to bring Kay’s sword to the tournament, and unwittingly borrowed a sword he found in a churchyard, not realizing it was the sword—the sword in the stone, the pulling out of which would make one rightful king of Britain. Consequently, Telek has a lot of fun getting the reader to that important event, and he imagines Arthur’s childhood fully in surprising ways that are both entertaining while still keeping the tone of the earlier texts.

There are many good things to write about in this book. Arthur’s rivalry with Kay is fully explored as Arthur comes to realize he is different from his foster brother who is rather a lout, at times jealous of Arthur, and far more violent and far less thoughtful. Things come to a head in Arthur and Kay’s relationship when they discover a giant frog that Kay tries to kill and Arthur tries to protect. Kay ends up ripping off the frog’s leg, but Arthur manages to arrange for the frog to get away. Kay then declares he will find the frog and kill it, so Arthur finds it first and takes it a new place where it will be safe.

This is not just any frog, but one that grows to be about three feet tall. It is seen as a monstrosity by Kay, who declares it a threat to children so it must be killed. Arthur, however, ends up befriending “Frog” and developing a relationship with him. In time, Frog becomes something between a friend and a pet, being intelligent enough to interact with Arthur while not quite being able to speak. Frog also has the ability to regenerate his leg.

I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes between Arthur and Frog while wondering what made Telek decide to include Frog as a character since he seems rather out of place in this Arthurian universe, but eventually, Frog’s purpose in the book becomes very clear and I totally embraced it.

Another important theme in the book is the treatment of women and a knight’s duty to protect them. This theme hearkens back to Malory where there is initially a great deal of violence against women in Arthur’s early reign, including the violence of Balin against the Lady of the Lake. Telek remains focused on Arthur’s childhood in this book although there is the occasional chapter that briefly reminds us of Balan and Balin, Morgan and Morgause, and other characters who will play bigger roles in later books. But the primary issue concerning the protection of women in the novel is that Sir Ector is a knight of Duke Moreland and Duke Moreland has his eye on Nerida, which puts Arthur’s family in a difficult situation. There is no real justice in Britain since Uther died and no new high king has been found. Ultimately, Arthur must take matters into his own hands.

To say more about these events that Telek creates where there was a void in the Arthurian legend would be to give too much away, but I’m not spoiling anything by mentioning the tournament where Arthur pulls the sword from the stone. I marveled at all the detail Telek provides about the tournament. He completely brings it to life, showing us the excitement of the boys in going to the tournament, their feelings of being in a large city for the first time, the noise and crowds, the meals served at the inn, the excitement over the contest to pull the sword out of the stone, and finally, when Arthur does so, the mayhem that results as people try to fathom how a boy can become their high king.

I don’t think anyone has as thoroughly and convincingly imagined Arthur’s childhood as Scott Telek has done. This book far surpasses T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone for being far more serious and far better thought out, both as a stand-alone work, and as a vital link to the previous novels in Telek’s The Swithen series and those yet to come. Finally, I would like to mention that Merlin’s mother Meylinde makes her final appearance in this novel. She has become a favorite character of mine for her wisdom in the previous novels and her ability to keep Merlin in line, and she does not disappoint in this novel. I am only sorry to see her go, but Telek has planted plenty of other interesting characters in these pages for us to enjoy journeying with in the future books.

I highly recommend The Flower of Chivalry and all of the Swithen series and am eagerly awaiting the rest of the books in the series. There will be twenty-five total. Keep them coming, Scott!

For more information about The Flower of Chivalry, Scott Telek, and the Swithen series, visit https://theswithen.wordpress.com/.

Cheryl Carpinello’s The Legend of Guinevere: Book Three completes her Guinevere trilogy and picks up right where the second book left off. (The first two books were previously reviewed here at Children of Arthur: Young Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend and Guinevere: At the Dawn of Legend.)

Book Three of Carpinello’s Guinevere Trilogy depicts a future queen who thinks with her heart more than her head.

Guinevere is fifteen in this book, and she already knows she will one day be wedded to King Arthur. When the second book ended, Guinevere’s friend, eleven-year-old Cedwyn, had been kidnapped along with a group of younger children by a group of renegades. The renegades, led by Baard and Ulf, plan to sell the children into slavery.

Guinevere is following the renegades, planning to rescue them, although she doesn’t know how. Fortunately, Merlyn and Arthur learn of her plans and agree to help her, despite their displeasure at how she has gotten herself and Cedwyn into trouble in the first place. This will be a dangerous journey, forcing them to travel over the channel to Gaul to try to find Cedwyn and the children.

I won’t give away the whole story of what happens next, but author Cheryl Carpinello loves to weave a bit of magic into her stories. In the first book in the series, we were introduced to a unicorn, and in the second to an ancient Celtic goddess. In this third book, the goddess communicates with Guinevere and Cedwyn through their thoughts, helping Guinevere to find Cedwyn.

Also of interest are the caves in Gaul (ancient France) where Cedwyn and the children hide when they manage to escape from the villains. Carpinello is an educator who loves to teach children about history and interesting places, so she has them hide in the caves in Lascaux, which are today known for their cave paintings. The back of the book contains additional information about the cave paintings as well as other places and items featured in the book, such as medieval armor.

I also commend Carpinello for creating realistic, yet scary villains. These are not over-the-top villains like Captain Hook, but real men who are not above becoming violent to get what they want. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is when one of the villains later commends Cedwyn for being brave enough to stand up to them.

Altogether, The Legend of Guinevere: Book Three is a fun, if dangerous, story. Beyond the suspense, Carpinello raises questions for young readers to consider about friendship, standing up for what you believe in, having courage in the face of danger, and taking risks to help the people you care about. Because of this added depth, the books would be great for classroom discussion and for children to think about priorities and what matters most to them.

For more information about Cheryl Carpinello, her Guinevere trilogy, and her other young adult books, visit www.BeyondTodayEducator.com.

These two latest volumes of the reprint of the Prince Valiant comic strip by Fantagraphics cover the years 1971-1974. For the most part, they contain the same typical adventures of Prince Valiant and his companions as in every previous volume, with the exception that on May 16, 1971, Hal Foster drew his last Prince Valiant strip and the week after John Cullen Murphy took it over. It should be noted, however, that Foster had been trying out different possible successors for quite some time, and once he settled on Murphy, he allowed Murphy to do backgrounds and then draw characters before he completely handed the strip over to him.

In Prince Valiant 18, John Cullen Murphy takes over for Hal Foster as Prince Valiant must win back his wife after he and Aleta have an argument.

Although Foster got some complaints, including people saying they would never read the strip again, if one did not know which day Foster quit drawing the script, it is unlikely anyone would have noticed the difference. Murphy continued in Foster’s tradition, and nothing noticeable is different about the strip from the drawing and the colors to the storylines.

Among the last strips Foster did, his humor remains apparent. In the April 11, 1971 strip, Val has been traveling with Sir Lancelot when he meets up with Boltar and his Vikings. They stay at King Ban of Benwick’s castle where “The Vikings behave so well that only one is killed and two wounded.”

As for the storylines in these volumes, my favorites concern not Val but his children. One of the great joys of the strip has been watching Val and Aleta’s oldest son, Arn, grow up. Now he is basically a man. Although at one point in these volumes the strip refers to him as being fifteen, he looks and acts more like eighteen. Here for the first time Arn falls in love, with a young maiden named Lydia. A misunderstanding that Lydia’s brother is a man she’s interested in causes Arn to go on a journey to distance himself from her, only to have her brother follow him and explain the situation. After many adventures throughout Europe, Arn returns home to Lydia. We will have to see if marriage will ensue for them.

As for Val and Aleta’s other children, the twins are now teenage girls as well and willing to continue to cause mischief as young men are first starting to notice them. And young Galen takes the place Arn previously had of an imaginative and adventuresome young man getting into troubles that can be described as cute. Aleta also names Galan as heir of the Misty Isles since Arn will inherit Val’s father’s kingdom of Thule.

There are plenty of adventures here, stories of love lost and won, giants to fight, sea battles to wage, evil conspirators to overcome, adventures ranging from Thule to the Misty Isles, and tender moments of love between Val and Aleta who because of an argument are estranged for much of the story.

Also of note is that Sir Gawain is now appearing with gray hair. He looks like a hearty knight who can’t be more than fifty yet, but while the characters in the Prince Valiant strip age very slowly, age they do, which adds to the realism.

In Volume 19, Prince Arn, son of Valiant and Aleta, loses his heart to love for the first time.

Each volume also has an article at the beginning and again at the end of interest concerning Foster or the strip. Volume 19 ends with the illustrated novel of The Song of Bernadette, which Foster drew. Foster was not really religious so his illustrating a Catholic story is surprising, and little information exists about why he may have done it, but the story of St. Bernadette seeing the Virgin Mary in a grotto in Lourdes may have been why Valiant and Aleta ended up being married in a woodland grotto outside rather than a church—an odd departure for the Middle Ages and even for the early period when the strip was written in an age before hippies and outdoor weddings were common. Certainly, Foster was no fan of organized religion as often evidenced in the strip. For example, in Volume 18 a fanatic Muslim gets angry when Val is praying to the Christian God. I have also written about Christianity in the strip previously, especially in Volumes 7 and 8, and Volume 9 about how Christianity comes to Thule. Foster was obviously interested in Christianity from a historical perspective, but in illustrating The Song of Bernadette, it might also have just been a job for him. It certainly, being black and white, does not reflect his best work, but it is an interesting side note to Prince Valiant.

For this reader, the change to John Cullen Murphy as illustrator is no reason to quit reading Prince Valiant, and while at times the storyline becomes redundant, the artwork remains as resplendent as ever. I look forward to Volume 20, to be released in November.

If you’d like to visit some of the places Prince Valiant sojourned over in Britain, consider taking the Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian tour Uncovering Camelot.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

Surprisingly, I had not come across mention that King Arthur was connected to the White Horse of Uffington until recently when reading Benjamin Merkle’s The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great.

The White Horse of Uffington

Early in the book, Merkle mentions speaking to someone who suggested King Alfred the Great may not have been real. This outlandish statement, since we know Alfred was King of Wessex from 871-899, reveals that King Arthur and King Alfred the Great may be confused in the popular imagination. The same may be said about their legends associated with the White Horse.

The White Horse of Uffington is located in the Berkshire Downs. It is 374 feet in length and made of chalk. Every few years, it is rechalked to maintain its appearance. The White Horse is believed to be the oldest hill figure in Britain, some experts dating it back to 1000 BC. Some even think it represents a dragon, although it more closely resembles a horse in my opinion. In fact, similar images have been found on coins from the period which have caused scholars to think it may have represented some sort of local horse goddess, one form of Epona, a fertility goddess who was worshipped throughout the Celtic world and known to be a protector of horses.

As for King Arthur, Whitehorse Hill is also sometimes referred to as Mount Badon hill, the site where Arthur allegedly defeated the Saxons in 516 AD. Another story connected to King Arthur is of Wayland, the Norse god of blacksmithing, who is said to have had his forge about a mile away. Some legends even say that Wayland forged Excalibur. One legend says the horse leaves the hill once a year to graze, but others say it will not leave the hillside until King Arthur returns, and then the horse will dance on the Berkshire Downs to welcome the king home. These legends are all entertaining, but given that the horse is about twice as old as King Arthur would be, a connection between them seems unlikely.

The belief that the White Horse of Uffington actually looks like a dragon has also given rise to the stories that this is the very spot where St. George, England’s patron saint, famously killed the dragon.

The White Horse at Westbury

As for King Alfred, he also was said to have fought a decisive battle here, the Battle of Ashdown against the Danes in 871. He fought under his brother Aethelred who was king at the time but would die a few months later. Ashdown was the only of several battles that year that the Anglo-Saxon House of Wessex won. We also don’t know for sure that this hill was the sight of the battle, though Merkle says it is the likeliest candidate. Interestingly, at Westbury is another White Horse. This one we know dates only to 1778 when a local resident created it. Evidence exists, however, of another White Horse at this location facing toward the current horse. Records of that horse date only to the seventeenth century but many think it was created to commemorate Alfred’s victory over the Danes at the Battle of Ethandium in 878.

We will likely never know the truth about the history of the White Horse of Uffington, but one thing is for sure, it was there long before King Arthur or King Alfred, who probably both knew it well.

To discover more interesting places associated with King Arthur, I highly recommend Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian Tour, Uncovering Camelot.

Not surpringly, a white horse was chosen for King Arthur to ride in the 2004 film “King Arthur” starring Clive Owen.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

 

If one were in search of the worst King Arthur movie ever, while I hesitate to say this one is the worst—I really think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) takes the cake there—King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (2017) would likely make the top ten list. That said, this poorly made and poorly conceived film does have a few—though very few—good points.

Knights of the Round Table’s descendants use machine guns – what’s not to like?

My title for this article is a tad misleading. King Arthur doesn’t end up in Thailand, but most of the film is set there. The gist of it is that King Arthur and his knights have been fighting Morgana and Mordred to the point where the king and the knights have had to go underground. In a last battle, Arthur overcomes his enemies and sends them shooting off into space in a giant rock. Fifteen hundred years later, we are introduced to the present-day descendants of King Arthur and his knights who for whatever reason are hanging out in Thailand. (I suspect it’s because Thailand was the cheapest place to make the film, which apparently had a $300,000 budget. One would think that was reason enough to make this the worst King Arthur film, but since King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s $175 million budget couldn’t save it, it’s definitely a bigger flop.)

Anyway, Morgana and Merlin now return and fight the Arthurian descendants (How they know to go to Thailand, when it would make more sense to go to Stonehenge or Cadbury Castle or even Winchester where the fake Round Table is, is unexplained). Some of the descendants are descended from Kay, Tristram, and Lancelot, but at least one, possibly two, is descended from King Arthur. During the scuffles that follow—with some martial arts tossed in since they’re in Thailand—the Holy Grail that they have in their keeping is revealed to be Excalibur melted down. Only the rightful heir to Arthur can wield it, and he turns out to be the descendant least proud to be a descendant: Penn, who thinks he’s only Sir Kay’s descendant. (Come on, Penn. Didn’t being named Penn, short for Pendragon, give it away?) Penn has just proposed to his girlfriend Jenna (think Jenny from Camelot aka Guinevere), and we later learn Jenna is pregnant with twins, so King Arthur’s line will obviously continue.

Sara Malakul Lane as Morgana and Russell Geoffrey Banks as Mordred. Banks’ performance is the only one of any note in the film.

Mordred is forced to do most of Morgan le Fay’s dirty work during the battles, and he’s heartily sick of it, so he eventually changes sides. Of course, he gets killed during the fighting but not before he redeems himself, and so on his deathbed, Penn tells him he truly thinks of him as his friend. He also dubs him Sir Mordred, which makes no sense since Mordred is always Sir Mordred already in the legends.

But before Mordred dies, we are subjected to Morgana turning into a robotic/china doll-looking giant who destroys most of Bangkok. Think the Ghostbusters ghost/Godzilla destroying New York/Tokyo. (Yes, this film is that original.) The only good thing here was that we weren’t subjected to New York getting blown up yet again. I had enough of that with The Avengers films, and oh, maybe a dozen other films as well).

The film ends with the Arthurian and knightly descendants triumphant and calling themselves the “Knights of New Camelot.” At least one website suggests this film was intended to be the lead-in to a television series, which the final scene also suggests. Thankfully, that never happened, though the ending does feel like it stole something from The Librarians films that led to that TV series.

Penn (left), King Arthur’s descendant and Lucas, Lancelot’s descendant, face off here in their rivalry for Jenna, in a modern Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere triangle. Only this Guinevere stays with Arthur and turns out to be fertile. (Apparently the historical one was too in this series or Penn wouldn’t exist.)

As always, I like the idea that King Arthur’s descendants live on, so that descendants of the other knights also live on and they have a fellowship is a rather cool idea. I also thought Mordred’s angst was quite well done. In fact, Mordred was the only really dynamic character in the film. Most of the other characters were fairly indescript and just remembering their names was difficult. That said, the film did do a good job of having some of the knights be female.

Thankfully, I don’t think Thailand will be on any Arthurian sites tours anytime soon just because of this film. But if you want to visit the sites traditionally associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, check out Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian tour.

Unless you’re a real diehard King Arthur movie buff, you can skip seeing this film. However, I’d love to hear what other movies you think might be contenders for the worst King Arthur movie ever.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

Glastonbury is my favorite place in England. It is also, in my opinion, the most magical. Perhaps that’s because I first visited it in May 1993, just a few months after I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, so I could just see Morgan le Fay there, like she is at the end of the novel. But there is far more to this historical place than its role in some fantasy novels. In fact, it is England’s holiest ground.

Ruins at Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury’s story is shrouded in mystery. There is a cross there presented by Queen Elizabeth II to honor it as a place so ancient its orgins can only be sought in legend. Consequently, many legends have arisen about it, especially concerning King Arthur.

Glastonbury’s King Arthur connections actually go back five centuries before his time. That’s because it was to Glastonbury that St. Joseph of Arimathea, allegedly an uncle or great-uncle to Jesus Christ, brought his nephew to study with the druids, an explanation for the lost years of Jesus’ childhood and early adulthood. Later, Joseph of Arimathea returned to Glastonbury after Jesus’ death; there he established the abbey and became its first abbot. He also brought with him the Holy Grail, in which he had captured Jesus’ blood after he had been pierced by the Spear of Longinus while dying on the Cross. The Holy Grail was believed to have been kept at Glastonbury for many years.

Inside Glastonbury Abbey’s ruins.

Also connected to Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury is the Holy Thorn. It is said that this thorn tree grew from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff, which he planted into the ground at Glastonbury. The thorn was remarkable because it blossomed with flowers at Christmas and may be the only thorn in the world to do so—Christmas being Jesus’ birthday and thus a time when the thorn celebrated Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, the original thorn was destroyed by the Puritans during the English Civil War. Offsprings of that thorn continued to grow at Glastonbury until just last month when, after repeated vandal attempts, the last one was removed by the landowner. (see “Glastonbury’s Famous Holy Thorn Removed.”)

The holy thorn as it appeared circa 1991.

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

As for King Arthur, we all know that after he was wounded at the Battle of Camlann, Morgan le Fay took him away on a barge to Avalon. Speculation exists that Avalon was nearby, possibly being Glastonbury Tor, a hill that rises up like an island shrouded in mist. Here it has also been said that the Holy Grail was kept. While I prefer to believe King Arthur is still living on Avalon—a place yet to be discovered by the modern world—and waiting to return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need, one tradition is that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have discovered the remains of Arthur and Guinevere on the abbey property. Also found was an iron cross verifying they were Arthur and Guinevere’s graves. The original cross has since disappeared—if it ever existed—but a drawing of it was made that has survived. The story also goes that one of the monks reached in and touched Guinevere’s golden tresses, but they then instantly disintegrated. In 1278, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor attended a ceremony at the abbey when King Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies were reburied under the high altar. No one has apparently disturbed the bodies since then, although I am surprised no archeologist has tried to.

Arthur and Guinevere’s most likely fake grave at Glastonbury Abbey

Were King Arthur and Guinevere really buried at Glastonbury? I’m skeptical. Many scholars have speculated that the bodies were planted there by Henry II as a hoax to destroy myths that King Arthur would return, thus keeping the Welsh and Saxons from having any hope that they could rebel or that they would be saved by Arthur from the rule of a Norman Plantagenet king. It’s also possible the monks themselves created a hoax so they could make Glastonbury a place of pilgrimage, thus increasing the money coming into their coffers.

One of the abbey walls.

No one can say if any of the stories of Glastonbury Abbey associated with King Arthur or Joseph of Arimathea are true or even if they have any shred of truth to them. I only know that for me, my visit to Glastonbury Abbey was a surreal experience. Something instantly drew me to the place that I cannot explain. On my first visit, I was on a tour. I remember that after fifteen or so minutes, everyone on the tour with me left the ruins to go into the gift shop or the village for coffee, but I remained behind, my heart leaping with joy to be there. I wandered all over the ruins, taking numerous pictures, climbing the stairs, visiting the chalice well, and exploring every inch of the property. I honestly cannot think of another time when I was so excited to visit a place. It wasn’t that I had been greatly anticipating my visit there, but that something about the place made me feel like an overjoyed child; my heart was laughing and I wanted practically to skip as I explored the ruins. My reaction could be because Glastonbury is a sacred space, or because it is believed to be one of the energy sources on the planet. I also think it’s possible, since I believe in reincarnation and think it likely I spent several past lives as a monk or priest, that perhaps my past is connected with Glastonbury. I cannot truly explain why it attracts me so much. I only know that for me, after all these years, the magic of that visit has never faded.

A reproduction of the lead cross found at Glastonbury Abbey claiming it as the place of King Arthur’s burial.

If you only get to visit one Arthurian place in your life, hands down Glastonbury Abbey is the place to visit. If you wish to learn more about it, I highly recommend John Matthews’ book A Glastonbury Reader: Selections from the Myths, Legends and Stories of Ancient Avalon, and I also recommend The Mists of Avalon as a novel that is partly set there. Several other Arthurian novels have also incorporated Glastonbury into their storylines.

If you do wish to visit Glastonbury, as well as other Arthurian sites, I recommend you check out the Scholarly Sojourns tour Uncovering Camelot: A Journey Through Arthurian Britain.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

I am so excited to announce that Scholarly Sojourns, a tour company that provides tours of interest to scholars, is now offering a special tour of Arthurian Britain, titled “Uncovering Camelot.”

As someone who has twice gone to Britain seeking Arthurian sites, this is the kind of trip I have always wanted to go on, so I have to share it with my readers. Many of the Arthurian sites I’ve visited myself, including Stonehenge and Glastonbury Abbey, are included on this tour, but besides the sites in England, there are many in Wales to visit, some of which I didn’t even know about, including the lake where the Lady of the Lake reputably gave King Arthur his sword.

This incredible eight-day tour takes place October 6-13, 2019. Below is a short itinerary of sites that will be visited. More details can be found at the Scholarly Sojourns’ website: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

DAY 1—ARRIVE IN SOUTH WALES: The trip begins at the Swansea rail station in South Wales. The first excursion is to Carreg Cennen Castle, which has Arthurian connections as well as beautiful scenery. Traveling that afternoon through the Welsh countryside, the trip leads to the Falcondale Hotel, where visitors will stay for the night. Tour leader Professor Dorsey Armstrong will host an opening reception and give a keynote address followed by a special welcome dinner.

DAY 2—CARMARTHEN AND PEMBROKESHIRE COAST: On this day, travel to Carmarthen—birthplace of Merlin. The visit includes numerous sites associated with the famous wizard, including Merlin’s Tree, Merlin’s Hill, and Merlin’s Stone. Next, travel through the Preseli Mountains, home to the stones Merlin magically transported to build Stonehenge. Also visit the Neolithic burial chamber Pentre Ifan, or Arthur’s Quoit. After lunch, visit Lake Bosherton—one of the possible resting places for Excalibur. Nearby is St. Govan’s Head, where a chapel marks the spot Sir Gawain settled as a hermit after Arthur died, and where he was buried.

DAY 3—CAERLEON, CAERWENT, AND KING ARTHUR’S CAVE: Highlights for this day include traveling to Caerleon, site of a Roman fortress, and the location Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed was the site of Arthur’s court. Next, explore Arthur’s Cave—perhaps this is where he sleeps according to some versions of the legend. The night is spent in a historic hotel that was once a Cistercian monastery that dates from 1180.

The ruins of Tintagel Castle where King Arthur was reputably born.

DAY 4—CAERLEON TO TINTAGEL: From Caerleon travel in the morning to Cornwall. First stop is Bodmin Moor, filled with sites associated with Arthur. Visit the Dozmary Pool—another possible resting place for Excalibur. In the afternoon, travel to Slaughterbridge near the town of Camelford, one possible location for Camelot. View a sixth-century stone inscribed to mark the spot King Arthur was mortally wounded by Mordred. Next, visit Tintagel Castle, the reputed birthplace of King Arthur. For the next two nights, stay at the Camelot Castle Hotel within walking distance of Tintagel.

DAY 5—LAND’S END, ST. MICHAEL’S MOUNT, AND ROCHE ROCK: Today, travel to Land’s End, the very tip of Great Britain. From there, view the Isles of Scilly, believed by some to be the Isle of Avalon where Arthur was brought to be healed of his wound. After visiting Penzance, travel on to St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought the mythical giant Cormoran. Finally, stop at Roche Rock where Tristan and Isolde are said to have hid from King Mark.

St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought a giant.

DAY 6—SOMERSET TO WELLS: Today, enjoy a visit to the enormous, ancient hill fort of Cadbury Castle, one of the primary contenders for Camelot. Locals believe King Arthur still lies sleeping in a cave within the hill. Next, visit Bath, claimed by Geoffrey of Monmouth to be the site of Arthur’s last great battle, the Battle of Badon Hill. In the evening travel to Wells, home to an eighth-century cathedral.

DAY 7—OLD SARUM TO AVEBURY TO STONEHENGE: Depart Wells to encounter three of the most significant prehistoric sites in Britain. First is Old Sarum—an Iron Age hilltop settlement that some argue may have been the location of Camelot. Next, explore the largest stone circle in Europe at Avebury—believed to have been built to commemorate King Arthur’s final battle. Arthur’s slain warriors are said to be buried there. Finally, visit Stonehenge which legend says Merlin constructed as a memorial after a fifth-century massacre.

DAY 8—GLASTONBURY: This final day, visit Glastonbury (my personal favorite of all Arthurian sites). It is here that Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought the child Jesus to study and later Joseph returned with the Holy Grail after Jesus’ death. The holy thorn grows here, the descendant of the thorn that grew out of Joseph’s staff. The visit includes a walking tour to Chalice Well, the purported resting place of the Holy Grail. Climb Glastonbury Tor if you wish. Finally, visit Glastonbury Abbey, home to the purported tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, discovered in 1191.

A more complete itinerary of the “Uncovering Camelot” tour can be requested through Scholarly Sojourns website, where you can also sign up for the trip: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

This trip is an Arthurian enthusiast or scholar’s dream come true. I know that as an American who is an author of both Arthurian fiction and nonfiction, my writing was deeply enriched by my visits to many Arthurian locations. I cannot recommend such a trip enough, and I hope you’ll get to enjoy it this year or sometime in the near future.

In future posts, I will write up details of some of the places on this trip that I visited myself because even though I first visited some of these sites as long ago as 1993, I still cherish my memories of my own Arthurian excursions in Britain.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

Bernard Jones’ new book The Discovery of Troy and its Lost History uncovers many surprising but viable theories about the Trojan War, particularly its location. At first, the idea that Troy could not have been in the Aegean, as Jones argues, may seem surprising, but Jones presents numerous details to make his argument plausible. I do not want to get into too many details because I don’t want to give away the epic journey Jones takes readers on, but while I admit I am no expert on Troy, I thought his arguments appeared very plausible overall.

For example, one argument is simply that scholars have never been able to understand the chariot warfare that takes place in Homer’s Iliad because the landscape would not have warranted it—however, such warfare could have taken place in North Western Europe. Jones goes into detail about chariot warfare and the specific location where the battles likely took place that made up the Trojan War, and with just as much detail, he discusses a myriad of other clues that reveal the location of Troy, the Trojan War, and even Aeneas’ journeys, clues taken from the Iliad that relate to such details as tides, constellations, music, and many other references made by Homer.

The Discovery of Troy and its Lost History at first might seem like a daunting book since it runs to 388 pages, but the main text is only about 296 pages (the rest is appendices of genealogy charts, photographs, a bibliography, and index) and the main text is in a fairly large print and also filled with pictures. I was able to read it in about six hours, so it was not overly daunting, but I have to admit it’s a book that deserves repeated readings to grasp fully all the fine points of Jones’ argument.

The overarching argument works well, and begins early on with the argument that Troy could not have been in Turkey and then the revelation about its exact location. The rest of the book provides the evidence, most of it directly referencing Homer’s Iliad, to explain how a setting in what is today’s Turkey would be impossible. I found the arguments compelling throughout, and I was also grateful when Jones would stop to recap the arguments to make sure the reader was keeping up with him. Ultimately, he leads us to the exact location of ancient Troy.

In a few places, I have to admit I thought the argument went off into tangents for a few sentences or paragraphs, or more information was presented than needed, such as in explaining druidism, but overall, I found the argument interesting. Readers less familiar with ancient European history will find these additional details probably more helpful than I did since I’ve read so much about British history in particular.

Of most interest to me, because I have long been interested in King Arthur as well as the British claim to be descended from Brutus, who was a descendant of the Trojan Aeneas, was Jones’ argument for valuing the ancient and classical traditions that have come down to us. Unlike the fairly recent book Brutus of Troy by Anthony Adolph, which argues that the various nations that claim descent from biblical and Trojan people created falsified genealogies to link themselves to these records after they were Christianized, Jones argues that many ancient literatures and indeed an entire history of Western Europe that dates back to about 2000 BC exists that has been largely lost to us, largely because people like St. Patrick destroyed pagan records and the English forbid the Welsh language to be spoken so many of its traditions were lost. Jones argues that based on what remains from these traditions, we can see that they were accurate, as was Homer, in what they depict. I have heard these compelling but questionable arguments before, but while Jones does not go into great detail about them, he gives a few examples from pre-Christian sources to back up the statements, and his uses of genealogical, historical, and geographical clues from these ancient Western European traditions to determine the location of Troy make his argument convincing.

In the end, Jones is correct in agreeing that his discoveries do not change anything we know about Troy’s history, simply its geography. While I am usually somewhat skeptical of such arguments that attempt to assert a particular country’s superiority as a sort of chosen race/promised land emblem—the poorly researched yet popular book Drama of the Lost Disciples of Christ by George Jowett, which claims Christianity arrived in England before Rome, comes to mind—Jones backs up all his arguments and provides sources.

Everyone is not going to agree with Jones’ argument, or at least will find various points in it to disagree with. But that is all right. The book is a monumental achievement of years of hard work, and even if some of Jones’ argument in time is proven to be wrong or to need more research, The Discovery of Troy and Its Lost History is a groundbreaking book that will hopefully lead to archaeological efforts to support his educated theories and inspire continued research into the field. After all, King Priam and his people deserve to have the truth known.

Of additional interest, Jones plans to come out with a companion book, The Voyage of Aeneas of Troy, later this year. For more information about Jones and his books, visit www.TrojanHistory.com.

Note: I received a complimentary preview copy from the author in exchange for a fair review

After seeing King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in 2017 and being disgusted, I had high hopes that The Boy Who Would Be King could redeem Arthurian films, but while it was leaps and bounds better than King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it falls short of the magic one wants from a movie about King Arthur.

The kids in The Boy Who Would Be King, left to right:Lance, Bedders, Alex, Merlin, and Kay

The premise is good enough and the film appears to be well-intended, but its delivery is lackluster at best. The film begins with a cartoon prologue, in which we are given the story of Arthur drawing the sword from the stone. Then we are told his evil sister Morgana fought against him. She was defeated and eventually buried in the earth, but she vowed she would one day return. Arthur replied that when she did the sword would return to. This opening sequence moved rapidly and was a bit hard to follow, plus the drawing was mediocre, setting the tone for the mediocrity to come.

The main storyline, however, opens well enough. We are introduced to a modern-day young boy, Alexander, who along with his friend Bedders, is bullied by two older children, Lance and a girl named Kay. It is notable here that Alexander and Lance are white while Bedders looks to be of Indian and Kay of African descent. I applaud the film for the multicultural characters that reflect the current face of Britain. This sets the tone for a more egalitarian version of the Arthurian legend and is one of the film’s few strong points, which the film makes apparent in more detail later.

Anyway, Alex finds the sword in a piece of concrete in a construction site that he stumbles upon while trying to escape his bullies. Eventually, the bullies find him and want the sword, but when a group of skeleton-like knights appear and attack the kids, the bullies soon join forces with Alex and Bedders. Alex, of course, recognizes the sword as Excalibur because he has a book about the Knights of the Round Table that his father gave him. His father has disappeared from his life, apparently because, as his mother says, he had “his demons” but he inscribed the book as “To Alex, my once and future king.” Alex realizes that now he is King Arthur, or at least meant to play the role of King Arthur—he’s not a reincarnation—and that his friends are Sir Bedivere (only everyone in the film keeps saying Sir Bedsivere, which is very irritating) and Sir Lancelot and “Lady” Kay.

Alex begins to believe he must be from Arthur’s bloodline through his father and that his father’s demons were the real-life demons that Morgana is sending to attack them, but in time, he will learn from Merlin that this is not true. Merlin shows up as a young boy who enrolls at the kids’ school, Dungate Academy. (That Merlin is naked in his first appearance, although we only see an unrevealing side view of him, is a weird decision in a children’s film.) Merlin is a nerdy kid so Alex and Bedders at first try to avoid him since they’re already being bullied and don’t want to be bullied more, but eventually Merlin convinces the kids he really is Merlin and explains their mission to them. They must defeat Morgana before she can ascend from out of the earth and make everyone in Britain into slaves. The kids agree to the mission and despite the bullies occasionally causing trouble, eventually they band together to fight Morgana and her minions.

The film makes use of Arthurian locations by having the children travel to Stonehenge, Tintagel, and Glastonbury Tor. Unfortunately, none of these locations are used well in the film—we get no really good cinematography of them that makes them feel magical or inspiring. The most powerful moment in the film comes when Alex learns his father was just a drunk and not at all a descendant of Arthur. Merlin, who usually appears as a goofy young wizard, now appears as an adult. (Patrick Stewart plays the role, and he’s one of the few redeeming features of the film.) Merlin tells Alex that greatness has nothing to do with birth or who your parents are, and if their stories and legends say it does, then it’s time to rewrite the story—this is the egalitarianism the film promotes that I was talking about early.

The kids now get to Glastonbury Tor where they discover a secret passage into the cave where Morgana dwells. This was the worst part of the film in my opinion—Morgana is twisted up in a bunch of tree roots in the cave and she has power over trees, causing roots to come up from the ground and grab the children at times. These rootlike connections also flow over into her serpent depictions—she flies about like a flying snake or gargoyle and later as a dragon. Overall, her depiction is insulting to the character and also misogynistic. There is a long history of women being associated with serpents as a symbol of them being evil which goes back to the Eve and the Serpent and depictions of Lilith and the medieval fairy Melusine. More recently the villainess in Bram Stoker’s novel The Lair of the White Worm is a snakelike creature, as is Geraldine in Coleridge’s poem “Christabel.” No one can forget the sea witch in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and so it’s not surprising that Morgan is like a winged serpent and later she turns into a dragon—it’s just tiresome. I hate when Morgana is simply depicted as a villain—her character is more complicated in the legends, yet the film makes no effort to develop her and she barely even gets any lines. We don’t know why she was evil or hated Arthur.

Morgana’s Skeleton Army – really, yet another film with a skeleton army!

Alex quickly stabs Morgan in the cave, she’s dead, and the adventure is over. It was anticlimactic and I was ready to go home and forget the movie, but then Merlin shows up once the kids return home to say Morgana was only wounded and will attack during the eclipse. Alex then manages with Merlin’s help to rally his school to prepare for battle. The kids even end up wearing armor (which looks ridiculous since they have shoulder pads but their chests and stomachs are exposed). Soon Morgana’s skeleton army attacks, and she leads the charge in the shape of a flying dragon. Of course, good triumphs over evil, and ho hum, after a big battle scene that fails to be inspiring or creative, life goes back to normal.

The film does end with a positive message. Alex says that the world with Morgan defeated is no better than it was before, but Merlin (as Patrick Stewart, probably the film’s only real asset) explains that the kids have it in them to make the world a better place in the future. He then gives Alex a copy of the book his father gave him, only now the cover has changed to show Alex and his friends depicted on it. It will be up to them to rewrite the future and King Arthur’s story as well. (And, after all, isn’t that what every generation has done—adapted the legend for its own needs in its own time?)

Patrick Stewart as Merlin – this tender moment at the end of the film felt unwarranted – I guess Alex sees Merlin as a replacement for his lost father.

As I said, the film is well-intentioned, but it lacks true creativity or inspiration. How many films with skeleton armies do we need? If Morgana wanted to conquer the world, why would she go after a boy with a sword and attack a school? Any villain with half a brain would have headed for Parliament instead. None of the Arthurian landmarks are used to any real purpose. It isn’t even clear why the kids have to go to Tintagel or Stonehenge. Even the soundtrack is dull—music is essential for a film to make us feel emotion, but I was left not feeling anything. Granted, I am not the film’s ten-year-old target audience, but I have watched other children’s Arthurian films—The Sword in the Stone (1963) and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995) come to mind—and felt the magic. The most magical moment in the whole film might be when Alex explains to his mom that the Arthurian legend is real and to prove it, he fills the bathtub with water, then asks the Lady of the Lake to bring him the sword and her hand pops up with it. This was a bit different, and manages not to be cheesy. I do give the film points for its sincerity—it never tries to make a mockery of the legend but tries to repurpose it for a new generation.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, this is one where you will want to wait for the video. Overall, I would give the film a C-. It’s two hours long—about thirty minutes longer than it needs to be, the violence is likely scary for younger children, but boring for adults who will have seen it all before, and the sense of wonder just isn’t there. There are a few worse Arthurian films like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) and Merlin and the War of the Dragons (2008), but there are also many that are better, Knights of the Round Table (1953), Camelot (1967), and Excalibur (1981) lead the list; heck, even Quest for Camelot (1998) and Prince Valiant (1954) with Robert Wagner in a ridiculous wig are more fun to watch.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

Today, I’m pleased to interview Scott Telek, author of The Swithen, an ambitious new fiction series that plans to depict in detail the psychology of the characters in the Arthurian legend while retelling that legend.

So far, Telek has published the first three books in the series: Our Man on Earth, The Sons of Constance, and The Void Place. Today he’ll tell us a bit about the series and his overarching plans for it.

Tyler: Welcome, Scott. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. I must say I think you are the most ambitious Arthurian novelist I have met so far. You plan to retell the entire Arthurian legend and so far have produced three books and Arthur isn’t even born until the end of the third one. How many books do you intend to write and what is your overall plan for the series?

Scott Telek, author of The Swithen series

Scott: Thanks Tyler, I’m happy to be here as well! I know the series is very ambitious, but…you’ve got to dream! I was just struck by the need to slow down while reading these stories—especially in Malory, where world-shattering events go by in a flash—and think about what these people might be feeling and thinking, and it occurred to me that you could write a really interesting series that puts the meat on the bones in a way that makes the people seem real, not just symbols and figures.

Right now I have planned out twenty-five novels to tell the entire story, and really, even that is not enough. There are ones where I’m thinking “How am I possibly going to get all of this into one book while giving the story the proper weight?” And please note that I am leaving out Tristram entirely.

The ultimate goal is to produce a really deluxe telling of the Arthurian legend, which illuminates all of its scope, weirdness, and majesty. We will also have birth-to-death life stories of all the major characters—because I plan to write childhoods for Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Mordred—and then they will all twist together into this incredible tapestry. I also want to provide a long, intimate arc to Arthur and Guinevere’s marriage and the affair with Lancelot. And then the interlocking stories of all of the minor characters and how the events ripple across generations. And then you have the inherent monumentality and shattering scope of the work, so—I can’t lose! I have the entire story laid out, so it gives me the opportunity to focus and tighten it in a way that makes its greatness clear to people who would never look into the sources.

Tyler: Can you explain why you chose the title The Swithen to describe the series. What does it have to do with the Arthurian legend?

Scott: The word itself has nothing at all to do with the Arthurian legend, but a lot of the good titles were already taken! One of the major goals of this series is to further unify the story into one cohesive narrative, and the one event that looms over everything is the Grail Quest. And I was struck—shocked, actually—that what is often portrayed as the ultimate, awesome achievement of the knights is actually them getting their asses kicked, and the ruin of the Round Table. They basically discover that their entire way of life, which was great to bring the country out of chaos and into civilization, is now no longer needed and they should just piss off. There is that devastating line when one of the holy figures they encounter says that they should “go back to their waste countries and kill each other.” Which they ultimately do!

So it struck me that this is like the burning of a field to make it fertile for the next generation, and then I found this old Norse word “Swithen,” which means exactly that. It’s about this devastating realization that everything you’ve done is great, now get out of the way and make room for the next generation. So to me it amplifies one of the major themes that is already there. Uther got the Swithen speech in The Void Place, and reacted poorly, as you saw, and poor Arthur is going to get it for sure, and have to deal with its implications. I find I like to force my characters to face the harshest possible existential realities, and poor Arthur…he’s really in for it. But he can also stand up to it, which is why he’s Arthur.

Tyler: I mostly want to discuss the newest book, The Void Place, but before we do that, will you give us a little background about the first two books?

The Void Place, book 3 in the Swithen series, delves into how King Arthur was conceived by magical means.

Scott: I decided that the story of Merlin’s conception sounded like a great book. A woman’s family is killed off one by one by a demon, then her talking baby saves her at the trial for her life—sounds like a hit! I was also fascinated by starting a retelling of the Arthurian legend from this point, which positions the entire thing as the result of a failed attempt by the devil to deceive mankind, and thought that was a fascinating way to look at it.

The second book takes Merlin from his mother’s side, through kings Vortiger and Pendragon, and right up until Uther is about to lose it over Igraine. It is a bit of a “middle” book, as it meanders and doesn’t have one solid story, but I love it and it has some great Merlin moments, like when Pendragon has let a man test him by asking when he will die, and Merlin says to Pendragon, “Do you think I don’t know how this fool will die? I see his death very well—and yours, too!”

Tyler: Merlin is at the center of the first three books. What would you say was your greatest challenge in depicting him, and what did you have the most fun with?

Scott: I know you’ve been enthusiastic about this incarnation of Merlin, which I very much appreciate. I actually didn’t intend him to be so ruthless when I started. I think I pretty much conceived of him as the standard supportive but cantankerous wizard, and basically perfect and always right, as we usually see him. But then in the first book, I had that idea that because he sees across time, he doesn’t really care about individual people. That was supposed to be just a characteristic, but as the series went on, that developed into this ruthlessness to get Arthur born no matter what the cost, which leads to him being somewhat the villain of The Void Place. But also…it opens up an arc for Merlin, and areas where he still needs to develop, and we will see in the future that he has learned from what happened with Uther, and tries a different approach with Arthur.

One thing you might find interesting that you would not necessarily get from the books is that I see this contemporary resonance between Merlin and the young tech moguls, like Mark Zuckerberg or early Steve Jobs. They created these world-changing technologies when they were young, but they didn’t have the maturity to think through the vast implications of how they might affect people and society. They also see the world only through data, just as Merlin only sees events, and there’s the question of whether there is something in people that can’t be summed up in data, just as Merlin is starting to discover that there may be more to people than simply knowing what they do, and is finding that the world, and people, are far more complicated than it seemed when he was a child—just as Mark Zuckerberg is finding, right now.

Tyler: I don’t want to overlook Meylinde, Merlin’s mother. You didn’t have much to work with from the legend as a framework with her, so why did you feel it so important to make her an integral part of the series?

Scott: Again, not planned. The first story is really a parable about faith, and the first book is about how her baby develops into the Merlin we know, so I thought that it would be cool if there was a human component—his mother—behind who Merlin becomes and his sense of morality and humanity. In the legend, she never receives a name, and is dropped entirely once Merlin leaves her. But then I couldn’t stand to just drop her, and once I found a way that she can stay in the series but still be true to the legend—which is that Merlin goes to her when he has to be away from people—I started to develop this idea that she would be Merlin’s moral advisor, and the only one that he shows true vulnerability with. And I will say that I have something planned for her in which she will leave a very influential mark on the entire series.

Another aspect I didn’t intend, but I am quite happy with, is that the simple act of giving names and complex psychologies to women who are little but symbols and passive figures in the legends is a bit of a feminist act, and makes this series much more contemporary. Now the women, and their thoughts and feelings, are given equal importance to the men, which places the genders on much more equal footing, and completely re-orients the legend, which is very man-focused. Arthur’s adoptive mother, Lady Ector, is also never given a name, and barely mentioned in the legend, but in my series, she too will be a tremendously influential character.

Tyler: In The Void Place, the novel opens with Uther as king. Merlin has already set up the Round Table. I was a bit surprised by this since I tend to think it doesn’t happen until Arthur’s reign. Did you draw on sources for it happening during Uther’s reign?

Scott: The Vulgate Cycle has Merlin create the Round Table in the first part of Uther’s reign, just as you see at the end of The Sons of Constance. Then when Uther dies it goes to King Leodegrance, and then Arthur receives it when he marries Guinevere. The other thing is that Uther creates the first generation Knights of the Round Table, and then some of them go on to serve Arthur when he takes over.

One of the things that I love about the Arthurian legend, and I think is one of its major themes, is the passing on from generation to generation. Objects are passed on, but so are conflicts and alliances, and values and ideals, and Arthur has to deal with some conflicts that began in his father’s time. So I really wanted to capture that here, with the passing on of the Round Table and the first generation of knights, and this connection between Uther’s generation and Arthur’s. And you’ll see as we go forward that Uther’s knights, like Ulfius, come from a time that is more mercenary and brutal, and we will see Arthur develop an ideal of knighthood that is more refined, honorable, and chivalrous.

Our Man on Earth, the first book in the Swithen series, tells the story of Merlin’s birth and childhood.

Tyler: There are a few characters in The Void Place I don’t remember from the Arthurian legend, such as Ulfius and Riger. Are they your own invention, and why did you feel the need to include them?

Scott: The story of the knight who tests the Siege Perilous is in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, as is the idea that Merlin was said to be dead. I didn’t think this knight had a name, but upon a little research I found that he is called Riger le Brun in another version, and Riger is a fine name, so I went with that. Everything about his character was made up by me, as a foil to Uther and someone who would play on his uncertain feelings about Merlin. I also added the loose idea that Uther’s failure with the seat in some way causes, or leaves Uther in a state to fall into obsession over Igraine.

Ulfius is in Malory, very slightly, but is a medium-sized presence in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, where he is named Ulfin. He does act as go-between with Igraine and he does arrange the marriage, as you see in The Void Place. I just…for some reason, I just adore Ulfius. There is a line in Malory that while Arthur has to keep pulling the sword again and again, he goes to live with the knights, including Ulfius, and that one line will become the entire basis of Book 5, because I am so taken with the idea of the teenage Arthur hanging with these adult knights and learning the ideals of knighthood and what knights need from their king, so that’s going to be really fun.

The other thing that Ulfius touches on is what I mentioned about aspects continuing through generations…. So Ulfius is Uther’s best friend, and he’s going to be a good friend and mentor to Arthur and he will go on to fight alongside Arthur in his wars against King Lot and the others. So he’ll be offstage for Book 4, but very present for Books 5 and 6, and…there’s one more thing about Ulfius that makes him very special, but I can’t tell you without ruining a surprise.

Tyler: Do you feel Uther is justified in his feelings toward Merlin? They seem to have a love-hate relationship?

Scott: I’m curious to see how people react to my version of Uther, since he’s usually considered fearsome and admirable, and here he’s very insecure and self-centered. And also his relationship with Merlin is quite strained. My main source, the Vulgate Cycle, tries to have it both ways, saying on the one hand that they had great love for each other, while on the other Merlin will not speak to Uther by the end. That’s all from the legend, as well as that they must do penance and that Uther’s hands and feet swell and he physically withers away.

As far as their poor relationship, this all grew out of my conception that the kings would feel that Merlin has taken away any agency they have, because they are just enacting his plans, not having ideas of their own. There is also the issue of them knowing that there is this greater king to come, which is, of course, Arthur. Between Books 2 and 3, you see that Pendragon wrestles with this, but ultimately accepts Merlin’s advice and his final act is one of generosity toward Arthur. Uther is self-centered, and resents the coming of Arthur. It’s meant to contrast their approaches toward a king’s service to the country—is it about serving others, or is it about their own glory? And both of these approaches is leading up to how Arthur will handle it, and how Arthur will feel about Merlin.

You notice by the end of this novel people are asking Merlin “What if Arthur hates you?” And Merlin’s relationship with Uther is meant to highlight the ways in which Merlin will have to adjust his approach, learn humility and learn to be more gentle with humans and their emotions if he is going to keep Arthur from turning away and rejecting him.

Tyler: We meet Viviane for just a brief moment in The Void Place. I assume she is to enchant Merlin later. I’m curious why you chose Viviane over Niniane or Nimue as the enchantress. I believe Viviane was a name Tennyson invented. In The Void Place, it seems like she already has supernatural powers from the brief encounter she has with Merlin, so can we expect some differences in the story with her since usually Merlin teaches her magic.

Scott: I also have her appear in a dream to Meylinde in Our Man on Earth. Viviane was the first Lady of the Lake, and is killed by Balin, then Nimue is brought to the court later. I believe Viviane is named in the Vulgate Cycle. My choice to include her so soon has to do with larger things I’m cooking up to go across the entire series, and one of those has to do with the coming of Christianity and the driving out of Paganism and magic.

One thing—one amazing thing—that is in the Vulgate Cycle but not in Malory, is the fact that Nimue lives in an illusory lake, where she rules a matriarchal society, and that is where she raises Lancelot after she kidnaps him. This whole history of Lancelot—and his connection with one of Arthur’s biggest life mistakes—is heavily explored in the Vulgate and you had better believe it’s going to be delved into here, because I like it as nasty and complicated as possible! One entire book of this series is planned to be Lancelot’s youth, with Lionel and Bors, in Nimue’s magical lake, so there’s a lot to come in terms of the Ladies of the Lake. Viviane’s appearances are just the tip of the iceberg, and placed there to build toward something major that is coming.

Tyler: Scott, what have you most enjoyed about writing this series so far, and what would you say has been your biggest challenge?

Scott: The biggest challenge is definitely working the chronology out to the degree that I know enough of what is coming that I can insert it into the story at the appropriate point. Sometimes when reading this stuff, it’ll say “this happened two years earlier,” and I have to figure out when it happened in relation to other things, and what else was happening then. For example, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—which I am going to work into this narrative—the Green Knight appears a year before Gawain goes off to visit him, so…is his first appearance in one book, and the resolution in another? Or do I just say “a year ago, this happened”? And what else was going on at that time? So it’s a huge challenge.

The three books so far have been largely before the main story begins, so I have had some time to lay out what’s coming. I have a huge Excel spreadsheet with a page each for each of the books, as well as character notes and suchlike, and have things like “Viviane dies here” and “Gawain comes to court,” as well as what the beginning and ending will be, the theme of each book, and I list each character and say what their age and mental state is at that time in the story so I can give them compelling arcs over the whole series. I am writing individual novels, but also one huge novel where each book is just a chapter.

Which leads us into what I have enjoyed the most, and will enjoy, which is the prospect of creating this huge, very intertwined tapestry of characters and this massive, truly epic story. I really look forward to creating a very rich life story for Arthur from his birth to his death. And ultimately we’ll have about sixty years in the lives of a great number of connected and intertwining characters, which will be an incredible thing. Books 2 and 3 were the first where a set of characters went from one book directly into another, and I really enjoyed the resonances and added meanings that the additional space can bring. By the time we get ten books in, I think that’ll be amazing, and by the time we’re twenty books in, I think—I hope!—that the accumulated weight of the story and the characters’ histories will be incredible and overwhelming.

Tyler: Spoken like a true novelist, Scott. I love how detailed and intertwined all your plans are. For me, personally, that is the great fun of writing fiction and especially a series, building all these layers and interconnections between characters and book after book. So that said, of course, I’m anxious to know when we can expect the fourth book. Will you give us a preview of what to expect in it?

Book II of the Switchen Series, The Sons of Constance tells the tale of Merlin’s dealings with Vortiger, Pendragon, and Uther.

Scott: I’ve already started writing it, and I’m really into it. The tone will be much more lovely and gentle, and it will be kind of a Young Adult novel, about Arthur’s childhood and the formation of his character. None of the sources give any information about Arthur’s childhood, and the big challenge to create something different than T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone or other versions of his boyhood.

I’ll tell you that Sir and Lady Ector will be fleshed out in depth, as will Kay and Arthur’s relationship with him. This is what I was saying is the best part of writing this series, because I am writing their boyhood relationship knowing they will be together their entire lives, and there is so much to come. Arthur will be struggling with feeling that he doesn’t belong with this family, as well as having to swallow that he will be Kay’s squire, not a knight himself. So like Our Man on Earth was with Merlin, in this we will see the formation of Arthur’s character. Books 4 through 6 will be formative experiences and adolescence for Arthur, and he will not be a mature adult king until Book 7. And there are some other things I have planned that I hope will be a very surprising, unusual way of coming at the familiar story we all know.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Scott. Can you tell us where we can go to get more information about your books or to purchase them?

Scott: I sure can! The books are available in ebook and paperback at Amazon and other retailers, and the easiest hub to get to them all would be to visit the website for the series.

Tyler: Thanks again, Scott. Best wishes for the continuation of your truly breathtaking series.