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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new book The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction study of Guinevere as she’s been depicted in literature for the last fifteen centuries.

Nicole Evelina, author of “The Once and Future Queen,” is also the author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy.

Nicole has previously been my guest when I’ve interviewed her about the first two books in her Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen.

Nicole has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skills, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide. Her goal in writing Arthurian fiction is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series. And it looks like she’s succeeded because Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen have already won several awards. But now she has come out with The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction book about Guinevere.

 

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m so pleased to be able to talk with you today. To begin, will you tell us what made you decide to write a nonfiction book about Guinevere?

Nicole: I was asked to give a presentation on Guinevere for Women’s History Month in March 2017 at a local library. I was thinking, “Ah, she’s not real. What am I going to talk about?” So I decided to look into how she has changed over time. The result was 30,000 words worth of notes—and a thesis that I thought was very interesting: the idea that Guinevere changes over time along with society’s views on women.

At a presentation the previous November, one of the audience members suggested I write non-fiction, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to take his advice. Besides, I was an English major in college so this was fun for me—like writing a really long research paper!

 

Tyler: Your book focuses on the literary record of Guinevere, but have you read any of the nonfiction works that try to pinpoint who the historical Arthur is, and even sometimes the historical Guinevere? How important do you think it is that we search for the historical counterparts of these characters?

Nicole: I’ve read a lot of books on the possibly historical nature of King Arthur as research for my fictional Guinevere trilogy. I particularly enjoyed Christopher Gidlow’s The Reign of Arthur, David Day’s The Search for King Arthur, and King Arthur: The True Story by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, although I know that one is controversial. And of course, all of Geoffrey Ashe’s books. The ones on Guinevere are few and far between, mostly because it’s hard to prove she existed until we can prove Arthur did, as he was the doer of big deeds. I’m assuming you’re referring to Norma Lorre Goodrich’s book on Guinevere? I own it and I’ve read it (twice, actually) and I’ll just say it is best used to inspire fiction.

I do believe the historical research is very important. If nothing else, it sheds light upon a very mysterious and often misunderstood time period (the Dark Ages or early Middle Ages). It would be great if we can someday prove or disprove the existence of Arthur because that will give us clarity and, no matter what the answer is, will provoke additional research. Even if Arthur is historically disproven, I don’t think that will dampen the power of his myth. Look at Robin Hood; the best anyone can do is call him an amalgamation of historical people, but yet the lessons in his myth continue to inspire us. The same would be true for Arthur and Guinevere.

 

The Once and Future Queen offers an insightful look at Guinevere from medieval times into modern fiction.

Tyler: Who are some of the major and more traditional (pre-twentieth century) authors you discuss in the book and how are they different in their portrayals of Guinevere?

Nicole: Knowing that my target audience was non-academics who are interested in the Arthurian legend, I tried to pick works most people would have at least heard of and maybe studied in school. I touch on some of the key Celtic documents, like The Mabinogion and the Welsh Triads, and then cover the major medieval writers—Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, Layamon, Chretien de Troyes, the Vulgate Cycle, and Thomas Malory, among others. Then I moved into the Victorian Era with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Morris. T. H. White is really the one who straddles the traditional and modern for me, although he’s probably considered modern.

 

Tyler: Was there anything that surprised you about how Guinevere was portrayed in these earlier works?

Nicole: I think the inconsistency was the biggest surprise for me. While Guinevere is pretty much universally depicted as negative in the traditional texts, exactly how—her personality and motivations—and why—the author’s message and motives—often differ wildly, even among a single author’s oeuvre. Chretien de Troyes and Thomas Malory are examples of authors who depict Guinevere one way in one story or even a part of a story, and totally differently in the next or later in the same work.

 

Tyler: Who do you consider to be the first author to treat Guinevere in a truly revolutionary way and how does that author do so?

Nicole: There is more than one, and I think it depends on what aspect of the story and character you’re thinking about. I think Chretien was revolutionary in that he gave Guinevere and Lancelot a bit of a happy ending because Arthur never finds out about their affair in his version of the story. William Morris certainly was because he gave Guinevere a chance to speak for herself—although her “defence” really isn’t so much a defense as audience manipulation. Parke Godwin gave us the first truly intelligent and independent Guinevere in the 1980s. Sharan Newman was the first to depict Guinevere’s childhood and give her a fully-formed backstory. Of course, I like to think that my own novels have revolutionary elements as well—i.e., Guinevere being a priestess, Arthur’s marital situation in Camelot’s Queen, but I’m certainly not impartial. I’ll let time and reader opinion decide that one.

 

Tyler: You talk about Marion Zimmer Bradley in the book, although you don’t like her depiction of Guinevere, but would you agree with me that she is probably the biggest influence upon Arthurian fiction in the last forty years? How would you define that influence and do you think she influenced depictions of Guinevere also?

Nicole: Oh, most definitely. Even though others have done more for the character of Guinevere, Bradley turned Arthurian legend on its head by marrying it with feminism and focusing on the female stories. She also shifted the story from being solidly built on Christianity to being built on paganism with Christianity being a disruptive influence.

My books certainly would not exist without hers, and I’m sure she influenced at least two generations of writers who came after her. But I don’t know that that is true for most of the Guinevere novels that came out either in the 1980s or 1990s, at least the ones I examine in The Once and Future Queen. Looking at the timeline and the motivations of the authors, I think they would have written theirs anyway. Parke Godwin’s books came out either before or nearly at the same time as Bradley’s so unless the two were in correspondence (which I doubt), they wouldn’t have influenced one another. Likewise, Gillian Bradshaw’s novels and Sharan Newman’s first Guinevere book were published before Mists. The only authors who could have been reacting to Bradley would have been Woolley, McKenzie, and Miles. I haven’t read anything about McKenzie’s motivations, but I’m pretty sure Woolley and Miles both said their books were at least started before Mists. I think the trends that we see in the 1980s and 1990s to focus more on Guinevere and make her a strong female character were more motivated by the cultural shifts taking place and the influence of feminism than on Bradely’s work.

 

Tyler: I feel in the light of all the shocking revelations of sexual harassment and abuse coming out of Hollywood today that I should mention a similar charge was made about Marion Zimmer Bradley a few years ago—her daughter accuses her of sexually abusing her as a child. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/27/sff-community-marion-zimmer-bradley-daughter-accuses-abuse) Given that knowledge, do you think it will or should make a difference in how we view her work and her influence? Do you think it will hurt her place in the Arthurian canon?

Nicole: I think it will affect how some people view her work, especially those who have been victimized themselves, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But I don’t personally think it should affect our views in the long term. Regardless of what Bradley may or may not have done, the work stands on its own. Its impact shouldn’t be lessened because of her personal life. The charge against her is disgusting, and I will admit it makes me wrinkle my nose at her name, but it doesn’t change how I view the story. If there was anything that smacked of child abuse in the story itself, I’d be giving you a different answer. Mists can be considered strange on many levels that don’t have anything to do with abuse but are related to sexuality, i.e. the Beltane ritual, the threesome between Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur, Morgan’s lesbian encounter with the faerie, etc., but I don’t know that a logical correlation can be made between those plot points and the charge against the author. For example, you could argue that her depictions of sexuality were an attempt to modernize the Arthurian story and make it appealing to an audience in tune with the changing values of the time.

There are many other authors you could ask the same questions about, such as Orson Scott Card, but their personal views still don’t lessen their contribution to literature, except of course, if their storylines were to promote hate, abuse, or whatever they are charged with believing. If we took away all the art and inventions that were created by people who did terrible, sometimes unforgivable things, we’d be in a world of hurt. This is a case where separating the creator from the creation is necessary. I know not everyone will agree with that, and that is fine.

 

Tyler: You mention several other modern female novelists in the book, some of whom you think did nothing to help develop Guinevere’s character but others you find favorable. Can you give us some examples?

Nicole: I’ll give you one example on each side of the question. (You have to read the book for the others! J) I think Persia Wooley did much to advance the character of Guinevere. Her queen is equal to Arthur and very much knows her own mind. She’s even a sex-positive character without being portrayed as a whore.

On the other hand, Nancy McKenzie’s Guinevere is a throwback to the weak, indecisive character that we saw in Malory. Rather than acting from her own will and agency, this Guinevere is constantly reacting to the stronger characters around her, especially Elaine and Arthur. This dependence on the thoughts and deeds of others lessens Guinevere in the eyes of the reader, especially in light of the stronger Guineveres produced by other authors.

 

Tyler: As a male novelist of Arthuriana myself, I couldn’t help noticing the lack of reference to novels by male authors, especially the ones that are modern classics, such Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen Lawhead? Why did you choose to ignore many male authors?

Nicole: If I was doing an overall survey of Arthurian legend I would have included them—and I mean no disrespect by not focusing on their works—but this is specifically a book on Guinevere. My reason for not including them is that none of them really focus on Guinevere. She’s there, of course, but it’s easier—and I would argue more effective—to analyze changes in the character when she’s a main character as opposed to secondary or tertiary.

I do discuss T. H. White at length, as well as Parke Godwin, so it’s not that I abandoned male novelists when talking about modern books. But I believe the shift from male authors having total control over Guinevere’s story historically to female authors telling her story from a female point of view for the first time in the 1980s and 1990s cannot and should not be underemphasized. We know that men portray female characters differently than female authors do (just as female authors write their male characters differently than male authors do), so analyzing how she changed at their hands tells us a lot about society and the views of readers.

 

Tyler: You talk about how it’s too early to say what place your own novels will have in the Arthurian canon and whether they’ll have any influence, but how do you think your Guinevere is different from all the others?

Nicole: I feel like she’s built on the shoulders of those who came before me. There is no way my Guinevere could exist without those who broke the ground in the ’80s and ’90s and seeded reader acceptance of a strong Guinevere. And because I was raised in a family and society that taught me to the value of “girl power” (we can thank the all-girls high school I went to for a lot of that), I think my Guinevere is more aggressive than many others, much more empowered, and determined to have her own way. That is both a plus and a negative for her, as it also means she’s very self-centered. I also think the relationships she has with other characters in my books—especially Aggrivane and Morgan—help set her apart from previous versions because they put her in unusual situations and present her with challenges no other Guinevere has had to react to.

 

Tyler: When can we expect the final volume of your trilogy to be published? Any hint at how Guinevere will fare in it? Will readers be surprised by the end?

Nicole: I am determined that it will be published in 2018. I’ve had a partial draft written since 2013, but with my change from the traditional publishing path to independent publishing and all the work that has entailed, I haven’t had as much time to focus on it as I would like. Within the last year, I finally figured out what it was missing (oh you know, most of the middle of the book). Now I just have to make that happen, which is easier said than done, especially now that I know how much people like the first two books.

I will tell you that after the battle of Camlann and the fall of Camelot, Guinevere heads north into her mother’s native Votadini homelands to try to figure out who she is now that Camelot is gone. With her husband and many of her friends now dead, being a Votadini is the only bit of identity she has left, and it ends up propelling her into a new stage in life, where her skills both in the political arena and on the battlefield have the potential to change history. Obviously, Lancelot is a huge part of the story, as is Morgan, but you’ll also see a lot of characters reemerge that might not expect—Mayda, Elga, Accolon, and others who were bit players in previous novels now come to the fore. And there is one that I’m not going to tell you about, but I’ve been waiting years to write his comeback!

I’ve known all along how the series would end. I think some people will be surprised and possibly irritated by what happens, but I think others will find it very satisfying. Hopefully, more of the latter! I will say that despite all Guinevere has gone through and will go through in this book, Mistress of Legend has a happy ending…at least as happy as any Arthurian story can be.

 

Tyler: What do you think Guinevere will look like in future books and films?

Nicole: I think there is no telling, but that is a good thing. That means she can be anyone or anything society needs her to be. Personally, I hope she continues to be a strong woman who fights for herself and for what is right. I’d love to see more historical fiction/historical fantasy authors delve into what life was like for Celtic women in post-Roman Britain using her story as a basis, especially if archeology continues to point to that historical period being the most likely for Arthur to have lived. I’ve done that somewhat, but my skills and education have their limitations. I’d love to see what a true expert can do.

I do speculate a little on how Guinevere might change in the future in the conclusion to The Once and Future Queen. I can imagine her becoming a person of color (yes, I know, the TV show Merlin did that already, but I mean more regularly), perhaps even gay or transgender. For those of us used to traditional portrayals of her, that might seem like a leap, but for a long time so did a strong Guinevere. A friend of mine just posted on Twitter the other day that she’s reading a comic book called, oddly enough, The Once and Future Queen, in which Arthur is a gay woman. That means her relationship with Guinevere will be non-traditional. So in many ways, the evolution is happening right before our eyes.

 

Tyler: Thanks for all that information, Nicole. Since it’s so much fun to speculate, if the historical Guinevere could be here with us today and you could only ask her one question, what would it be?

 

Nicole: The first thing that popped into my head was “Was Arthur worth it?” but upon serious reflection, I think I’d ask her where it all went wrong. By that I mean the dream of Camelot and a united Britain, but she could take it however she likes.

 

Tyler: Thank you again for joining me today, Nicole. It was a very informative discussion. Before we go, will you let our readers know where they can get copies of The Once and Future Queen?

Nicole: Thanks again for having me. You are too generous with your time.

Here are the links to the major online retailers:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Once-Future-Queen-Guinevere-Arthurian/dp/0996763244

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-once-and-future-queen-nicole-evelina/1127289906

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-once-and-future-queen-4

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-once-and-future-queen-guinevere-in-arthurian-legend/id1314772771?mt=11

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Nicole_Evelina_The_Once_and_Future_Queen?id=nEM_DwAAQBAJ&hl=en

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/755384

 

Tyler: It’s been a pleasure, Nicole. Good luck with The Once and Future Queen, and I’ll look forward to talking to you again when Mistress of Legend is published.

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I absolutely love the title of Nicole Evelina’s new scholarly book The Once and Future Queen. Although there are no legends claiming Guinevere will return like there are of Arthur, she is Arthur’s counterpart and deserves equal treatment. To date, Guinevere has not received anywhere near the amount of attention, much less full-length studies of her character as Arthur has. In fact, the only full-length book on her I’m aware of, Norma Lorre Goodrich’s Guinevere, is a mish-mash of pseudo historicity that must be taken with a grain of salt. Nicole Evelina, however, doesn’t delve into trying to claim whether or not Guinevere was historical. Instead, she takes a more scholarly and practical approach by looking at how Guinevere has been treated throughout literature from the earliest Welsh Triads to present day novels, including her own.

The Once and Future Queen offers an insightful look at Guinevere from medieval times into modern fiction.

Evelina is herself the author of a trilogy about Guinevere, consisting of Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and the upcoming Mistress of Legend. Her interest in Guinevere, as she states, stems from a love for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel The Mists of Avalon and her treatment of Morgan le Fay, but also from a dislike for how Bradley portrayed Guinevere.

Evelina makes some fascinating points about how Guinevere has been depicted in literature, pointing out the significance of Guinevere from the early mention in The Welsh Triads where it is clear that one of the causes for the Battle of Camlann was the blow she struck to her sister Gwenhwyvach. Not surprisingly, as Evelina surveys the medieval works about Guinevere, she is struck by how frequently sexist they are.

One point she makes when she gets to the works of the Renaissance—or lack of Arthurian works for this period—is that the lack of work probably stems from the Protestant Reformation and the effort to rid England of all things that reeked of Catholicism. The Holy Grail legends would certainly be included there, as well as Guinevere and Lancelot ending up in a nunnery and a monastery. I have always been aware that the Renaissance didn’t know what to do with King Arthur, but I had never considered why before, so I thought this point was very illuminating.

Evelina goes on to explore Guinevere’s treatment in more recent classics like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. For me, however, being a writer of Arthurian novels myself, the most interesting chapters were those on modern Arthurian fiction. While Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982) may be considered the mother of feminism in the Arthurian legend, not surprisingly, Evelina faults Bradley for not presenting Guinevere as a strong female character. Evelina also points out that, surprisingly, some other women novelists of the late twentieth century also failed to provide a positive depiction of Guinevere, including Nancy McKenzie and Mary Stewart.

Although I try to read every Arthurian novel I can, there were some authors included whom I have not yet read, including Rosalind Miles, Gillian Bradshaw, and Lavinia Collins, so I am now looking forward to reading their works. While many of the authors Evelina treats, such as Persia Wooley, (to whom she dedicated the book) provide positive and strong portraits of Guinevere, I have to say I was surprised by Lavinia Collins’ Guinevere—her novels sound more like bodice-rippers than true Arthurian romance.

If I would fault The Once and Future Queen in any way, it would be that Evelina didn’t discuss more of the recent male authors. She does mention Parke Godwin, whose Beloved Exile (1984) was the first novel to depict Guinevere after the Fall of Camelot and give her a new story for that period of her life, but she does not discuss male authors like Stephen Lawhead, Jack Whyte, or Bernard Cornwell. Honestly, though, it would be impossible to discuss every treatment of Guinevere in modern fiction—countless Arthurian novels are now being produced every year—and I honestly can’t remember much, if anything, of the Guineveres in those authors’ novels—granted I read them all nearly two decades ago, but they were also all heavily written from the male perspective.

Overall, I think The Once and Future Queen draws a positive light upon the need for more research into how Guinevere has been depicted in the past and how the often negative image of her as just an adulteress needs not only to be reassessed but turned around to show that she can be a positive role model for women of how a woman can be strong in a man’s world. It would be wonderful if The Once and Future Queen would inspire future research, including how Guinevere has been depicted in film and on TV—Evelina even includes a little guesswork about how multiculturalism and other forces in our culture will influence Guinevere’s future depictions. I welcome this addition to Arthurian scholarship, and I think anyone who is especially interested in modern Arthurian fiction will find it engrossing.

______________________________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s LegacyMelusine’s GiftOgier’s PrayerLilith’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 historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

Here’s a taste of the newest and final book in the Children of Arthur series – the Prologue. You can purchase Arthur’s Bosom at www.ChildrenofArthur.com or Amazon.

Prologue
The Not-Too-Distant Future

Captain Vanderdecker looked up into the night sky and reflected upon what a lonely life it was to wander the earth alone on the Flying Dutchman; he knew those few to whom he had shown himself believed him cursed, but it was not so; rather, he roamed the seas in his phantom ship to put a little fear into them, a fear that might cause them to repent and turn to good. He had committed no great crime, no great sin, but rather he posed as a terrible sinner for the sake of his fellow men, for they were mostly a weak and cowardly race, and so while fear caused them to do evil, at other times, fear could steer them back onto the right path, and so he had taken the path of fear so they might find their salvation.

In Arthur’s Bosom, When a great comet hits Britain, it opens a portal that causes Arthur’s descendants to time travel from the 21st century back to Arthurian times and have many adventures while trying to figure out how to return to their own time.

Years before, he had agreed to this role, in time playing upon the tales told of how he had been led to this cursed life filled with isolation and misery so that those to whom he spoke would tremble before him and then repent and change their ways before it was too late. Captain Vanderdecker enjoyed his fear-inspiring performances immensely, and once he had released his captive victims from his presence, he spent a great deal of time chuckling to himself, and often, he would use his powerful spyglass to watch them later in life and be pleased by the change he had caused in them.

Yes, at times it had been a lonely life, but Captain Vanderdecker knew his mission was nearing completion, for since Lilith had passed from this world, fear had been slowly losing its grip over much of mankind. Soon it would seem as if all his time spent in this wandering state had never happened at all. And in the meantime, he occasionally met with those who shared his mission—Morgan le Fay and Merlin and several others, all believed to be only characters from legend, but who, in truth, served the Goddess-God by serving mankind to bring about good for all.

Most days, however, Captain Vanderdecker’s only companions were the stars in the night sky. They were his true friends, for they guided him upon the sea, and they were loyal and ever-vigilant, never swaying in their trustworthiness. Oh, he knew man’s faulty wisdom believed the stars merely to be great flaming balls of fire like the sun, but he also knew that the stars had loving energetic souls that contributed to the music of the spheres, playing a beautiful visual and auditory symphony for him every night as a reminder that he was alone only temporarily and would one day be reunited with the great Source of All Wellbeing that guided the Universe.

And so tonight, like most nights, Captain Vanderdecker lay upon the deck of the Flying Dutchman, looking up at the stars, listening to them, sometimes wishing upon them, his wishes actually being prayers for the happiness of the human race, of which he had once been a member before he had tasted of living water and taken up his mission.

The stars entertained him, often singing to him songs of kings and queens, heroes and villains, mermaids and magical beasts, and of a world far better than that he knew currently existed because it was based in the beauty of the imagination and the love that someday the human heart would know when it was free from the fear and strife that mankind caused. Only then would mankind have learned enough to evolve into the next stage of its existence.

Suddenly, in the midst of this beautiful symphony, like a jarring wrong note, from high up in the sky, Captain Vanderdecker heard the whooshing of what first appeared to be a falling star, creating a dissonance as it whirled through the heavens. Standing up to get a better look, he saw it blazon with a fiery light through the night sky. Unsure of what he was seeing, he ran down into his cabin to find his spyglass.

Once back on deck, Captain Vanderdecker put the spyglass to his eye, and looking up, he saw a comet with a flaming tail soaring through the heavens. Then, almost in disbelief, he said aloud, “Despite waiting all these centuries, it seems to have come so suddenly.”

*

Prester John never gave thought to the passing of time. In his sacred kingdom, time mattered little, for he knew that everything happened in the time best suited for it, and so there could be no rushing, no hurrying of it, and certainly never any indication that it was too late—that not enough time remained to achieve whatever wanted achieving, for time was infinite, and hence, no need for worry of any sort existed.

Those who came to Prester John’s land to seek wisdom usually came believing time was their greatest enemy, for they had spent all their lives living by its dictates, and they had come to know it as a cruel taskmaster, even if only an illusory one, for humans were ever prone to creating unneeded worry and anxiety for themselves, especially in recent centuries as they invented clocks and timers with alarms and all manner of technological, digital, and electronic taskmasters to capture every second and turn it into profit, affixing a monetary value to it until they came to fear it in their mad rush to produce, produce, produce before it was too late—but too late for what?

When Prester John did think of such matters, he only chuckled, for he knew it was never too late. Still, he felt sorrow for the scurrying madness of the human race, so he rejoiced whenever someone came to his land; once arrived, his visitors would require several days before they were able to relax, to let time’s worry leave them, and once they did relax, they felt the freedom from time’s restraints to be a great relief and then even a joy.

On this particular day as he walked about his kingdom, Prester John was musing over time’s fallacy and reminding himself of the words he had once heard the Savior speak, “Look at the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor do they spin.” Was not all mankind’s toiling and spinning an effort to fight time, to prepare to have enough before it was too late? The Savior had told them to look at the birds and the beasts of the field and see how at peace they were with the earth, never worrying about the hour or day, but simply walking, running, eating when they felt the need, and not an hour or a minute before or after they so desired.

Prester John gazed out across the fields where he was walking, enjoying the solitariness of the moment, for at times he needed to distance himself from those he nourished when they came to his land, for he could still sense their internal anxiety and questioning as if they were bees buzzing beside his ear, and if he did not distance himself from it until it lessened, it could badly upset his spirit. He much preferred the calming presence of animals over humans, although it was the humans whom he was called to serve.

But now, as he sought out the peace of the beasts of the field, he was surprised to find the landscape before him very empty. Where was the lioness and her cubs that he had visited with for so many days past? And why were there no birds soaring through the air? And looking down to see whether the ants were at least about his feet—he often looked down to be sure not to harm anything—he saw the earth appeared to be bare of moving life. But then, unexpectedly, a field mouse scurried between his feet, and then another, and then two or three, and soon he found himself standing amid a stream of mice, many tumbling over his feet in their panic, but what had so frightened them?

Then like a bolt of lightning, the words that the Savior had once said about him to his friend Peter sprung to Prester John’s mind: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

*

Every day since she had become Lady of Avalon some fifteen centuries before, Morgana had looked into the Holy Pool after eating one of the Nuts of Knowledge from the Ancient Hazel that gave the gift of the sight. Some days she saw nothing of concern. Some days she saw the sorrows of mankind. Some days she saw acts of kindness. And now and then, she saw something that required her to take action. It had been several years now since she had been called upon to interfere in the ways of men. The final chapter before the epilogue of mankind’s history had been enacted when Lilith had departed the earth, and now there was only waiting to be done; Morgana knew not how many years she needed to wait, but she had learned patience after all this time.

And so Morgana had expected this day to be the same as any other—doubtless there was some minor squabble in the Middle East, but those squabbles were nothing like they had been years ago; not a bomb had gone off in years; there might be a fire in Montana or an earthquake in Japan, but those were not caused by humans, so they were of less concern to her; what did concern her had lessened in recent years, though she still found interest looking into the Holy Pool and viewing the increased acts of charity and kindness she saw being done since Lilith’s departure, and Morgana felt finally that the fruits of all of her and Merlin and their many compatriots’ works were ripening.

But when Morgana looked into the Holy Pool today, for the first time in many years, she found herself surprised. What she saw was something she had never seen before, and yet something she had always imagined someday seeing since first she had become Lady of Avalon. She watched, eyes wide, her senses more alert than ever before in her life, her whole being caught up in the drama about to be played out, and when she came out of the trance, she knew what she must do.

Through the air, on invisible and inaudible waves, save to the intended receiver, she sent the following message:

“Merlin, the time has come.”

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s LegacyMelusine’s GiftOgier’s PrayerLilith’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 historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

And yet another novel has been written featuring King Arthur’s children. This one focuses on the child from Welsh tradition, Amir or Amr, here named Amhar. He is one of the main characters in Aenghus Chisholme’s 2014 novel AD 517: Arthur the King.

AD 517: Arthur the King makes King Arthur’s son Amhar its hero.

Actually, two of Arthur’s children are in this novel. Amhar is the legitimate son of Arthur and Gwenhwyvar, and heir to the kingdom. Mordred is the illegitimate son of Arthur and Morgan. For most of the novel, Mordred is a bit in Amhar’s shadow, and the two act together, which is not surprising given that Amr’s story is one in which he is slain while fighting his father, and he may likely have inspired the development of Mordred’s role as the son who slays his father. (In the original Welsh legends, there’s no indication Mordred and Arthur are even related to one another. For more on the development of both of these children in early Welsh sources, see my book King Arthur’s Children.)

Aenghus Chisholme has previously written three other Arthurian novels, the stories of which are occasionally referenced in the novel, although AD 517: Arthur the King can be read as a stand-alone novel. Amhar appears in all of the earlier novels, but he is just an infant and small child in them and not a major character.

Before I describe the plot of AD 517: Arthur the King, I will give a spoiler alert here since it’s impossible to discuss this novel without giving away the ending.

The story begins with Arthur defeating the Saxons at Badon. He now rules more of Britain than any previous king. That said, he has not driven away all the invaders of Britain. The Saxons, Jutes, and Angles still exist on his shores. Arthur wants to rid the island of all these invaders, but his son Amhar is against this, trying to convince his father that many of them were born in Britain and are as much Britons as the Britons themselves. Arthur does not want to hear this and begins a program of ethnic cleansing that enrages Amhar. Arthur is upset by his son’s attitude, even though Gallahalt tries to explain to him that Amhar, who is twenty-five, is too young to remember the earlier years when war was necessary.

Meanwhile, a sorcerer named Ivorwulf has been spying on Arthur’s castle at Caerleon. Morgan eventually realizes this and warns Merlin. They decide they will kidnap Ivorwulf to prevent him from aiding their enemies. Ivorwulf is working for the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles, who are forming an alliance against Arthur. However, before Morgan and Merlin can get Ivorwulf back to Caerleon, they are themselves abducted by Nimue and other fairies. Ivorwulf manages to free them and tells Merlin and Morgan he realizes they must be allies against the fairies who are the true enemies of Briton. (There’s a lot of stuff about fairies in the book and how they can no longer reproduce because Christianity is weakening them. The fairy stuff was a bit much for me. I like a little magic in Arthurian novel, but these fairies were over the top, especially in their sexual appetites. A couple of sex scenes with fairies were nothing but erotica and too gratuitous in my opinion since they added hardly anything to the plot.)

Arthur continues his ethnic cleansing program. Amhar and Mordred decide to go to Camlann to rally the people to pledge their loyalty to Arthur and show they are true Britons, even though many of them are Saxons, Jutes, or Angles. Arthur accidentally learns of their plans and takes a troop to Camlann to punish them or at least quell their rebellion, as he sees it. Ivorwulf, Merlin, and Morgan accompany him. Ivorwulf is pretending to be on their side, but upon arrival at Camlann, he shows his true colors. Through various spells, Arthur and Mordred end up fighting each other, each thinking the other a Saxon. Of course, they kill each other and regret it when they realize what they have done.

As he is dying, Arthur then gives Excalibur to Amhar, making him king. Meanwhile, Ivorwulf reveals to Merlin and Morgan his plan not to betray the invader kings so he can become Caesar of Britain himself. Merlin and Morgan become prisoner to his spells, but in a last act of strength, they help Amhar defeat Ivorwulf.

Here is the most interesting part of the novel. Amhar is now King of Britain, but rather than stay king, he wants all people to live in freedom in Britain, so he abdicates and goes to live in Galloway. He gives Excalibur to Sir Pellus to return to Matrona, the Lady of the Lake.

The novel’s ending is idealistic, and while I sympathize with its message, I’m afraid it’s not very realistic. I’m left thinking Amhar a bit of a fool. After all, who ever heard of him? By abdicating, he leaves Britain ripe for chaos and the resulting Dark Ages.

I also find the date of the novel strange. Only probably a few months at most pass during the time of this novel. Camlann was fought in 537 or 539 traditionally, certainly not 517, which is a year after the traditional date of 516 for the Battle of Mount Badon.

Overall, AD 517: Arthur the King was a bit over the top for my tastes, but I did like the treatment of Amhar and Mordred and the twist on how Camlann happened. The book is a fast-paced read and never dull, although it has more typos than it should. Arthur is a bit too much of a hot-head, but that’s to be expected in a novel that tries to explain how his sons were not the villains history has made them out to be. Some of the scenes felt a bit pointless, especially Arthur’s showdown with a witch, which did nothing to advance the plot. Even so, it’s a fun read and does make you wonder yet again what really might have happened at Camlann.

Those interested in reading Aenghus Chisholme’s other Arthurian novels can visit his website at www.AenghusChisholme.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

Thomas Love Peacock was a writer of the Romantic Age known for his friendship with writers like Percy Bysshe Shelley and for books such as Nightmare Abbey (1818) a parody of Gothic novels. Being a lover of the Gothic, I read Nightmare Abbey many years ago, found its satire tedious, and never read another Peacock book until I heard that The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829) was an Arthurian novel.

An early edition of The Misfortunes of Elphin – note the peacock design – a tribute to the author’s name.

In fact, The Misfortunes of Elphin may be not only the first modern Arthurian novel but the first historical Arthurian novel, a designation that often goes to Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset (1963). Actually, several other authors wrote historical Arthurian novels in between, including William H. Babcock (Clan of the Chariots, 1898), W. Barnard Faraday (Pendragon, 1930), Edward Frankland (The Bear of Britain, 1944), and John Masefield (Badon Parchments, 1947), but it wasn’t until Sutcliff that a real effort to create a historically accurate Arthurian world became popular.

Regardless, Peacock is the first to make the effort, though that is not to say that he uses the same criteria a historical novelist would today, but nor does he set Arthur in a vague medieval period in England. Instead, he goes back to the Welsh legends to create an Arthurian world akin to what we find in the Mabinogion. Not until Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Coming of the King (1988) would another author try to be so loyal to the Welsh legends in his depiction of the Arthurian story. For that reason alone, I find The Misfortunes of Elphin remarkable.

I was also surprised that Peacock does not mock his subject matter but treats it sincerely. The only really flaw in his style is that in a few places he has digressions where he compares the past to the present, thus breaking the fictional spell for the reader. Unfortunately, the story itself is a bit weak and disjointed, but Peacock’s use of the Welsh Triads and other Welsh sources still makes it of interest to the student of Arthurian literature.

The story begins with Gwythno, King of Caredigion, who has working for him Seithenyn, Lord of the Embankment. Seithenyn is not good about maintaining the embankment and eventually it fails and causes the land to flood, leading to the destruction of Gwythno’s kingdom. Gwythno’s son, Elphin, tries to prevent this from happening, but he is too late. Nevertheless, he falls in love with Seithenyn’s daughter, Angrahad, when he goes to speak with her father. Both Gwythno and Seithenyn feature in Welsh tradition (although Jenifer Westwood in Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain suggests that Gwythno is really Edward I “Longshanks”).

“She gave him a supper” an illustration from the novel. The scene shows a trick played by Angrahad to deceive Maelgon’s man into thinking she is not as virtuous as Elphin claims.

Living in new quarters because Gwythno’s castle has basically been destroyed—Elphin and Angrahad marry and Gwythno goes to live with them. After the destruction of the kingdom by the flooding, Elphin is reduced to fishing for a livelihood to feed his family. One day he rescues from the water the baby Taliesin, who will grow up to become a great bard. Elphin regrets rescuing the child because now there will be another mouth to feed, but Taliesin, who can talk as a baby, tells him someday he will rejoice for having done it. The rest of the novel shows why Taliesin is of value to the family.

One day, Maelgon, a neighboring king, raids the land but pretends to be a guest to Elphin. He then invites Elphin to his castle, but when Elphin returns the visit, trouble ensues when they argue over whose wife is better. In the end, Maelgon imprisons Elphin. By now, Taliesin is grown up. He goes to King Arthur, who is overlord of Britain, to ask for help to rescue Elphin, but Arthur has troubles of his own—Gwenyvar has been captured by Melvas. Taliesin aids Arthur in helping to negotiate Gwenyvar’s release. In exchange, Arthur then helps to free Elphin. All ends well, of course, and even Taliesin finds love to add to the happy ending.

For me, one of the most fascinating parts of the book is that Gwenvach is a character in the novel. She is Gwenyvar’s half-sister and Mordred’s wife in the novel. She makes a remark after Gwenyvar is rescued that suggests Gwenyvar was not virtuous while Melvas’ captive. As a result, Gwenyvar slaps her, which Peacock says is one of the Three Fatal Slaps that caused the battle of Camlann since it increased the enmity between Arthur and Mordred. I love this inclusion of Gwenvach because in my own Children of Arthur series, Gwenvach is the primary villain, also based on this statement from the Welsh Triads, although I spell her name Gwenhwyvach. Peacock is digging for legitimate legends here and not just making up his storyline like too many modern Arthurian novelists. Another scene refers to one of the Three Chaste Kisses of Britain, a kiss given by Taliesin.

It’s also noteworthy that Peacock intersperses a lot of poetry throughout the novel. It is not great poetry, and most of it is sung by Taliesin, including a song of Ceridwen’s Cauldron. The poetry takes up a huge portion of the book and acts like filler for the undeveloped plot. It largely reminded me of opera, with a little plot, and then a bunch of songs that don’t really advance the plot, but it is an interesting mix of poetry and storyline anyway, and also a bit reminiscent of Mrs. Radcliffe’s use of poetry in her novels. Peacock was just as well known for his poetry as his novels, and he had already published a longer Arthurian poem, “The Round Table, or King Arthur’s Feast” (1817) in which King Arthur is in Avalon and Merlin allows him to view all the monarchs who have sat on his throne up to the time of George III. The poem can be read online at: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/peacock-round-table.

Thomas Love Peacock, known today chiefly as a satirist and friend to Percy Shelley.

Ultimately, Peacock ends up being a mediocre poet and a mediocre novelist, but his writing is not completely without interest. The Misfortunes of Elphin is not a masterly novel, even though some critics have said it is Peacock’s best. I can’t say it has made me eager to read more of Peacock, but I think it a remarkable novel nonetheless for its early treatment of Welsh legends. It may seem surprising to us that it gives such a historical treatment to the Arthurian legend, considering no other writer will do so for another 130 years; however, it really isn’t that surprising given that Peacock was writing in the age of Sir Walter Scott, the great antiquary who not only wrote some of the first and most popular historical novels but collected ballads and legend and folklore, and so Peacock is following in his footsteps. It also predates the popular translations of the Mabinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest (1838-1845), which shows Peacock likely read the early Pughe translations of 1795 and 1821 and early translations of the Welsh Triads by Iolo Morganwg published in 1801-1807. The Misfortunes of Elphin, then, is very much an Arthurian novel ahead of its time and yet of its time as ancient Welsh literature was being rediscovered in the early nineteenth century.

(Note, I am indebted to Howard Wiseman for providing me with the list of early writers of historical Arthurian novels between Peacock and Sutcliff.)

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

Donna Hosie’s novel Quest of the Artisan (2015) is the second installment in the Children of Camelot series, following The Ring of Morgana previously reviewed on this blog.

King Arthur’s modern-day daughter and her boyfriend have adventures in this second volume of the Children of Camelot series.

At the end of The Ring of Morgana, Rustin had returned to medieval Logres where he wanted to become an artisan and build a cathedral. Meanwhile, his best friend, Mila, the daughter of King Arthur, had remained in the twenty-first century, but in the final pages, Melehan, the son of Mordred, had found her in Wales to tell her of the recent happenings in Camelot. Little did Mila know Melehan was tricking her into captivity.

Quest of the Artisan opens with Rustin and the rest of the court at Camelot awaiting the Round Table to announce who the next Knight of the Round Table will be. Of course, they are shocked when Melehan is named. They are more shocked when not long after they are attacked by the Undead, raised up by a necromancer, who ultimately turns out to be Melehan. (Spoiler alert coming.)

Melehan, however, is intent on destroying the Round Table. Rustin, Mila, and several other knights, including Galahad, and the modern-day James set out to stop him. However, when they are attacked by his army of the Undead, Rustin is wounded and becomes ill from the Undead’s poison having gotten into him. The only way he can be rescued is if he drinks from a healing cup.

That cup turns out to belong to the Fisher King and be the Holy Grail. The catch is that if Rustin drinks from the cup, he must take the Fisher King’s place. He will also never be able to have children. (The Fisher King is traditionally wounded and impotent.) However, life is better than death so Rustin and his companions set out to achieve the Grail, which includes seven tests they must face. During this process, they enter a cave and Mila falls off a cliff. Melehan is manipulating events and manages to capture Mila and now holds her hostage. Eventually, Rustin confronts Melehan, who refuses to tell him where Mila is, and explains his evil plan—he will kill King Arthur, marry Mila, and become King of Logres.

Rustin refuses to let Melehan succeed. Eventually, Rustin and his friends achieve the Grail (although they realize in achieving it they have also been manipulated by Galahad who has his own reasons for wanting to achieve it—so he can become a Knight of the Round Table.) Once Rustin achieves the Grail, he is crowned as the new Fisher King. (There’s a line here “You have chosen wisely” when he achieves the cup that is an obvious nod to the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which Indiana Jones seeks the Holy Grail.) Rustin will now also end up living in the Fisher King’s castle, and he realizes from looking at maps that belonged to Pelles, his predecessor, that the castle exists in Wales on the same land where in the twenty-first century his village will exist. His role as artisan (woodworker) is now finally revealed also because he decides to build a temple that will one day be the foundation for the twenty-first century church.

But before Rustin can build his temple, he still has to defeat Melehan and save Mila. Of course, this is achieved, but I won’t describe how. However, once Melehan is defeated, everyone recalls how he was the son of the evil Mordred, who was Gareth’s half-brother and “illegitimate or something” (which I suspect means Mordred’s father is not Gareth’s. Who Mordred’s father is does not get revealed here, and I haven’t read Hosie’s The Return to Camelot trilogy that preceded this series, so I’m not sure if Mordred was Arthur’s son in Hosie’s works or not, but if so, Melehan was Arthur’s grandson and technically Mila’s nephew, which would mean incest anyway if they had married.)

A definite love interest exists between Mila and Rustin in this novel, but at the end, Rustin will live in the Fisher King’s castle while Mila will live at Camelot. We are left wondering whether they will ever end up together.

One additional item of interest in this novel is that a modern-day character, James, also has traveled back in time to Camelot, and he develops a crush on Sir Galahad. Galahad seems to encourage his advances as a way to get what he wants, although ultimately James’ love for him is unrequited. James can now be added to what is becoming quite a lengthy list of gay characters in Arthurian literature. (See my previous blog on The Gay Arthurian Tradition.) It will be interesting to see whether James finds love in a future novel in the series. It is also interesting that this series is for young adults yet includes a gay character, something that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago. Kudos to Hosie for not shying away from what is human nature.

I can only guess what a third novel in the series will be like since Hosie has not published one yet. When Quest of the Artisan was published in 2015, Hosie had only published the first of her The Devil’s series and now the fourth book in that series is out, so one has to wonder whether she’s abandoned interest in writing a third Children of Camelot book to write other books, but if so, I hope she’ll reconsider. I want to see Rustin and Mila get married and give King Arthur grandchildren before the series ends. Of course, Rustin cannot have children now that he is the Fisher King, but I imagine Hosie, if she writes a sequel, will find a way to get around that problem. Long live King Arthur’s descendants!

For more information about Donna Hosie and her Arthurian books, visit http://donnahosie.wixsite.com/website

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

At last, Cheryl Carpinello has published her long-awaited Guinevere: At the Dawn of Legend—Book Two, and it ends with a cliffhanger, suggesting yet another book will follow.

The first book in the series was charming, complete with a unicorn and Merlyn, but this second book shows us just how much Guinevere is growing up quickly due to the situations surrounding her. When the first book ended, Guinevere was affianced to King Arthur, though still just a girl. Arthur is himself new to the throne and seeking to make alliances, hence his desire to wed Guinevere, but Guinevere has more important concerns.

As this second novel opens, Guinevere and her best friend, the almost-eleven-year-old boy, Cedwyn, decide to leave their home at Cadbury Castle on their own and go visit the Wizards’ Stones. While they know the adults wouldn’t want them to leave, they are anxious to see the stones that Merlyn had told them about. It sounds like a fun afternoon adventure, but it quickly turns into more when an ancient goddess appears and utters a prophecy about the two young friends’ futures.

The prophecy has barely ended before Cedwyn and Guinevere hear strange sounds, and spooked, they ride to a nearby monastery to seek shelter. There they learn some renegades are out to kidnap Guinevere, and fearing the monastery will be attacked, they flee again, but once they feel it is safe, they return, only to discover the monastery destroyed. By the time they return home to the castle, it has also been sacked. The renegades were searching for Guinevere, but since they couldn’t capture her, they decided not to leave empty-handed, so they kidnapped several children.

I don’t want to say more and spoil all the fun of reading this book. I’ll just say there is plenty more adventure, but what I most appreciate are the story’s pacing and the care Carpinello takes with her two main characters. They are children, they are having adventures, but they feel like real people, frightened, trying to do what is right in the face of danger, and they are also headstrong, not always believing that the adults know what is the right thing to do so sometimes they have to act on their own. They are heroic children with all the idealism and foolhardiness that come with first adventures.

Anyone who enjoyed the first book in this series will equally enjoy the second and look forward to the third. The characters are well-drawn and realistic, the events plausible, and the story well-plotted. I’m eager to read the next book and see Guinevere grow up a little more and mature into a queen worthy to sit at King Arthur’s side.

Cheryl Carpinello is also the author of a non-related young adult Arthurian novel, The King’s Ransom (Young Knights of the Round Table), as well as Sons of the Sphinx and Tutankhamen Speaks. To learn more about her and her books, visit www.beyondtodayeducator.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 the upcoming 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 historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.