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Archive for February, 2011

The recent film The Eagle raises many interesting questions about how we are to interpret it, and perhaps best of all, it provides a glimpse into Roman Britain and the outlying territories above Hadrian’s Wall that I haven’t seen depicted previously in film. While the film depicts Britain in the mid-second century, about three centuries before the time of King Arthur, it provides a fascinating look into the Britain the Romans would have experienced.

The movie is based upon the book The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) by Rosemary Sutcliff, best known to Arthurian enthusiasts as the author of Sword at Sunset (1963), the first Arthurian novel to have treated King Arthur from a historically accurate perspective. Sword at Sunset is also part of the Eagle of the Ninth book series, all connected by the Aquila Family dolphin ring, although Sword at Sunset is only very loosely connected.

The film and book’s main character, Marcus, is a Roman soldier stationed in Britain who wants to know what became of his father, who led the Ninth Legion beyond Hadrian’s Wall. The legion was never heard from again, but Marcus hears rumors that the Eagle standard of the legion has been seen north of the wall and is being used in pagan ceremonies.

Of course, Marcus wants to know what became of his father and to reclaim the Eagle. I won’t give away any more of the plot. What interests me is how Marcus is the commander of a fort that is attacked by the local Britons, who yell about how the Romans have raped their daughters and stolen their land. Marcus never for a second considers that Rome is at fault. He simply does his duty as a Roman soldier. Later, on his quest to regain the Eagle, Marcus is accompanied by Esca, a slave and the son to the late King of the Brigantes. Marcus’ uncle warns him that Esca is a Briton so he will betray him on the journey, but Marcus has Esca accompany him anyway and Esca appears loyal, at least at first. Later, the two will encounter the Seal people, a term Sutcliff uses in her novel.

What is fascinating about the film is the depiction of the local Britons. The Seal people are fictional largely because so little is known about the local people of Britain in Roman times, who were mostly Celts and Picts. Wikipedia does a good job of discussing the film and the issues with depicting the native people at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eagle_(2011_film) The confusion and difficulties of pinning down the Celtic peoples of Great Britain is understandable, considering how many different tribes there were as evidenced in the list at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Celtic_tribes#Great_Britain

I admit I haven’t read the novel, which was actually written for children, but the film definitely made me want to read the entire series and reread Sword at Sunset. I was surprised by the film’s lack of a politically correct or multicultural message—I don’t expect a book written in 1954 would have a politically correct tone, however, so perhaps the filmmakers decided to be true to the book. In any case, Marcus never thinks that he or Rome is in the wrong for how they have treated the native peoples of Britain. Although Marcus and Esca become friends of a sort, and Marcus does save Esca’s life early in the film, otherwise he does not show any great tendency to be sympathetic toward those who were conquered, and he is not in any way a dynamic character who has a new understanding about the situation in Britain.

Equally fascinating is the depiction of the native peoples. It is difficult to imagine such a “primitive” way of life as they experience compared to Rome, which we can perhaps more closely relate to. And I know “primitive” is a judgmental term, but their life is so vastly remote from ours today. In truth, my sympathies lay more with the native Britons who have been conquered and even betrayed by their own people. Of course, you don’t want Marcus or Esca to be killed, but I found it difficult to have my sympathies with them.

In the end, I wasn’t sure how to feel. It was more an interesting look into the mind of a Roman than one where I could identify with any character, and in that way, because I had no emotional reaction to the film, I felt like it somewhat failed to do its job.

It would be interesting to read all of Sutcliff’s series and how the stories link to Arthur, who is more Roman than Briton in most versions of the legend. In a film adaptation, one would expect a more politically correct and sympathetic view of the native Britons, but at the same time, perhaps I appreciate the film more for not taking that route which would be a modern twist and not one Marcus or the Romans themselves probably would have considered taking.

The Eagle may not be a perfect film, but the actors do an excellent job; both actors playing Marcus and Esca are completely believable in their roles; whatever faults the film has are due to the screenplay, or perhaps the original novel. The story opens up many questions about right and wrong while creating an imaginative, yet as historical as possible, depiction of what second century Britain may have been like. Altogether I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and remain with mixed feelings about it.

If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, I’d love to hear your comments.

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

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Check out my recent interview with Irene Watson at Inside Scoop:

http://insidescooplive.com/author-pages/Tichelaar-Tyler_King_Arthurs_Children.html

Topics of conversation:

  • Is King Arthur folklore, legend, or did he exist?
  • What is significant about whether King Arthur had children?
  • Genealogical aspects of King Arthur and his descendants
  • Current royal family links to King Arthur through his children
  • Arthurian society compared to current society

After earning a Ph.D. in British literature, Tyler R. Tichelaar began writing and publishing a series of historical novels including “The Marquette Trilogy” and “Narrow Lives,” which won the Reader Views Literary Choice award for best historical fiction for 2008. These novels are family saga type pioneer stories about the growth of America and specifically the town of Marquette, Michigan. Tyler’s interest in genealogy has inspired his novels and his study into the Arthurian legend. He first fell in love with the legend when he was fourteen and read “The Boy’s King Arthur” by Sidney Lanier with N.C. Wyeth’s marvelous illustrations. His reading of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon” made him begin to see the fictional possibilities in the story beyond simply retelling it and inspired him to write his own fiction about King Arthur.

Tyler’s newest book “King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition” is a scholarly work that explores treatments of King Arthur’s children from the Middle Ages to twenty-first century novels, including claims by several families to be King Arthur’s descendants, a claim that if true, Tyler can claim for himself. He is currently working on a novel about King Arthur.

King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D.
Modern History Press (2011)
ISBN 9781615990665
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (2/11)

Read interview with author on ReaderViews.com

Read the review on ReaderViews.com

Synopsis: Did you know King Arthur had many other children besides Mordred? Depending on which version of the legend you read, he had both sons and daughters, some of whom even survived him. From the ancient tale of Gwydre, the son who was gored to death by a boar, to Scottish traditions of Mordred as a beloved king, Tyler R. Tichelaar has studied all the references to King Arthur’s children to show how they shed light upon a legend that has intrigued us for fifteen centuries.

King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition is the first full length analysis of every known treatment of King Arthur’s children, from Welsh legends and French romances, to Scottish genealogies and modern novels by such authors as Parke Godwin, Stephen Lawhead, Debra Kemp, and Elizabeth Wein. King Arthur’s Children explores an often overlooked theme in Arthurian literature and reveals King Arthur’s bloodline may still
exist today.

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

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King Arthur’s Children has only been out for a couple of weeks and already it is getting great publicity.

Cheryl Carpinello, author of Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend, wrote a glowing review of it that you can read at Superior Book Promotions.

Reader Views wrote a really raving review, viewable here. I also was interviewed by Reader Views. You can read the interview at their website Reader Views.

I am still seeking reviewers for the book so if you are a reviewer or blogger about anything Arthurian, please let me know.

Keep the Dream of Camelot Alive!

Tyler Tichelaar

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

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The Kingmaking: Book One of The Pendragon Banner’s Trilogy by Helen Hollick (published by Sourcebooks Landmark 2011; ISBN 978-1402218880). Available at Amazon.

Somehow in writing King Arthur’s Children, I overlooked Helen Hollick’s The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. I would like to remedy that by discussing each of the books in the trilogy in separate blogs, beginning here with the first book The Kingmaking.

Modern Arthurian novels can be divided up between those that seek to be truly historical and those that are vaguely historical with fantasy elements. Hollick’s retelling is purely historical. There is no Merlin and no magic in this book, and the same is true of the succeeding two books.

The Kingmaking begins with Vortigern ruling Britain and Uthr Pendragon seeking to overthrow him. When Uthr is killed, Arthur eventually takes his place and the rest of the story will ultimately lead to the event of the book’s title. Anyone who reads an Arthurian novel basically knows what’s going to happen since there is a general structure to the legend that influences all modern fiction writers of Arthurian lore, but the legend has room to stretch and Hollick does her fair share of stretching within the legend’s boundaries while retaining her historical focus on what may have been likely to happen, much of it based in historical research and theories by Arthurian scholars.

One interesting change Hollick makes centers around Morgause’s role in the novel. Uthr is married to Morgause’s sister Igraine, but Morgause is Uthr’s mistress on the side. Morgause has had many daughters by Uthr but she has always exposed them to die. Morgause despises Arthur, not realizing until Uthr has died that he is Uthr’s son, but thinking he is only Uthr’s bastard-born nephew. Morgause’s hatred for Arthur causes her later to attack him sexually. The result is not quite what readers might expect, but it deeply shapes Arthur’s future character.

Arthur later admits that his disgust over what Morgause did to him has resulted in how he mistreats women. He is not a gentle man, but rather one who takes women whenever he chooses, determined not to let them exert any feminine power over him. He impregnates a slave girl (p. 160), and he later says he knows he has many bastard daughters (p. 220). Arthur ends up marrying Vortigern’s daughter, Winifred, as a political alliance, and by her he has a sickly daughter who dies soon after birth (p.313). Arthur, however, hates Winifred and is in love with Gwenhwyfar throughout the book.

Eventually, Vortigern dies and his son Vortimer assumes the kingship, but Arthur is on the road to gaining it for himself. During this time, he abandons Winifred and marries Gwenhwyfar. Both women then have sons by him. Gwenhwyfar’s son Llacheu is born first (but in what we would call a bigamist marriage today) while Winifred’s son Cerdic is born a few weeks later. Both women want to see their own sons acknowledged as Arthur’s heir. Winifred threatens to complain to the Pope to make sure Cerdic is acknowledged, but Winifred is half-Saex (Vortigern’s wife Rowena had been the daughter of the Saex leader Hengest) while Llacheu is fully British born. Arthur is disgusted at the thought of having a partially Saex child and lets Winifred know the British people will rally around Llacheu when the time comes.

That Arthur should have sons is unusual but not a new idea as I’ve shown throughout King Arthur’s Children. Llacheu is a traditional son of Arthur in the early Welsh legends and is usually attributed to being Gwenhwyfar’s son as well. More surprising is that Cerdic is credited as Arthur’s son. Hollick, in her “Author’s Note,” states that she is not the first to suggest Cerdic (who is a historical King of the Saxons) was Arthur’s son, but I believe she is the first novelist to do so. The idea was originally suggested by Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe in The Discovery of King Arthur (1985). [see the family tree for Ashe’s theory at http://www.childrenofarthur.com/. Finally, years after Morgause sexually forced herself upon Arthur, she is revealed to have had a daughter named Morgaine. Hollick does not reveal whether the daughter is Uthr or Arthur’s, but it’s a good bet it is Arthur’s daughter considering she exposed her other daughters. While Morgaine is a girl and not likely to inherit the throne, no doubt Morgause has kept her alive to serve as a way to hurt Arthur down the road. (Having not yet read the second book in the series, at this point I am pondering whether Morgaine is really a he and the future Mordred while Morgause is hiding the child’s sex while biding her time. My discussion of the next two books will reveal the details.)

While I was a bit put off by Hollick’s writing style, primarily the way she uses verbs in her sentences, I did find The Kingmaking to be entertaining reading, both for its depictions of Arthur’s children as well as the rather brutal and rough Arthur. I did not find Arthur likeable, but I did like Gwenhwyfar, and I am curious to see how the story will turn out. In her “Author’s Note,” Hollick states that because Lancelot and Merlin were the creations of later twelfth century Norman romancers, readers will not find them in her books since she wants to provide a historical portrait of what could have actually happened. While Merlin was actually established in Welsh tradition so I don’t understand this reasoning (other than perhaps Hollick saw no use for Merlin in a historical rather than fantasy novel), if there is to be no Lancelot, then I am curious to see how Camelot’s fall will be brought about. Will Gwenhwyfar find herself another lover, or will Morgause’s plotting be sufficient to bring about Arthur’s downfall? It’s on to reading Book II: Pendragon’s Banner to find out.

For more information about Helen Hollick and her Arthurian novels, visit www.HelenHollick.net

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

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