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Archive for March, 2011

This final volume of Helen Hollick’s trilogy took me a little while to get into, and I thought it dragged a bit in the middle, but while reading the last couple of hundred pages, I didn’t want to put it down as I waited to find out how it would all turn out, and despite my not being crazy about the writing style, overall, I felt satisfied with the ending, and it certainly fulfilled my interest in depictions of King Arthur’s children.

When the previous volume, Pendragon’s Banner, ended, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s three sons were all dead but Gwenhwyfar was pregnant. When this novel opens, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar have a little girl, Archfedd.

Arthur has two other children (not counting all the bastards he apparently has who don’t figure in the story): Medraut, who lives with his mother, Morgaine, and is just a small child; and Cerdic, son to Winifred (Arthur’s divorced first wife), who is entering his teen years.

Arthur goes to Gaul to fight for Rome, and in the process, gets involved with a woman named Mathild. He is then believed to have been killed in battle, and his own men believe him dead, but some women realize the king is still breathing so they bring him to Morgaine, who cares for him but then also drugs him so he stays with her. Arthur has no desire to leave her anyway because just before his battle, he had heard in a letter from his uncle Ambrosius that Gwenhyyfar had died. He doesn’t know that Gwenhwyfar recovered from her illness, so his spirit is broken and he has no desire to return to Britain to reclaim his throne. Everyone in Britain assumes he has died and Ambrosius rules the country now.

Meanwhile, Mathild, whom Arthur had an affair with, returns to Britain and immediately marries Arthur’s son, Cerdic. She soon after has a child named Cynric, whom it is believed is really Arthur’s, not Cerdic’s. When Cerdic’s mother, Winifred, accuses Mathild of the child being Arthur’s and not Cerdic’s, Mathild reveals that Arthur is not dead. This news spreads to Gwenhwyfar, who travels to Gaul to find her husband and try to understand why he has never returned to Britain. She, in the meanwhile, has taken Bedwyr as her lover because she has believed Arthur to be dead.

This section of the story where Arthur doesn’t return home and they search for him drags on for a couple of hundred pages, and although it is revealed Morgaine is drugging Arthur, I still found it hard to understand why he has no desire to return home. Of course, once Arthur and Gwenhwyfar meet, he decides to return to Britain and being king, taking his son Medraut with him.

What interested me from this point was how everything would turn out and whether Arthur’s children would outlive and succeed him. Cerdic has by this time turned against Arthur and they end up waging war against each other. Meanwhile, Archfedd taunts Medraut that he will never be king, and even when he marries, he doesn’t have any children. Archfedd marries a man named Natanlius, by whom she has first a son named Constantine and then other children. While the text doesn’t state so at the end, obviously Constantine is the successor taken from most endings of the story although his role is never stated to be significant in this novel.

Meanwhile, Cynric also grows up and has three bastard daughters as well as a wife who gets pregnant. He and Cerdic have a falling out in regards to waging war on Arthur, but nevertheless, it is obvious that Hollick intends them to be depictions of the historical Cerdic and Cynric, founders of the royal house of Wessex.

Hollick ends the novel with a Battle of Camlann. While she changes around some things, in the end, Arthur dies and his descendants do live on. (I have left out a lot of the story details here so as not to give it all away but simply to discuss how Hollick treats Arthur’s children.)

Significantly, this novel makes Arthur’s descendants the future royalty of England. The royal family of England has, at least since the twelfth century, tried to claim descent from King Arthur (I have an entire chapter about these claims in my book King Arthur’s Children). Geoffrey Ashe proposed more than a quarter century ago that Cerdic might be the son of Arthur-Riothamus (a contender for the historical King Arthur). Cerdic’s Celtic rather than Saxon name has been a reason for such suggestions. Cerdic doesn’t appear in the early versions of the legend, but he is of the correct historical period so such suggestions are plausible. Hollick is the first novelist to take these suggestions and apply them to her fiction.

Because King Arthur’s descendants become the established royal family of Britain, I think Hollick’s trilogy is significant for that reason. In addition, while I didn’t care for the writing style, the characters are quite interesting and well-developed. Hollick’s versions of Winifred and Cerdic are two of the strongest villains I have encountered in Arthurian literature, and while Arthur is not very likeable—really Gwenhwyfar was the only character in all the books I did like—she creates some very interesting characters and twists upon traditional characters. It probably isn’t a series I would read again, but it is worth reading.

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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Pendragon’s Banner: Book Two of The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy by Helen Hollick

(published by Sourcebooks Landmark 2009; ISBN 978-1402218897)

In this second volume of The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, Helen Hollick continues her historical portrayal of the Arthurian legend. Arthur is now firmly established as King of Britain, although he has plenty of opposition, including his ex-wife Winifred, who seeks what is best for her son by him, Cerdic, as well as his own people who oppose his making peace with various of the Saxon peoples.

But in my interest in how modern fiction writers treat King Arthur’s children, I think the results here are fairly predictable for his children based on Welsh tradition, all of whom are Arthur’s children by Gwenhywfar in this novel, namely Gwydre, Amr, and Llacheu. Hollick, following their traditional stories, more or less, has each of them die before Arthur.

In legend, Amr usually dies in battle with Arthur—he is believed to have been the original version of Mordred, but Hollick has other plans for Mordred, named “Medraut” in her story, she can’t allow Amr to have the same ending as Medraut so she has him fall into the river and drown when he’s about two years old (p. 98-102). Amr’s death causes hostility between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, who blames Arthur for not watching him closely.

During Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s time fighting following Amr’s death, Arthur ends up bedding his cousin, Elen, the daughter of one of Uthr’s sisters. She is demanding and manipulative and claims she is pregnant with Arthur’s child. She also wants more from him than just a fling on the side. When they have a disagreement, Elen pulls a knife on Arthur, resulting in his kicking her in the stomach in defense. It’s unclear whether he’s caused her to miscarry their child, and if so whether intentionally, but it does not matter since she becomes despondent and soon after slips off a cliff. However, as I said in my earlier blog about The Kingmaking, Hollick’s Arthur has few if any qualities that make him likeable.

Arthur and Gwenhwyfar soon after reconcile, but then she loses a son of Arthur’s in childbirth.

The fate of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s sons continues to be ill. When Hueil of Alclud, a lover to Morgause, accuses Gwenhwyfar and Bedwyr of adultery, Arthur does battle with Hueil, and in the battle, Llacheu is accidentally stabbed by Hueil. He manages to recover, but soon after eight-year old Gwydre is gored to death during a boar hunt, leaving only Llacheu alive of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children.

When Llacheu becomes deathly ill, Arthur seeks out the Lady of the Lake, Morgaine, desperate not to lose his and Gwenhwyfar’s last son. Morgaine uses her skills to keep the child alive, but Arthur has no idea she is Morgause’s daughter, or that Morgause has ordered her to hurt Arthur. Neither Morgaine nor Arthur know she is also Uthr’s daughter, and therefore, Arthur’s half-sister. Morgaine tells Arthur her mother orders her to sleep with him, although Arthur interprets what she says to mean the Mother Goddess. They sleep together and Morgaine soon after gives birth to Medraut.

Despite Arthur’s bargain with Morgaine, Llacheu ends up being killed in battle when Morgause is involved in a plot to overthrow Arthur. The novel ends with all of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children dead, but Gwenhwyfar pregnant.

Arthur is left with two living sons, Cerdic, by his first wife, Winifred, and Medraut, by his half-sister Morgaine.

Doubtless, Medraut will be a key player, and perhaps the traditional villain in the final book of the trilogy Shadow of the King, but what about Cerdic? My guess is he’ll end up ruling the kingdom when all is said and done and being ancestor to the Wessex royalty that will eventually rule all of England, but I’ll have to read the third book to find out how it all actually turns 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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Debra Kemp, author of The House of Pendragon series is one of the many modern novelists creating children for King Arthur. Here is my discussion of her work from my book King Arthur’s Children:

Debra Kemp took the idea of King Arthur’s daughter to new lengths by beginning her The House of Pendragon series. So far, two of the three novels of the series have been published, The Firebrand (2003) and The Recruit (2007).

            While Vera Chapman’s King Arthur’s Daughter first covered this territory, Kemp is far more detailed in her imagining of a daughter for Arthur. Some of the first novel’s suspense is lost because we know from the back cover, and the frame of the novel, that Lin is King Arthur’s daughter, although she does not know this herself. Lin was kidnapped at an early age by Arthur’s sister, Morgause, and it was believed the boat she was on, enroute to the Orkney Isles, had sunk and she had died. Actually, Morgause had taken her to Orkney and made her a slave. Lin grows up believing she is the daughter of a slave woman, and except for the kindness of her foster-brother David and a few of the other slaves, she knows a life of relentless hardship. When Prince Modred decides specifically to torture her and make her his plaything, her life becomes nearly unbearable, yet Lin is of iron nature, so she refuses to give up until finally she learns the truth of her heritage.

            Debra Kemp continues the story of Princess Lin in The Recruit. Here Lin comes to Camelot to find she is expected by her mother, Guinevere, to act like the perfect lady, learning to sew, and to prepare herself for a dynastic marriage that will provide stability to the kingdom. Lin will have none of it. After some initial struggles with her mother, Lin convinces her father, King Arthur, to let her join the army. She becomes “the recruit” and proves herself capable of serving as well as any man in the army. From barroom brawls to guard duty, Lin continually proves herself as worthy of her sire.

            What I actually find most interesting about these two novels is the frame that surrounds them. Kemp begins the first novel with Lin speaking just after the Battle of Camlann and the death of Arthur and Modred. There is no prophecy here that Arthur will come again, but rather Lin pretends Arthur will return to keep up the hope of the people. Then the book shifts forward a number of years; Lin is married to Gaheris and has been raising her family, not revealing to her own children that they are the Pendragon’s grandchildren. She has journeyed back to Camelot now and is considering taking back reign over the kingdom. It is then that she tells her story to her oldest son, technically named Arthur, but called Bear by the family. She tells her son of her days as a slave in Orkney and how she found out she is King Arthur’s daughter. The frame also makes it clear that Lin will become a great warrior.

            Kemp is currently working on the third and final volume of the series. I am curious whether, besides depicting the events that lead up to the fall of Camelot and the Battle of Camlann, Kemp will show Lin’s life in more detail after the Battle of Camlann—will Lin establish a united kingdom again? Will the story of Camelot have a new ending?

For more about Debra Kemp and The House of Pendragon series, visit her on Facebook and her website at: http://www.telltalepress.com/debrakemp.html

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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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