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Archive for November, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recently, Dane Pestano, author of King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition was kind enough to write a review of my book King Arthur’s Children on his blog at: http://darkagehistory.blogspot.com/2011/11/book-review-king-arthurs-children.html. I felt honored to have such a scholar read my book, and I wish to return the favor by reviewing his book.

And I’m glad I did because King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition is an impressive and insightful look into the possibility that the legend of King Arthur may be rooted in that of a historical Irish king. I am completely impressed with the extensive research Pestano did to write this book—in his short bio in the back of the book, Pestano states that he spent four years researching this topic, and while I don’t feel qualified to comment on all of his research, I could easily follow the argument and he has me fairly convinced by all the supporting evidence he finds.

Pestano begins by discussing the evolution of the Arthurian legend in early written texts including the Historia Brittonum from 829 AD that first mentions Arthur and his Twelve Battles, the 10th century Gododdin, and the Vita Goeznovius, circa 1016, which first mentions Arthur’s kingship and conquest of Gaul. All these works predate Geoffrey of Monmouth’s important History of the Kings of Britain from the twelfth century. But they are all three centuries or later from Arthur’s actual timeframe of the early sixth century. Pestano thinks the answers to the historical Arthur may lie in Irish literature and history, and after discussing scholars who have dismissed Ireland as offering anything in the search for the historical Arthur, he states that the Irish had their own Arthur but by a different name so his identity has lain hidden. This Arthur actually fits into the timeframe for Arthur better than any other candidate offered so far.

Who is this Irish Arthur? Pestano points out that there are possibly some blended versions of this man, but he believes it to be Muircertach Mac Erca, who was the first Christian King of Ireland and reigned from about 510-537. Not only does Mac Erca’s timeframe fit perfectly with Arthur’s dates, but he has many other similarities, including that he was said to have conquered Britain and Gaul, and that he was fostered by a Druid. His wife also has a name that would match Arthur’s wife as the Welsh equivalent. Furthermore, he is provided with a threefold death which Pestano suggests was Christianized into the Fortune’s Wheel dream that appears in well known Arthurian texts.

Pestano’s research is very extensive, and I admit I had a bit of a hard time following it at times because most of the texts and people he discusses are unfamiliar to me, but those are shortcomings on my own part and the book’s organization is overall clear.

In my continual interest in King Arthur’s children, I found a couple of things particularly interesting in the book. Pestano mentions Mac Erca’s children, including Baedan, whose descendants were rulers of Saxon Northumbria, via his second wife, the daughter of Clovis of France. Therefore, if Mac Erca is the real King Arthur, his descendants did live on to the present day through Northumbrian royalty. Pestano also refers to Baedo, whom the Spanish say was King Arthur’s daughter, a reference to a child of Arthur’s whom I missed in writing King Arthur’s Children.

But I was most excited by research revealing that Mac Erca had a son whom Pestano says was Constantine, the heir to Arthur in the Arthurian legend. Interestingly, Constantine’s mother was the daughter to Clovis, King of the Franks, who when baptized was called the “new Constantine” which explains the origin for Constantine’s name, and more importantly, solves the longtime riddle of why Constantine ended up inheriting the kingdom upon Arthur’s death—because he was Arthur’s (Mac Erca’s) son.

I admit I have not read all the theories for different candidates of the historical Arthur, but most that I have heard about do not fit into the timeframe for Arthur but are several years away from it, before or after. Therefore, Pestano’s theories bear further looking into. Fortunately, he is planning to produce a longer work on the subject, while this work is to introduce the information and provide a basic life of Mac Erca and the supporting texts.

Overall, I highly recommend the book. My only criticisms stem from reading the Kindle version; I’m still getting used to the Kindle reader and dislike flipping back and forth to try to read end notes, and I wished there had been some genealogy charts to look at and help me keep all the people mentioned straight, but those are minor concerns. I definitely feel this book is one that merits a second and third reading in order to absorb fully all of the extensive research Pestano has done. I trust King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition will become a major source for future research, and it will be interesting to see a few years down the road if Pestano’s theory is accepted or other scholars build upon it. I look forward to Pestano’s next book which will go into even more detail.

King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition is available at Dane Pestano’s blog and website at: http://darkagehistory.blogspot.com/2011/08/king-arthur-in-irish-pseudo-historical.html

A Kindle editions is available at http://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Irish-Pseudo-Historical-Tradition-ebook/dp/B005GM6CZ4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321307933&sr=1-1

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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 title of Sarah Woodbury’s The Last Pendragon intrigued me because of my long interest in King Arthur’s descendants, although the title character is actually Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, the last of the Welsh kings, as mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Cadwaladr is not actually a descendant of King Arthur in Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Woodbury does not make him such in her novel, although he is continually referred to as Arthur’s heir and compared to Arthur in greatness.

The Last Pendragon by Sarah Woodbury

The Last Pendragon by Sarah Woodbury

I assumed Woodbury would not make Cadwaladr Arthur’s direct descendant, but I was still interested in the novel because few authors have tried to treat the Welsh version of Arthurian times, save for people like Nikolai Tolstoy in The Coming of the King. Woodbury does not try to recreate the Welsh world to the extreme level of authenticity Tolstoy attempted, but she introduces the Welsh gods who rarely make it into Arthurian legends. As she notes in her afterword, the conflict between pagans and Christians was more commonly a medieval issue, and I found her Welsh world and their gods a refreshing change in Arthurian fiction.

The gods play a major role in this novel. Cadwaladr, more commonly called Cade in the novel, is the son of the late king Cadwallon, who was killed by his enemy Cadfael, who then married Cadwaladr’s mother. Taliesin, the bard, took Cadwaladr to safety as a child, but now Cadwaladr is grown; he has just done battle with his men against Cadfael and lost. He is imprisoned at Cadfael’s court but is rescued by Cadfael’s bastard daughter Rhiann, and together they escape the castle.

Following the escape, the gods enter the picture. Cade was chosen by Arianrhod, the goddess of time and fate, to be her champion so she has given Cade the power of the sidhe, the godlike beings, sometimes fairy folk, of the Celtic world. The power makes Cade stronger and gives him special powers, although he is the opposite of a solar god, being stronger at night and weaker during the day.

Meanwhile, darker problems are afoot. Teragad, another Welsh leader, has obtained Arianrhod’s cauldron and used it to unleash the gods into the mortal world. A great war ensues in which Arawn, Lord of the Underworld, and his son, Mabon, enter the fight. Humans go to battle against demons and only Cade seems able to save the day, but to do so, he must reveal his sidhe power and that the price for that power has been the loss of his immortal soul. Rhiann finds herself attracted to Cade, but once she learns the truth about his powers, will she be able to love him?

I loved the concept of this book—a historical novel about a minor character in the Arthurian world who is rarely given attention to. The introduction of Welsh gods and magic into the story makes it more fantasy than historical reality, but it also offers a sort of magical realism for how the Welsh people might have viewed their world. I was not as fond of the actual writing itself, although Woodbury is a competent writer and at times entertaining, but I found the book less than gripping at times and sometimes skimmed over the descriptions. That said, the book stirred my interest in Cadwaladr and made me want to learn more about the Welsh world that preserved the Arthurian tales.

I had some small qualms with the printed book itself. I ordered a paper copy from Amazon with no knowledge that the book was part of a series. I only discovered that at the end of the book in the historical note where Woodbury referred to The Last Pendragon Trilogy. There had to have been printing or layout problems. My copy says below the title “A Tale of Dark Age Wales” but the cover image on Amazon now says “The Last Pendragon Saga: Book One” so the error must have been corrected recently. I also found the book layout a tad subpar with the left margin unjustified, some extra pages or pages where text was a line or two shorter on certain pages, and a few more typos than normal in a book, although not as bad as many a self-published book I’ve seen.

Overall, The Last Pendragon is a refreshing twist on the Arthurian canon without being focused primarily on King Arthur. Readers who enjoy a blending of fantasy and historical fiction should enjoy the book, although it weighs more on fantasy since so little is known of the historical Cadwaladr. Woodbury has also published The Pendragon’s Quest, the second book in the series, while the third book is apparently still to come. In addition, she has published several other novels including Cold My Heart about two characters who foresee Mordred’s attempt to destroy King Arthur.

For more information about Sarah Woodbury and her novels, visit www.SarahWoodbury.com where she has several interesting articles and an educational blog besides information for ordering her books.

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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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