When we last left Prince Valiant (see my review of Vol. 1), the young prince wanted to re-conquer his father’s kingdom of Thule but the invasion of England by Saxons put a damper on his plans. This second volume of the collected Prince Valiant strip begins with Valiant being knighted after he succeeds in creating a plan that leads to the successful defeat of the Saxons invading the Fens.
And once the Saxon invasion is defeated, Val successfully leads his people to Thule to achieve its re-conquest, not by violence but by rallying the people to turn against Sligon, who had previously stolen the crown from Val’s father. Old and fearing for his life, Sligon agrees to trade Thule for the English Fens where Val and his people have lived in exile.
With peace restored to Thule and his father restored to the throne, Val soon becomes bored and goes off on adventures again. After a strange adventure in the Cave of Time, Val decides to make his way to Rome, and joins in fighting the Huns, led by Attila, who has conquered the eternal city.
The rest of this second volume takes place far from King Arthur’s court, covering Val’s adventures as he fights the Huns in Europe. Val is joined in his efforts by Sir Gawain and Sir Tristram, who after many heroic feats of rescuing people from Hun rule, make their way to Rome. On the way, Val also defeats a giant through using his wits, and Val saves an oriental merchant from thieves, who in return gives him a necklace that protects him from being bound in chains while possessing it.
As they approach Rome, the three Knights of the Round Table befriend Aetius, the last great general of Rome, who has been out fighting the Huns. Aetius’ victories have made the Emperor Valentinian jealous so he plots to destroy him. And Gawain, who is always getting into sticky situations, also gets involved with a married woman, who then mistakes Val for Gawain. When Aetius’ men slay the emperor to protect him, Val and his friends have to flee Rome, and they split in the process. As this second volume ends, Val finds himself on a ship at sea, and we are told the next strip will be “Scylla and Charybdis.”
I have to admit that while the illustrations are magnificent as always for Hal Foster, and while Val has his two companions, Tristram and Gawain, who are from the Arthurian canon of characters, this volume is far less “Arthurian” than the previous one. That said, the storyline is very readable, the adventures colorful, and a variety of interesting characters introduced.
By the end of this volume, and the fourth year of the Valiant strip, it is apparent that readers must have found Valiant and his adventures entertainment enough regardless of how closely connected they were to the Arthurian legend.
Also, since these volumes were produced in 1939-1940 at the beginning of World War II, one wonders whether Foster’s depictions of Val fighting the Huns, despite the Huns being historically accurate for the time period of the stories, is not some sort of commentary upon the German invasion of much of Europe during this time. That said, Attila conquers Rome in the May 14, 1939 strip, which was several months prior to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Perhaps Foster just was fortunate in his timing, but doubtless, the succeeding months while Poland and France and other countries fell to Hitler, must have made the fighting against the Huns, commonly a derogatory name for the Germans, resonate with Foster’s readers.
Finally, I was curious to see that for numerous issues of the strip in this volume, there were “stamps” drawn in the corners of the strip, representing various Arthurian and historical people including Attila, Arthur, Charlemagne, modern soldiers, and countless others, with the message “Save this Stamp” written under them. Were the stamps for some sort of promotion where you received something free if you had so many stamps, or were they more like collectors’ stamps, where you just tried to save them for their own sake? They are not explained in the strip itself. I’d be interested if any of my other readers knew the reason for them.
I plan to take a break from reading Prince Valiant for a while now but will return to the write about the successive volumes in future blogs. And if you missed the special 75th anniversary strip of Prince Valiant, you can view it at this other wonderful blog devoted to Prince Valiant: http://aprincenamedvaliant.blogspot.com/2012/02/something-very-special.html
Happy 75th Birthday, Prince Valiant!
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com