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Archive for April, 2012

The following article I had published last winter in Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. It is reprinted with permission from the magazine owner, Roslyn McGrath:

Why King Arthur Matters Today

As the winter solstice approaches, I always think of King Arthur. Arthur was a light in the darkness of his times, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King equates Arthur with the rising of a new sun. Arthur is aligned with the light, with creating the “brief, shining moment” as the musical Camelot proclaims.

My love for King Arthur stems back to age fourteen when I first read Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur with N.C. Wyeth’s fabulous illustrations. The story of Arthur’s building a great society like Camelot and the tragedy of how it was brought down by Lancelot and Guinevere’s adultery and Mordred’s treachery was a pivotal moment in my love of great literature. Years later, I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which told the tale from the women’s point of view and made me realize how rich the legend was, how full of possibilities, and how it was ever adaptable to today’s concerns.

I soon decided to write my own King Arthur novel. In the process, I did a great deal of research that resulted in my recently published nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition—my novel is still in the works.

I became interested in King Arthur’s children because I was surprised by many obscure references to Arthur having children other than the well-known Mordred, son of incest, who slew his father. Welsh legends referred to other sons, and modern novelists were creating new children for the storyline. Who were these forgotten children, and why this recent trend to create new children for Arthur?

I came to the conclusion that the legend eventually deleted earlier references to Arthur’s children to enhance the tragic ending. However, modern readers wanted a more hopeful conclusion so novelists were creating new children for Arthur to connect the legendary king to our own times. For example, Arthur might have had a daughter, ignored by history because she was female, whose descendants live today.

My fascination with genealogy and DNA reinforced for me the significance of this possibility. Scientists have shown through mathematical calculations that everyone alive today of European descent would be descended from anyone in Europe born before 1200 A.D. who had children. Since King Arthur lived about 500 A.D., if he had children, then most likely all Europeans—as well as a good number of Africans and Asians—are his descendants. Arthur may physically be in our genes.

Scholars will debate for centuries to come whether Arthur ever lived, but either way, Arthur is in our genes—if not in our actual DNA, then in our human nature to dream of a better world. Arthur is remembered because he strove to create an idyllic world, a Round Table—an early form of democracy where justice prevailed—and for a short time, he succeeded. In the end, we might fail like he ultimately did, but we cannot aspire to anything grander ourselves, and so we carry on Arthur’s legacy of hope.

At the holidays, it’s good to be reminded of King Arthur’s final request in Camelot: “each evening from December to December…ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not, that once there was a fleeting wisp of glory called Camelot.”

Tyler Tichelaar is the author of King Arthur’s Children and My Marquette. Visit him at www.MarquetteFiction.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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We all know the name of St. George, and most of us know he’s the patron saint of England. We know he slew a dragon, and we may remember Shakespeare’s famous line in Henry V: “For Harry, England, and St. George.” And doesn’t it seem fitting that April 23rd, the very day Shakespeare not only was born but also died, is St. George’s Holy Day?

But St. George was not English. I knew that and that he actually was from somewhere in the Middle East, but I wasn’t quite clear on where until recently. And then in March this year, I visited Turkey and discovered St. George was from that land, although to call him a Turkish saint would not be correct either since the Turks would not reside in modern-day Turkey until centuries after his death.

St. George died in 303. The date of his birth is not known exactly, but it is generally thought to be somewhere around 275-281 A.D. That means St. George lived in Roman times. In fact, he was a Roman soldier in the Guard of the Emperor Dioceletian from Syria-Palaestinea.

What about the story of his slaying the dragon? How is that possible when dragons are mythical? The dragon has long been associated with the pagan religions. Think of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, which was a metaphor for driving out the druids or the old religion. Snakes, serpents, and dragons are fairly interchangeable as terms for pagan religions.

You see, St. George was a Christian, but the Emperor Diocletian was one of Christianity’s greatest enemies, and he issued an order for all Christian soldiers in his army to be arrested and half to be put to death. St. George went to the emperor to protest, and being much respected by the emperor, Diocletian tried to get him to recant, but St. George refused. He was eventually put to death. His death as a martyr served as inspiration to others to convert. After all, the Christian Church is said to have been built on the blood of the martyrs. His suffering and death by decapitation are said to have so moved the empress and a pagan priest that they also converted and were put to death.

The story of the dragon evolved from this event which is believed to be fairly historical. Exactly how a literal dragon entered the story is unknown, but the Crusaders brought the story of St. George and the Dragon back to Europe with them. In the tale, a maiden is offered to the dragon, but St. George rescues her and slays the dragon. The parallel to Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda is obvious. This story became so popular that St. George became the patron saint of England. He is a popular saint in several other countries besides England, including Portugal and Georgia (although it is not named for him), and of course, Turkey. In fact, he is one of the very few Christian saints who is venerated by the Muslims.

In Turkey, St. George remains very popular, although he is best known in Christian depictions in Byzantine Christian churches in Cappadocia (which claims to be his birthplace) that date to the Middle Ages and were carved out of the rock. I visited one such church while I was there, and I purchased the lovely icon pictured here in Ephesus at the Home of the Virgin Mary.

St. George is often depicted with a red cross and riding a white horse. In Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590-96), the Redcrosse Knighte is an idealized version of Christianity based primarily on St. George. More recently, he was depicted in the 1962 film The Magic Sword (also known as St. George and the Dragon, St. George and the Seven Curses). You have to be a real fan of cheesy older movies to sit through this film—I have but I wouldn’t again—but it’s interesting for how a saint can become such a myth and enter popular culture. And who’s to say that, on some mythical level, St. George and King Arthur do not ride together, guarding England, or should I say Britain? For Britain was not England in Arthur’s day any more than St. George would have known a place named Turkey.

The story of St. George, be it myth or history or a little of both, will live on for years to come. I encourage you to investigate it more.Monastery/Church carved into rock in Cappadocia. St. George is depicted in such a church in the area.

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

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Today, I am honored to be a guest blogger at my friend Nicole Alexander’s blog, “The Mists of Time.” She asked me to write about my trip to Turkey and the connections between Turkey and the Arthurian legend. You can read my guest post at: http://nicoleevelina.com/2012/04/11/guest-post-searching-for-king-arthur-in-turkey/

I have blogged several times here also about the French fairy, Melusine of Lusignan, whom I consider a marginal part of Arthuriana since Melusine was raised on the Isle of Avalon.

Image of Medusa in Ephesus, Turkey, which closely resembles depictions of Melusine.

While I was visiting in Turkey the ruins of Ephesus (best known for St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and because the Apostle John and Virgin Mary settled there after Jesus’ ascension), I was stunned to see a depiction of Medusa. We all known Medusa as the woman in the story of Perseus who has a head of snakes, and if you look upon her, you would be turned to stone. Perseus uses his shield so he only has to look at her reflection and can cut off her head.

At Ephesus, the image of Medusa closely resembles many images of Melusine. Medusa is depicted with what look like two fish (possibly serpent or snake) tails. This image is close to that well-known image of the mermaid in the Starbucks logo and many other depictions of Melusine.

Melusine is herself believed to be based in earlier mythologies of water spirits or goddesses and Medusa is probably one of her literary or religious grandmothers. Their stories have similarities. According to Wikipedia: “Medusa was originally a ravishingly beautiful maiden, “the jealous aspiration of many suitors,” priestess in Athena’s temple, but when she was caught being raped by the “Lord of the Sea” Poseidon by Athena‘s temple, the enraged Athena transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn onlookers to stone. In Ovid’s telling, Perseus describes Medusa’s punishment by Minerva (Athena) as just and well earned.” Well-earned is questionable. Does being raped deserve such punishment? Melusine also acquires her serpent form at the rage of another–her mother Pressyne, who curses her after Melusine and her sisters lock up their father in a cave where he dies.

A typical depiction of Melusine.

I’m not the first to note the similarities between Melusine and Medusa. An interesting book that discusses Melusine’s connection to more classical myths is Gillian Alban’s Melusine the Serpent Goddess in A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Mythology.

Anyone interested in ancient goddesses and the Turkey connection might enjoy a tour of Turkey with Rashid Ergener, who was my own tour guide of Turkey, and the most knowledgeable tour guide I have ever known. He even leads tours in search of the Ancient Mother Goddess. Find out more at: http://rashidsturkey.com/?nav=g&dir=&g=

Turkey is a beautiful country and well worth a visit, whether or not you are in quest of ancient myths and legends.

Julius Hubner's 1844 painting of Melusine.

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Masoud: Book III of the Merlin FactorSteven Maines has written a very interesting series, The Merlin Factor, about the man who was reincarnated from Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Christ with his spear during the Crucifixion, to Myrriddin (Merlin of King Arthur’s Court) and finally as Liam Arthur Mason, whose name is mispronounced as Masoud by the Muslims during the Third Crusade.

I was anxious to read this third book in the series after having read the first two. (You can read my previous review of Myrriddin: Book II of the Merlin Factor at Reader Views: http://www.readerviews.com/ReviewMainesMyrridinBookII.html which also mentions the first book in the series, Longinus, which is my favorite of the three.)

In general, modern Arthurian novels can be divided into two categories:

  1. Historical—where the author tries to depict Arthur in his historical time period and be realistic—no magic.
  2. Fantasy—where magic is prevalent and history is of little importance and rarely depicted accurately.

Some authors try to blend these categories, offering a fantasy element to the historical time period—The Mists of Avalon might be termed historical fantasy for this reason, and the same is true of The Merlin Factor series.

I would propose a third category, which could be called perhaps the New Age, spiritual, or even anti-Christian at times, genre, and The Merlin Factor belongs to this category as well.

Unlike most series that focus on King Arthur and his court, The Merlin Factor stands out for depicting the time just after Christ in Longinus’ story, and then also depicting the Third Crusade. The reincarnation of the main character is what ties the three books together. Also tying them together is the Spear of Longinus, which has great power and always manages to get back into the main character’s hands.

Because Myrriddin is a Druid, many of the passages in Masoud refer to religion and spirituality that is not orthodox with Christian themes, and it is apparent that Christianity itself is rejected by the main character as being untrue by comparison to reincarnation and more Celtic religious and spiritual beliefs. This stance is very powerful and moving in places, and the arguments, common in many New Age (a term that is somewhat derogatory and that I do not particularly like but will use for lack of a better word) books. While these types of statements have been made in other Arthurian novels, they are more prevalent here than usual, and I believe they make the novel and the characters stronger for it. The general theme throughout the trilogy is that the character of Myrriddin is evolving and moving to a higher spiritual state as he undergoes his experiences.

Yes, there is action, although the action adventure feel of this novel moves a bit slower than most, and the author is clearly more interested in the metaphysical and spiritual/magical aspects of the theme than the plot itself. In brief, the main character Mason travels to the Holy Land to fight in the Third Crusade; he is captured by the Muslims and even meets Salah al-Din, the great Arab leader. In the process, Mason begins to remember his past lives, and he gains the name Masoud from the Muslims who come to respect him for his ability to control the Spear. Mason/Masoud learns secrets of the Knights Templar and reveals a plot that will hurt the Crusaders’ cause. A battle is also fought to possess Jerusalem.

I found the metaphysical/religious discussion engaging, the plot less so. My suspension of disbelief was sustained throughout, although I felt the way the Spear is used, as well as pieces of the True Cross, to create weapons of power to hurt the enemy was a bit too unorthodox for my taste—I hate to think Holy Relics would be used for war, although I know they have been believed to have that power in the past, including by Adolf Hitler. A few more typos than there should have been were also in the book, but that is a small complaint.

I believe Masoud is the last book Steven Maines plans to write in the series, but honestly, I wish there were one or two more to bring the story up to the twenty-first century.

I encourage readers who enjoy this sort of New Age Arthurian genre to read The Merlin Factor series. More information can be found at the website of the publisher, Purple Haze: http://purplev.com/live_purple/steven_maines_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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