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Archive for May, 2012

The following excerpt is from my book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition upon a little discussed aspect of Arthur’s perhaps forgotten brother in early Arthurian legends:

Sir Mordred at the Battle of Camlann

Before we leave Mordred, we should notice that there may be some confusion between him as either Arthur’s son or brother, and between Mordred and a brother of Arthur’s named Modron. The confusion is further increased since Modron usually appears as Arthur’s sister rather than brother.

R.S. Loomis tells us that the ravens of The Mabinogion who battle with Arthur’s knights are Arthur’s nephew Owain’s mother, Modron, and her sisters, the daughters of Avallach (Wales 96-7). Loomis also states that Morgan le Fay and Modron have a connection because both are daughters of Avallach (Celtic Myth 192). If Morgan le Fay and Modron are sisters, we must first wonder whether they are Arthur’s sisters, making them the daughters of one of Arthur’s parents, or are they the children of Avallach? If Modron is Owain’s mother, it seems strange that Morgan is also frequently credited with having a child named Owain. Perhaps the two are not sisters, but merely the same person with a confused identity. This situation may be a similar case to Arthur’s Welsh sons becoming confused or integrated into Mordred.

Celtic scholars are in agreement that Modron, who seems to be Morgan le Fay’s sister, is the old Gallo-Roman goddess Matrona, who gave her name to the river Marne, and therefore, seems to be connected with water (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 193). If this connection to a river is true, it should not surprise us that Modron is sister to Morgan, who is often the Lady of the Lake.

When the Welsh wrote of Modron in their legends, they made her the mother of both Owain and Mabon (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 193). This son, Mabon, can be traced back to Apollo Maponos, who was worshiped in both Gaul and Britain (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 4).

What is strange is that if Modron were a female, she should later appear as Arthur’s brother in a modern novel such as in Edward Franklin’s The Bear of Britain (1944), where he is treacherous, along with Mordred, who is here Arthur’s nephew (Thompson 41).

In other works, Mordred has been depicted as Arthur’s brother, which may be another confusion with Modron, but more likely authors just taking license with the story. In Edison Marshall’s novel The Pagan King (1959), Mordred is Arthur’s half-brother. Why would Arthur have both a treacherous brother and nephew? In Marshall’s opinion, it must have seemed easier to combine the two into one character. We may then wonder whether Mordred and Modron have an older mythological connection or at least these writers are drawing upon what they want to believe is a lost connection.

In the Prince Valiant comic strip, begun by Hal Foster in 1937 and still running in more than 300 newspapers each Sunday, Mordred is also Arthur’s half-brother. In this case Mordred has a daughter, but she is not King Arthur’s direct descendant as a result. Mordred’s daughter Maeve marries Arn, the son of Prince Valiant. Arn and Maeve’s daughter Ingrid (born in the 1987 comic strip) has been designated as Arthur’s heir. Mordred has been removed from the line of succession. My guess is that Foster chose to depict Mordred as Arthur’s half-brother to avoid the issue of incest in a comic strip; I doubt Foster was interested in the relationship between Mordred and Modron.

Modron cannot be readily accepted as an early brother of Arthur. Nowhere in early traditions does he appear as such. However, in Welsh tradition is a tale where Arthur speaks to an eagle, which reveals itself to be his deceased nephew, Elewlod, the son of Madawg, son of Uthr (Bromwich, Arthur Welsh, 58). That Madawg’s son should become an eagle, may remind us of Modron as a raven, and also the legends which tell of Arthur being turned into a raven rather than dying. Perhaps then we can accept Madawg as being Modron.

Modron’s reasons for becoming confused with Mordred may also have explanations. We have seen Modron’s possibility as a sister to Morgan le Fay, Lady of the Lake. Modron herself is connected to river goddesses. Mordred definitely has a connection to water through his mythological ancestor, Dylan. Suggested connections have also been made betwen Pryderi and Rhiannon and Modron and Mabon, who was also taken away when three nights old from his mother (MacCana 83). In “Culhwch and Olwen,” Cei and Gwrhyr search for Mabon and must ask all the oldest animals where he may be. In her chapter “Chrétien de Troyes,” Jean Frappier points out that in Yvain are blended in traditions of Modron as a water nymph (Loomis, Arthurian Literature,163), and in an Irish tale, a character named Fraech is wounded by a water-monster and is then carried away by his fairy kinswomen to be healed. In her chapter “The Vulgate Cycle,” Jean Frappier makes notice of another Irish tale that tells of Fergus mac Leite being wounded by a water-monster, and as he lays by the lake dying, he charges his people that his sword Caladcolg (the original of Excalibur) should be preserved till it can be given to a fitting lord (Loomis, Arthurian Literature, 310). Could Mordred then have an origin as a water monster or as a female goddess of the sea? Or could there be a lost tradition that Mordred is the son of Modron? Why not, since we already have Morgan le Fay and Morgause as possible mothers for him.

Accurate connections between Mordred and Modron have not yet been made, but the similarities may point to a need for further investigation into this matter.

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

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This volume picks up with Prince Valiant escaping on a ship and trying to get back to Camelot only to have his ship attacked and captured by Angor Wrack, the Sea King, who takes Valiant’s Singing Sword. For the rest of these two years of strips, Valiant is trying to get back the sword, leading him on many adventures throughout the Mediterranean and into Africa before he finally returns to England and Camelot.

The back cover of this volume claims that Hal Foster reached his peak in these years, now that Prince Valiant was into its fourth year, and he never came down from that peak. I don’t know that I would go that far, not yet having read all the strip, but I did find this volume more entertaining than the last two despite it again having very little connection to King Arthur and the Round Table since only a small part takes place in England. The adventures are entertaining enough that, honestly, King Arthur and his other knights’ absence isn’t even noticeable by this point since readers know Camelot is largely marginal to the story.

I won’t go into a full summary of this volume, but the most important part of the adventures have to do with the Singing Sword and Valiant meeting his future wife, Aleta. The story begins with Valiant on a ship that is captured by Angor Wrack, the Sea King, who takes Valiant’s sword. Valiant manages to escape after being a prisoner for a while, but he leaves behind the sword, vowing to reclaim it when he is in a better situation to do so. Valiant manages to obtain a small boat, but he drifts about the Mediterranean, becoming weak from lack of food. At one point, he nears shore and meets Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. She fills his ship with provisions and feeds him and then orders him to sail off. Enchanted by her beauty, Valiant’s search now extends to coming back into contact with Aleta, questioning everyone he meets about how to get back to the Misty Isles.

Valiant’s adventures eventually take him to Jerusalem, as a slave along the Euphrates River, to Athens, up a river with a group of Vikings to find gold, and finally, he reunites with Sir Gawain and they return to England. After a short stint at King Arthur’s court, Val goes north to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall and he also solves the mystery of a haunted castle.

But finding Aleta is the key adventure in this book, and although most readers of the strip know that Valiant will end up marrying her, Foster was not about to make it easy. After Valiant’s first meeting, he finds himself shipwrecked again on the Misty Isles, and this time, he witnesses his crew killed and their bodies hung on stakes by Aleta’s subjects, although he does not understand why—Foster makes it clear they deserved it for their crimes, but this knowledge is withheld from Valiant. When Valiant meets Aleta, he is discouraged and feels she, as the queen, must be the worst of her people for allowing such cruelty. She in turn tells him she warned him not to return before. She has her women again give him provisions and leaves him a note saying, “You merit punishment for speaking harsh words to a queen, impetuous youth, but once again I help you to escape from this troubled land. You will never guess why!” Aleta’s reasons are withheld from both the reader and Valiant, so we must wait for successive volumes to find out how Foster will reunite Valiant and Aleta in love.

But Valiant has plenty of time for love, for he only celebrates his eighteenth birthday in this book in the October 26, 1941 strip—it’s hard to believe he is so young after all the adventures he has already had.

I was expecting some sort of social commentary on World War II in this volume after the assumption that Foster’s depiction of Valiant fighting the Huns in previous volumes related to the war against Germany; however, there is no hinting of World War II in this book that I saw. Even following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, nothing changes in the strip. No past and present day parallels exist, although I did find an anachronism. When Valiant is in Jerusalem, he consecrates a pagan sword he acquires to Christian service under the scowls of “Islamites.” Since the strip takes place during the time of Attila the Hun (died 453 A.D.) and King Arthur (died perhaps in 539 A.D.), it would predate by about a hundred years the beginning of Islam (but Foster isn’t the first writer of Arthuriana to ignore historical dates). I did feel Foster was bordering on racism in these scenes (June 1 and June 8, 1941) when after freeing a group of slaves held by Arab merchants, Valiant “leaves behind such hate and desire for vengeance as only an Arab can feel.” Of course, Foster was a product of his time and the prejudices of it, and he did not go overboard to the extent other writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs (of whom I am a huge fan regardless, and whose Tarzan strip Foster illustrated before Prince Valiant) did in depicting Muslims or Africans.

While I still feel it would be difficult to stay engaged reading Prince Valiant in its original weekly format, this third volume really drew me in with all the adventures, and I highly recommend it over the first two as an impetus to want to keep reading—if not Foster’s peak, he is nearing it, improving on the story and interest from previous volumes. This volume also contains some interesting commentary on scenes that were considered too violent in the strip that were changed in some printings by various newspapers.

Stay tuned for my review of Vol. 4 in a future post.

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

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Melusine

I’ve always been fascinated with genealogy and famous people’s descendants. The possibility that King Arthur may have had children besides Mordred and that his descendants live today led to my researching the topic and writing my book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition.

But King Arthur is not the only legendary or mythical person who may have had descendants. Here are just a few others who have always fascinated me.

Melusine: The fairy Melusine, who was supposedly half-serpent or a mermaid, is another whom royal and noble people have tried to claim descent from over the years, specifically the House of Lusignan, which would make her ancestress to the Plantagenets who became rulers of England as well as people like Guy of Lusignan, who was King of Jerusalem until Saladin removed him from his throne and he ended up instead as King of Cyprus. One branch of Melusine’s alleged descendants continues today in the Weir family, who are descended in turn from the de Vere family who were Earls of Oxford.

Vlad Tepes

Dracula: While the vampire Count Dracula is fictional, he is based on Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, commonly called Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476). Claims have frequently been made by various people that they are descendants of Dracula, although all of these claims appear to be either false publicity stunts or misuses of the term “descendant.” In Dracula, Prince of Many Faces, the authors Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally devote a chapter to discussion of Vlad Tepes’ descendants that reveals all of his children’s known lines died out by the seventeenth century. It is possible that some of Vlad Tepes’ descendants are still alive that have not been documented. However, those claims to be descendants are usually a stretch of the truth and really these people are descendants of one of his brothers. Recently, Charles, Prince of Wales, stated that genealogy proved he was a relative to Vlad Tepes. Some websites state Charles is a descendant, but the truth is that the Prince of Wales and his mother Queen Elizabeth II are descended from Vlad Tepes’ brother. Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Mary of Teck, was the granddaughter of Countess Claudine Rhédey de Kis-Rhéde, who was the 10th great-granddaughter of Vlad IV “the Monk” who also ruled Wallachia (1482-95); he was Vlad Tepes’ half-brother. (See Countess Claudine’s entry at Wikipedia). So Vlad Tepes is an ancestral uncle to the British royal family and probably many of the royal and noble families of Europe, but not a direct ancestor.

Cassandra of Troy: Another fascinating descendants theory comes from ancient Troy. When Troy fell, it’s a well-known story that Aeneas escaped and eventually founded Rome. His descendants included Brutus, who traveled to Britain and became it’s king and for whom Britain is named. But Marion Zimmer Bradley, in her novel about the Trojan War, The Firebrand (probably her best novel after The Mists of Avalon) offers an interesting possibility about the Princess Cassandra, daughter of King Priam. In the novel’s Postscript, Bradley states that while the Iliad says nothing of Cassandra’s fate, there is a statement on tablet #803 in the Archaelological Museum in Athens that says, “Agathon, son of Ekhephylos, the Zakynthian Family, consuls of the Molossians and their allies, descended for 30 Generations from Kassandra of Troy.” I wish we knew for sure whether this statement is true. Even if it were, who Agathon was and his descendants have equally been lost to history.

The Death of Roland by N.C. Wyeth

Roland the Paladin: Recently, in researching the Charlemagne legends, I came across several websites that listed Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland, as having had descendants. Roland is often regarded as mythical although it seems there was a Roland who was the military governor of the Breton march. Roland traditionally is said to have died at the Battle of Roncesvaux Pass in 778. At the time of Roland’s death, he was engaged to Alda, who died of grief having heard of his death. But there exists a tradition that by an unknown woman Roland had a son named Faralando d’Angleria. This son married a woman named Flora Valdez and they had a child named Diego Valdez. In turn, Diego’s descendants would measure in the thousands today and among them are King George I of England and all his descendants, Otto Bismarck, and Winston Churchill. Could Roland have lived through the Battle of Roncesvaux Pass and married a woman living in what today is Spain? Furthermore, while I have found this list of descendants for Roland on a few different websites, I have not seen any source for it, although at least one notes that Roland’s descendants are likely false. If any of my readers know of the source for Roland having descendants, I would really like to hear from you.

Can we prove that any of these or other famous legendary people had descendants? To do so is even more difficult than proving they were historical people since that criteria would need to be proven first. But it is great fun to think such descendants live on, mixed in among us and perhaps we might even be among them.

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

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One of the earliest “modern” treatments of King Arthur having children comes from a play by Henry Fielding (1707-1754) who is better known for his novels Joseph Andrews (1742) and Tom Jones (1749). Fielding wrote satirical novels – he particularly liked to mock Samuel Richardson, author of what is regarded as the first novel Pamela (1740).

Henry Fielding

Fielding’s play The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great (1731) was written during a period when the Arthurian legend was rarely treated in literature. This play’s connection to the Arthurian legends is extremely distant, only containing the traditional King Arthur and Merlin. King Arthur’s wife is here named Dollallolla, and the daughter of the couple is Huncamunca. The plot includes Tom Thumb, of dwarf stature, famed for slaying giants, who must compete for Huncamunca’s hand with Lord Grizzle. After the two suitors fight, Tom Thumb wins and proceeds then to the castle to marry Huncamunca, but on the way he is swallowed by a cow, thereby meeting his end just as Merlin prophesied his death. When the messenger brings the sad news to the court, the queen, who also loved Tom Thumb, repays the messenger for his sad news by slaying him. The messenger’s wife then slays the queen in revenge. Huncamunca then slays her mother’s murderer, and a courtier named Doodle slays Huncamunca for an old grudge. In the end, everyone but King Arthur has been killed, and then he kills himself, thereby ending the foolish story.

Throughout the play, Huncamunca is unable to make up her mind whom to marry, and then decides she is willing to take two husbands; however, both she and her would-be husbands die before any marriage can take place, which means she has no children and therefore, King Arthur’s line dies out. Although Fielding was not trying to write serious Arthurian literature, but rather, he was satirizing the stage plays of his time, I for one am thankful that Fielding did not create any more ridiculous children for King Arthur. However, fans of satire and humor might enjoy the play’s comic elements.

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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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