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.
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