In this fourth volume of Prince Valiant: In the Days of King Arthur, Hal Foster’s illustrations are fantastic as always—I especially love his extensively imaginative and elaborate castles—but I found the story less interesting than in the past strips.
Ever since Prince Valiant first encountered Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles, he has been smitten with her, even believing that she has placed an enchantment upon him. In this volume, he continues to yearn for her, feel cursed, and seek her. Early in the book, he goes back to visit the witch Horrit to ask her whether Aleta is part of the prophecy she foresaw that said he would never know happiness. Sadly, she confirms that again she sees no contentment for him. Despite this prophecy, in one scene Val actually realizes he has everything he wants and wonders whether life would be dull if he had Aleta for his own, realizing he wants to have his adventures.
And numerous adventures occur in this volume, including a visit to his father where Val stops another king from conquering Thule. And Gawain is back to adventure with Val. I’m always curious how much of an overarching plan for the pacing of the strip Foster had since he didn’t know how long the strip would continue—did he just assume it would always run, or did he feel any urgency to move along the well-known plot points of the Arthurian legend? In this volume, Valiant and Gawain try to get Tristram to travel with them again, only to go to King Mark’s castle, where they witness the king slay Tristram. Is this event surprisingly early in the storyline, considering the strip will run for another seventy years? But Horrit never made any prophecies for Foster himself about the strip, so I imagine he sprinkled in key moments of Arthuriana as it struck his fancy.
I won’t go into all the subplots and little charming stories, and while I enjoy them, some of them are starting to sound like I’ve read all this before. Twice in this volume Val is shipwrecked, and he was at least once in a previous volume.
But I kept reading on, and there are moments where I’m very grabbed by the storyline, even when Val goes wading into a river running through a glacier in his bare legs without wincing once at the ice cold water. I felt Foster hadn’t completely forgotten reality when Val ends up with what must have been hypothermia a few strips later.
Finally, in this volume, Val does find Aleta. And sadly, I was a bit disappointed when he did. In the last volume, she had told him he could not know her reasons for sending him away and why such horrid things happened on her island. Now it seems people were simply killed if they landed on the shore without going into the main harbor because they are then thought to be pirates.
But Val and Aleta’s love-hate relationship isn’t about to end. Let’s just say Val gets a bit violent at the end here when he grabs Aleta by her hair and drags her from her castle, and what happens next…well, we must wait for Volume 5 to find out.
This volume includes the beginnings in 1944 of Hal Foster’s strip The Medieval Castle which was affixed to the bottom row of Prince Valiant, meaning the main strip was left with only two-thirds of its previous space. This volume includes an interesting article explaining how this new strip resulted from paper shortages during World War II. The history of the strip, its frames and layout is interesting, but The Medieval Castle itself was quite a disappointment to me, having little character development, and at times, reading more like a documentary on medieval times. It only lasted another year and concludes in Volume 5, although Prince Valiant was not to regain its full page and the great large panels were never again to be seen in the strip.
So ultimately, this fourth volume is a bit of a disappointment to me for several reasons, but will I journey on with Valiant and Aleta from here? Yes, because I just want to know what happens next.
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