Recently, Sarah Luddington published a novel Lancelot and the Wolf, with explicit gay sexual content depicting Lancelot and Arthur as lovers. The book has created a controversy and even hate mail to Luddington and her publishers. In response, she has created a special Kindle edition at Amazon, for sale for $3.00, to raise funds to help the LGBT charity Stonewall in Britain.
But what is all the fuss about? The Arthurian love triangle of Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot has always had a hint of homoerotism in it—and romantic feelings between Lancelot and Arthur seem a reasonable reason to many for why Arthur would not do anything about his best friend sleeping with his wife. Luddington may be the first one overtly to depict a homosexual relationship between Arthur and Lancelot, but the possibilities have been implied or suggested in numerous Arthurian works, especially in the twentieth century.
Even as far back as Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, there are homoerotic hints in cross-dressing scenes and a scene where two knights accidentally end up in bed together. Dorsey Armstrong’s Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur has explored this topic and how the knights of Camelot themselves are aware of the possibility of homosexual rumors surrounding a group of men in an organization like the Round Table.
More recently, in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958 but published in smaller pieces 1938-1941), the scenes of Lancelot’s youth where he dreams of coming to Camelot express a sort of boy crush upon King Arthur. Later, the story takes normal turns of Lancelot loving Guinevere, but is that not a more acceptable outlet for his love for Arthur? T.H. White was himself later treated at the end of his life for his own homosexuality.
In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982), Arthur endorses the romance between Guinevere and Lancelot. He cannot provide an heir so he hopes Lancelot will do it for him, leading Lancelot to his bed to sleep with Guinevere. Arthur joins them in bed, and later, Guinevere comments to Arthur that she saw how he touched Lancelot.
But White and Bradley only hint at homosexuality. Other authors introduced it into the legend, but perhaps felt creating a gay King Arthur was going too far. Furthermore, homosexuality is a negative behavior in these works that can bring about Camelot’s downfall, so other characters than Arthur are the ones afflicted with homosexuality—notably, the villains.
In Joan Wolf’s The Road to Avalon (1988), Agrivaine is homosexual and the downfall of Camelot comes largely due to his jealousy because of his crush on Bedwyr, the Lancelot character in this novel. Because he can’t have Bedwyr, he doesn’t want Guinevere to have him so he reveals their love and brings about Camelot’s downfall.
Douglas Clegg goes even further in Mordred, Bastard Son by depicting Mordred as homosexual—and while Mordred is not a villain in this book (it’s only the first of a planned trilogy), homosexuality being associated with him seems to imply a negativity to it. Mordred is hopelessly in love with Lancelot, and while he is well-meaning in this first novel, we know from the story’s frame that he will bring about Camelot’s fall nevertheless. (Clegg has not yet published the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.)
And that brings us to “Merthur.” If you don’t know what Merthur is, where have you been? I’m talking about the legions of fans for the successful BBC television series Merlin who insist and badly want Arthur and Merlin to be in love in the show. These fans are convinced there is a secret love between Arthur and Merlin and they are even making YouTube videos with clips from the TV show either to promote their argument that there is a Merthur bromance going on, or even splicing to make there be actual love glances and scenes between the two characters. Just go to YouTube and search for “Merthur” and you’ll find dozens of these videos.
So why has Lancelot and the Wolf created such a fuss? I think it’s because while these other works depict homosexual desires not acted upon, Susan Luddington is the first author to depict actual sex between Arthur and Lancelot—in fact, her reviewers are calling the book an adult version of the Merlin TV series.
And while Luddington might be getting hate mail, she’s also found a gay readership longing for such stories, and her Kindle sales are reportedly skyrocketing. With Luddington, perhaps the Arthurian legend has taken a new turn and will never be the same again, and it is always an author ready to push the story, push the boundaries, and thereby renew the legend for the next generation.
I haven’t yet read Lancelot and the Wolf, but I plan to and will review it in the near future.
Meanwhile, for more information about Lancelot and the Wolf and the special edition to raise funds to support the LGBT British charity Stonewall, visit: http://www.xtra.ca/blog/ottawa/post/2012/08/14/King-Arthur-and-Lancelot.aspx
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