In the past, I’ve written an individual blog for each volume of the Prince Valiant series, but I decided to group these two together because I couldn’t get myself too excited about Volume 7; furthermore, the adventure in it continues into Volume 8 because the books are printed by the years the strip was published and not by breaks in the storyline. Volume 7 contains the strips from 1949-1950 and Volume 8 covers 1951-1952.
Volume 7 begins by concluding Valiant’s trip to North America that was covered in Volume 6. Valiant, Aleta, newborn Prince Arn, and his other companions return to England and Camelot. They don’t have much time to rest, however, before new adventures begin for them. First there is an adventure with a haunted castle, and then a journey to Hadrian’s wall where the Picts are invading. Aleta is the great negotiator and trickster here as she wins over the Picts and stops the war. However, Valiant is wounded during the skirmishes, so he cannot travel by land back to Camelot because it would be too painful for him. Consequently, they take a sea voyage to visit his family in Thule. During the time in Thule, an enemy tries to overthrow Valiant’s father, King Aguar, and once again, Aleta steps in and saves the day through trickery; Foster, I believe, uses this method frequently to resolve conflict to provide a humorous tone to many of the adventures, while avoiding a lot of bloodshed in a Sunday comic strip—a couple of times when he did create frames that were too violent, they were censored and he had to change them.
To me, the most interesting part of this volume was that King Aguar listens to Christian evangelists who try to explain Christianity to him, but he finds they are poorly informed and they argue among themselves about the key points of their religion. Consequently, Valiant, who has been exposed to Christianity in Camelot (although he’s never been depicted as being baptized as a Christian) decides to travel to Rome to find teachers who can return with him to Thule to convert his father’s people.
The adventures in Volume 7 end there, but there is also an interesting article included about Hal Foster’s work painting illustrations for the Union Pacific Railroad. Many of these paintings show mountain scenes with railroad trestles, and this work may have informed his creation of scenes of the Alps and others in the Prince Valiant strip. While Foster’s storylines read like a soap opera and tend to wander about, no one can fault his ability to create great landscape drawings, so it’s interesting to see how his early career influenced the Prince Valiant strip in this way.
Volume 8 was much more to my taste. Valiant has several adventures on his journey to Rome to find Christian missionaries to return to Thule. He has even more adventures on the way back to Thule. However, we are informed briefly that the people of Thule do not warm to the missionaries easily, and it will still be centuries before the country converts to Christianity. The illustrations of Valiant crossing the Alps in this volume are incredible and reflect the influence of Foster’s Union Pacific Railroad artwork.
Other highlights of this volume include Valiant’s squire, Arf, who ends up losing a leg to frostbite during the journey and getting what must be one of the first prosthetic legs in history. On the way home, Valiant travels back to Camelot and then to the Orkneys to take a ship over to Thule. Gawain is his companion on this trip, and they stop to visit Gawain’s family, his mother Morgause, as well as brothers Gaheris, Agrivaine, and Mordred. We are only given the first hints here of the sinister role of Mordred in the strips that are yet to come.
Foster isn’t above some cutesy moments. Besides Val returning to Thule to discover Aleta has given him twin daughters, Valeta and Karen, we have Prince Arn, now a toddler, being jealous of his sisters, including several frames from his viewpoint. Arn even gets his own adventure when he is kidnapped and rescued by Tillicum, the Indian woman who returned with Val and Aleta from North America. Tillicum has her own subplot romance in this volume as well with a surprising twist.
At the end of this volume, another great adventure is in the works. Val travels around Thule to discover how receptive the people are to Christianity. He meets a druid (I didn’t know the Norse had druids) who gives him nectar to drink, resulting in Val having a vision of the Rainbow Bridge, the Norse Gods, and Valhalla. This vision is supposed to be proof, according to the druid, that Christianity is not the only true religion. Val will apparently explore this idea in more detail in Volume 9.
While I find moments of the story lag in places, the illustrations throughout these volumes are beautiful and breathtaking, whether it’s of Val and his men fighting the rapids in North America or Val seeing a rainbow bridge, or just splendid landscapes showing mountains and castles. I am looking forward to seeing what Val learns about the Norse Gods, as well as seeing his children grow up, and how Mordred plays a larger part in successive volumes. Stay tuned for more.