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Archive for July, 2019

These two latest volumes of the reprint of the Prince Valiant comic strip by Fantagraphics cover the years 1971-1974. For the most part, they contain the same typical adventures of Prince Valiant and his companions as in every previous volume, with the exception that on May 16, 1971, Hal Foster drew his last Prince Valiant strip and the week after John Cullen Murphy took it over. It should be noted, however, that Foster had been trying out different possible successors for quite some time, and once he settled on Murphy, he allowed Murphy to do backgrounds and then draw characters before he completely handed the strip over to him.

In Prince Valiant 18, John Cullen Murphy takes over for Hal Foster as Prince Valiant must win back his wife after he and Aleta have an argument.

Although Foster got some complaints, including people saying they would never read the strip again, if one did not know which day Foster quit drawing the script, it is unlikely anyone would have noticed the difference. Murphy continued in Foster’s tradition, and nothing noticeable is different about the strip from the drawing and the colors to the storylines.

Among the last strips Foster did, his humor remains apparent. In the April 11, 1971 strip, Val has been traveling with Sir Lancelot when he meets up with Boltar and his Vikings. They stay at King Ban of Benwick’s castle where “The Vikings behave so well that only one is killed and two wounded.”

As for the storylines in these volumes, my favorites concern not Val but his children. One of the great joys of the strip has been watching Val and Aleta’s oldest son, Arn, grow up. Now he is basically a man. Although at one point in these volumes the strip refers to him as being fifteen, he looks and acts more like eighteen. Here for the first time Arn falls in love, with a young maiden named Lydia. A misunderstanding that Lydia’s brother is a man she’s interested in causes Arn to go on a journey to distance himself from her, only to have her brother follow him and explain the situation. After many adventures throughout Europe, Arn returns home to Lydia. We will have to see if marriage will ensue for them.

As for Val and Aleta’s other children, the twins are now teenage girls as well and willing to continue to cause mischief as young men are first starting to notice them. And young Galen takes the place Arn previously had of an imaginative and adventuresome young man getting into troubles that can be described as cute. Aleta also names Galan as heir of the Misty Isles since Arn will inherit Val’s father’s kingdom of Thule.

There are plenty of adventures here, stories of love lost and won, giants to fight, sea battles to wage, evil conspirators to overcome, adventures ranging from Thule to the Misty Isles, and tender moments of love between Val and Aleta who because of an argument are estranged for much of the story.

Also of note is that Sir Gawain is now appearing with gray hair. He looks like a hearty knight who can’t be more than fifty yet, but while the characters in the Prince Valiant strip age very slowly, age they do, which adds to the realism.

In Volume 19, Prince Arn, son of Valiant and Aleta, loses his heart to love for the first time.

Each volume also has an article at the beginning and again at the end of interest concerning Foster or the strip. Volume 19 ends with the illustrated novel of The Song of Bernadette, which Foster drew. Foster was not really religious so his illustrating a Catholic story is surprising, and little information exists about why he may have done it, but the story of St. Bernadette seeing the Virgin Mary in a grotto in Lourdes may have been why Valiant and Aleta ended up being married in a woodland grotto outside rather than a church—an odd departure for the Middle Ages and even for the early period when the strip was written in an age before hippies and outdoor weddings were common. Certainly, Foster was no fan of organized religion as often evidenced in the strip. For example, in Volume 18 a fanatic Muslim gets angry when Val is praying to the Christian God. I have also written about Christianity in the strip previously, especially in Volumes 7 and 8, and Volume 9 about how Christianity comes to Thule. Foster was obviously interested in Christianity from a historical perspective, but in illustrating The Song of Bernadette, it might also have just been a job for him. It certainly, being black and white, does not reflect his best work, but it is an interesting side note to Prince Valiant.

For this reader, the change to John Cullen Murphy as illustrator is no reason to quit reading Prince Valiant, and while at times the storyline becomes redundant, the artwork remains as resplendent as ever. I look forward to Volume 20, to be released in November.

If you’d like to visit some of the places Prince Valiant sojourned over in Britain, consider taking the Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian tour Uncovering Camelot.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Surprisingly, I had not come across mention that King Arthur was connected to the White Horse of Uffington until recently when reading Benjamin Merkle’s The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great.

The White Horse of Uffington

Early in the book, Merkle mentions speaking to someone who suggested King Alfred the Great may not have been real. This outlandish statement, since we know Alfred was King of Wessex from 871-899, reveals that King Arthur and King Alfred the Great may be confused in the popular imagination. The same may be said about their legends associated with the White Horse.

The White Horse of Uffington is located in the Berkshire Downs. It is 374 feet in length and made of chalk. Every few years, it is rechalked to maintain its appearance. The White Horse is believed to be the oldest hill figure in Britain, some experts dating it back to 1000 BC. Some even think it represents a dragon, although it more closely resembles a horse in my opinion. In fact, similar images have been found on coins from the period which have caused scholars to think it may have represented some sort of local horse goddess, one form of Epona, a fertility goddess who was worshipped throughout the Celtic world and known to be a protector of horses.

As for King Arthur, Whitehorse Hill is also sometimes referred to as Mount Badon hill, the site where Arthur allegedly defeated the Saxons in 516 AD. Another story connected to King Arthur is of Wayland, the Norse god of blacksmithing, who is said to have had his forge about a mile away. Some legends even say that Wayland forged Excalibur. One legend says the horse leaves the hill once a year to graze, but others say it will not leave the hillside until King Arthur returns, and then the horse will dance on the Berkshire Downs to welcome the king home. These legends are all entertaining, but given that the horse is about twice as old as King Arthur would be, a connection between them seems unlikely.

The belief that the White Horse of Uffington actually looks like a dragon has also given rise to the stories that this is the very spot where St. George, England’s patron saint, famously killed the dragon.

The White Horse at Westbury

As for King Alfred, he also was said to have fought a decisive battle here, the Battle of Ashdown against the Danes in 871. He fought under his brother Aethelred who was king at the time but would die a few months later. Ashdown was the only of several battles that year that the Anglo-Saxon House of Wessex won. We also don’t know for sure that this hill was the sight of the battle, though Merkle says it is the likeliest candidate. Interestingly, at Westbury is another White Horse. This one we know dates only to 1778 when a local resident created it. Evidence exists, however, of another White Horse at this location facing toward the current horse. Records of that horse date only to the seventeenth century but many think it was created to commemorate Alfred’s victory over the Danes at the Battle of Ethandium in 878.

We will likely never know the truth about the history of the White Horse of Uffington, but one thing is for sure, it was there long before King Arthur or King Alfred, who probably both knew it well.

To discover more interesting places associated with King Arthur, I highly recommend Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian Tour, Uncovering Camelot.

Not surpringly, a white horse was chosen for King Arthur to ride in the 2004 film “King Arthur” starring Clive Owen.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

 

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If one were in search of the worst King Arthur movie ever, while I hesitate to say this one is the worst—I really think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) takes the cake there—King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (2017) would likely make the top ten list. That said, this poorly made and poorly conceived film does have a few—though very few—good points.

Knights of the Round Table’s descendants use machine guns – what’s not to like?

My title for this article is a tad misleading. King Arthur doesn’t end up in Thailand, but most of the film is set there. The gist of it is that King Arthur and his knights have been fighting Morgana and Mordred to the point where the king and the knights have had to go underground. In a last battle, Arthur overcomes his enemies and sends them shooting off into space in a giant rock. Fifteen hundred years later, we are introduced to the present-day descendants of King Arthur and his knights who for whatever reason are hanging out in Thailand. (I suspect it’s because Thailand was the cheapest place to make the film, which apparently had a $300,000 budget. One would think that was reason enough to make this the worst King Arthur film, but since King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s $175 million budget couldn’t save it, it’s definitely a bigger flop.)

Anyway, Morgana and Merlin now return and fight the Arthurian descendants (How they know to go to Thailand, when it would make more sense to go to Stonehenge or Cadbury Castle or even Winchester where the fake Round Table is, is unexplained). Some of the descendants are descended from Kay, Tristram, and Lancelot, but at least one, possibly two, is descended from King Arthur. During the scuffles that follow—with some martial arts tossed in since they’re in Thailand—the Holy Grail that they have in their keeping is revealed to be Excalibur melted down. Only the rightful heir to Arthur can wield it, and he turns out to be the descendant least proud to be a descendant: Penn, who thinks he’s only Sir Kay’s descendant. (Come on, Penn. Didn’t being named Penn, short for Pendragon, give it away?) Penn has just proposed to his girlfriend Jenna (think Jenny from Camelot aka Guinevere), and we later learn Jenna is pregnant with twins, so King Arthur’s line will obviously continue.

Sara Malakul Lane as Morgana and Russell Geoffrey Banks as Mordred. Banks’ performance is the only one of any note in the film.

Mordred is forced to do most of Morgan le Fay’s dirty work during the battles, and he’s heartily sick of it, so he eventually changes sides. Of course, he gets killed during the fighting but not before he redeems himself, and so on his deathbed, Penn tells him he truly thinks of him as his friend. He also dubs him Sir Mordred, which makes no sense since Mordred is always Sir Mordred already in the legends.

But before Mordred dies, we are subjected to Morgana turning into a robotic/china doll-looking giant who destroys most of Bangkok. Think the Ghostbusters ghost/Godzilla destroying New York/Tokyo. (Yes, this film is that original.) The only good thing here was that we weren’t subjected to New York getting blown up yet again. I had enough of that with The Avengers films, and oh, maybe a dozen other films as well).

The film ends with the Arthurian and knightly descendants triumphant and calling themselves the “Knights of New Camelot.” At least one website suggests this film was intended to be the lead-in to a television series, which the final scene also suggests. Thankfully, that never happened, though the ending does feel like it stole something from The Librarians films that led to that TV series.

Penn (left), King Arthur’s descendant and Lucas, Lancelot’s descendant, face off here in their rivalry for Jenna, in a modern Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere triangle. Only this Guinevere stays with Arthur and turns out to be fertile. (Apparently the historical one was too in this series or Penn wouldn’t exist.)

As always, I like the idea that King Arthur’s descendants live on, so that descendants of the other knights also live on and they have a fellowship is a rather cool idea. I also thought Mordred’s angst was quite well done. In fact, Mordred was the only really dynamic character in the film. Most of the other characters were fairly indescript and just remembering their names was difficult. That said, the film did do a good job of having some of the knights be female.

Thankfully, I don’t think Thailand will be on any Arthurian sites tours anytime soon just because of this film. But if you want to visit the sites traditionally associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, check out Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian tour.

Unless you’re a real diehard King Arthur movie buff, you can skip seeing this film. However, I’d love to hear what other movies you think might be contenders for the worst King Arthur movie ever.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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