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Archive for the ‘Arthurian Books’ Category

The Prince Valiant strip’s subtitle is “In the Days of King Arthur,” but I have to admit the scenes that take place at Camelot are often less inspired than those that take place elsewhere in Foster’s strip, and I felt that was the case with this volume, though there are still notable moments.

This volume opens with Val, Aleta, and their family on their way back to Camelot, and other than a little subplot in which Arn gets kidnapped and is rescued, they arrive there safely.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 14 includes King Arthur’s famous Battle of Mount Badon.

In the two years of work presented in this volume, Foster seems to be wanting to push his storyline closer to the catastrophe that brings about the end of Arthur’s reign, but at the same time, he holds back, making it happen very gradually. Once Valiant is back in Camelot, there are two key Arthurian moments in the book. The first concerns Modred (Foster’s spelling). Modred is complaining about how he and the other knights do all the work but Arthur gets all the glory and money. He has enlisted his four brothers of the Orkney clan, along with several younger knights, in his cause. When Gawain brings Valiant to one of Modred’s meetings, Valiant quickly makes the other knights see the treachery and lack of validity in Modred’s words so that soon all of the knights abandon him other than the Orkney clan. Valiant notes also that none of the established Knights of the Round Table are at the meeting other than those of Orkney.

The Orkney clan still wishes to plot with Modred. Modred wants to catch Lancelot and Guinevere in a trap and include Aleta in it. At this point, Gawain is torn between his friendship for Valiant and Aleta and his loyalty to his brothers. He warns Aleta to be careful, but she doesn’t understand the warning. The plot Modred ends up hatching is to distract and lead Valiant’s twin daughters away from the court just long enough so everyone will go looking for them. Both Aleta and Lancelot go looking in Guinevere’s private garden. The Orkneys lock them in the private garden for the night, thinking in the morning they will be found and it will look like they’ve committed adultery. (This plot doesn’t hurt Guinevere directly, but, of course, she’ll be heartbroken if Lancelot has to leave Camelot, and it will hurt Valiant also. If two of Arthur’s chief knights leave Camelot, Modred will have better opportunity for overthrowing the king.)

Of course, Modred’s plans come to naught. Valiant and Arn realize where Aleta is and climb over the garden wall. When the garden is later unlocked, Modred sees Lancelot and Aleta together and starts to accuse them, only to have Valiant and Arn then step out to show there is no dishonor because the four of them have all been together. Valiant then tells Modred he does not appreciate his insinuations. Modred, fearing Valiant will challenge him to a duel, flees Camelot, planning to continue to plot against King Arthur from a distance.

The other major Arthurian moment in this volume is the Battle of Mount Badon. I admit I found the battle a bit dull, but what is wonderful is the lead-up to it, involving Valiant’s son Arn. We have watched Arn grow up throughout the strip, and now he is old enough to go out as a scout, only to be captured by the Saxons. He gives them information about Arthur’s plans, then fakes his death when he escapes from them so they cannot know that he lives and has returned to Camelot to warn Arthur. The result is that Arthur knows exactly what to expect from the Saxons, so he takes them by surprise and soundly defeats them.

I’m not a fan of battle scenes, though Foster draws them well. What I love is the cleverness that Valiant and Aleta always display in getting out of sticky situations, and now it’s clear they’ve passed that cleverness on to their son.

It’s important to note that, according to most versions of the legend, Mount Badon was Arthur’s last great victory against the Saxons, followed by twenty or so years of peace before Camelot’s fall. One wonders whether Foster was starting to consider moving toward the fall of Camelot in the strip. By this point, Foster was in his early seventies, so he must have realized he could not draw the strip many more years, although it wouldn’t be until 1970 that he started looking for a successor and 1975 before he retired completely from the strip. In the end, I assume he couldn’t bear to see the strip end with his retirement, and so the fall of Camelot was put off indefinitely.

Valiant and Aleta’s twin girls are also growing up in this volume—they end up having their first crush on the same boy, and they employ a bit of trickery themselves to try to get him interested in them; however, they’re still too young to succeed, as is their victim, a twelve-year-old king. Nevertheless, I imagine they will be quite able to manipulate men with their feminine wiles just like their mother before too many more volumes have passed.

Two other passages worth noting in this volume are examples of Foster’s postmodern intrusion into the strip. I believe these are the first times he breaks the spell, reminding readers they are reading a story. The first is when he mentions that two characters ride out of the story. The second is when he claims the manuscripts he is basing the story on were damaged at one point, and so he can’t complete a specific episode and has to guess what happened. He then picks up the story with Valiant and Aleta traveling to Thule. The volume ends here with Valiant’s arrival in Thule where he has to trick some raiders to protect his father’s kingdom.

I wouldn’t say this is one of the stronger volumes in the series, but it still has its moments. Of added interest is the introduction by Roger Stern about other cartoon artists who engaged in “swiping” Foster’s work. “Swiping” is a term meaning copying or even plagiarizing. Numerous frames are presented as examples of Foster’s Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips beside frames of other cartoonists who have figures in similar poses—most notably a comparison between Tarzan and Batman’s poses—and also backgrounds that are so similar the artists obviously copied from Foster—one of an interior banquet hall in the Valiant strip is compared to one by Don Rosa for a Clan McDuck strip. Also interesting is the essay at the end of the book about Foster’s desire to be a fine art painter before he became a famous cartoonist. Several of Foster’s landscape paintings are presented—some are not overly impressive but some are quite exquisite. While he never saw his dream realized of being a famous painter, I’m sure Foster delighted far more people with his Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips than he ever would have with landscape paintings.

Volume 15 of the Prince Valiant reprints by Fantagraphics will be released in June. In it, there will be a return to the New World. Watch for the review later this year.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 the upcoming 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. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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I finally got a chance to read Volume 13 of the Prince Valiant strip put out by Fantagraphics, and I don’t know why I waited so long. This volume is one of the best in the series.

princevaliantvol13It begins with a foreword by Charles Vess, who was offered the opportunity to take over the strip in 2003 but declined because he felt the strip had become crammed in its smaller format in modern newspapers compared to its previous full page, and that it would limit him, although he thinks those who have drawn the strip since then have done excellent jobs. But what I really liked about the foreword most of all was how Vess pointed out the morality of the principal players in the strip. He argues that the world would be a better place if more people read the strip and learned from it. I couldn’t agree with him more. I could definitely see how young readers of the strip would be won over by the sense of fair play and ideas of right and wrong in it.

As I read this volume, that point stuck with me, and it made me look for examples of how Foster presents moral values to his readers. I discovered that those values also made me realize he was ahead of his time. When we look back at many of the books and comic strips of the early and mid-twentieth century, it can sometimes be disarming to discover racism in them. However, at least in the strips from 1961-1962, that is not the case. Yes, there are the occasional evil Arab characters but there are just as many evil European characters. Foster had no problem in handing out the good and bad characters in equal proportion regardless of race or creed.

One place political correctness and acknowledgment of equality amidst diversity is apparent is when Val journeys to the Holy Land in this volume. In the May 14, 1961 strip, Foster writes: “To some of the pilgrims has come humility but to others the hardships of the long journey have changed faith to fanaticism, and to these Val pleaded: ‘Respect the beliefs and customs of others that future pilgrims be not endangered.’ Had this advice been heeded there would have been no Crusades.” Not only is this statement true, but it is criticizing Christianity more than the Islam or Judaism of those living in the Holy Land.

Later in the book, a Christian preacher, Wojan, begins drawing crowds of poor people to him, which threatens the stability of England. Wojan is innocent, Christ-like, and a bit of a simpleton, so he doesn’t realize his advisors are collecting money from his followers to make themselves rich. This episode in the strip speaks out against religious fanaticism. At the same time, earlier volumes have depicted Valiant seeking the Holy Grail and actively working for the spread of Christianity in Thule and England. In other words, Foster is preaching Christianity but in moderation rather than fanaticism.

Another notable part of this volume is that Valiant purchases a slave, Ohmed, whom he then frees once he hears how Ohmed was taken captive from his home where his loved ones were slaughtered. Foster not only repeatedly has Valiant travel to places all over the globe, but he also has Valiant befriend people from other cultures and make them part of his circle. Tillicum, a Native American woman who was introduced into the strip in Vol 6 (1947-1948), is one such character who plays a supporting role throughout the storyline. In fact, in 1953, her marriage to a white man will produce the first interracial baby in the strip. Ohmed, however, isn’t so lucky. He ends up murdered in the strip a few months after he makes his appearance. Still, that Valiant frees him and seeks to help him is a sign of Valiant’s generosity and Foster’s appreciation for treating everyone fairly.

Also noteworthy in this volume is that Valiant’s wife, Aleta, gives birth to her fourth child, a young boy named Galan. This event leads to Valiant’s oldest son, Arn, deciding he will abdicate his right to the thrones of the Misty Isles and Thule so his younger brother can have the throne and he can then simply enjoy himself. It should be noted that Arn gives no thought to his twin sisters, who are passed over for the throne—Foster isn’t that politically correct yet to let women be in the line of succession.

One of my favorite things about the Valiant strip is watching Arn grow up. In this volume, he is now old enough to travel with his father, go hunting and camping on his own, and truly become a man. Foster doesn’t give Arn’s age, but the drawings make it look like Arn might be about twelve or thirteen—he hasn’t had a romance yet, but it looks like he will soon from the way things are going for him—his female friend Diane is now afraid to undress in front of him when they go swimming, so Arn and his friends are definitely growing up.

I love Aleta, but she didn’t get a lot of time in this book, and the one week when we do go inside of her head, we find her remembering all the times Valiant has been “a magnificent brute” in the past, tossing her into a pond and even spanking her, and how she likes it. Again, not as politically correct as it should be.

Nevertheless, this volume was full of fabulous journeys to the Holy Land, Baghdad, Rome, and Spain, several stories of cleverness outwitting villainy, and just some all-around fabulous drawings. Valiant’s hair is also starting to look a little shorter and less girlish and subtly Foster is making Valiant look more mature—I suspect he’s well into his thirties by this volume and even Aleta is showing a bit of her age after her pregnancy. In their hearts, though, the lovers seem forever young.

I’ll be reviewing Volume 14 soon, so stay tuned.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 the upcoming 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. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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My newest novel, Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is the most Gothic-influenced of my novels. While the series builds on the Arthurian legends, it also draws on many other legends, including those of Charlemagne, the Fairy Melusine, Prester John, Dracula, and the Wandering Jew. Here is the prologue to Lilith’s Love, which introduces the Wandering Jew, who is frequently known to appear at key historical moments, as if he is in some way manipulating them, and such is the case in this opening scene:

Prologue

Constantinople, May 29, 1453, Just after Midnight

“The city will be both founded and lost by an emperor Constantine whose mother was called Helen.”

— Ancient Byzantine Prophecy

For fifty-three days, the siege had held. He had never thought he would be able to hold off the Turks for as long as he had. Had Pope Nicholas V and the rest of Europe come to his aid, it might have been different; even so, his people had been remarkable in their determination not to surrender to the enemy. But any day now, even any hour, it was bound to end.

Largely a sequel to Dracula, Lilith's Love begins with the Fall of Constantinople, tells of Dracula's involvement with the ancient sorceress Lilith, and records what happened to Quincey Harker, son to Jonathan and Mina Harker.

Lilith’s Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible to create a stunning new look at human history.

And he would be the last, he, Constantine XI, the last Emperor of the Romans. For fifteen centuries, there had been an empire, and for more than eleven centuries, the capital had been here in Constantinople, but now all that would come to an end. He had done everything he could, trying to negotiate peace with the Turks, striving to get the Orthodox Church to concede to the Pope’s demands that they become Catholic, imploring the rulers of France, England, Hungary, Venice, whoever would listen, to come to his aid, but it had all been to no avail. The Turks far outnumbered those in the city.

And the city was not even worth taking; Constantine knew that. Its wealth had diminished to almost nothing in the last two centuries, ever since the Latins had used a crusade to the Holy Land as an excuse to sack the city and then rule as its emperors for most of the thirteenth century. Although the Romans had regained the city and the throne in time, the empire had continued to shrink and weaken; continually, Constantine and his imperial predecessors had sought to keep the Turks at bay, the emperors wedding their daughters to the Ottoman sultans and doing anything necessary to ensure the empire’s survival.

And as the last emperor, Constantine knew the blame would lie upon his head, without regard to how little chance he had to stop his enemy or how all of Christendom had abandoned him and his people to their fate. What would they call him? His first namesake was Constantine the Great. Would he be called Constantine the Defeated, Constantine the Failure, Constantine the Unworthy? Perhaps the best he could hope for was to be killed in battle so he would be remembered as Constantine the Martyr.

He stood alone now on the battlements, his soldiers knowing he wished to be alone with his thoughts. He looked out at the vast hordes of Turks encamped around the city. Even now they were battering at the walls, hoping to topple any one of them, not even seeking sleep as the night moved toward dawn.

How had it come to this? To some extent, Constantine could understand the reluctance and ignorance of his fellow rulers to come to his aid. Even the Pope, the supposed leader of the Christian world, he could forgive for his stubbornness when he considered that they were all men, full of weaknesses, but how could God Himself turn His back on them? How could the Holy Virgin to whom the city had been dedicated, desert them?

Constantine XI, who like King Arthur, is said will one day return.

Constantine XI, who like King Arthur, is said will one day return.

And there was no doubt they had been forsaken. The Holy Virgin had shown she would no longer protect them. The city had been dedicated to the Virgin since its ancient days. In desperation, the people had cried out to her ever since the siege had begun, and just three days ago, her most holy relic, the Hodegetria—an icon of her, believed to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself, which had saved the city on numerous occasions—was brought forth from Saint Sophia and carried in a procession through the streets. It had been mounted on a wooden pallet and lifted onto the shoulders of several strong men from the icon’s confraternity. The people followed as the Hodegetria traveled through the city, while the priests offered up incense, and the men, women, and children walked barefoot to show their penance. Hymns were sung, prayers said, and the people repeatedly cried out to the Virgin, beseeching her protection: “Do thou save thy city, as thou knowest and willest. We put thee forward as our arms, our rampart, our shield, our general: do thou fight for thy people.”

Then, before anyone realized it was happening, the Hodegetria slipped from the hands of its bearers. They struggled to grasp it, but it was too late. The people ran forward to pick it up, but it was as if it were weighted with lead, refusing to be raised. Eventually, when it was raised again, the procession had barely restarted before thunder burst through the clouds and lightning split the sky. Then the heavens poured down rain, soaking the procession and all the penitents. The downpour became torrential so that the procession had to halt; water, inches deep, filled the streets, making them slippery, and the flood soon threatened to wash away the children in the procession. Struggling, the icon’s bearers eventually managed to return the Hodegetria to Saint Sophia as gloom settled over the city, less from the weather than the omens that clearly stated the Virgin had refused their prayers and penance.

Worse, the next day, God’s grace had left the city. Since its construction by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, Saint Sophia had held within it the Holy Light as its protector. But that night, a great glow was seen in the sky. First, the sentries on the walls and then people in the streets had cried out in fear that the city had caught on fire. All the sky lit up, but the flame was located only on the roof of Saint Sophia. The flame shot forth from the window and circled the entire dome several times before gathering itself into one great and indescribable flash of blinding light that shot up into the heavens. Clearly, the Holy Light had returned from whence it had come, no longer offering God’s protection to the city. The sight had been so overwhelming to Constantine that now, two days later, it still made him sick to think of it. Had he himself lost favor with God? At that fatal moment, such a thought had caused him to go numb throughout his body and collapse to the ground in a faint, remaining unconscious for hours.

Hagia Sophia, where it is said the priests disappeared into a wall during the Fall of Constantinople.

Hagia Sophia, where it is said the priests disappeared into a wall during the Fall of Constantinople.

When Constantine finally woke, the people had begged him to flee the city before it was too late, but he had insisted he would not do so. To leave his people solely to save his own life would be to heap immortal ridicule upon his name. And even if he did leave, what life would remain for him, without a throne, marked as a coward for not standing by his supporters in their hour of greatest need? Better he stay to fight, and if need be, die with his people.

He had seen both these catastrophes with his own eyes, but the most shocking event he alone had experienced. Early the next morning, when he had gone out walking in the palace gardens, he had come face-to-face with an old man with a flowing white beard in a tattered black robe. Constantine had never seen the man before, and he could not understand how the man had entered his private gardens. But before he could accost the man, the stranger looked him square in the eyes, his own eyes piercingly gray, and without showing fear or deference for Constantine’s station, he said, “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Constantine had frozen, feeling himself unable to speak or move. His mind went blank for what seemed the longest time as the question “Who are you?” struggled to rise to his lips. His first fear was that the man might be an assassin, sent by the Turks—who but an assassin would dare to enter his private garden at dawn? But then, slowly, the answer came to his lips in a whisper.

“The Wandering Jew.”

Before the words fully escaped Constantine’s mouth, the man turned and disappeared behind a clump of trees. Constantine ran after him, so stunned that he pursued him into the bushes, scratching himself on their branches but unable to see anyone. After a couple of minutes, he calmed himself and returned to the walkway, fearing his people had seen his frantic behavior. Had he dreamt it, or had he truly seen the man? But he could remember those words clearly; they yet rung in his ears: “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Gustave Dore's depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been cursed by Christ to wander the earth until the Second Coming.

Gustave Dore’s depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been cursed by Christ to wander the earth until the Second Coming.

He knew such a meeting forebode great ill. The Wandering Jew—he whom Christ had cursed to wander the earth until His return—had long been rumored to appear at pivotal moments in history. Stories claimed he had been seen in the city once before, back in 1204 when the Latin Crusaders had sacked Constantinople. He had also been seen at the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, amid the mob during the Peasants Revolt in England in 1381, and most recently in the crowd when the Maid of Orleans had been burned at the stake in Rouen, France in 1431. Constantine had heard rumors in recent days that the Wandering Jew had been sighted in Constantinople’s streets, but he had dismissed such rumors as folk tales. Now, he could not imagine who else this man could be who dared to address him as “last of the Romans”—an ominous reference, indeed.

The next day, Constantine knew his death was certain when twelve Venetian ships arrived to aid the city, bringing with them the news that no larger fleet nor other enforcements would come. Twelve ships would be of little help against the incredible Ottoman navy and the hordes of Turkish soldiers preparing for the final assault they all knew was coming. No one could accurately tell the numbers, but a city of just over fifty thousand souls—a city that in its glorious past had been home to a million residents—was being protected by an army of less than twenty thousand against some one hundred thousand Turks, plus their allies. Surely, the situation was hopeless.

Constantine had little doubt that tonight was the last time the sun would set on the city before it was taken, and pillaged, and perhaps even destroyed. The walls could well be broken through before dawn. The Turkish cannons had already damaged them beyond repair. The conquest would happen as soon as Sultan Mehmet II led the next charge.

Nothing was left to do but offer prayers, though prayers now seemed of little help. Nevertheless, Constantine had spent the last day at service in Saint Sophia, on his knees before his people and God, begging forgiveness for their transgressions. Afterwards, he had spent time here on the ramparts with his longtime friend and advisor Sphrantzes. And then he had sought some time alone, time to prepare himself for what he did not doubt was his imminent death. He would do so nobly, as Emperor of the Romans, and in a manner to make his ancestors proud, but he would be dead nonetheless, and he had his doubts that God would have mercy upon his soul after the signs he had already seen.

“Your majesty.” He turned to hear himself addressed and found the captain of the guard speaking. “The Turks are about to break through the wall. You must return to the palace. You must look to your own safety.”

“You know better,” Constantine replied, already in his armor. “Come; we will fight together, and may God have mercy on our souls.”

The Turks were firing their cannons. It was almost half-past one in the morning. Just as the emperor joined his army before the St. Romanus Gate, a cannonball came ripping through the wall, sending stone and men flying, and by the time Constantine and his men recovered from the shock, three hundred Turks had poured through, their voices roaring as they entered the city. In panic, some of the Romans fled into the streets, desperate to see to their own and their families’ safety, but most stood fighting beside their emperor and the officers.

The Romans fought violently, but they were far outnumbered, and while the battle raged at the great crumbling opening in the wall for several minutes, eventually, the Romans were cut down as the Turks began to spread and pillage throughout Constantinople.

Constantine found himself covered in blood as his sword continued to slice at the Turks before him, but within a few minutes, he was surrounded by his enemies. He had taken care not to wear anything to make the enemy suspect he was the emperor, for he knew if they discovered his identity, his life would be spared, but only because the sultan would want to hold him as a prisoner. No, he would much rather die here with his people than be forced to go down on bended knee before Mehmet II, or worse, be paraded through the streets by his captors.

Suddenly, Constantine felt a great pain in his back. He immediately became dizzy; for a moment, he felt his knees buckle and he thought he would collapse, but then he experienced a great lifting feeling, as if he were floating into the air. He could only think that his soul was leaving his body. Had he been slain? Was he now dead? Was he being taken to Heaven—could death be this quick?

Looking up, bending his head all the way back, he saw he was in the arms of a great winged man, a beautiful gorgeous man, a man a good couple of feet taller than him—no, not a man but an angel.

And then all went black.

*

When he opened his eyes, Constantine found himself lying on a cot inside a barren room all built of stone. He could see the sky, but nothing else from the window, making him assume he was quite high up. All he heard were birds chirping and a breeze rustling through the trees. No screams of his people. No cannons booming. And most surprisingly, he felt no fear.

Was he dead? But, surely, Heaven did not look like the barren room of a castle.

For a moment, he relished the quiet, but his curiosity overcame him. He sat up and continued to look out the window. From his sitting position, he could see what appeared to be a marsh, and beyond that a river, and then just a green row of trees and a lush countryside. He appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Certainly, he was far from Constantinople.

“Where am I?” he muttered, about to put his feet on the floor when the door opened. In walked a man whom Constantine had only seen once before.

“You!” Constantine gasped.

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For Immediate Release

New Novel Merges King Arthur, Lilith, and Dracula Legends

Marquette, MI, November 18, 2016—Since the dawn of time, Lilith, Adam’s first wife whom he spurned in Eden, has held a grudge against Adam and Eve’s descendants, and since the time of King Arthur, the descendants of Britain’s greatest king have sought to stop her from wreaking havoc upon the human race. But never could they have envisioned Dracula joining Lilith’s forces.

Lilith's Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible to create a stunning new look at human history.

Lilith’s Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible to create a stunning new look at human history.

Lilith’s Love is the fourth of five volumes in Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. The series began with Arthur’s Legacy in which Lilith, in her incarnation as Gwenhwyvach, Guinevere’s half-sister, sought to destroy Camelot. The series continued through Melusine’s Gift and Ogier’s Prayer as Arthur’s modern day descendants, Adam and Anne Delaney, discovered the truth about their heritage and, with the aid of Merlin, tried to stop Lilith from destroying all that is good in the world.

Now things come to a head when Adam and Anne meet Quincey Harker, the child born to Jonathan and Mina Harker at the conclusion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Quincey’s mother, Mina, had been forced by Dracula to drink his blood, and as a result, Quincey was born with superhuman powers and a tendency toward evil. Ultimately, Quincey is forced to choose between good and evil, and what he learns on his journey could ultimately make the difference in finally defeating Lilith, but nothing, everyone quickly realizes, is quite what it seems.

Lilith’s Love, like its predecessors, blends together myth and history to create a new imagining of mankind’s past and the possibilities for its future. Part Arthurian legend, part sequel to Dracula, the novel stars a legendary cast of characters, including Merlin, Emperor Constantine XI, the Wandering Jew, Dracula, Captain Vanderdecker of the Flying Dutchman, and Lilith herself. Readers will take a magic carpet ride from the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the beginnings of a New World Order in the twenty-first century, rewriting a past we all thought we knew to create a future far more fabulous than we ever dreamed.

Arthurian authors and fans have been delighted with each volume of Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. Sophie Masson, editor of The Road to Camelot, praises the first book, Arthur’s Legacy, as “an intriguing blend of action-packed time-slip fantasy adventure, moving love story, multi-layered mystery, and unusual spiritual exploration.” Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, states of Lilith’s Love, “Tichelaar deftly weaves together history, myth, and legend into a tale that takes the reader on an epic journey through time, connecting characters and events you’d never expect….” And Rowena Portch, award-winning author of the Spirian Saga series, proclaims that the Children of Arthur is for those who “love the mystical magic of Camelot but thrive on the excitement and tribulations of Game of Thrones.”

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of numerous historical fiction novels, including The Marquette Trilogy, The Best Place, and the award-winning Narrow Lives, as well as the scholarly books The Gothic Wanderer and King Arthur’s Children, the latter of which served as research and inspiration for The Devon Players’ upcoming independent film Mordred. Tichelaar is currently writing the final book of the Children of Arthur series, Arthur’s Bosom, to be released in late 2017.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four (ISBN 9780996240024, Marquette Fiction, 2017) can be purchased in paperback and ebook editions through local and online bookstores. For more information, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com. Review copies available upon request.

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Picus the Thief, translated by Robin Bennett, is an original book that takes several traditional storytelling motifs and gives them new life through multiple reimaginings of legends and traditions.

Think of it as fairyland meets Camelot meets Dracula. It’s a little of all of those, and yet not strictly tied to any of them.

PicustheThiefThe title character, Picus, is a vampire, but he’s not your typical vampire—although there is a reference to Dracula as a sort of vampire ancestor—but that’s rather anachronistic—in fact a lot of things about this book are anachronistic. In any case, Picus is not only a vampire but he has fairy-like or, more properly, dragonfly-like wings. He is about the size of your forefinger, and as one of the human characters says when he meets Picus, to Picus’ displeasure, he’s kind of like a mosquito—he can fly and he sucks blood.

Picus is far from a scary vampire. One of his bites probably doesn’t hurt much more than that of a mosquito, so he’s not a bad guy. That said, vampires do think well of themselves; there’s plenty of vampire superiority in this book—a tone that vampires are better than humans—although I’m not sure that that isn’t all vampire propaganda.

To understand why it might be termed propaganda, we have to look at the book’s authorship. It is actually the first book in the Small Vampires series, which will provide a history of the vampires. The book was allegedly discovered in manuscript form in a curious way by Robin Bennett, who explains in the introduction how the strange book in an unfamiliar language eventually came into his hands. After some difficulty he managed to translate it. In short, he learned it was written by vampires, so obviously they will portray themselves in the best light. He also learned that there were people in the world who might be willing to harm him to get their hands on the book, and so he decided to publish it so there would be no one copy that could be stolen from him. All of this is explained in a very engaging way that made me realize that here was the typical eighteenth century Gothic novel technique of the mysterious discovered manuscript, but at the same time, it was written in a fun way that made me feel more like I was entering a playful and mysterious world akin to Narnia or Neverland.

And then the story starts and we are introduced to Picus. It is the year 266 A.D. we are told, which is rather odd and why I say the book is anachronistic since Dracula (if he was first the historical Vlad Tepes) lived in the fifteenth century, and eventually, Picus goes to Angleland at the time soon after the Romans have left—they wouldn’t leave in reality until about 410 A.D. and there were certainly no Angles in England at that time (but this is Angleland not really England). In short, Bennett, whom I suspect is the author despite his claims to being the translator, is writing pseudo-history and consequently everything in this book is “pseudo”—pseudo-vampires and pseudo-Arthurian legend especially.

Despite the vampires’ belief that they are superior to their cousins the Faies (fairies) and to the humans (who may have some distant relationship to both of these more supernatural beings, though the humans are magic-less), the vampires have some issues of their own. At least Picus does. He grew up in a dysfunctional home in which he was asked to murder his Sanguine—a wingless being the vampires have bred as servants and to feed upon. Picus’ refusal to kill his Sanguine led to his flight from home and his mother’s anger. Talk about dysfunction. Before the book ends, this mixed up family turns out to be more like Hamlet’s family than that from any happy fairy tale—come to think of it, most fairy tales do feature dysfunctional families—think of all those evil stepmothers.

Anyway, Picus makes his living as a thief, and we follow him from one theft to another until he finds himself being commissioned to enter the human world and steal the sword Exkylipr, which was forged in the belly of the Chalice and is one of the seven treasures. (Think Excalibur and Merlin collecting the Thirteen Treasures of Britain.) The humans were given the sword many years before, but now the vampires want it back, so Picus is sent to retrieve it. He ends up going to Camelon Castle, but he doesn’t meet any Arthur there. (There is an Art in the book, but he’s a vampire and runs a pawn shop—nothing kingly about him.) Instead, Picus meets an Ambrosias (no uncle to King Arthur but an old lady and the court physician). She is wise enough to know his purpose and eventually befriends him.

I won’t say more because I don’t want to give away the whole plot, but don’t look for an Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle in this book, and don’t look for your typical vampires, even though these vampires do have roots in Transylvania and the Carpathians.

Rather, expect a highly original take on old legends that is playful yet not lacking in adventure or even violence. There’s a feel of almost Irish leprechaun trickery here, a dash of Shakespearean revenge tragedy, and some beautiful prose worthy of Hans Christian Andersen. There’s plenty of whimsical creatures, complete with a glossary of them, an essay explaining magic in the vampires’ world, and even plenty of humor. For example, one of the funniest passages for me was “Gargoyles were also generally accepted to be the most nosey, pernickety, prissy and prying species on the planet after cleaning ladies….”

This is not a book for the die-hard Arthurian fan who likes depictions of the historical King Arthur. It’s more for fans who enjoyed the BBC’s Merlin. It’s also not for lovers of dark Gothic lore with all its angst or even the Twilight crowd—I think you’d be more likely a fan of The Addams Family or Young Frankenstein if you like this book—or maybe The Princess Bride. If you love fairies, I also think you’ll love these vampires, but perhaps not the fairies in the book—Queen Mab is about as awful as they come with her necklace made out of male vampire teeth, which has led to her nickname “The Tooth Fairy.” Actually, I loved hating her.

So it’s a little of everything—a little grotesque, a little funny, a little magical, and a little traditional. Plus, it’s a beautifully-designed book—the cover looks like a true lost manuscript or the kinds of books produced at the turn of the last century, and there are illustrations for each chapter, not of the characters, but of flowers and dragonflies that give it the feel of Victorian fairy tale books. I imagine many young adult readers will enjoy it, but adults may also feel here is some of the magic of childhood they knew that hasn’t been lost but only needs to be found again.

You can find out more about the “translator” Robin Bennett and the future books in this series at www.SmallVampires.com

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, and the upcoming 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. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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Finally, in Volume 12 (1959-1960) we come to the quest for the Holy Grail in the Prince Valiant strip, but not before some rather less-than-exciting adventures in Volume 11 (1957-1958).

PV11

Volume 11 of Prince Valiant.

I’ll admit that Volume 11 was a disappointment overall for me. It begins with a long essay about Pal Palenske, who was likely an interesting man as an advertising executive, but the essay’s point isn’t clear until the very end—that Foster worked with him. I can imagine that it is difficult to keep coming up with new essays for this series, but this one was rather marginal in its connection to Foster. I’ll admit not really being interested in Foster’s advertising work, so many of these essays are rather tedious for me. Of course, Foster’s artwork in his ads was marvelous regardless, but it is all tangential to Prince Valiant, which is the main reason why I read the series, and it’s not even Prince Valiant himself who interests me so much as what Foster did with the Arthurian legends in his strip.

Volume 11 has several adventure stories but some of them feel largely like rehashes of earlier plots. The big treat of the volume is seeing Prince Arn growing up and the adventures he undertakes, but overall, I found nothing worth getting excited over in this volume.

Volume 12 is a different story. First off, I appreciated Neal Adams foreword, which told it like it is. Adams describes his own indifference to the Prince Valiant strip growing up, and he hits the nail on the head in pointing out the strip’s faults. He says that the strip is not a comic book so the story didn’t flow as well. Valiant’s page-boy haircut was also a turn off for him. I have to admit both Valiant’s haircut and also his name are turnoffs. He sounds like some sort of romantic and unrealistic Romeo and he is decidedly lacking a masculine look most of the time. One exception being the opening of Volume 12 when he is enslaved, has his hair cut short, and is shirtless. Then he seems manly enough to be a hero. This raises questions of why the strip still appeals to so many people when the modern reader must see Valiant as sort of girlish and old-fashioned in look; even the 1990s television cartoon series cut Valiant’s hair to make him look more manly. But Adams goes on to discuss how as he got older he saw that Foster’s drawings were far superior to those of other comics—they are more like artful movie stills. He also credits Foster with trying to be historically accurate in his drawings, and I admit that I sit in wonderment at the details of the drawings and even how there will be layers of figures on top of each other which must have been incredibly difficult to draw. My problem is I read more for the story, which just doesn’t always come up to the standards of the artwork.

As for the stories in this volume, it is better than the last volume, although some of the plots are becoming the same old, same old, and tiresome. The major plot of interest is the quest for the Holy Grail. King Arthur asks Valiant to look into the truth of the Holy Grail because many knights have gone off to seek it and not returned, which is hurting the Round Table as Merlin had predicted.

Volume 12 of Prince Valiant, in which Valiant goes searching for the Holy Grail.

Volume 12 of Prince Valiant, in which Valiant goes searching for the Holy Grail.

When Valiant agrees to go, he and Aleta have a fight about it, resulting in his getting mad and spanking her. This act of brutality would not be acceptable in a strip today, and even worse, when Valiant leaves on the quest, ashamed of his behavior and thinking Aleta will never love him again, Aleta confesses to herself that she enjoyed being spanked and thinks of Valiant as “a magnificent beast.” I’m gagging. It’s disgusting to think women find being mistreated by men to be appealing—a sexist view of the time akin to the scene in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett is happy and smiling in the morning after Rhett rapes her. While Valiant and Aleta usually make an attractive couple and Aleta knows how to keep her husband in line, this was not one of her finer moments.

Of course, Valiant and Aleta will patch things up when he returns, but not until after he travels the land to find out information about the Holy Grail. I was both happy with the results of his Grail Quest and also disappointed that there were not more adventures along the way—there is no one achieving the grail—no Galahad or Percival having mystical experiences—but I can only hope this is not the last we have heard of the Holy Grail in the strip and Foster plans to do more with it gradually. The main highlights of Valiant’s quest is his meeting St. Patrick and later the Beaker folk, an ancient people who have been at Stonehenge one thousand years before the Druids. Ultimately, St. Patrick tells Valiant that no one knows whether it’s true that St. Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail to Britain, so the Grail is probably not a chalice but “ a symbol of faith, courage and hope.” The knights, by questing for it, are spreading the message of Christianity throughout Britain, and that is what is most important. When Valiant returns to Camelot, King Arthur accepts this and decides the quest is a good thing despite how it hurts the Round Table.

This volume ends with Valiant and Aleta returning to her kingdom of the Misty Isles so her people can see Prince Arn, whom she wants to succeed her. Some tension returns between Val and Aleta at this point because Valiant wants Arn to rule Thule after him. The summary for Volume 13 at the end of the book tells us the couple will soon have another son, so I imagine this issue will be resolved.

I admit some of the strip has become boring to me, but yet, I read on, wanting to discover what happens next. As long as Fantagraphics keeps producing these books, I’ll likely keep reading and blogging about them.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly work King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new novel, Camelot’s Queen, the second of three books in the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy following Daughter of Destiny. (You can also read on this blog my review of her two novels Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen and my previous interview with her about Daughter of Destiny.)

Nicole Evelina, author of "Camelot's Queen" about Guinevere's years married to King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina, author of “Camelot’s Queen” about Guinevere’s years married to King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skills, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide. Her goal in writing Arthurian fiction is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series. And it looks like she’s succeeded because Daughter of Destiny has so far won:

  • Book of the Year – Chanticleer Reviews
  • Gold Medal – Next Generation Indie Book Awards
  • First Place, Legacy/legend category – 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romantic Fiction

Short list – 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction

SelectedLibrary Journal’s curated SELF-e Select module

Hopefully, we’ll find out Nicole’s secret for writing great Arthurian fiction here today.

Tyler: Welcome back, Nicole. I’ve been anxious to find out what happens to Guinevere, and I wasn’t disappointed in the second book in the series. The first book, Daughter of Destiny, focused on the years leading up to Guinevere’s marriage, which are usually fairly ignored by Arthurian writers, but this second book follows the main tradition from her marriage to King Arthur until Lancelot rescues her from being burnt at the stake. Consequently, you had a lot more material to work with here, but also less license to be wholly imaginative, so would you say writing Camelot’s Queen was easier or more difficult as a result?

Nicole: Thanks for having me here again. Always a pleasure! To answer your question, it made it easier and harder. Having more source material gave me more to work with, but I also had more to cull through and in the early drafts, I had a tough time bringing focus to the book because I wanted to cover everything. It also means readers have a lot more expectations coming into this book than they do with the others, so I had to keep in mind both the story I wanted to tell with what most people would expect, and if I was going to change something, give them a darn good reason for it.

Tyler: One of the most detailed sections of the book concerns what happens when Guinevere is abducted by Malegant. You made a lot of interesting changes to the story in this section that I thought made it very powerful. What made you decide to tell the tale in the way you did here?

Nicole: I felt like it was part of the tradition that couldn’t be ignored. Here I am telling this woman’s life story from her point of view, so there’s no logical way to skip over it without the gap being really obvious. I kept in mind the tenant that “every villain is the hero of their own story” when creating Malegant and defining his personality and back story. I wanted the reader to be able to understand why he did the terrible things he did and that in his mind, he was in the right. He wasn’t just some mustache-twirling villain who was there because tradition dictated it; he had an untapped back-story, just like Guinevere.

As for the changes around Arthur and Morgan’s roles, without spoiling anything, I’ll say I did that because I wanted to do something other than have her be his sister. When I eliminated that possibility, I had to think hard about what their relationship would be and how that would impact the rest of the story. What would make these characters still act in accord with tradition? Luckily for me, Celtic law provided the perfect answer.

Tyler: Did you have a favorite scene or section in the novel that you enjoyed writing?

Nicole: The whole section around Guinevere’s kidnapping is my favorite, hands down. But I also love three of the scenes with Aggrivane: when he and Guinevere talk after he comes back to Camelot, what happens after Lancelot is invested as champion, and their scene together right before the burning.

Tyler: While most of the characters will be familiar to readers of Arthurian books, you do introduce some new characters such as Sobian. Why did you decide to create her?

Nicole: She created herself, believe it or not. Originally, she appeared when Arthur, Guinevere and a group of knights were traveling around the kingdom, visiting all of the people, much like the famous progress Queen Elizabeth I made around England every year. When she popped into my head she was very mysterious, and much like I had to do with Arthur, I had to force her to open up and give me a clue who she was. Obviously, that section evolved over various drafts, but Sobian remained. I think that it is important for you to see someone from Arthur’s past and know that he had a life, lovers, friends, before he became king. She’s also an incredibly strong woman, one who adds to the court tremendously, while also helping keep the men in check.

Tyler: I think one of my favorite scenes in the novel was how you treated the Holy Grail when it is first discovered. Will you tell our readers a little about that scene and what your goal was with it?

Nicole: Do you mean the scene where they all see it for the first time? For those who haven’t read it, the grail changes form so that everyone sees it according to their own faith or cultural tradition. So a Christian sees the traditional chalice, while a pagan sees a cauldron or a drinking horn, depending on their background, etc.

It was important to me that whatever I do, I not take away from or slight anyone’s personal idea of the grail. It has been so many things over the years—a cauldron, a drinking horn, a stone, a chalice, a cup, even Mary Magdalene—that I wanted every reader to be able to see their own beliefs reflected in it, just as the characters do. Regardless of whether or not the grail actually exists, it’s a powerful symbol to so many people and I wanted my version to represent unity through diversity.

"Camelot's Queen," the second book in Nicole Evelina's trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere's marriage to King Arthur.

“Camelot’s Queen,” the second book in Nicole Evelina’s trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere’s marriage to King Arthur.

Tyler: I was struck that Bishop Marius plays a rather villainous role in the novel. It seems quite common in Arthurian literature, at least since Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, for Christianity to come off negatively. Do you think that’s a fair statement and why do you think the negative depictions of Christianity in the legend are so popular today?

Nicole: I love Bishop Marius. He is so much fun to write.

I do think it’s a popular way to portray Christianity. I’m not sure what reason other authors have for that, but I would guess it may have something to do with Christianity representing the establishment and people being tired of it. Therefore, they glorify the other, which in this case is paganism.

For me it was more a matter of exploring the tension between pagan religions and Christianity at the turn of the fifth/sixth century, which is when these books are set. Yes, Marius is evil, but that’s because there have always been orthodox and power-hungry men in the Church, no matter the time period (Cardinal Richelieu in the 1600s comes immediately to mind as an example of the power hungry). With the conflict between the old and new religious being what it was, there no doubt would have been those zealous souls who wanted to wipe out all trace of the old religion.

That doesn’t mean that all of them are evil, however. That’s why you see a bit of Father Dafydd, who is one of the good men of the Church. He originally had a larger part, but even with what remains in the story, I hope you can see that he represents the positive side of the Church.

Tyler: I also find Morgan a fascinating character, and I love how she continues to thwart Guinevere throughout the series. Will she continue to play a role in the third novel, and will we ever find out the secret of her parentage?

Nicole: Yes, she’s definitely in the third book. As of right now I do plan on revealing who her parents are, but because the book isn’t finished, I can’t 100% guarantee that will stay in. But I bet it does.

Tyler: I hope you do leave it in. I can’t wait to find out. You’ve also stated that you wanted to create a strong female protagonist in this series, but at times, I admit that Guinevere seems a little too hot-headed and even childish, and I think as the author you were aware of that since even Merlin tells her she’s selfish at one point. Do you feel like she’s always justified in her behavior, or is she just fallible like the rest of us?

Nicole: Oh no, she’s not always justified. She’s flawed just like the rest of us, which I hope makes her more relatable. If you think about the way she was raised, her selfishness makes sense. She was the treasured only living child of parents who suffered much disappointment and loss as they watched a dozen children die at various points in life. So from the beginning she had only to think of herself. Then she was sent to Avalon, which was an honor not bestowed upon many. Granted, while she was there she had to learn some humility and how to live with others, but not long after she leaves she becomes queen. This role elevates her above all others and helps her default selfishness kick back in again. It’s only over time that she matures and learns to see beyond her own nose.

Tyler: I know you have another book coming out soon not on an Arthurian topic but on Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for U.S. President, back in the nineteenth century. I admit I never heard of her until I heard about your book, so will you tell us a little about this other book and why you chose this non-Arthurian topic since I suspect you see Woodhull as not too dissimilar from Guinevere as a strong woman?

Nicole: Sure. I picked Victoria exactly because she is a strong woman and those are the type I aim to portray in my writing. I found out about her by accident. I saw a pin on Pinterest of a beautiful woman who caught my eye. When I read the caption, I knew I had my next book subject. It said “Known by her detractors as “Mrs. Satan,” Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman’s suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.”

I hadn’t learned anything about her in school, and I suspected many others hadn’t either. So I wanted to do what I could to restore her to her rightful place in history by telling her story. She’s a woman of many accomplishments including being the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to testify before Congress, one of the first women to run a weekly newspaper, and the first female presidential candidate. Her family is crazier and pulls more stunts than I could ever make up. (Truth really is stranger than fiction.) And while Victoria is certainly no saint, I think people will enjoy reading about her.

Tyler: Nicole, for authors, writing can be a lonely task and you work on your books for years hoping people will like them. How has your view of writing changed since you’ve now published these first two Arthurian novels and have you learned anything from the feedback you’ve received from readers?

Nicole: It’s been a while since I’ve thought of writing as lonely, thanks to the amazing writing online community, especially on Twitter. But I will admit to feeling a bit more pressure now that I know people like the first two Guinevere novels. I always wanted to end the series strong, but now I feel like I owe my readers a great story, rather than just owing it to Guinevere or myself. That’s both good and bad in that it’s motivating, but could turn paralyzing if I think about it too much.

I’ve learned from readers that there has been a thirst for stories about Guinevere that’s gone untapped for a long time. My story has been what a lot of people were looking for. But not all. That’s another thing I’m learning—no book can satisfy everyone. Readers will sometimes read things into books that aren’t there or that you don’t intend; that can color their feedback and there’s nothing as the author you can do about it.

Tyler: Thanks again for joining me today, Nicole. Before we go, will you remind us when the last book of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy will be out, and what your website is so we can watch for it?

Nicole: Thanks again for having me! The last book in the trilogy, Mistress of Legend, will be out in early 2017. I don’t have a firm date yet. My website is http://nicoleevelina.com/. I’m always happy to hear from readers by email, snail mail or on social media.

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