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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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Glastonbury is my favorite place in England. It is also, in my opinion, the most magical. Perhaps that’s because I first visited it in May 1993, just a few months after I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, so I could just see Morgan le Fay there, like she is at the end of the novel. But there is far more to this historical place than its role in some fantasy novels. In fact, it is England’s holiest ground.

Ruins at Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury’s story is shrouded in mystery. There is a cross there presented by Queen Elizabeth II to honor it as a place so ancient its orgins can only be sought in legend. Consequently, many legends have arisen about it, especially concerning King Arthur.

Glastonbury’s King Arthur connections actually go back five centuries before his time. That’s because it was to Glastonbury that St. Joseph of Arimathea, allegedly an uncle or great-uncle to Jesus Christ, brought his nephew to study with the druids, an explanation for the lost years of Jesus’ childhood and early adulthood. Later, Joseph of Arimathea returned to Glastonbury after Jesus’ death; there he established the abbey and became its first abbot. He also brought with him the Holy Grail, in which he had captured Jesus’ blood after he had been pierced by the Spear of Longinus while dying on the Cross. The Holy Grail was believed to have been kept at Glastonbury for many years.

Inside Glastonbury Abbey’s ruins.

Also connected to Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury is the Holy Thorn. It is said that this thorn tree grew from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff, which he planted into the ground at Glastonbury. The thorn was remarkable because it blossomed with flowers at Christmas and may be the only thorn in the world to do so—Christmas being Jesus’ birthday and thus a time when the thorn celebrated Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, the original thorn was destroyed by the Puritans during the English Civil War. Offsprings of that thorn continued to grow at Glastonbury until just last month when, after repeated vandal attempts, the last one was removed by the landowner. (see “Glastonbury’s Famous Holy Thorn Removed.”)

The holy thorn as it appeared circa 1991.

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

As for King Arthur, we all know that after he was wounded at the Battle of Camlann, Morgan le Fay took him away on a barge to Avalon. Speculation exists that Avalon was nearby, possibly being Glastonbury Tor, a hill that rises up like an island shrouded in mist. Here it has also been said that the Holy Grail was kept. While I prefer to believe King Arthur is still living on Avalon—a place yet to be discovered by the modern world—and waiting to return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need, one tradition is that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have discovered the remains of Arthur and Guinevere on the abbey property. Also found was an iron cross verifying they were Arthur and Guinevere’s graves. The original cross has since disappeared—if it ever existed—but a drawing of it was made that has survived. The story also goes that one of the monks reached in and touched Guinevere’s golden tresses, but they then instantly disintegrated. In 1278, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor attended a ceremony at the abbey when King Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies were reburied under the high altar. No one has apparently disturbed the bodies since then, although I am surprised no archeologist has tried to.

Arthur and Guinevere’s most likely fake grave at Glastonbury Abbey

Were King Arthur and Guinevere really buried at Glastonbury? I’m skeptical. Many scholars have speculated that the bodies were planted there by Henry II as a hoax to destroy myths that King Arthur would return, thus keeping the Welsh and Saxons from having any hope that they could rebel or that they would be saved by Arthur from the rule of a Norman Plantagenet king. It’s also possible the monks themselves created a hoax so they could make Glastonbury a place of pilgrimage, thus increasing the money coming into their coffers.

One of the abbey walls.

No one can say if any of the stories of Glastonbury Abbey associated with King Arthur or Joseph of Arimathea are true or even if they have any shred of truth to them. I only know that for me, my visit to Glastonbury Abbey was a surreal experience. Something instantly drew me to the place that I cannot explain. On my first visit, I was on a tour. I remember that after fifteen or so minutes, everyone on the tour with me left the ruins to go into the gift shop or the village for coffee, but I remained behind, my heart leaping with joy to be there. I wandered all over the ruins, taking numerous pictures, climbing the stairs, visiting the chalice well, and exploring every inch of the property. I honestly cannot think of another time when I was so excited to visit a place. It wasn’t that I had been greatly anticipating my visit there, but that something about the place made me feel like an overjoyed child; my heart was laughing and I wanted practically to skip as I explored the ruins. My reaction could be because Glastonbury is a sacred space, or because it is believed to be one of the energy sources on the planet. I also think it’s possible, since I believe in reincarnation and think it likely I spent several past lives as a monk or priest, that perhaps my past is connected with Glastonbury. I cannot truly explain why it attracts me so much. I only know that for me, after all these years, the magic of that visit has never faded.

A reproduction of the lead cross found at Glastonbury Abbey claiming it as the place of King Arthur’s burial.

If you only get to visit one Arthurian place in your life, hands down Glastonbury Abbey is the place to visit. If you wish to learn more about it, I highly recommend John Matthews’ book A Glastonbury Reader: Selections from the Myths, Legends and Stories of Ancient Avalon, and I also recommend The Mists of Avalon as a novel that is partly set there. Several other Arthurian novels have also incorporated Glastonbury into their storylines.

If you do wish to visit Glastonbury, as well as other Arthurian sites, I recommend you check out the Scholarly Sojourns tour Uncovering Camelot: A Journey Through Arthurian Britain.

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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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I am so excited to announce that Scholarly Sojourns, a tour company that provides tours of interest to scholars, is now offering a special tour of Arthurian Britain, titled “Uncovering Camelot.”

As someone who has twice gone to Britain seeking Arthurian sites, this is the kind of trip I have always wanted to go on, so I have to share it with my readers. Many of the Arthurian sites I’ve visited myself, including Stonehenge and Glastonbury Abbey, are included on this tour, but besides the sites in England, there are many in Wales to visit, some of which I didn’t even know about, including the lake where the Lady of the Lake reputably gave King Arthur his sword.

This incredible eight-day tour takes place October 6-13, 2019. Below is a short itinerary of sites that will be visited. More details can be found at the Scholarly Sojourns’ website: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

DAY 1—ARRIVE IN SOUTH WALES: The trip begins at the Swansea rail station in South Wales. The first excursion is to Carreg Cennen Castle, which has Arthurian connections as well as beautiful scenery. Traveling that afternoon through the Welsh countryside, the trip leads to the Falcondale Hotel, where visitors will stay for the night. Tour leader Professor Dorsey Armstrong will host an opening reception and give a keynote address followed by a special welcome dinner.

DAY 2—CARMARTHEN AND PEMBROKESHIRE COAST: On this day, travel to Carmarthen—birthplace of Merlin. The visit includes numerous sites associated with the famous wizard, including Merlin’s Tree, Merlin’s Hill, and Merlin’s Stone. Next, travel through the Preseli Mountains, home to the stones Merlin magically transported to build Stonehenge. Also visit the Neolithic burial chamber Pentre Ifan, or Arthur’s Quoit. After lunch, visit Lake Bosherton—one of the possible resting places for Excalibur. Nearby is St. Govan’s Head, where a chapel marks the spot Sir Gawain settled as a hermit after Arthur died, and where he was buried.

DAY 3—CAERLEON, CAERWENT, AND KING ARTHUR’S CAVE: Highlights for this day include traveling to Caerleon, site of a Roman fortress, and the location Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed was the site of Arthur’s court. Next, explore Arthur’s Cave—perhaps this is where he sleeps according to some versions of the legend. The night is spent in a historic hotel that was once a Cistercian monastery that dates from 1180.

The ruins of Tintagel Castle where King Arthur was reputably born.

DAY 4—CAERLEON TO TINTAGEL: From Caerleon travel in the morning to Cornwall. First stop is Bodmin Moor, filled with sites associated with Arthur. Visit the Dozmary Pool—another possible resting place for Excalibur. In the afternoon, travel to Slaughterbridge near the town of Camelford, one possible location for Camelot. View a sixth-century stone inscribed to mark the spot King Arthur was mortally wounded by Mordred. Next, visit Tintagel Castle, the reputed birthplace of King Arthur. For the next two nights, stay at the Camelot Castle Hotel within walking distance of Tintagel.

DAY 5—LAND’S END, ST. MICHAEL’S MOUNT, AND ROCHE ROCK: Today, travel to Land’s End, the very tip of Great Britain. From there, view the Isles of Scilly, believed by some to be the Isle of Avalon where Arthur was brought to be healed of his wound. After visiting Penzance, travel on to St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought the mythical giant Cormoran. Finally, stop at Roche Rock where Tristan and Isolde are said to have hid from King Mark.

St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought a giant.

DAY 6—SOMERSET TO WELLS: Today, enjoy a visit to the enormous, ancient hill fort of Cadbury Castle, one of the primary contenders for Camelot. Locals believe King Arthur still lies sleeping in a cave within the hill. Next, visit Bath, claimed by Geoffrey of Monmouth to be the site of Arthur’s last great battle, the Battle of Badon Hill. In the evening travel to Wells, home to an eighth-century cathedral.

DAY 7—OLD SARUM TO AVEBURY TO STONEHENGE: Depart Wells to encounter three of the most significant prehistoric sites in Britain. First is Old Sarum—an Iron Age hilltop settlement that some argue may have been the location of Camelot. Next, explore the largest stone circle in Europe at Avebury—believed to have been built to commemorate King Arthur’s final battle. Arthur’s slain warriors are said to be buried there. Finally, visit Stonehenge which legend says Merlin constructed as a memorial after a fifth-century massacre.

DAY 8—GLASTONBURY: This final day, visit Glastonbury (my personal favorite of all Arthurian sites). It is here that Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought the child Jesus to study and later Joseph returned with the Holy Grail after Jesus’ death. The holy thorn grows here, the descendant of the thorn that grew out of Joseph’s staff. The visit includes a walking tour to Chalice Well, the purported resting place of the Holy Grail. Climb Glastonbury Tor if you wish. Finally, visit Glastonbury Abbey, home to the purported tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, discovered in 1191.

A more complete itinerary of the “Uncovering Camelot” tour can be requested through Scholarly Sojourns website, where you can also sign up for the trip: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

This trip is an Arthurian enthusiast or scholar’s dream come true. I know that as an American who is an author of both Arthurian fiction and nonfiction, my writing was deeply enriched by my visits to many Arthurian locations. I cannot recommend such a trip enough, and I hope you’ll get to enjoy it this year or sometime in the near future.

In future posts, I will write up details of some of the places on this trip that I visited myself because even though I first visited some of these sites as long ago as 1993, I still cherish my memories of my own Arthurian excursions in Britain.

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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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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new novel, Daughter of Destiny: Guinevere’s Tale, Book One. (You can read my review of her novel at https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/guinevere-gets-her-say-in-new-novel-daughter-of-destiny-by-nicole-evelina/)

Nicole Evelina, author of "Daughter of Destiny" about Guinevere's early years before she married King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina, author of “Daughter of Destiny” about Guinevere’s early years before she married 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 skill, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide.

Her new novel Daughter of Destiny was published on January 1, 2016, and it is the first in a trilogy of novels she has planned. Her goal is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I interviewed you about three years ago about your novel series and interest in the Arthurian legend. Back then you were trying to find a publisher, so it’s been a long journey. How did publication come about and how does it feel now to be a published author?

Nicole: Hi Tyler! Thanks for having me on your blog again. Yes, it has been a long journey. I started out going the traditional publication route and got SOOOOO close three times (twice at Penguin), but it ultimately didn’t end up working out for this book. In the meantime, the self-publishing market exploded. I met more and more people who were doing it, and after a lot of study and serious consideration, I decided to self-publish. I created my own publishing imprint and own my own business now. My first product was Daughter of Destiny.

Tyler: Tell us how you came up with the idea to write Daughter of Destiny and why you think it stands out from other Arthurian novels?

Nicole: When I was in college, I read The Mists of Avalon, and I loved the book, but hated Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere. So I sought out other books about the character. I found Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which covers Guinevere’s life after King Arthur’s death. That made me wonder what her life was like before and after him. You didn’t hear too much about that. Then she came into my head and told me she wanted me to tell her whole life story, before Arthur, with him and after. The rest is history.

I think it stands out because I’ve done things with Guinevere that few, if any, other authors have done. For example, my Guinevere is a priestess of Avalon and that is how she meets Morgan. Their rivalry begins long before Arthur enters the picture. So that means he’s part of it, but definitely not all. Plus, I have made Guinevere’s first love someone I don’t think anyone else has ever done, but there is a mythological connection, a reason that I chose this person.

Tyler: I definitely want to know more about Guinevere’s first love, but first, you’ve said you were influenced by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon in writing the novel, but obviously, you were reacting to her rather than just imitating her. What do you think is or was valuable about Bradley’s novel and what is its place in Arthurian literature?

Nicole: For me, it was the emphasis on the female characters and telling their story. All throughout history, we’ve gotten the male perspective. Ms. Bradley turned that on its head. I also think she was groundbreaking in connecting the Arthurian story to Wicca/neopagan worship. While that’s not historically accurate, it spoke to (and continues to speak to) a lot of people in a way that they need, myself included.

Tyler: In the novel, you have Guinevere go to Avalon while young to study there. Why did you choose to have Avalon play a key part in her background?

Nicole: It was natural to me because I knew I wanted to explore the tension between Christianity and paganism at that point in history and that I wanted Guinevere to be pagan. Having Avalon be the female center of Druidism (while Merlin had the male center elsewhere) was a natural outgrowth of my love of The Mists of Avalon. It also gave me a way to have Guinevere grow up with a group of strong-willed, powerful women who would shape who she becomes.

Tyler: Okay. Now back to that love interest question. I was really surprised that Guinevere’s love interest in the novel is Aggrivaine. How did you come to that decision?

Nicole: Well, I knew I wanted her to have a first love before Arthur. Most authors have chosen to make it Lancelot, but I wanted to go in a different direction. The more I explored the legend, I realized in some versions, Mordred isn’t alone in confronting and exposing Lancelot and Guinevere. Sometimes Aggrivane is with him. I started wondering why. What was Aggrivane’s motivation for such a betrayal? Then it hit me. If he and Guinevere were together first, he would naturally want revenge. He would be wondering why, if she was going to have an affair, it wasn’t with him. So I kind of wrote the relationship backwards, from the endgame. Also, because Lot is Aggrivane’s father and Lot’s kingdom of Lothian is in the Votadini lands (where Guinevere’s mom is from), it was helpful for Guinevere to already have a connection to their family. None of it was an accident.

Tyler: That makes perfect sense, Nicole. Aggrivane is often Mordred’s accomplice in Camelot’s fall. That’s brilliant reasoning and not really so surprising then when you think about it. But there are some other surprises about the characters and their relationships. For example, Arthur’s sister is named Ana, and there’s no sister named Morgan le Fay or Morgause? Why did you make those changes?

"Daughter of Destiny" the first book in a trilogy about Guinevere.

“Daughter of Destiny” the first book in a trilogy about Guinevere.

Nicole: I feel like Ana has gotten lost in all the modern attention to Morgause and Morgan le Fay, both of whom tend to be evil characters. Although Ana is a small character, I wanted to give her back what I feel is her rightful place. In my world, she’s a strong, intelligent queen. Morgan has her own role to play, which you’ll find out in the second book.

Tyler: Of course, there is a Morgan in the novel, and she is a rival to Guinevere. Do you see Morgan as a villain? Is that a reaction against her protagonist role in Mists?

Nicole: Yes, Morgan is the villain. But she has her reasons. She doesn’t know who her parents are and so, as Guinevere observes, Morgan has no tribe, no family outside of Avalon. Therefore, Morgan must do everything she can to secure her place as the darling of Avalon, a role Guinevere also covets. It’s the only way Morgan can survive. Later on, she’s still fighting the same fight, just out in the world, trying to connive her way into survival, and she hopes, eventually to triumph over Guinevere who has been a thorn in her side from an early age.

I don’t think my Morgan was a reaction to Mists, at least not consciously. I’ve always viewed Morgan as a villain.

Tyler: I don’t want to give away too much of the novel, but it’s obvious that Arthur will show up in Guinevere’s life since he’s always her husband in the legend. In this novel, however, he’s a pretty minor character. Did you intentionally hold him off until the end of the book?

Nicole: Yes. This book is meant to show you Guinevere’s life before Arthur becomes a major part in it, to show that she was a person with friends and family, hopes and dreams before queenship ever entered her mind. He becomes a major character in the second book.

Tyler: I’ve seen a lot of Arthurian novelists, especially those who write fantasy, recently be criticized for not trying to create a perfectly historical Arthurian period. How important do you feel it is to create a historical Arthur rather than just a fantasy one, and do you think it matters whether Arthur was historical or not?

Nicole: I don’t think it matters. Personally, I think he did exist on some level, but until we uncover his diary, we just won’t know who that historical Arthur is. History and archeology are changing every single day with new discoveries (for example, they just recently announced that Christians lived at Glastonbury at least 200 years earlier than previously thought) so in some ways, it’s impossible to ever create a historical Arthur. I think you do what you can with the research you can find and as a novelist, are allowed to make up the rest. That’s what separates us from the historians. How historically accurate your world is will depend on your intent—are you trying to show what it really was like in a certain time period? Or are you more interested in the fantasy side? My personal take was a bit of both.

Tyler: I know you did a lot of research on the legend in writing your novels. Will you share with us a little of the experiences you had in doing research and what you learned that most surprised you or shaped your story?

Nicole: Oh gosh. Yes, I did lots of research. There’s a whole page on my website dedicated to it: http://nicoleevelina.com/the-books/guineveres-tale/daughter-of-destiny-book-1/guinevere-trilogy/. Book research was the majority of what I did. It was very interesting to see the number of different theories that were out there on King Arthur. It’s almost like no two people can agree.

I was honored to be able to meet one of my source authors, Geoffrey Ashe, while I was in England as part of an Arthurian legend tour. To get to hear his theories and pick his brain in person was such an honor. As it turned out, the man who led the tour, Jamie George, helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon. I had no idea until I was over there and got to talking. It is such a small world! Then, later on once the first book was finished, I was able to secure an endorsement from John Matthews. He and his wife Caitlin were two of my major sources of research and I respect them both so very much. It was a dream come true to have his name grace the back cover of my book.

I think what surprised me most was what I learned about the dizzying subject of Celtic (Brehon) law. I’ve tried to incorporate a little of it into my books because it’s one of the reasons why Celtic women were so powerful. They had so many more rights than their counterparts around the world. I wish I was enough of an expert in it to speak intelligently about it, but it is just so complex.

Tyler: I’ve traveled and done research as well, and I remember when I visited Glastonbury I felt overcome by a source of energy or power there I had never experienced anywhere else. I just felt so happy and full of energy there. Did you have any experiences like that where you felt connected to an Arthurian landscape or did you just have a favorite place you visited that really helped your imagination come to life for your book?

Nicole: Glastonbury was special to me on a personal level, but not in connection to these books. I’m hoping to get back there this September when I’m in England again. Actually, the place I felt most connected with has nothing to do with these books, but is a main setting for a future dual-time period novel.

As far as Arthurian sites, I loved getting to see Cadbury castle, which some say was Guinevere’s home, or possibly a site for Camelot. I use it as Arthur’s southern power base in the second and third books of this series.

Tyler: The novel has been out a little over a month now. What kinds of responses have you received from readers, and have you been surprised by any of them?

Nicole: I’m surprised by the number of great reviews it’s gotten! Some people really get what I was going for. And when they get it, they get it, as in ALL in. As is to be expected, some people don’t, but that just means they weren’t my intended audience to begin with. One thing I find surprising is that so far, the people who didn’t like Daughter of Destiny have still expressed interest in reading the second book. That’s going to be hard to watch because I have this fear the second book will be very divisive because it’s so dark and deals with heavy subject matter.

Tyler: When can we expect the next two books in the series to be published and what kinds of glimpses can you give us into what will happen to Guinevere in them?

Nicole: The second book, Camelot’s Queen, comes out April 12. That one covers Guinevere’s life with Arthur, her role as a battle queen, her affair with Lancelot and the discovery of the Holy Grail. I can tell you Morgan has a role you won’t see coming, and if you hated Father Marius in the first book, you will loathe him in the second. It’s a much darker book than the first one, covering the subjects of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, all of which have their origin in the legends, and I don’t feel can be ignored simply because they are distasteful. I hope readers see that I have tried to address these issues with respect and give them context so they are not just a plot device, but truly affect the characters’ lives and the decisions they make.

The third book, Mistress of Legend, is tentatively scheduled for late 2016/early 2017. That book begins with the fall of Camelot and the battle of Camlann and then covers Guinevere’s life after Arthur dies. There is a convent involved, but I can promise you she doesn’t live out her days there in penance. She is her mother’s daughter and born to lead, so you will see a strong woman to the end of her days. I have a draft written. I know how it ends. (I’ve known from the beginning.) But the middle of the story is currently missing and I’m not happy with the opening, so I have some work to do.

I tend to think of the three books like this: the first books shows her as a priestess, the second as a queen and third as a warrior.

Tyler: I can’t wait for that third book especially, Nicole. It all sounds fascinating. Thank you for joining me today, Nicole. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about Daughter of Destiny?

Nicole: Thank you again for having me, Tyler. It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you because you understand the legends so well.

My website is http://nicoleevelina.com. In addition to learning about the book, you’ll find my research, a pronunciation guide for the character and place names, and the map that’s in the book. I’ve also got a fan section that contains my playlist, research photos, and soon will have deleted scenes and an “If List” page that lets you vote on who should play the characters if a movie was ever made. I need to link my Pinterest boards for the books up to the site as well. Also, if you’re in a book club, there’s a discussion guide, period-appropriate food, drink and music suggestions and you can contact me if you want me to speak or visit your club in person or via Skype.

Tyler: Thanks again, Nicole. It’s been a pleasure.

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Esther Bernstein is a longtime lover of the Arthurian legend. Before she even started her Ph.D. in English at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, she already had her dissertation planned out—a complete overview of the Arthurian legend from the Middle Ages to contemporary literature. While she may end up refining that plan before she’s finished, her love for the legend continues. Recently, she was invited to attend a summer course in Arthurian literature at the University of Exeter in England. She’s eager to go, but she needs some financial help, so I’ve invited her to be my guest and tell us why she loves the Arthurian legend and how we can help support her Indiegogo campaign.

Tyler: Welcome, Esther. You sound like a girl after my own heart since I wrote my MA Thesis on the Arthurian legend and also earned a Ph.D. in English. For starters, tell us a little about how you first fell in love with the King Arthur legend and what about it appeals to you so much?

Esther: Thank you!

Ph.D. Candidate Esther Bernstein is raising money to further her studies with an Arthurian course at the University of Exeter this summer.

Ph.D. Candidate Esther Bernstein is raising money to further her studies with an Arthurian course at the University of Exeter this summer.

Part of what appeals to me about the Arthurian legend is that I don’t know when I first heard about it. It’s like it was just always a part of my general knowledge. To me, that pervasiveness of the legend, the way it just is and permeates even twentieth and twenty-first-century thought so much, is so intriguing.

But more than that—the Arthurian legend is just so much fun! The tales, especially the medieval tales, are usually really long and convoluted, and there’s plenty of exaggerated chivalry, love and lovesickness, bravery and violence, pleading and forgiving.

There’s also a certain appeal to knowing I can meet these characters and not have to part with them after one or two books. Knowing I can simply find the next text, and that no matter how many books I read or how quickly I read them, I will never exhaust all that’s been written and is still being written about it—knowing I can leave these characters for a while but always come back to them—there’s a sense of comfort in that, and also of adventure. This specific quest may have ended, but never fear—another one will spring up real soon.

Tyler: Do you have a favorite Arthurian book, film, and/or television show, and what about it appeals to you?

Esther: I think the first time I actually read about King Arthur was an abridged version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain when I was about ten years old. I remember being amazed at the year—528 AD! It was the first time I’d read about a year that wasn’t four digits.

The beginning, as Hank thinks everyone is crazy until it finally dawns on him that he’s the only different one, made a huge impression on me. There was the interesting question of what’s normal, and it was fascinating to think about how “normal” changes over time. And when Hank introduces all the new technology, and the effects of that on all of society—wow.

I think my ten-year-old self was intrigued by the way different times interact. Now it’s one of my favorites because of the way it plays with Arthurian legend, just has fun with all of it. It incorporates so many details that show up in various texts and traditions, but introducing a “Connecticut Yankee” allows for viewing all of that in a totally different way than the original texts do.

I also love the 1967 movie Camelot. What most appeals to me in that one is the blooming love between Arthur and Guinevere. That scene where she runs away from her traveling party and she and Arthur accidentally meet in the snowy woods—I love that. I watched that scene about a million times. The whiteness, the stillness, the little buds of Guinevere thinking she might be able to love this man—so romantic. (I skip the parts about Lancelot in this one. I love Lancelot, but this movie I reserve for Arthur and Guinevere! Their romance is so often overlooked because of the burning passion between Guinevere and Lancelot, but the simple romance deserves its own attention, too.)

Tyler: I think an abridged “Connecticut Yankee” was my first reading of the legend also and I love Camelot. My whole family got sick of listening to me play the record over and over until it was scratched and I still listen to the music almost every day. There are lots of people like us who are enthusiasts of the legend, but not everyone wants to be a scholar of it. What about studying the legend appeals to you so much?

Esther: Arthurian legend is so adaptable. Not only does it survive and thrive in modern times—Monty Python (which plays with it but in a very different way than Mark Twain!), the movie King Arthur, the TV show Merlin, countless video games, novels like your own—but various political powers have appropriated the legend for their own use—like John F. Kennedy’s “Camelot.”

What that says to me is that something deep within the legend and the tradition speaks to people in wildly different circumstances, and I want to find out what that “something” is.

I think one way of doing that is the kind of thing I did with my undergraduate senior thesis, where I looked at Chrétien de Troyes’s Old French Arthurian tales and the Arthurian tales included in the Old Welsh Mabinogion. It was really fascinating to see the ways that each culture and society influenced the way the same tales were written.

That just looked at the differences, though. I want to use that kind of analysis to look at what is the same among the adaptations of the legend in all these languages, cultures, and time periods.

One way I plan on doing that is looking at contemporary Young Adult literature, both books that are explicitly Arthurian and books that don’t mention Arthur at all. I read a lot of YA literature, and I’ve always felt that there are some Arthurian undertones to a lot of what I read. But I don’t yet know enough about the broad sweep of the legend and tradition to start writing about that.

Tyler: Yes, there are undertones to so many of our modern stories, young adult and adult—Star Wars is just one example with its father-son, Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker conflict. Well, we could talk about this topic all day, but tell us about the program at Exeter this summer. What do you hope to learn as a result of attending it?

Esther: The program is arranged to cover one topic per day, in two two-hour sessions per day. Some of the topics are of course the historical background, the theme of chivalry, the life of the court, and magic in Arthurian legend. Besides the class discussions, I will write a final paper for the class on a topic I’ll choose with the guidance of the instructor.

The way the class is arranged is perfect for what I want to gain from it, because we’ll be looking at the way each of these themes appears in the broad sweep of Arthurian literature—which will allow me to study how and why each one appeals to all the different audiences.

I’ve just begun thinking about creating my orals lists—three lists of books that I will read over a period of about a year, after which I’ll sit for a two-hour oral examination on these books as part of the process to earn my Ph.D. No matter how I think about organizing these lists, what “title” to give each list, Arthurian literature shows up in all of them.

Again, that points to the way Arthurian legend permeates so much of everything else. But the same way I’ve just felt Arthurian undertones in YA literature but couldn’t necessarily explain what I thought it was, most of the time I can’t fully rationalize why I think Arthurian texts should be on all of my lists. After this course, I should be able to do that, which will of course enrich the way I create these lists in the first place.

Tyler: I understand you also hope to visit some Arthurian sites in England and France. What do you hope to see?

Esther: Yes! The program will take us to some places, like Stonehenge and the archeological site at Glastonbury, but I want to visit other places like Caerleon where Arthur’s court was, Tintagel, and the site of Merlin’s grave. In France, I want to visit Poitiers, where Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Chrétien de Troyes’s patroness Marie de Champagne, ostensibly held “courts of love” and ruled on such things as whether love in marriage or adulterous love is preferable. (Spoiler: adulterous love is preferable because marriage imposes obligation, and adulterous love like that between Guinevere and Lancelot is based on passion and not obligation. Of course, that had no effect on the reality of the times.) I’m still building the rest of my list of Arthurian places I want to see.

Regardless of whether or not Arthur ever existed, I know I won’t see any Arthurian remnants in these places. But there’s something about standing in a place that I’ve read about so much and so often, something about being able to picture the landscape when I read about it in the future.

Tyler: Tell us about your fundraising campaign. How much do you need to raise, how soon, where do we go to contribute, and what rewards are you offering?

Esther: I’ve been awarded a scholarship of ₤800, and I need to submit a deposit of ₤250 by April 25. The rest of the tuition, ₤1395, is due by May 23. (In American currency, that’s a total of about $2800.) I also need to book a flight as soon as possible, which right now is about $1500, but will of course increase the closer I get to the date of the flight.

The Indiegogo campaign includes “perks,” and I’m offering a few of those for donations from $10 to $500. They are:

  • $10 – a postcard sent during my stay, with details of what I’ve been reading and doing
  • $25 – a souvenir, which you can request to be from a specific place I’ll be visiting!
  • $50 – a poem I’ll write personalized for you according to your request
  • $100 – a short story I’ll write, again personalized for you according to your request
  • $500 – my services as an editor or copyeditor for your writing, whether poetry, short stories, or a novel

(The Indiegogo page includes links to samples of my writing, both poetry and short stories, and I’ve worked as a writing tutor and freelance editor for a number of years.)

Anyone who donates any amount will also get a detailed update from me once I get back about what I’ve learned and how I think I’ll be able to use it in the future.

The link for the campaign is https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/guest-of-the-round-table-studying-medieval-arthur.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me, Esther. I hope you have a wonderful trip, get all the funding you need, and if you bump into Merlin or figure out how to get to Avalon, please come back and tell us all about it.

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Today, I am honored to be a guest blogger at my friend Nicole Alexander’s blog, “The Mists of Time.” She asked me to write about my trip to Turkey and the connections between Turkey and the Arthurian legend. You can read my guest post at: http://nicoleevelina.com/2012/04/11/guest-post-searching-for-king-arthur-in-turkey/

I have blogged several times here also about the French fairy, Melusine of Lusignan, whom I consider a marginal part of Arthuriana since Melusine was raised on the Isle of Avalon.

Image of Medusa in Ephesus, Turkey, which closely resembles depictions of Melusine.

While I was visiting in Turkey the ruins of Ephesus (best known for St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and because the Apostle John and Virgin Mary settled there after Jesus’ ascension), I was stunned to see a depiction of Medusa. We all known Medusa as the woman in the story of Perseus who has a head of snakes, and if you look upon her, you would be turned to stone. Perseus uses his shield so he only has to look at her reflection and can cut off her head.

At Ephesus, the image of Medusa closely resembles many images of Melusine. Medusa is depicted with what look like two fish (possibly serpent or snake) tails. This image is close to that well-known image of the mermaid in the Starbucks logo and many other depictions of Melusine.

Melusine is herself believed to be based in earlier mythologies of water spirits or goddesses and Medusa is probably one of her literary or religious grandmothers. Their stories have similarities. According to Wikipedia: “Medusa was originally a ravishingly beautiful maiden, “the jealous aspiration of many suitors,” priestess in Athena’s temple, but when she was caught being raped by the “Lord of the Sea” Poseidon by Athena‘s temple, the enraged Athena transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn onlookers to stone. In Ovid’s telling, Perseus describes Medusa’s punishment by Minerva (Athena) as just and well earned.” Well-earned is questionable. Does being raped deserve such punishment? Melusine also acquires her serpent form at the rage of another–her mother Pressyne, who curses her after Melusine and her sisters lock up their father in a cave where he dies.

A typical depiction of Melusine.

I’m not the first to note the similarities between Melusine and Medusa. An interesting book that discusses Melusine’s connection to more classical myths is Gillian Alban’s Melusine the Serpent Goddess in A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Mythology.

Anyone interested in ancient goddesses and the Turkey connection might enjoy a tour of Turkey with Rashid Ergener, who was my own tour guide of Turkey, and the most knowledgeable tour guide I have ever known. He even leads tours in search of the Ancient Mother Goddess. Find out more at: http://rashidsturkey.com/?nav=g&dir=&g=

Turkey is a beautiful country and well worth a visit, whether or not you are in quest of ancient myths and legends.

Julius Hubner's 1844 painting of Melusine.

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As the royal wedding approaches, it’s interesting to dig into the royal family’s claims of descent from King Arthur. Here is some information about those claims from my chapter “Arthur and the English Royal Family” in King Arthur’s Children:

Among those who have tried to claim descent from King Arthur, the most prominent and most determined have been the monarchs of England. As we have already seen, little chance exists that any of King Arthur’s children outlived him, and the only grandchildren he had were murdered by Constantine. These two grandsons could have been old enough to have had children of their own before they died, but this theory is only a surmise since no record, chronicle, or romance states they had heirs. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that King Arthur had any descendants who lived beyond the sixth century. Yet the royal family of England has claimed, at least since the time of the Plantagenets, that they are descended from King Arthur.

During the reigns of the Saxon kings in England, from the sixth century until 1066, there is no monarch known to have claimed descent from Arthur. It was not until after the Norman invasion that this idea became popular, and even then it seems to have been the result of the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, which appeared around 1136. Geoffrey ended his chronicle with King Cadwallader, whom he states probably died around 689 (289). Cadwallader has numerous descendants living today, but he is not a descendant of King Arthur; neither is he from any records I have been able to locate an ancestor to the present royal family of Britain (although DNA research suggests the odds are that he is). Geoffrey leaves unaccounted for over four hundred years, from the time his book ends until the 1100s, except for making prophecies of what will happen. However, none of these prophecies hint that Arthur’s descendants will reign over England. Since Geoffrey gives King Arthur no descendants, it is inconceivable how the Plantagenets could have claimed an Arthurian lineage.

The popularity of Geoffrey’s book gave rebirth to the tales of King Arthur and made the conquered Anglo-Saxon peoples believe King Arthur would return to rescue them, a belief that might seem strange since the Anglo-Saxons had originally been Arthur’s enemies; however, by the twelfth century, Celtic blood had so intermixed with Anglo-Saxon blood that nearly anyone in England could claim to have ancestors whom Arthur had been king over.

The belief that King Arthur would return might have made King Henry II fearful that the conquered people would become restless, and so as we have already seen, he may have staged the finding of Arthur’s body at Glastonbury. To keep the conquered under control, the royal family decided it needed to prove its members were the rightful heirs to the throne of all Britain because of their descent from King Arthur or at least his family.

Arthur’s most likely Faked Grave at Glastonbury Abbey

King Henry II’s ancestors included the Counts of Anjou; his descent from William the Conqueror was through his mother, whereas it was his father who was Count of Anjou. However, William the Conqueror’s great-grandparents included a daughter of the House of Anjou, and a Duke of Brittany, both of whom could possibly have claimed an ancestry from Arthurian times. William the Conqueror’s paternal lineage from the Dukes of Normandy went back to a Scandinavian and Viking ancestry that settled in Normandy in the 800s. The House of Anjou can trace its descent back to Tertulle, Count of Anjou (born about 821), and his wife Petronilla, Countess of Anjou (born about 825), who was a granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (Ancestral File). However, the House of Anjou would have to trace its ancestors back another three hundred years if it were to claim descent from King Arthur, and it is probably no longer possible to make genealogical connections for these families that stretch so far back in time.

Despite these loose claims, the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties would make many more attempts to link themselves to King Arthur, and even today, both Prince Charles and Prince William have middle names that include Arthur….

To visit Glastonbury and other sites associated with King Arthur, consider taking Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian tour Discovering Camelot.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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