Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘King Arthur’s Ancestors’ Category

The tale of Brutus, the great-grandson of Aeneas of Troy and the legendary founder of Britain, has long been the subject of historical speculation and national pride for the British.

As a lover of all things Arthurian, I’ve long been fascinated by the story of Brutus as well as the debate that has ensued over his historicity. Consequently, I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Anthony Adolph’s new book Brutus of Troy and the Quest for the Ancestry of the British from publisher Pen & Sword.

"Brutus of Troy" is the first full-length exploration of all versions of the Brutus legend, from its origins in the Trojan War to why the British cling to it.

“Brutus of Troy” is the first full-length exploration of all versions of the Brutus legend, from its origins in the Trojan War to why the British cling to it.

For those not familiar with Brutus’ story, I’ll briefly summarize it before discussing Adolph’s book.

When Troy fell, as told in Homer, Aeneas, a cousin to King Priam and hence a prince of Troy, fled from the city. His story is told in Virgil’s Aeneid. Eventually, Aeneas arrives in Italy and his descendants, Romulus and Remus, found Rome. Brutus, a cousin to Rome’s founders, is Aeneas’ great-grandson. Brutus accidentally kills his father and is sent into exile. He travels to Greece where he finds a group of enslaved Trojans whom he helps to achieve their freedom. They then travel across the Mediterranean, through the Strait of Gibraltar, and to Britain, which they colonize. Consequently, Brutus’ name is given to the island, Britain supposedly being a version of Brutus. The island, however, is occupied by giants, including Gogmagog, whom Brutus defeats. In time, Brutus’ descendants are successive kings of Britain, which leads down to the time of King Arthur and, eventually, through a Welsh line to Henry VII, making all successive monarchs of Great Britain Brutus’ descendants.

Various versions of Brutus’ story differ slightly in the details, but that’s the story in a nutshell. The question is—is the story true, and if not, why has it been so popular and mattered so much to the British?

Anthony Adolph sets out to answer those questions in Brutus of Troy. I admit that my initial desire to read this book came from my hope that Adolph would prove that the story of Brutus was undeniably true. After all, I’ve read books by authors like Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett, who believe the erasure of Brutus as a historical figure is a longstanding effort by the English to repress and destroy the Welsh sense of identity. I have no doubt that the English did plenty to oppress the Welsh over the centuries, but that doesn’t mean a Welsh legend is historical fact. Still, I’ve longed to believe Brutus’ story is true. After all, I can trace my own ancestry back to the Plantagenet kings of England, and Brutus was one of their alleged ancestors through the Welsh king Llewellyn the Great of Wales, and that would make Brutus my ancestor. It would also (and I’m being a bit facetious here) mean that since Brutus’ great-great-grandmother was Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, I am descended from the Greek Gods. (Now I know where I get my natural beauty.)

Adolph himself wanted to believe the story of Brutus, but the more he researched it, the more unlikely it seemed, and in the end, he had to conclude it is just a myth. Bummer. But that doesn’t mean that Brutus’ tale isn’t still a major part of the heritage of all modern-day Britons and their cousins in the United States and around the globe. Therefore, to understand the significance of Brutus’ legend, we need to look at how it developed.

A good bulk of Adolph’s book answers the question of how the story arose and why it became popular. He discusses how the Roman influence on Britain led to the Britons’ familiarity with classical literature, including the tales of Homer and Virgil about Troy. The arrival of Christianity in Britain also played a role. The British wished to link themselves to the classical and civilized world, to give themselves a substantial history, and so they manipulated genealogies to create the figure of Brutus and to make him the ancestor of their own Welsh kings. They also wanted to understand their place in the human family. They were not alone in this desire; the Irish, the French, and even the Norse made similar efforts, as Adolph describes—they found a way to manipulate genealogies to claim that the Trojans were the descendants of the biblical Noah, and later, the British created the tale of Joseph of Arimathea and even Christ coming to Britain. Joseph’s daughter, Anna, married Beli Mawr, a descendant of Brutus, and so the British became part of a line stretching back to Adam and Eve.

Yes, I still wish the tale of Brutus was true, but Adolph’s logic in explaining the tale’s evolution makes perfect sense and calls to mind another book I recently read, Myths of the Rune Stone by David Krueger about a Viking rune stone discovered in Minnesota in the late nineteenth century by a Scandinavian farmer. The stone was “proof” that the Vikings had traveled to Minnesota in the fourteenth century. Krueger explores how this stone was probably forged by the Scandinavian immigrants to Minnesota as a way to claim they had a right to the land they had taken from the Native Americans because their ancestors had been there before them. Similar claims are made regarding the Trojans in Britain—some people have even theorized that Troy was in Britain and the Trojans were driven out when Troy fell, so Brutus was leading a return to their homeland for his people. In any case, it comes as no surprise that people will manipulate the facts to create the history they want for themselves, and over time, what is false becomes perceived as the truth, and so for about a thousand years, the British people believed they were descendants of Brutus and his fellow Trojans.

Adolph goes on to explore how the legend of Brutus developed over time from the early medieval writing of Nennius to the elaborate History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and then into the Renaissance period, eighteenth century, and Victorian age. Adolph exhausts his subject, summarizing and quoting from every work about Brutus that he could find, including works by Milton, Pope, Blake, and Wordsworth. While I appreciated his thoroughness, I had to admit that I found many of these summaries boring to read because they repeated the Brutus story over and over, just noting the differences and similarities, and most of the poems about Brutus were not first-rate. I agree with Adolph, however, that William Blake’s version of the story was probably the best. Adolph concludes by mentioning modern fiction that incorporates the myth, including Hades’ Daughter (2003) by Australian novelist Sara Douglass, which portrays a darker version of Brutus and even suggests he later reincarnated as William the Conqueror.

This painting by Federico Barocci depicts Brutus' great-grandfather, Aeneas, fleeing from Troy with his father Anchises on his shoulders.

This painting by Federico Barocci depicts Brutus’ great-grandfather, Aeneas, fleeing from Troy with his father Anchises on his shoulders.

Adolph also looks at efforts since the nineteenth century to prove the Brutus myth to be true, especially the work of the Victorian writer Rev. Richard Williams Morgan, whose works continue to be used by pseudo-historians but reflect creative scholarship and intentional twisting of history to fit his agenda of what he wants to believe.

Brutus of Troy concludes by looking at how the legend of Brutus has become part of British culture and how Brutus has become associated with various places in London (the New Troy that legend said he founded). Most notable of these is the Tower of London, where Brutus is said to be buried.

I especially appreciated the genealogy charts in the book that show how the current British royal family would be descended from Brutus and from Adam and Eve, if the genealogies were true, as well as showing Brutus’ relationship to other members of the Trojan royal family and its descendants, including Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Finally, there are forty-five plate images in the middle of the book as well as illustrations throughout the rest of the book that depict places associated with Brutus and artwork based on his story. A particularly handy reference included is a timeline of the Brutus myth from the fall of Troy through the publications of various versions of his story, and of course, there is an extensive bibliography.

Brutus of Troy really made me understand better the role that the Brutus legend has played throughout British history and why it has stayed alive for centuries. It also made me want to read more of Anthony Adolph’s books since he is an avid writer about history and genealogy and the author of nine other books, including Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors and In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors.

Finally, of course, King Arthur gets a brief mention in terms of how he fits into the Brutus family tree. People interested in British history, genealogy, or the Arthurian legend will definitely want to add Brutus of Troy to their permanent collections.

For more information about Brutus of Troy and Anthony Adolph, visit Adolph’s website at http://anthonyadolph.co.uk/ or the publisher’s website at http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Brutus-of-Troy-Hardback/p/11213

______________________________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur, a five-book historical fantasy series, of which the first three books—Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, and Ogier’s Prayer—are now in print. He is also the author of King Arthur’s Children, a scholarly exploration of Arthur’s descendants in history and fiction, as well as many other books. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Roslyn Elena McGrath, author of The Third Mary

Roslyn Elena McGrath, author of The Third Mary

Today I’ve invited Roslyn McGrath, author of The Third Mary, to be my guest to discuss her book with her. I think this book will interest readers of my Arthurian and Gothic blog posts because of how it reimagines or rewrites (or perhaps more accurately tells the true version) of the gospel stories, which themselves influence Arthurian and Gothic literature, besides the fact that Christianity has influenced all of Western culture and literature for the last two centuries.

Roslyn is an intuitive, artist, healer and workshop facilitator living in Marquette, Michigan. She is the author and illustrator of Creative Wisdom Cards for Personal Growth, the creator and narrator of Creative Wisdom Meditations and meditation CD A New Radiance: Chakra Blessings from the Divine Feminine, and the publisher of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.

Her focus is on self-actualization—continuing to unfold her own, and inspiring and supporting that of others.

Tyler: Welcome, Roslyn. I have to admit I was blown away by your book so I’m sure my readers will be interested in what you have to say. To begin, will you tell us just who was “the Third Mary”?

Roslyn: “The Third Mary” is the mother of Mary Magdalene, a spiritual teacher from biblical times who continues to remain available to support humanity.

Tyler: How did you come across the information for her?

Roslyn: From the time I read I Remember Union, a retelling of Mary Magdalene’s role as an integral partner in the fulfillment of Jesus’s mission, I felt a very strong, deep connection with her mother, although very little is actually written about her in the book. The connection felt overwhelming to me, so I didn’t explore it. Eventually, a friend in whom I confided this strongly suggested I dialogue with her spirit. Although I had great resistance to the idea, as soon as I heard it I also began to hear Mary Magdalene’s mother speak to me internally. About a week later, I committed to writing down the messages she wished to share, and did so nearly every day for a little over two months, until the 55 messages were complete.

Tyler: Why do you think you were the one able to channel this information? Why you and not someone else?

Roslyn: I’m sure others will in time, or perhaps someone unknown to me already has. I feel such a deep resonance with her, and channeling comes quite naturally to me. I have the gift of having received very little formal religious training, so I have no installed belief system working against my ability to neutrally receive these messages. And the Third Mary tells me we agreed long ago that I would do this as part of my life’s work.

Tyler: Of course, many people will be skeptical from the start about someone who channels a message from someone long dead. How would you answer those critics?

Roslyn: Again, for me channeling is simple and natural, but I realize there are others who see it differently. Ultimately, there is no death, as energy can take different forms, but its essence is eternal. So potentially, all of us can connect with anything from any time. I understand that from the human perspective, it may not appear this way. What really matters to me is whether the messages have value, are helpful to, connect with the readers, more than whether all readers agree with where they came from. And of course, I’d prefer that people understand I share these words from integrity with who I am. Although I’m honored to be able to share this information, my life would actually be simpler without writing and publishing this book.

The Third Mary 55 Messages for Empowering Truth, Peace & Grace from the Mother of Mary Magdalene  available at www.TheThirdMary.com

The Third Mary
55 Messages for Empowering Truth, Peace & Grace from the Mother of Mary Magdalene
available at http://www.TheThirdMary.com

Tyler: Well said, Roslyn, and having known you for many years, I can vouch for your integrity. Naysayers aside, I think most readers will be interested in the book because of how it depicts Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ relationship. That said, so many theories exist that they were married, a theory especially popularized in The Da Vinci Code in recent years, but a theory that goes back into antiquity. Therefore, some readers might suspect you have simply adapted such theories and made them your own, so tell us why you think the information about their relationship in this book is important and how it differs from standard views of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, or even these more “unorthodox theories” of their being married?

Roslyn: I think it’s coded into all of us who are influenced by Judeo-Christian religions, and maybe even those who aren’t as well, to care about the nature of this relationship, to be deeply affected by it. Maybe this is because Mary Magdalene and Jesus took on such larger-than-life roles. I don’t know; it’s just my personal theory.

Be that as it may, I made a point of not reading or listening to anything on this topic, to lessen the potential for conflict between ideas in my mind and what I heard from Mary Magdalene’s mother. Though certainly I had already heard some of the basic concepts you mention, I did my best at each moment to take down this dictation as clearly as I could, word by word, and was often surprised by the direction the Third Mary would take, or particular words she would use that I hadn’t anticipated.

She describes Jesus and Mary Magdalene as having a spiritual marriage, rather than a traditional one, though formal vows were taken with those closest to them present. Information about biblical, as well as present and future times, unfolds gradually throughout the book quite deliberately, so I think it’s important that readers discover for themselves the specifics of what she means by this.

Tyler: What about the Third Mary delighted you, by which I mean what about her personality do you think is unique and special, or the words she chooses to use?

Roslyn: Wow, I guess I would say it’s the fact that she’s so clear and specific, so grounded and to-the-point, yet so loving at the same time. How much she cares about each one of us is huge, and in channeling her, I get to feel that, as well as the depth of her love, appreciation and admiration for Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and Mother Mary. And there’s a certain kind of rhythm and way of using words that she has; I don’t know how to describe it, but it has particular way about it.

Tyler: I’m trying to remember now whether Joseph of Arimathea was mentioned in the book. I believe he was at least briefly. As a scholar and lover of Arthurian legend, I know Joseph of Arimathea plays a key role in the legends. He is often claimed to be Jesus’ uncle, to have brought Jesus to England during the lost years of his childhood, perhaps so he could study or teach the druids, and later, Joseph returned, bringing the Holy Grail to England with him. I don’t think you in any way referred to these legends, but can you tell us anything more about Joseph of Arimathea and what the Third Mary said of him?

Roslyn: I also sense Joseph of Arimathea played a key role in biblical times, and I look forward to learning more about it myself. The Third Mary mentions him as one of the five who witnessed Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s wedding, so he must have been very close to them.

Tyler: The other aspect of the book that fascinated me was what the Third Mary said about Judas. Judas has had his own legends grow up around him, especially legends that influence Gothic literature. Despite the biblical account that he hung himself, he is sometimes surmised to be the Wandering Jew, cursed to wander the earth until Jesus’ Second Coming. More recently in the film Dracula 2000, it was suggested that Judas actually became Dracula. Yet you offer a very surprising and far less negative view of Judas in your book and one that I think really makes eminent sense to me. Will you tell us a little of what the Third Mary says about Judas and what his role really was in Christ’s story?

Roslyn: The Third Mary says when great spiritual energies/teachers looked for a relatively gentle way to help humanity evolve, the first being to speak up and choose a very challenging role in this process was the one who would become Judas. The Third Mary describes some rather unusual forms this took, as well as a particular perspective on the better known parts of his story. I will say that she had a very high regard for him.

I believe in time there are those who’ll come forward to share more specifics about his experience, and I look forward to this. He was a very strong and courageous soul.

Tyler: I was really blown away by what you say about him in the book and I appreciate you not giving it all away. I would really encourage any reader interested in Judas to read the book because of how surprising it is, but what for you was the most surprising information for you that you received in channeling this book?

Roslyn: I would say it’s the lineage of Mary Magdalene’s children, which is revealed toward the end of the book.

Tyler: Ultimately, what do you feel is the reason why the Third Mary wanted to share this message and what do you hope readers will come away with from it?

Roslyn: More than anything, the Third Mary wants people to knowthat despite appearances to the contrary,timesare changing for the better, that much is going on beyond our conscious knowing to assist with this, and that each one of us has an important role to play in this shift. And that we are each so very, very loved, honored and cherished.

I hope readers will come away feeling more connected with their own truth and essence, and more capable of living in a way that honors and fulfills their souls.

Tyler: At the end of the book, I was left with the impression that you would receive future messages from The Third Mary. Have you, and will there be a follow-up book?

Roslyn: You’re the third person within a week who’s mentioned the idea to me, so perhaps it’s a sign! I do continue to communicate with the Third Mary, in making decisions about the book, and in group and individual channeled guidance sessions. And I’ll be sharing brief messages from her on my new website, www.TheThirdMary.com. So it’s possible there will be another book of her messages down the road, but I have no plans for this as yet. And I do have a few other books I’d like to publish.

Tyler: I understand you’ve recently written another book. Will you briefly tell us about it?

Goddess Heart Rising by Roslyn Elena McGrath

Goddess Heart Rising by Roslyn Elena McGrath

Roslyn: Yes, it’s called Goddess Heart Rising: Paintings, Poems & Meditations for Activating Your Divine Potential. It shares fifteen of my Goddess paintings, along with brief messages, poems, guided meditations, my personal commentary, and questions for reflection. It comes out of a ten-year process of art-making, workshops and private sessions. And it includes the full image of the Third Mary’s color portrait, a detail of which is on the cover of The Third Mary.

Tyler: I know you describe yourself as an intuitive and you help others. Can you explain a little about the types of coaching services you offer? And can you help others learn to channel if they so desire?

Roslyn: I’ve learned a number of ways to help people deeply relax, see things from a new, more constructive and clear perspective, and express their natural gifts more fully. Some of these take the form of intuitive counseling, energetic healing, channeled readings and life purpose drawings. Although so far I don’t teach people specifically how to channel, I can help people get to the place where they can better recognize and use their natural guidance system, which may include channeling.

In some cases, I’ve been able to assist clients to channel their own Higher Selves, which is very empowering for them!

Tyler: Thank you again for the opportunity to interview you today, Roslyn. Before we go, will you tell our readers where they can go to find more information about The Third Mary or to purchase a copy?

Roslyn: Yes, there’s more information at www.TheThirdMary.com. You can purchase a copy through there or starting May 23rd, on Amazon.com.

Tyler: Thank you again, Roslyn. I wish you much success with The Third Mary.

Roslyn: Thanks so much, Tyler! I really appreciate the opportunity to discuss the book with you and your readers.

Read Full Post »

I’ve long wondered about the truth behind theories that Helena, the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother, was a British princess. As with the legend of King Arthur, we’ll probably never know the truth about her birth, but since I love the Arthurian legend, I like to think it’s true, and even that she is an ancestor to King Arthur himself since King Arthur is often theorized to be Constantine’s descendant.

Consequently, I was excited when I found out that one of Britain’s greatest twentieth century novelists, Evelyn Waugh, had written a book about St. Helena. I was even more excited when I read in the book’s preface that the Wandering Jew—a favorite figure from Gothic literature—makes an appearance.

helena-waugh-cover

Evelyn Waugh considered Helena to be his best novel.

Helena, published in 1950, actually was considered by Waugh to be his best work. I’m afraid that most critics, myself included, don’t agree. Otherwise, I’d have heard of the book long ago since I’ve read several of his better known—and better—novels such as A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited. But being Catholic, an Arthurian enthusiast, and a scholar of British literature, I was curious to know how Waugh—a Catholic novelist—would treat the subject of St. Helena.

I had really high hopes when I read George Weigl’s introduction to the book (I read the Loyala classics edition; Loyola is a Catholic publisher). I’m not a big fan of modernism and its lack of real meaning and the relativism it often favors. I don’t pretend to be completely traditional in my thinking as a Catholic, but I do appreciate a devoutly written book, and even more, one that is realistic and not sentimental. I’m afraid, however, that the introduction by George Weigel and Waugh’s Preface were the best part of the book for me. Weigel refers to how Waugh was against Gnosticism and the meaninglessness of life that it depicts. I think Weigel misunderstands Gnosticism in this description (or is relying on Waugh’s limited understanding of it in an era when many ancient Gnostic texts were just being rediscovered and would change our understanding of them), but clearly Waugh was against it—he shows Helena thinking it’s all “bosh” and I have to admit that the Gnostic texts I’ve read haven’t made much sense to me either—Waugh’s depiction of their convoluted mysticism is a pretty fair portrait—although I appreciate the recent revival of them and the spiritual message they try to express. I don’t have space here to debate their value, but Waugh should have given them less short shrift.

What I liked best about Waugh’s book is that Helena is depicted as a no nonsense person. Whenever she is introduced to any religious ideas, she constantly asks, “How do you know it’s true?” In the end, she decides Christianity must be true because there are eyewitness accounts of Christ’s life, and if Christ lived, there has to have been a cross so when she finds the True Cross, she has proof of the religion’s validity.

I also liked that in the Preface, Waugh dismisses the disbelief of so many people about the relics of the True Cross in existence in Europe, stating “We do know [how we know Waugh doesn’t say] that most of the relics of the true cross now venerated in various places have a clear descent from the relic venerated in the first half of the fourth century. It used to be believed by the vulgar that there were enough pieces of this ‘true cross’ to build a battleship. In the last century a French savant, Charles Rohault de Fleury, went to the great trouble of measuring them all. He found a total of 4,000,000 cubic millimeters, whereas the cross on which our Lord suffered would probably comprise some 178,000,000. As far as volume goes, therefore, there is no strain on the credulity of the faithful.”

While I appreciated this no nonsense approach, I found the book’s overall tone somewhat tiring. Waugh’s sarcasm and cynicism and straining attempt to be funny do not support the theme or message he’s trying to deliver. The book’s style is that semi-humorous, tongue-in-cheek style of his contemporaries from the first half of the twentieth century, authors like John Erskine and T.H. White, and with all of them, I feel the result is a style that shows it is trying too hard to be funny, perhaps because it doesn’t know what it’s real subject is or how to take it seriously—perhaps afraid to take it too seriously from fear of failing in the attempt.

Certainly, there is nothing funny in this book about Helena’s husband cheating on her, her son imposing religion on the empire for political motives, or his murdering his family members. The humor may not be laugh out loud funny, but it could use some toning down.

Helena 001

This is one of my favorite images of St. Helena, the Emperor Constantine, and the True Cross. I bought it in Turkey, which is the other competitor, along with Britain, for being her birthplace. This icon combines religion and superstition. Those are evil eyes hanging from it.

What I enjoyed most about the book was how Waugh played with myths and legends. The Wandering Jew, whose connection to finding the True Cross in the novel is Waugh’s own invention, makes his appearance when Helena is in Jerusalem looking for the cross. Since he was at the event, he is able to guide her in knowing where to find the cross. Waugh has the Jew appear to Helena in a dream to give her the information, perhaps to avoid the novel losing its feel of realism. Waugh doubtless was aware of the Wandering Jew as a standard of Gothic literature, but he in no way depicts the Jew as a Gothic figure.

Waugh also plays on the legend that Helena was a British princess and her British family are descendants of Brutus, himself a descendant of Aeneas, and consequently, of the royal family of Troy, another part of British mythology which many have tried to disprove and may well not be true, but makes for a great part of the Arthurian story.

In the end, I don’t think Helena is a fabulous book. In fact, the pivotal moment when Helena becomes a Christian is brushed over, and I feel that really detracts from the whole argument Waugh is trying to make. Nor do I think she comes off looking like the kind of saint we would expect—a criticism Waugh would have understood. For Waugh, part of sainthood was about finding and living your vocation—Helena’s vocation was to find the cross. Waugh believed his own was to be a writer. Both served God in their own way through those vocations. Does it matter whether Helena found the True Cross? To some it may have added to their faith. Waugh himself actually comes off sounding uncertain. At the end of the preface he says, “The story is just something to be read; in fact, a legend.” But at the end of the novel itself, he states, “Above all the babble of her age and ours, she makes one blunt assertion. And there alone is hope.” Does the hope Waugh refers to lie in that she found the cross, or that there is hope itself? I guess it’s up to the reader to decide.

For readers who want a different take on Helena that again ties her to British myth, they might also enjoy Diana Paxson’s Priestess of Avalon, part of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Avalon series, which takes a less Catholic view of Helena, as the title suggests.

_________________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

Read Full Post »

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s vision of Avalon continues through Diana Paxson’s pen in another prequel to The Mists of Avalon.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Ravens of Avalon by Diana L. PaxsonI have had mixed feelings about this series, as have many readers. The Mists of Avalon is my favorite Arthurian novel of all time, perhaps my favorite novel of all time, and after thirty years since its publication, it is doubtless a classic that has heavily influenced the numerous writers of Arthuriana who have followed. That said, the rest of the series really adds nothing to Arthurian literature because the novels are all prequels about Avalon. I found both The Forest House and Lady of Avalon to be boring and disappointing, but Priestess of Avalon, about the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, was fairly enjoyable and even moving in places. Then Ancestors of Avalon had a plot that seemed to be going nowhere despite an intriguing opening as it traced the flight from Atlantis to the new Avalon. I ended up skimming a good part of it, and it paled in comparison to Stephen Lawhead’s Atlantis depiction in Taliesin. Therefore, it took me nearly two years to get around to reading the next book in the Avalon series, Ravens of Avalon.

Before I read this book, I made the mistake of reading the reviews at Amazon, including complaints that the characters were dull and flat, and that may be why I had difficulty getting through the first hundred pages. I don’t think the characters are dull or flat, but I think some people probably had a hard time getting into the book because the cast of characters is a bit overwhelming—there are pages of them in the listing at the front of the book, and most of them have names with strange spellings that make it difficult to keep track of them. However, really there are only a few characters you need to keep track of—Lhiannon the priestess, Ardanos, the priest she loves, Boudica, and Boudica’s later husband Prasutagos.

Once I sat down and focused on the book, I found myself unable to put it down. Ravens of Avalon has redeemed the series for me and now makes me anxious to read Sword of Avalon. Also, it should be noted that if anyone else wants to read this series, there is no order in which to read it. Priestess of Avalon takes place around 300 A.D. while Ravens of Avalon takes place around 40-60 A.D. and Sword of Avalon, although I have not read it, takes place at the end of the Iron Age and deals with descendants of ancient Troy apparently. All the novels are prequels to The Mists of Avalon—I wish Paxson would consider a sequel because I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay after the book ended.

Ravens of Avalon retells the story of the iconic and historic Queen Boudica of Britain. The basics of her story are well known. The Romans raped her and her daughters, causing her to seek revenge by raising an army against the Romans, an army eventually defeated. A difficulty many historical novelists have is that the reader already knows how the story is going to turn out; even though I knew Boudica would die in the end, I kept reading, wanting to know how Paxson would twist the ending. The end is tragic; Paxson does not change it in any surprising way, but she makes Boudica come alive and for the reader to understand and follow her motivations.

The details of Boudica’s life and what led to her battling the Romans is largely lost to history, but Paxson does an admirable job of depicting what could have been Boudica’s life as she is schooled on Avalon, and she eventually settles for life being a queen, through a dynastic marriage, rather than being a priestess. Her marriage is especially well-depicted as she gets to know a husband who seems standoffish at first until their story becomes a great love story.

Of course, Avalon is sort of the spectacle of the novel, and the powers of the priests and priestesses are impressive and fascinating as they engage in magic, including raising mists to hide themselves from the Romans, or have visions of the future, or feel the spirit of a goddess enter them to aid them in battle. I am usually a sucker for this kind of magical realism, the possibility that the Druids knew how to use their minds in ways we have since forgotten.

I was very moved especially by Boudica’s dialogues with herself or with the Raven or the goddess who enters her as she tries to understand her need to battle the Romans and what it will all mean and that in the end it is for the greater good. One passage in particular struck me:

*

“Men are no different from any other creature,” said the Raven. “When one group is stronger they conquer, and when they weaken, another comes and feeds on them in turn. Conflict and competition are necessary. The fury passes through like a great fire, burning weakness away, and in its light the essence is revealed. The strongest in both groups survive. Blood and spirit are blended and what grows from them is stronger still.”

“Is this the only way?” Boudica cried.

“This is the way you must follow now,” came the reply. “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods already, from peoples that strove against each other as they came to these shores. In time more will come and today’s victor will fail, leaving his own strength in the land.”

“That is a hard teaching,” Boudica said.

“It is my truth—the Raven’s Way. One way or another the cycle must continue. The balance must be maintained. And there is more than one kind of victory…”

*

I’m a sucker for a passage like this as well, and it points to the most significant thing I have learned from my fascination with genealogy. The Raven states that “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods,” and nothing could be more true. I have traced my British ancestors more closely than any others back throughout the Middle Ages, and in one ancestor, Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), the second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a descendant of the Barons Dudley and King Edward III of England, I can trace my family tree back to ancestors from every country in Europe, as well as back to ancient Egypt, China, India, Persia, etc. The truth then is that race does not matter. As the Raven above says, the blood is mixed from those who strove against each other. I am descended from both William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson who fought each other at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and from both Celtic Britons and Saxons who settled in Britain—in fact, I can claim descent from King Caratacus of Britain, whose rebellion against Rome precedes Boudica’s and is depicted in Ravens of Avalon. I may upset some by taking this a step farther, but in a thousand years, people who died on September 11th will have descendants also descended from some of the terrorists who led the attacks. It is the way of the world, we intermarry until race and anger are forgotten. In fact, race does not really exist.

Whether you agree with my reasons for enjoying Ravens of Avalon, or you simply like stories of Avalon or druids or Roman and British history, I think Ravens of Avalon is well worth taking the time to read. After The Mists of Avalon, it is the best in the series. I have no doubt that Queen Boudica will live in my thoughts for a long time to come.

My review of Sword of Avalon will be forthcoming.

For more on Arthurian genealogy, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com

________________________

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

Read Full Post »

I first heard about the book, The Revelation of King Arthur: Deceit, Intrigue, and the Guard’s Account, after its author, Robert Bruce Fruehling, posted a comment on my blog and told me he believed the story of King Arthur’s return would be used to bring about the coming of the Antichrist. I was intrigued but skeptical by that statement and first thought Fruehling meant King Arthur would be the Antichrist. His argument is not that radical but rather that the Antichrist will present himself as being King Arthur.

The Revelation of King Arthur Robert Bruce Fruehling

The Revelation of King Arthur by Robert Bruce Fruehling

Fruehling has an M.A. and M.Div. from Ashland Theological Seminary and ministers through “aviv Ministries.” And he clearly knows the Bible well from the way he has researched his theories and quotes from the Bible in this book.

The Guards’ Account in the subtitle refers to theories, based on lies spread by Roman soldiers following the Crucifixion, that Jesus’ body was stolen and that he did not rise from the dead but simply had not died. This story spread as a lie throughout the ancient world and Fruehling shows it is the origin to more recent works like The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail that claim Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene. Basically he explores in great detail the reasons why these stories are not true and debunks these myths.

I have never bought into these fantastic theories about Jesus’ descendants, although Jesus’ siblings were likely to have descendants, among whom King Arthur is usually included. And in my research for writing King Arthur’s Children, I never came across any legitimate claims that King Arthur was directly descended from Jesus, nor do I believe that to be the case. Fruehling does an effective job of showing how unbelievable these theories are.

The second part of Fruehling’s book explores the Arthurian legend. Fruehling relies on some unreliable scholarship—especially that of Norma Lorre Goodrich, although he assumes her work is impeccable—but ultimately, her often contradictory theories have little bearing on Fruehling’s main argument. Nevertheless the book wanders about in places talking about Martin Luther’s opinions of the Jews and how they influenced Hitler, how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was a secret society (highly questionable) and misunderstanding history—such as attributing Princess Diana’s ancestor being a King of Jerusalem to refer to her being descended from Jesus via the Merovingians—I guess he never heard of the Kingdom of Jerusalem set up by the crusaders. He also acts like Laurence Gardner, the late author of Bloodline of the Holy Grail, was a legitimate scholar—something I have yet to believe considering he could never document anything properly in his books.

Aside from such wanderings and relying upon weak sources, Fruehling’s primary focus is upon how the images in the Book of Revelation relate to King Arthur—particularly the image of the red dragon on the flag of Wales being the beast in Revelation, a sign of the AntiChrist.

I won’t go into detail about the comparisons made between King Arthur Book of Revelation, but those interested can explore all the evidence Fruehling cites there. I have to admit that while Fruehling gives plenty of evidence to back up his theories, I remain skeptical simply because plenty of biblical scholars have tried to explain Revelation ad nauseam. Frankly, I don’t believe the biblical book of Revelation accurately depicts how the end of the world will happen and I think the book has done more harm than good. If only the Church fathers had been wise enough to leave it out of the Bible.

Fruehling also takes issue with novelists who depict King Arthur’s return, primarily Stephen Lawhead, who is generally regarded as a Christian author, and influenced by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis—also considered Christian authors. He shows how all of these authors strayed from orthodox Christianity and introduced and blended pagan myths with Christianity which is not acceptable as a belief system for a true Christian. Fruehling is completely correct in these charges against these authors, but they wrote great fiction nonetheless.

I can’t say that I agree with Fruehling’s religious beliefs wholeheartedly, but he makes a solid argument that will win over orthodox Christians, and it does give much pause for thought. I suspect we will never see the return of King Arthur in reality, or the events of Revelation, but perhaps both will result in some new fiction depicting a false King Arthur as the Antichrist. I don’t wish to be cynical, but after two thousand years of waiting for Jesus to return and countless people trying to analyze the book of Revelation to determine when and how that will happen, despite Jesus himself stating that no one will ever know that hour, I remain skeptical. Still, I have to admit I found myself wondering why the legend that King Arthur will return is so fascinating to us—perhaps because we want a savior who does not have a religious context. Much as I am a fan of the King Arthur legend, and I am more than willing to write fiction about his return because it makes fabulous fiction—it would be just that, fiction. Jesus is, by comparison, a much more likely to be historical person, and from all written about King Arthur and Jesus, King Arthur could in no way compete with Jesus to be the better savior.

Fruehling closes by saying “We are on the eve of the revelation of King Arthur. We are also on the eve of the return of Jesus of Nazareth. Which ‘messiah’ will you choose? May we choose our hero wisely.” I imagine most of us would choose wisely—I’m just skeptical, after centuries of hearing we are “on the eve” that we will need to make a choice. As I said, Revelation has probably done more damage than anything else the way it has held our imaginations hostage for all these centuries.

Despite my personal qualms with the arguments in Fruehling’s book, I did find it compelling reading and I encourage people interested in Christianity and King Arthur to read The Revelation of King Arthur and make decisions for themselves.

________________________

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

Read Full Post »

Of the three recent films about the Ninth Legion in Britain that mysteriously disappeared in the second century, The Last Legion (2007) was the film I was most interested in watching because it took place just prior to the time of King Arthur and was said to provide a link to the Arthurian legend. In that respect, it did not disappoint, and while I think The Eagle was a more intelligent film that raised questions about Rome and its right to occupy Britain, I enjoyed The Last Legion the most. One of my friends said it was more “predictable” than the other films, notably The Centurion, but I feel the film set out to tie the legend to the Roman emperors and successfully did so.

The cast of The Last Legion is more impressive than the other two films. Colin Firth plays the lead role, the soldier who must protect the child emperor after Odaecer of the Goths invades and conquerors Rome. Ben Kingsley plays the wise old man Ambrosinus who has come from Britain seeking Julius Caesar’s lost sword, and the child emperor, Romulus Augustus, is played by Thomas Sangster, who will be known to Arthurian film fans as playing the boy Tristan in Tristan and Isolde with James Franco playing the adult Tristan.

The story begins with mention of the sword of Julius Caesar which is fated to become the sword Excalibur. The boy Romulus Augustus has just been made emperor of Rome. The film is a bit in error timewise by saying it begins in the year 460 when Romulus Augustus reigned from 475-6 (the book the film is based on gets this fact correct–why the change?). The Goths invaded Rome and Romulus was deposed as Caesar after ten short months, although in the film it is the day after Romulus is crowned. The Roman empire then fell with a Goth taking the crown and ruling the empire, while the Eastern (Byzantine empire) would remain in power another ten centuries. History does not state what became of Romulus other than he was sent to live in Campania and then disappears from the historical record. The film takes advantage of this lost information to tie the boy to Britain. But first, he is taken as a prisoner to the Isle of Capri.

General Aurelius is determined to rescue the young emperor, and meanwhile Ambrosinus has come from Britain to Rome to seek the sword of Julius Caesar. It is predictable that the sword will be found on Capri, formerly home to Roman emperors, and then Aurelius, Ambrosianus, Romulus, and a few other companions, including a woman disguised as a male soldier (Colin Firth’s required love interest in the film), manage to escape Capri, make it over the Alps, and eventually reach Britain, where they also discover the remainder of the Ninth Legion (although it would have disappeared three hundred years earlier – the film’s largest historical inaccuracy, while in the book a fictional Twelfth Legion was actually used). Together they join in fighting Vortigyn (the film’s version of Vortigern) and his Saxon mercenaries (in the novel, but not the film, it states that it’s the legendary Battle of Badon Hill where Arthur defeated the Saxons, typically dated to about the year 516).

If you read this article farther, there will be a bit of a spoiler, although any discerning filmgoer will foresee what happens next. Aurelius is typically in legend King Arthur’s uncle, the brother to Uther Pendragon. He is often known as Aurelius Ambrosius, so the film is obviously using a version of Ambrosius for Ben Kingsley’s character. No blood relationship exists between Aurelius, Ambrosinus, or Romulus in the film, but the suggestions behind the familiar legendary names are there. In the film, in Britain there is also a young girl named Igraine who ends up later marrying Romulus, who decides to change his name to Pendragon. Guess who there child is. In the final scene, Merlin (another of Ambrosinus’ names – another big surprise) tells a young Arthur the story of his parents.

The film plays fast and loose with history, but Arthurian works always do, trying to create a historical atmosphere against which the legend could have taken place. I find the way the film links Arthur to Rome to be interesting since Arthur typically claims to be descended from a Roman emperor, although it is usually Magnus Maximus, and in Malory, it is Constantine. Arthur’s lineage also traces back to Rome through, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), Brutus from whose name Britain comes. Brutus was a descendant of Aeneas, the founder of the Roman empire and one of the survivors who fled when Troy was destroyed (both the costume designer and swordmaster of the film, interestingly, had worked on the film Troy). Romulus, besides being the historical last emperor of Rome, also has a counterpart who is the founder of Rome in ancient legend.

The film has its moments of corniness and exaggerated action, but most films do, and this film at least is trying to be corny in its romantic and adventurous storylines. It is not a great film. I would not even say it is one of the better Arthurian films (it’s questionable whether there has ever been a great Arthurian film), but it succeeds in what it sets out to accomplish, creating an intriguing storyline that ties Rome and Arthurian Britain together, provides some light moments of comedy, and a lot of magic in creating a sense of wonder about how the legend of King Arthur may have happened. If you like a little myth and wonder woven into depictions of Roman Britain, this may be the film you will most enjoy, while if you like gritty realism, The Centurion or The Eagle may be more your style. I’m not sure that one of these films is better than the other–they are just different. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be The Last Legion. If I had to pick one as the best, I would say The Eagle. Interestingly, The Last Legion may be the film least about the Ninth Legion, yet the only one named for it.

For those interested in Arthurian literature, the film is based on an Italian novel of the same name written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi in 2003. It was translated into English in 2005.

In future posts, I will write about more films that tie Arthurian Britain to Rome, but more specifically in the time of Arthur. I’ll note here that Rosemary Sutcliff, author of The Eagle of the Ninth (upon which The Eagle was based) was the first author to create a novel, Sword at Sunset (1959), based upon trying to place King Arthur within his historical post-Roman world, and that effort along with continued archeological efforts, has contributed to this trend to create a more historical depiction in fiction of King Arthur and his world.

________________________

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

Read Full Post »

What happened to the Roman Ninth Legion has inspired three films in recent years:

Of these three films, I’m afraid The Centurion is the one I find the least interesting. Like the other films, The Centurion is about what happened to the Ninth Legion that seemingly disappeared – although historians now think they were transferred and later destroyed on the continent. How they were destroyed remains lost to history, but authors like Rosemary Sutcliff, whose novel The Eagle of the Ninth, which the film The Eagle is based upon, have been writing books about it for many years, surmising what may have occurred. Usually the stories suggest the legion went north of the area where Hadrian’s Wall separated the “uncivilized” Britons from the territory the Romans had conquered.

The problem I have with The Centurion is not the suggestions of what may have happened to the Ninth (an interesting historical mystery) but the film’s lack of character development as well as my difficulty with identifying with the main characters. In this film, the Roman legion is led north with the aid of a Brigantes woman who is apparently going to lead them to where they can attack the Picts. Instead, she tricks the Romans and leads them into an ambush (big surprise). The sad thing is that while I just watched this film a few days ago, I can’t even remember any of the characters’ names and I can barely remember the actors’ faces. I know there was a main character Roman, the deceitful native Briton woman, and a bad guy who caused treachery, and a couple of other survivors. Eventually, the Romans who survive the attack and enslavement manage to escape from the Picts who have captured them, and the rest of the film shows their attempts not to be recaptured or killed and to get back to the Roman outposts. The villainy by a fellow Roman is almost a subplot and the overall plot is loose and not in any way complicated. Perhaps the best part of the film (SPOILER ALERT) is the end when the surviving Roman returns, only to have his fellow Romans try to cover up what happened to the legion so its defeat will not make Rome look bad.

What makes this film additionally difficult for me is that because none of the characters were strong enough for me to identify with one of them, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. When the film started, although I knew the Romans would be “the good guys,” I wanted the Picts to win. Why? Because I know I am descended from the Picts through Scottish royalty, while I do not know of any Roman ancestors in my family tree, though I do not doubt I have them, and also because the Picts and other Britons were conquered people whom Rome just felt it was their job and right to conquer and civilize or eliminate. While I did not agree with this philosophy in either The Eagle or The Centurion, at least in The Eagle, the main character played by Tatum Channing is well portrayed as a very loyal Roman who believes in his Roman traditions and duties. I may not agree with what makes him tick, but I understood his motives. The Eagle also raised interesting questions of right and wrong and Channing’s character has a slave who makes it clear that Rome is not in the right, leaving a world of questions for viewers to consider, even while Channing’s character is left staying staunch to what he believes in, too brainwashed into the Roman way to consider what he may have done wrong as a Roman, although I think the film’s viewers realize the film questions who he really is. The Eagle is still somewhat weak in this respect, but far superior to The Centurion.

By comparison, the native Britons are given almost no sympathy in The Centurion. The Brigantes woman who deceives the Romans is insulted by them as being a “she-wolf.” She seems merciless in her desire to destroy the Romans, but her behavior is completely understandable to me despite the Romans thinking ill of her. We are told that she watched the Romans destroy her family, then rape her and cut out her tongue. Despite this information, she is impossible to identify with because she is unable to speak her pain, and similarly, except for one of the Picts telling the Romans what the other Romans did to her, equally the film is unable to speak about who is right and who wrong in this film. In short, it is unfocused and uncertain if it has any agenda or message to share. I know life isn’t always possible to tie into a neat message but the woman becomes so focused on her mission and so unable to display any emotion or human characteristics we can identify with, that while she is the character I felt most sympathy for in the film, she is unable to make a real connection with the viewer, she is unable to speak her pain, and therefore, unable to make the viewer form a bond with her or anyone in the film. And I think the film itself, or its creators, were unsure themselves what if any point the film was supposed to make.

I don’t want to say this film is a mess, but it is a disappointment. It kept my attention due to some of the action as the Picts chased after the Romans, but I had a hard time knowing what to think at the end. Ultimately, I have to say that if the Roman Ninth was slaughtered by the people it was trying to conquer, well, who can blame the Britons for protecting their homeland? I don’t condone killing, but the Romans started the killing in Briton and they got what they deserved.

The film also raises questions for me about King Arthur himself, often depicted as heir to the Romans and of Roman descent, yet considering himself a Briton–and fighting against the Saxons who would conquer him. If he’s of Roman descent, is Arthur a good guy? If he is of Briton descent, then Arthur must see the Saxons as equal to the earlier Roman invaders. More likely, Arthur’s bloodline would have been a mix of Briton and Roman. In the end, did the two races not blend? Were they not allied at the least in their fight against the incoming Saxon invaders?

Eventually in all cultures, the conquerors and the conquered’s great-grandchildren intermingle and hatreds are put aside and forgotten as time marches on. Too bad the great-grandparents couldn’t learn to do that themselves to save a great deal of bloodshed.

I encourage lovers of Arthurian literature interested in the prehistory of the Arthurian legend to watch both The Eagle and The Centurion to understand what Briton would have been like in the Romans’ early years in Britain and how those events shaped the world a historical King Arthur would have been born into. And I’d welcome comments from other viewers.

And if you are interested in reading more about Roman Britain in novel form, I highly recommend Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel series, including The Eagle of the Ninth and Sword at Sunset (the first novel to create a historical King Arthur), and especially, I recommend for great reading pleasure Jack Whyte’s novel series The Camulod Chronicles, about Arthur’s Roman ancestors and how they established Camelot as a way to maintain peace in the years when Rome was pulling out of Britain.

________________________

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »