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Archive for the ‘Merlin’ Category

I’ll admit I didn’t have high expectations for this film. After all, it has a 3.8 rating at IMDB and I haven’t been impressed with original Sci Fi films based on the few I’ve seen so I put off seeing it until recently, even though it was released in 2010.

It wasn’t any better than I expected, but it had one pleasant surprise—yes, it creates yet another child for King Arthur.

The story begins apparently several years after Arthur’s fall at Camlann. Sir Galahad is the last of the Knights of the Round Table. He is accompanied by three younger knights, and together they go on a quest to find Merlin to seek his help because a sorcerer called The Arkadian is terrorizing Britain by releasing venomous moths and other creatures from a magical book called The Book of Beasts.

MerlinandtheBookofBeasts_Galahad’s party finds Merlin, but he isn’t willing to help. Then he discovers that one of the knights is not only a girl, but she is Avlynn, the daughter of King Arthur and Guinevere. Avlynn wants Merlin to help her gain the throne that is rightfully hers and also to retrieve Excalibur from the lake where it was hidden after Arthur’s passing to Avalon. Merlin still refuses to help, and the group leaves, downcast.

Soon after the party is attacked by what appear to be zombie soldiers, and at the moment when it seems they will lose, Merlin comes to their aid, having changed his mind about helping.

At this point, Merlin says several things that are difficult to understand because the actor playing Merlin, Jim Callis, talks like he has rocks in his mouth; he also sounds a bit disgruntled and demented. My biggest complaint about the entire film, in fact, was that I couldn’t always understand what Merlin was saying.

Not that the rest of the movie is so spectacular, but I did like that Avlynn and Galahad’s other two companions are Lancelot, son of Galahad, and Tristan, son of Tristan and Isolde. Lancelot, of course, is in love with Avlynn, but she’s not interested in him.

When the showdown with the Arkadian happens, it turns out he’s Mordred and he didn’t die at Camlann after all. He unleashes more creatures from The Book of Beasts. Every creature in the book is actually a real creature residing in the book, including Medusa and her sister Gorgons, who seem badly out of place in this film, but they do manage to cause trouble for the Camelot crew, and ultimately, turn Sir Galahad to stone, a spell Merlin can’t reverse.

In the end, Mordred is defeated and killed. The Book of Beasts is destroyed when Excalibur is stabbed into it. Avlynn has been enchanted by Mordred, who wanted to marry her and breed a new Pendragon line, but Lancelot rescues Avlynn by kissing her and breaking the spell. Now, clearly, with a little urging from Merlin, Avlynn will marry Lancelot and they will rule together, with Tristan as head of the army.

While I love that a daughter was created for King Arthur in this film and also the other second generation characters, there’s not much else to recommend this film. Jim Callis, despite being in several other roles in successful films where he did a good job, just isn’t a good Merlin and the story is pretty predictable. Nothing about the sets was attractive or made me feel any awe; the fountain of Brittany which could have been a nice touch in the film isn’t even in Brittany but Britain, and the Gorgons got annoying fast.

I agree with IMDB: 3.8.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy and Melusine’s Gift, and he has written the nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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 Prologue

 Roncesvaux Pass in the Pyrenees

Between France and Spain

August 15, 778 A.D.

 

When Roland woke, he felt immense relief—he had been dreaming—or had he been? His body was still exhausted. Was it true? Had they been ambushed? He remembered marching with the army, and then—yes, there had definitely been a battle. He remembered the feel of his sword as he slid it out of a Saracen throat and the sight of the blood squirting out, and then—and then a great soaring pain through his whole body, but most of all in his chest, as another Saracen sliced—but—was he dead then?

Melusine's Gift tells the story of a fairy connected to King "Melusine's Gift" tells the story of Roland, Charlemagne's nephew, his grandmother, the fairy Melusine, and how they are connected to King Arthur and Avalon.

“Melusine’s Gift” tells the story of Roland, Charlemagne’s nephew, his grandmother, the fairy Melusine, and how they are connected to King Arthur and Avalon.

His eyes bolted open, and he tried to sit up, but the pain soared through his chest again so that he was quickly afraid to move and hurt himself worse. He bit his tongue, trying to keep from screaming over the agonizing pain that shot through his body.

After a moment, when the pain lessened, Roland looked about him, conscious that it was now night. He strained his eyes to see anything he could about him, but he could only make out shadows—of what he knew not. Where was he? Lying on the battlefield, not quite dead? Was the enemy still near? He closed his eyes again, fearing that if an enemy warrior or a grave robber should come and see he lived, he would be struck dead. He listened, waiting to hear footsteps, but all he heard was the great squawking of birds—carrion birds come to feast on the dead. In a moment, no doubt, they would be nibbling on him. He had to get up and make his way to shelter somehow—to see whether any of King Charles’ brave men remained to look after the dead and wounded—or were they all dead or wounded?

“Be still.”

He jerked in fright at the unexpected voice. He had not heard anyone approach, but it sounded like a male voice, and an elderly one. It spoke to him in French, not the Saracen tongue, and not the tongue of the surrounding provinces—rather the French of Paris, the French of King Charles’ court.

“It’s all right. You’re safe now.”

He slowly opened his eyes; it took a minute for them to adjust. It was growing dark, the sun nearly set now. Beside him knelt a shadowy figure.

“Lie still; your wounds mustn’t be exasperated further. I’ve given you some medicine to help with the pain—that is what woke you, when I poured it down your throat. It should numb the pain in a few more minutes.”

“My men, what of them?”

“Most are slaughtered; a few escaped; a few were taken prisoners.”

“Oliver and Ogier, what of them?”

The old man hesitated a moment, then said, “Ogier survived.”

Roland struggled to hold back his grief over the death of Oliver, his companion since childhood. After a moment, he asked the old man, “Can I speak to Ogier?”

“Ogier is gone now. The king and his men all thought you dead. They could not find your body. You were buried beneath the corpse of the Saracen who tried to slay you; he fell dead upon you when another struck him from behind. He covered your body, protecting it from further harm, but hiding it from view. Nevertheless, Ogier is the one of all King Charles’ court whom you will see again when the time is right.”

“Right for what?”

“That is too difficult a question to answer at this moment, but it will all be revealed.”

“If my body was buried beneath another,” Roland asked, “how did you find me?”

“I have my ways. I watched the battle from up in the mountains. I kept an eye on you.”

“Thank you. Then you were not with the army?”

“No.”

“But you know me and my companions?” Roland tried to read the old man’s eyes in the dim light as his own eyes finally began to focus in the darkness.

“Yes, I know you, Roland, King Charles’ nephew,” the man solemnly replied.

A bolt of fear swept through Roland’s body. How did the old man know him if he were not with the army? Roland knew he wore nothing to distinguish himself as the king’s nephew.

“How do you know who I am?” he asked.

“Why, all your life I have watched you—I knew you when you were yet in your mother’s womb.”

“Who are you?” Roland asked, fearing he might have fallen into the hands of a sorcerer.

“I have many names,” said the man, leaning back. “You would be surprised by them all.”

Roland’s eyes widened as the man spoke. Although the sun had set and there was no candle or other source of light, the man’s face suddenly became illuminated. He was bearded—a long white beard, his hair long and falling about his shoulders—and his eyes were ancient, wise, and mesmerizing.

“Who are you?” Roland repeated, his eyes growing with amazement.

“I am of your father’s people, the Britons,” the man replied, “although perhaps even you yourself do not know of that aspect of your heritage after all these generations, but no matter, I am many other things as well.”

“I don’t understand,” Roland replied. “Where did you come from? How did you get here, and what is your interest in me?”

“Most recently, I have resided in the Forest of Broceliande. In a cave where it is said by mortals that I sleep; if you think upon it, you will know me.”

Roland barely dared think the name that came into his mind, but as he stared at the old man, trying to regain his ability to speak amid his astonishment, a glow slowly lit the old man’s face, emanating from a ball the man held up near his chin. Roland had never seen this man before, and yet, he knew instinctively who he was, and finally, the name came to his tongue.

“Mer-lin?”

The ancient wizard nodded, and then the light diminished from his face.

“But—but,” Roland stuttered in confusion, “I thought you were enchanted, in a cave, unable to…. Oh, how can this be? It doesn’t make sense. Am I dreaming? I don’t understand. Am I dead? Is that why you are here?”

“I am very much alive, brave Roland, and so are you. It is foolish, the stories men sometimes tell—that a great enchanter like I, one with such wisdom to live for centuries, could fall for a mere mortal woman barely past her youth and allow her to enchant and trap me. You mortals want to think romantic love is everything and even the greatest of wizards will fall for it, but it is not so. Most of the stories you have heard about me have been tainted by the fears of men and bear little resemblance to the truth, but just wait until you have lived long enough to hear the stories they will create about you.”

“Can I have some water?” Roland asked, beginning to cough from the dryness in his throat.

“You are thirsty. That is the healing potion taking effect. I gave it to you before you woke. Wait a few more moments and we will be ready to leave.”

“Leave? How? Do you think I’ll be able to walk?”

“You will be healed completely; you may feel some bodily exhaustion for a day or two, but after that, you will be your old self.”

“I don’t believe this. I can’t be alive; I must be dead or at least dreaming.”

Merlin placed a drinking flask to his lips.

“Here, this will make you feel alive still.”

The water was cold and felt wonderful on Roland’s parched lips. He had not tasted water since early that morning before the ambush that had caused his companions’ deaths.

A Medieval Depiction of the Battle at Roncesvaux Pass where Roland is said to have died.

A Medieval Depiction of the Battle at Roncesvaux Pass where Roland is said to have died.

“Will you take me to the army, to my uncle the king?” Roland asked when he had drunk his fill, and far more than he would have imagined could fill the small flask.

“No,” said Merlin. “You have other work to do.”

“I will need my sword and a horse and my men to pursue the Saracens.”

“No, your fighting days have passed,” said Merlin. “You have a more important task now.”

“I am the king’s nephew, one of his paladins; I fight by King Charles’ side. There is no more important task.”

“Do you think that I, who served the great King Arthur, do not know better than you?” Merlin asked. “You men and your wars. Trust me. You need not worry about your honor. Your uncle the king will claim to have your body so he may give you a fitting burial in the great tomb of the Kings of France at Blaye. Your great deeds will be remembered in song and story for more than a thousand years to come. You have no need to worry.”

“What of Alda, my betrothed?”

“She—I’m sorry to say that she will be heartbroken to know you are dead; she will go to an early grave. It is sad, but you will see her in the next life, though it will be many, many years from now.”

“I need to go to her. I cannot break her heart that way.”

“No, you will not be returning to France,” Merlin repeated.

“Who are you to tell me where I may go?” snapped Roland, his strength having now been restored to him, and with it came the full pain of knowing that he would never again see his dead companions and his fiancée.

“I serve a higher power than you or your king,” said Merlin, “and now it is time for you to do the same.”

“What do you want with me, wizard?” Roland demanded. “I’ll have none of your trickery.”

Roland sat up in anger, but although he winced in anticipation of pain at the effort, he was amazed to feel his chest and stomach whole again.

“Trickery, hey?” said Merlin. “I suppose my healing you was trickery.”

Roland looked only amazed, and perhaps he felt a bit of fear, for swords he knew of, battles he could fight, but from sorcery he did not know how to defend himself, and sorcery that called him to serve a higher power than his king—that was frightening indeed.

“You will know soon enough what is wanted of you,” said Merlin, rising to his feet. “Come; you are able to stand and walk now. We must hurry before the Saracens return.”

“Where are you taking me?” asked Roland, first kneeling and then standing, amazed by his sudden renewed vigor; unbelievably, he felt stronger than he had before the battle.

“We go south, to your grandfather,” said Merlin, turning and beginning to walk away.

“My grandfather? I know no grandfather.”

“No, you wouldn’t; he retired to the monastery at Montserrat before you were born,” Merlin called over his shoulder.

“I don’t understand,” said Roland.

“Your father’s father,” said Merlin, turning back to look at Roland, “Raimond, the former Count of Poitou.”

“I did not know my father’s father lived. My father died before I was born so I never met my grandfather.”

“Come; you have much to learn that you were never told before. You, my boy, are far more than the nephew of a king—even if that king will soon title himself Holy Roman Emperor. You come from a far more ancient line. It is time you learn the truth of your family.”

“The truth of my family?” Roland whispered to himself. What was it Merlin had said at first, that he was of “his father’s people”—that he was a Briton? But how could any of that be? He knew his father had been born in France, and Raimond of Poitou—he remembered hearing the name—from his mother’s lips when he was a child, after his father had died. But he had dim memories of what his mother had said, not remembering much beyond that revelation that she was the king’s sister, that he was the nephew to the great King Charles of the Franks. There had been something more—about his father’s past and about a strange legend that his grandmother…but his thoughts felt all muddled. He could not remember it all at the moment….

And Merlin was walking off into the darkness.

Roland quickly ran after him, no longer doubting that he was healed and well.

“Here is a horse,” said Merlin when Roland was beside him again. In actuality, there were two horses hidden behind a rock in the pass. In another moment, the wizard and the warrior were mounted and galloping south, toward the monastery of Montserrat—where secrets were kept that Roland could scarcely imagine.

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Marquette, MI, January 13, 2015—What made medieval royalty want to claim descent from a shape-shifting fairy? Whether a mermaid or a flying serpent, Melusine of Lusignan was seen as a desirable ancestor by many noble and royal houses of Europe, and she was both reviled and celebrated by medieval audiences. Now she tells her own story in award-winning author Tyler R. Tichelaar’s new historical fantasy novel Melusine’s Gift: The Children of Arthur, Book Two.

Melusine’s Gift tells the story of a fairy connected to King Arthur and the two magic rings she leaves her children.

 

According to legend, Raimond, Count of Lusignan, met the beautiful Melusine at a forest fountain. They fell in love and she agreed to marry him if he promised never to disturb her when she locked herself away every Saturday. Raimond agreed, but fearing his wife was committing adultery, he eventually spied on her and discovered she was a mermaid. Later, when tragedy struck their children, he lashed out at his wife, calling her a serpent. Heartbroken, Melusine sprung wings and flew out the castle window, her serpent tail trailing behind her.

Tichelaar has always been intrigued by Melusine and believes the explanations behind her mystery lie in her being raised in Avalon, home to Morgan le Fay and King Arthur’s final resting place. “I suspect she learned magic in Avalon and simply enjoyed shape-shifting, something humans couldn’t understand,” says Tichelaar. “As for the connections to royalty, the whole premise of my Children of Arthur series is that King Arthur’s descendants live among us today. I believe Melusine played a key role in that lineage.”

In Tichelaar’s first novel in the series, Arthur’s Legacy, twentieth century Adam Delaney, an American-born young man, meets the wizard Merlin, who reveals to Adam that he is a descendant of King Arthur and his family will aid in fulfilling the prophecy of King Arthur’s return. Now in this sequel, Adam and his English wife are on their honeymoon in France where they discover their family’s connection to Melusine. This knowledge will aid them in the future when they must fight forces determined to stop Arthur’s return.

The Children of Arthur series has won praise from readers and Arthurian experts. Jenifer Brady, author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, says, “Readers unfamiliar with Melusine’s place in history will be drawn into her world, while the captivating web of multi-layered stories within stories combine and complement to obliterate the preconceived notions of those who consider themselves experts on her legend.” And John Matthews, author of King Arthur: Dark Age Warrior and Mythic Hero, states, “Works of this kind are hugely important because they keep the legends alive and bring them into the 21st century. Strongly recommended for all who love the old and the new in mythic fiction.”

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of numerous historical fiction novels, including The Best Place and the award-winning Narrow Lives as well as the scholarly books The Gothic Wanderer and King Arthur’s Children.

Melusine’s Gift: The Children of Arthur, Book Two (ISBN 9780979179099, Marquette Fiction, 2015) can be purchased in paperback and ebook editions through local and online bookstores. For more information, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com. Review copies available upon request.

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Marcus Pitcaithly has launched a new fiction series, beginning with The Realm of Albion. This series is sure to be a treat for anyone who loves British mythology and history. Educated at Oxford, Pitcaithly has had a lifelong interest in history, mythology, and the interplay between the two. He has previously written The Hereward Trilogy, set in England just after the Norman Conquest, as well as scholarly works on Shakespeare and medieval history. While a lot of authors have retold the Arthurian story, Pitcaithly has decided to go back farther and recreate its roots in pre-Roman Britain.

The Realm of Albion, a retelling of the King Lear story drawing on Welsh sources - by Marcus Pitcaithly.

The Realm of Albion, a retelling of the King Lear story drawing on Welsh sources – by Marcus Pitcaithly.

Drawing on an impressive range of sources, including Shakespeare, but also The Welsh Triads, The Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, and the medieval French romance Perceforest, The Realm of Albion is a retelling of the King Lear story from the viewpoint of Lear’s forgotten wife, Penarddun. At age fourteen, this daughter of King Belin is sent to be wife to the elderly King Llyr, and the night before her wedding, she witnesses the famous scene when Llyr asks his daughters whether they love him. But while the basic frame of this novel’s plot follows the tale as told previously, plenty of twists are involved, and those twists are what made me fall in love with this book.

Before Penarddun arrives at Llyr’s court, she stops at Avalon, where she meets Urganda, servant to the goddess Latis. Urganda tells Penarddun that Urganda’s sister, Gogoniant, was Llyr’s first wife and the mother of his daughter Cordelia. Llyr also had a dwarf son he claimed was stillborn and had exposed, although he doesn’t know that son survived and now lives at Avalon. Llyr’s other two daughters, Goneril and Regan, were born to his concubines. Therefore, Cordelia is Llyr’s only truly legitimate daughter, and she is significant as well because of her link to Avalon.

For years, Avalon has been home to the Lady of the Lake and a religious center of Britain, but Llyr, in his lust for power and not wanting anyone to have power over him, invaded Avalon and forced and took Gogoniant away to be his wife. She was the rightful Lady of the Lake, and Cordelia, therefore, is her successor. The Lady of the Lake’s consort is known as the Penteyrnedd, and Llyr has taken that to mean the consort is also the High King. At the same time, he has made himself the enemy of Avalon, even if he has power over it.

The well-known scene between Llyr and his daughters turns out to be staged. Cordelia has been told how to answer her father beforehand and she does so obediently. Llyr asks his daughters how much they love him and Goneril and Regan please him with their answers while Cordelia says she has nothing to add, resulting in her being disinherited. Llyr wants it this way to demolish the power of Avalon and the Lady of the Lake so he remains powerful.

Penarddun witnesses and participates in the events that follow, which will be well-known to those familiar with Shakespeare’s play. In time, Goneril and Regan turn on Llyr and he goes mad, and Cordelia must return to set things right. I won’t say more about the plot because I don’t want to give away all the interesting changes and additions that Pitcaithly has made to the storyline.

I did, however, appreciate the Arthurian elements he is planting in this first book. The sword Excalibur is introduced into the novel. We are told that when Llyr invaded Avalon, it was thrown into the mere to prevent him from obtaining it since it is the sword of the Lady and wielded by her consort. Without it, Llyr would not be the true consort. After Cordelia has set all to rights, the sword is found when the mere dries up. It is given to Cordelia’s husband, with the understanding that he serves the Lady and the consort’s title is now changed to Pendragon.

Cordelia in the Court of King Lear - an 1873 painting by Sir John Gilbert

Cordelia in the Court of King Lear – an 1873 painting by Sir John Gilbert

Another interesting Arthurian element is the role of Merlin. Like Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon, Pitcaithly uses “Merlin” as a title, but it is more than just a position. The “Merlin” in this novel is Awel, a young boy who is believed to be the god Mabon born in human form as happens every so many years. It is believed Awel fulfills this prophecy because he was born at the dawn of Beltane and because his father died three months before his birth, making him a “fatherless” boy. We are told that if Awel has the power of a god, a wise king will want him on his side, but a fearful king would want him dead. Consequently, his identity is kept from Llyr. Awel travels to Llyr’s castle as part of Penarddun’s bridal party, and when Llyr meets him, he thinks he’s a fool and has him dress in fool’s clothes. I really thought this twist on Pitcaithly’s part was brilliant since the fool in Shakespeare’s plays is typically the wisest person and utters prophecies, so it is a logical and intelligent twist for the fool to be the Merlin.

Finally, I really appreciated the scholarship and effort that Pitcaithly put into writing this book. Having written Arthurian fiction myself, I know how much research is required and also how one has to take texts that are often vague, obscure, or fragmented, or storylines that have been embellished over centuries and sift through them as well as embellish them to fill in the missing pieces of the story. In his introduction, Pitcaithly remarks that it “feels almost like detective work, as if I am uncovering a true history from flawed sources.” That’s a feeling I know very well. He has taken a very minor reference to Penarddun in Welsh literature and created an entire novel around it.

What’s to come next in the series? In his introduction, Pitcaithly tells us he was first inspired to write a novel about the Amadis legend based on his early reading of Lewis Spence’s Legends and Romances of Spain. Over time, he realized that despite that legend’s Spanish trappings, it felt distinctly Celtic to him. I am not familiar with the Amadis legend, but in The Realm of Albion, Pitcaithly mentions in passing a couple of times a young prince belonging to another royal family named Amadis—a clear sign that Amadis will figure in later books. But as for the next book, it will be titled Under the Clear Sky and will bring in characters involved in the Sertorian War and the Spartacus revolt, as well as covering the reign of Cordelia and the rise of Bran, son to Llyr and Penarddun.

I highly recommend The Realm of Albion. It is wonderful to see the fragmented stories of the ancient Britons given new life and to have someone enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his subject put together the pieces to create a compelling story for modern readers. Anyone interested in ancient British history or the Arthurian legend will enjoy this book. I don’t know of anyone else who has taken on such a grand and scholarly undertaking to explore in fiction the pre-Arthurian period and even pre-Roman period (the novel’s action takes place around 80 B.C.E.). Marion Zimmer Bradley, of course, wrote her Avalon novels that were prequels to The Mists of Avalon, but with the exception of Ravens of Avalon, completed by her successor, Diana Paxson, I don’t feel those books were very successful or convincing, and they did not have as authentic a feeling of ancient British lore as what Pitcaithly brings to this retelling. With a large cast of bigger than life legendary characters, new twists on old tales, and plenty of Arthurian references, The Realm of Albion is a fabulous start to a fascinating new series. I look forward to reading the next book.

The Realm of Albion is available at most online bookstores. For more information about Marcus Pitcaithly, visit http://marcuspitcaithly.wix.com/marcus-pitcaithly.

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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 Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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On Tuesday, October 21, I had the opportunity to see Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot—The National Tour at the Rozsa Center in Houghton, Michigan. Yes, I live 100 miles from Houghton and my night vision isn’t the best, so to get there I had to get a hotel room and spend the night, but Camelot is my all-time favorite musical and movie, and having never seen it performed live, I knew it would be worth the trouble.

First, let me say I’m a Camelot addict. I have seen the movie more times than I can count, and I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I’ve listened to the movie soundtrack thousands of times—I wore out the record, wore out the cassette tape and CD, and hopefully, won’t wear out my iTunes. I also have played hundreds if not thousands of times the original Broadway Cast recording as well as the 1982 London recording and watched the HBO version from 1982 with Richard Harris. For thirty years, Camelot has been a big part of my life and a major influence on my deciding to study the Arthurian legend and write my own novel series about it.

Merlin makes a stunning departure when enchanted by Nimue. (Photo taking from https://www.facebook.com/CamelotMusicalTour)

Merlin makes a stunning departure when enchanted by Nimue. (All photos taking from https://www.facebook.com/CamelotMusicalTour – no photography is allowed during the production.)

So my expectations were very high to see this production. I find it a bit hard not to keep comparing it to the film since it’s not a film and you can’t achieve on stage what you can on film nor perfect it in the same way. Given those limitations, I was intrigued by this production. It was promoted as “Camelot like you’ve never seen it before,” and the ads with the scruffy looking knight made it seem like it would be a modernized, visually stimulating and maybe sexed-up Camelot for a new era. Would this still be President Kennedy’s beloved Camelot? I was relieved to find it was. With a few exceptions, it faithfully followed the original Broadway production, and I’m sure Kennedy, whose administration was named after it because he loved it so much, would have enjoyed last night’s performance.

Of course, I have a few criticisms, so I’ll point out what was good, what could have been better, and what made this play stand out from the film.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was that the play started with Arthur speaking—no overture! But I think this lack worked to bring about the crisis moment the show opens with of Arthur about to fight Lancelot for Guinevere, thus allowing the flashback. I admit, with the knights in the scene, it looked a bit flashy and hardcore and I felt a little uncomfortable about where it might be going, but soon the scene went back in time, and the minute King Arthur (Adam Grabau) opened his mouth to start singing “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight,” I was hooked. Guinevere (Mary McNulty) then made her entrance with her wonderful song “Where Are the Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and the show was off to a great start.

The magic came to life through the acting and the singing, but the costumes and sets definitely added to that magic. For me, the most impressive costume was Lancelot’s—metallic and shimmering and full of detail, although Guinevere’s costumes were impressive as well, as was Nimue’s. Merlin and Pellinore’s costumes could use a little trimming. Both roles were played by Mark Poppleton, who was convincing and just a tad comical without going too far in each role—but his robe got caught under the backdrop as it came down when he made his entrance and he had to yank it out, and later as Pellinore, his robe caught on the furniture. That said, because of these characters’ roles, it made it seem almost like these snafus were intended for comical effect.

The sets were a bit understated but worked well. I was a bit taken aback by the gigantic metallic structure that doubled for trees and a canopy for the throne room, but it worked well for its purpose, allowing Arthur to fall out of his tree, among other things. The most impressive set was when Nimue enchanted Merlin—a truly beautiful moment of special effects. Almost as impressive was the jousting scene with the wonderful music rarely included on recordings, and of course, the lighting for the song “Guinevere” was dramatic and spectacular. The only place I felt the lighting effects could have been better was for “The Lusty Month of May.” I think a green and blue background would have said May more than the magenta pink coloring, and I would have liked to have seen a Maypole or more flowers. Mary McNulty as Guinevere had a beautiful voice and deserved a set to match the frolicsome fun and just the slightest touch of mischief (eat your heart out, Vanessa Redgrave) she conveyed during this song. Still, both the costume and scene designers deserve kudos for their overall impressive work.

There is really little I can fault in the production, but there are a few things I would have done differently. Lancelot (Tim Rogan) really did a splendid job in his role overall. He was appropriately unlikeable in his quest for purity and goodness, yet believable. He got the audience laughing as he made a grand entrance singing “C’est Moi” while still convincing us of his manly valor. I’m afraid he’s no Franco Nero (but then even Franco Nero wasn’t quite Franco Nero since his voice was dubbed for the film), but I’d rather listen to Tim Rogan sing over Robert Goulet (Goulet was wonderful in other shows, especially The Happy Time, but he never convinced me as Lancelot). I wasn’t quite convinced that Rogan’s Lancelot was French, but better not to try the French accent probably. The miracle scene was quite well done and convincing, as were all Lancelot’s speeches about chivalry, but alas, I wish he hadn’t been so stiff when he sang “If Ever I Would Leave You.” I would have liked to have seen a little movement and emotion on his part. He honestly looked uncomfortable singing it—a little taking of Guinevere’s hand, holding her, walking about the stage would have brought it to life. I expected a lot here though since the film’s love montage for this song is breathtaking and one of the most beautiful moments in cinematic history in my opinion—and the song ranks as one of my all time three favorite songs (along with “Memory” from Cats and “And This Is My Beloved” from Kismet) and in all other ways, he was a superb Lancelot, but he could use some work in being convincing for this song. All that said, I can definitely see why Guinevere would prefer him to Arthur, as fine as Adam Grabau’s Arthur was throughout the show—worthy to stand beside Richard Burton if not quite Richard Harris.

Tim Rogan as Lancelot praising his own virtues. "But where in the world Is there in the world A man so extraordinaire?"

Tim Rogan as Lancelot praising his own virtues. “But where in the world
Is there in the world
A man so extraordinaire?”

A few key differences about this production compared to the film and other productions of it stood out concerning the songs. Most importantly, the play includes several songs that were dropped from the film: “Fie On Goodness,” “The Seven Deadly Virtues,” “Before I Gaze on You Again,” and the madrigal sung by Lancelot. All of these were included in this new production and were performed well, especially “The Seven Deadly Virtues” sung by a delightfully naughty Mordred (Kasidy Devlin). And “Before I Gaze on You Again” was very convincing and Mary McNulty made me feel the words in a way Julie Andrews never has. Also the jousting music, was a treat to hear. The only disappointment of these songs for me was the lines cut from “Fie On Goodness” regarding Scotland—who wouldn’t want to stroke someone’s bonny….

Two songs, however, from the play and film both were cut in this production—“Take Me to the Fair” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.” And both are such wonderful songs that it’s a shame they were cut. I’m not aware that they have been cut in other productions. (I know it’s a long show so maybe that was why, but I was prepared to sit there for three wonderful hours, so I was a bit disappointed it only lasted two and a half with these songs cut.)The placement of the songs was also somewhat odd. “If Ever I Would Leave You” is usually at the beginning of the second act, but instead, it was placed where “I Loved You Once in Silence” belongs. I think moving “If Ever I Would Leave You” back where it belongs and keeping this love song would have been preferable. “I Loved You Once in Silence” really adds to the love development which I felt there could have been a bit more of in this production.

One song is changed in its placement and lyrics from the play to the film. “Follow Me” in the play version is sung by Nimue when she enchants Merlin, and it is a beautiful song and a beautiful moment as she leads him “To a cave by a sapphire shore/Where we’ll walk through an emerald door,/And for thousands of breathless evermores my life you shall be.” I love this song, but I also love how it’s sung by the forest creatures in the film production to convince Arthur that “as we were, we can be, follow me.”

As for Morgan le Fay’s character, I knew she was cut from the show in the early years after it was first performed in 1960, but in the concert version in 2008, broadcast as part of PBS’ Live from Lincoln Center series, Fran Drescher played the role, so I was hoping Morgan le Fay was making her comeback in the production, but I’ll have to hope to see her in another future performance.

Overall, an enjoyable evening. If I had never seen Camelot, I’m sure I would have raved about it. The crowd gave the performance a standing ovation and everyone enjoyed it, including the woman seated beside me who had seen Robert Goulet in a 1960s production in Detroit. I was also pleased to see so many college students in the audience—of all the great musicals from the mid-twentieth century, Camelot perhaps most deserves to live on for its universal themes and appeal, so I hope future generations will continue to embrace it.

The knighting of Lancelot scene.

The knighting of Lancelot scene.

If you’ve never seen Camelot on stage or at all, go. Beyond the sets, singing, costumes, and story, there is a beautiful underlying theme about right and wrong, good and evil, and how we must fight against the darkness because whatever we do does matter in the end. Camelot long ago inspired me to “ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not.” Now I’m telling you to go see it. It’s still early in the tour and I’m sure it will just get better with each performance. To find out where Camelot is playing near you, visit http://www.camelottour.com/tickets.html

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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 Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Merlin has ended, and unlike King Arthur, it doesn’t seem likely that it will be the once and future TV show, despite countless fans on Facebook and across the Internet trying to convince the producers to continue it.

And as much as I love this show, I’m glad it has ended gracefully, before it “jumped the shark,” before it was cancelled without an ending.

Merlin310_2289The series finale offered few surprises in my opinion, but that is because we have heard the tale of King Arthur so many times before, and despite the original elements of the series, which often seriously diverged from the legend, I doubt any viewer who knows the Arthurian legend would have been content with any other ending than Arthur sailing off to Avalon.

It’s unlikely anyone will read this blog who didn’t see the episode, so I won’t summarize the plot here, but go watch the last two episodes of the series if you haven’t already.

For me, this series had a serious amount of content that needed resolving in this final episode. The strength of this storyline throughout has been the prohibition of magic in Albion, imposed by Uther and then by Arthur, and how Merlin has successfully kept secret his identity as a sorcerer from everyone, while trying to aid others with magic and often fighting those with magic who sought to harm Arthur, most notably Morgana. The series has done a tremendous job of highlighting this tension throughout, and in the last two seasons especially, we have seen Merlin come into his own, slowly using his powers and even revealing himself to his enemies before destroying them. And despite my earlier blog about the Old Religion and magic and the inconsistencies that exist in its treatment in the series, what has mattered most to the storyline has been how Merlin reconciles his magic with his relationship with Arthur, as Arthur’s servant in greater ways than Arthur knows.

And the series reconciles this issue with great ease and class. In the final episode, Merlin appears as a sorcerer, identity unknown to all except Gaius, at the Battle of Camlann, using his power to defeat the enemy, and having everyone realize a sorcerer has saved the day for Camelot, even Arthur admitting that the sorcerer won the battle. But Merlin cannot save Arthur from being slain by Mordred. Surprisingly, Arthur lingers for a couple of days after Mordred runs him through with a sword, while when Arthur stabs Mordred, he dies immediately.

Now Merlin must figure out how to save Arthur before Morgana can find him, and because he was slain with a sword forged in the dragon’s breath, he can only be saved if brought to Avalon, a journey that requires secrecy and a couple of days’ journey, allowing Arthur and Merlin to have the discussion they have put off all these years.

Merlin, in despair, tells Arthur how upset he is that he could not save him which leads to his revelation that he has magic and is a sorcerer. The result is Arthur’s initial disbelief, then anger that he has been lied to, even wanting Merlin to leave him, and finally, Arthur’s understanding of why Merlin kept his powers a secret, and of the great help Merlin has always been to him.

I admit, at this point, when Arthur tells Merlin he has something to tell him that he never told him before, I thought the show was going to give into the “Merthur” fans and have Arthur tell Merlin he loves him. It was for me a bit of an uncomfortable moment, for the Merthur fans (those who want to see a gay relationship between Arthur and Merlin) have not been too far off—Merlin’s closeted magic can easily serve as a commentary on closeted gay people within our own society who are unappreciated and unjustly considered to be deviant—but the show gracefully skirts these undertones (which may or may not be intentional—I’ll leave it up to each viewer to decide) by having Arthur simply say, “Thank you.” And thank you is enough for Merlin, and that moment is enough to resolve the show’s greatest tension. It is a powerful moment. Perhaps one of the very best in television history.

What happens next is not so surprising. Morgana makes one last attempt to kill Arthur, but Merlin successfully kills her, slaying her with Excalibur, a dragon breath forged sword just like the one she created to kill Arthur. To some extent, I found Morgana’s death scene anti-climactic, and more disappointing for me is that Morgana and Arthur did not reconcile in the end, for in the traditional legend, it is Morgana who comes to Arthur when he is dying to take him to Avalon. Morgana truly got the short end of the stick in this show—I almost wanted her to win in the end—she’s a great character who deserved redemption of some sort and the reconciliation of the Old Religion with Camelot—but perhaps that was too much to expect, too much happiness for what is basically a tale of tragedy.

Not only does Morgana not take Arthur to Avalon, but nor are there the traditional three other queens who accompany her, and there is no Sir Bedivere to tell Arthur to throw the sword into the lake. Merlin takes on all these roles. Merlin tosses the sword back in the lake and the hand reaches up to grab it. The dragon arrives and tells Merlin not to despair for all has happened as it should and Arthur is the once and future king who will return in Albion’s hour of greatest need, and then Arthur is placed in a boat and floats off to Avalon.

As for Albion, the throne passes to Guinevere. I don’t really want to know what happens next because it will be inferior to whatever came before. I had hoped we’d learn that Guinevere was at least pregnant with Arthur’s child, but no such hint. I imagine she’ll end up marrying Sir Leon since he’s at her side proclaiming her queen.

And then we see Merlin as an old man walking along the shore by the lake, and suddenly, a bus passes, a jarring moment letting us know that Merlin still waits for Arthur’s return, but also one that makes Albion appear to be part of our real world and not a fantasy kingdom. I’ve always believed the show intentionally created a fictional world, including fictional neighboring kingdoms, so it would not be caught up in the issues of depicting a sixth century, historical Britain. So I found this modern moment jarring, as well as the references in the last few episodes to Saxons, without any explanation of who they were. Albion is not England nor Britain, yet the show ends on this odd note trying to connect the two. I’d have been fine without that final scene.

My qualms with the series overall are few, however. Long ago I stated it was the best Arthurian TV series ever made, far surpassing the short-lived 2011 Starz Camelot series that was a complete disaster, or even the fun 1950s British The Adventures of Sir Lancelot series. Is it perfect? No. There has yet to be a perfect Arthurian film or television program, but Merlin gets an A- for effort. Finally, I think Colin Morgan has proven himself to be a great actor in this series and I hope it leads to big things for him—just not another Merlin series. Please, I understand the fans’ demands, but don’t destroy Merlin with a spin-off or sequel series. Like with Gone with the Wind, we need to leave well enough alone. Let there be many other Arthurian TV shows and films and books—I hope there shall never be an end to them. Just let Merlin be the great TV show it was without degrading it. Congratulations to the writers, producers, and cast for ending it well.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about Arthur’s descendants. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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With the SyFy channel’s hiatus in showing the last episodes of Season 5 of Merlin, I’ve been going through serious withdrawal, and I’m still trying to piece together just what are the details in the series about The Old Religion, magic, and the history of Albion. For that reason, I was thrilled when I discovered there were a series of novels written as tie-ins to several of the Merlin episodes. For those interested, the website for the book series is: http://www.merlin-books.co.uk/

Unfortunately, the books are very difficult to find in the United States, and many of them at Amazon are being sold for hundreds of dollars. I was able to locate a copy of Merlin: The Nightmare Begins at Amazon for a reasonable price, and I was delighted when it came in the mail to see it was a hardback which I hadn’t expected. Unfortunately, my delight ended there.

Merlin: The Nightmare Begins

Merlin: The Nightmare Begins

I am sure many fans of the series will enjoy these books, especially younger readers, but I was very disappointed. I have read movie and book tie-ins before and I know they are usually written as an afterthought and they usually don’t give more information or plot or characterization than the movie or TV show itself, but some of the reviews I read of the books in the series, not Merlin: The Nightmare Begins specifically, did say that some additional information is in the books. I admit that I didn’t re-watch the episode that ties in with this book (“The Nightmare Begins, season 2, episode 3), but nor did I find anything additional in the book that was worth mentioning. I was happy to order this volume specifically because of my interest in the series’ depiction of magic and the Old Religion, and this book details how Morgana has nightmares and leaves Camelot to seek the druids, who make her realize she is not crazy but has magic herself.

Unfortunately, the writing in the book was very dull, pedestrian, and did nothing to make the story more interesting or intriguing. In fact, halfway through reading, I took a nap. Then I woke up, thinking maybe I was just too tired to read, but the book didn’t get any better when I returned to it. It took me about three times as long to read this book as it would have to watch the episode. I’d have been better off to watch and enjoy three episodes of Merlin than to read it. Moments in the storyline that were caught in the film that contained humor, charm, action are all lacking in the retelling of this story.

Perhaps some of the other books are better. I would go so far as to read another one if I could find it at a reasonable price, but it is unlikely, as I first intended, that I will want to collect the entire series.

It’s too bad because I really love the series Merlin. I think it’s the best Arthurian TV series ever made, and it probably surpasses most if not all of the Arthurian movies, despite criticism it has received that it has little to do with the actual Arthurian legend, but its production qualities are very high in my opinion. Sadly, the book series’ production value is not up to the TV series’ standards.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about Arthur’s descendants. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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