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I first read Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy—The Crystal Cave (1970), The Hollow Hills (1973), and The Last Enchantment (1979)—and the follow-up book The Wicked Day (1983) in 1986 when I was fifteen. I had already read Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur and some children’s versions of the Arthurian legend, but this was the first novel series I read. (Later, I would read Stewart’s The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995), but sadly, that novel was far inferior to the earlier ones.)

Mary Stewart's three novels, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment, compose her Merlin trilogy, here published in one volume.

Mary Stewart’s three novels, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment, compose her Merlin trilogy, here published in one volume.

I admit that after all these years, I remembered very little of the novels, and I have since read so many other Arthurian novels that many of them are blurred together in my mind, but I did remember a few scenes from Stewart’s novels, and most of all, how they held me under their spell, so I decided it was time that I go back and reread them.

The spell was still there, although perhaps it is no longer as strong as it was upon my first reading and when Arthurian novels were still relatively few in number. As an older and more educated reader in Arthuriana, I could see some of the novels’ faults—mainly that they were a little overly descriptive and the pacing a bit slow in places—but I also found things I did not pick up on before—most noticeably the poetic elements and powerful build-up in The Hollow Hills that crescendos with Arthur becoming king, and also, how exactly Stewart juxtaposed different parts of the Arthurian legend to make it her own interpretation. In fact, I think some of the novels influenced me so much that upon rereading them, it was like I had discovered a lost part of my brain because some of the choices I made in writing my own novels I may have unconsciously been influenced by Stewart to do.

Two things specifically stood out for me in this series: 1) the idea that Constantine was power-hungry and seeking to take the throne for himself, and 2) the possibility that Mordred was a relatively good person caught up in the wrong situation at the wrong time. In fact, I think Stewart was the first to suggest both in a novel. Later, when I wrote my nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children, the initial version of which I penned in 1994-1995, one of my primary theories was that Constantine was the villain of the story, but because he had conquered, he had caused the story to be retold to vilify Merlin. As for Mordred, plenty of sources suggest he was not a villain, obscure sources that I also explored in King Arthur’s Children and which led to my positive depiction of Mordred and my negative depiction of Constantine in my novel Arthur’s Legacy.

Also not on my radar when I first read these novels was the fact that in them King Arthur has children other than Mordred—we are told in The Wicked Day that Arthur was rumored to have other bastards—“two at least, were spoken of,”—but unlike Mordred, they are not at court or in favor with the king. Arthur also has a stillborn son by his first wife, Guenever, who dies as a result. His second wife, Guenevere, is barren. We also find out that Mordred has two sons—the first by a woman in the Orkneys before he comes to Camelot, who is named Medraut and thinks Mordred is just his stepfather when Mordred later returns to the area and weds his mother. The second child, named Melehan, is Mordred’s son by his mistress in Camelot. Mordred’s sons are referenced in other Arthurian works as slain by Constantine after the Battle of Camlann, and in my novel Arthur’s Legacy, I named them Morgant and Meleon (the French version of Melehan). The difference is that in my novel, Meleon has a child who survives to carry on Arthur’s lineage. In Stewart, none of these children by Arthur or Mordred plays any significant role and no hope is provided of Arthur’s lineage continuing, although it may have in obscurity.

In The Wicked Day, Constantine plays a key role in trying to turn Arthur against Mordred.

In The Wicked Day, Constantine plays a key role in trying to turn Arthur against Mordred.

Another interesting aspect of rereading these novels is the reference to the Goddess being worshiped at Ynis Witrin (Avalon) in The Last Enchantment. This depiction of a cult of the Goddess was a major theme in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982), the novel that probably influenced more recent Arthurian writers than any other, but here the seed was planted in Mary Stewart before Bradley—one wonders whether Bradley read Stewart since Stewart’s novel was published three years before Bradley’s. Whether there ever was a Goddess cult at Ynis Witrin I’m uncertain, but it seems doubtful—if there was, it was probably for a very specific goddess and not a vague Mother Goddess.

Arthur’s sword in these novels is that of Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig in Welsh tradition). Here Stewart is following the in footsteps of Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote what was probably the first series to set Arthur in his correct historical time period, something Stewart continues but with a slight touch of fantasy. Both Sutcliffe and Stewart depict Arthur as a descendant of Maximus, a concept that numerous other successive Arthurian novelists have continued.

One final item that I know consciously influenced me was Stewart’s decision to give Bedwyr the role of being Guinevere’s lover. As she states, Bedwyr probably had that role before Chretien de Troyes invented Lancelot. For that reason, in writing Arthur’s Legacy, I consciously followed Stewart’s lead and had no Lancelot, but rather a Bedwyr as Guinevere’s lover to be more true to the original Welsh sources.

Stewart’s novels were probably the most popular Arthurian novels of the 1970s and early 1980s until Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon became so incredibly popular. They created a new interest in the Arthurian legend for many people, and all of us Arthurian novelists of more recent years owe a tremendous debt to her, one that has been overshadowed by Bradley and then by many fine Arthurian novelists since, but Stewart deserves her place in the Arthurian canon, for all the reasons stated above and especially for her depictions of Merlin and Mordred. Her first-person style, telling the story in Merlin’s voice in the first three novels, is especially remarkable given that almost every female novelist who has used first person narration has chosen instead to tell the story from Guinevere or Morgan le Fay’s point of view. Now, over forty years since she began her series, Stewart remains one of the finest Arthurian novelists of modern times.

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

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In the third episode of Season 5 of Merlin – “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon” – the series takes a real shift, and although I didn’t feel the episode as complexly well-plotted as some, it did provide plenty of dramatic atmosphere and interest.

Arthur Arthur and Merlin both have key life-changing moments in this episode. The two are traveling when they come upon a group of villagers about to burn a witch. Arthur decides to order them to release the witch – something they point out would not have been done by his father, but Arthur replies that he is not his father. Despite his being in agreement with his father about forbidding magic in Albion, he is not as stringent about it.

The witch thanks him for his saving her, although it is too late for her. Before she dies, she gives him a horn that can allow him to speak with the dead. Soon after, the three year anniversary of Uther’s death approaches, causing Arthur to want to see his father again. He and Merlin then travel to the Stones of Nemeton (which look a lot like Stonehenge). Arthur blows the horn and enters through a light that appears where he speaks to his father, but the meeting is not cordial. Uther upbraids him for making commoners into knights and marrying Guinevere and destroying tradition. Then he orders Arthur to go before he his trapped in the spirit world. Unfortunately, as Arthur leaves, he looks back in his father, resulting in Uther having the ability to leave the spirit world and visit Camelot.

Uther’s ghost is a far cry from King Uther, a troublesome spirit intent on having Camelot ruled the way he used to. After doors fly open, a chandelier falls, and other strange events happen, Merlin realizes Uther is haunting the castle. Arthur is not convinced until Uther’s spirit goes after Guinevere, trapping her, throwing things at her, and trying to burn her. Fortunately, Gaius has a potion Merlin and Arthur can drink to help them defeat Uther.

In the final battle, two key things happen. First, and only after Arthur is knocked unconscious, Merlin stands up to Uther, who laughs at him as a servant boy until Merlin reveals he has magic and tells him he was always wrong about magic. I loved this scene where Colin Morgan’s eyes flare and he steps into his power (just as happened when he revealed his magic to Agrivaine last season). Arthur rejoins the battle and blows the horn to send Uther back to the spirit world. Uther tries to warn him that Merlin has magic, but the horn’s sound drowns out his words. Merlin’s secret is safe still. But, secondly, it is key that Arthur has confirmed he will not live in his father’s shadow. He tells Uther he had his chance to rule, and now it is Arthur’s turn.

Although this episode is not tied to the bigger overarching plot of the Arthur-Morgana conflict, I think it is a key scene because it shows Arthur thinking for himself and I suspect it is hinting toward the time when Merlin will be able to reveal to Arthur that he does have magic.

SyFy, in advertising this episode, made a point of talking about the bromance between Arthur and Merlin in this episode. Many fans want to believe there is some gay erotica going on here, but I think it is clearly Merlin’s loyalty to Arthur that makes him affectionate toward him. If they were not master and servant, wizard and king opposed to magic, they would be able to express themselves more clearly to one another, but all the tension and magic would be lost. It’s so much more fun watching Arthur hit Merlin and then claim it’s horseplay.

Bring on the last 10 episodes of the series. I will be watching. Who knows? Maybe this time the story of Camelot will have a happy ending.

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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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This post is a follow-up to my previous post on the first episode of the new season 5 of Merlin. The first and second episodes together make up the “Arthur’s Bane” story.

MerlinTVshowThis second episode was far more effective and action-packed than the first. Guinevere proves herself less hard-hearted than we expected, admitting to Gaius that she will not kill Sefa but use her to lure her father to Camelot since he is the real threat. In this strategy, Guinevere is successful. The father manages to free Sefa but is wounded in the process and although they escape from Camelot, he dies immediately after while Sefa flees. I suspect Sefa will show up in a later episode this season.

I did not mention in my last post anything about the strange luminous looking being that cares for Gawain and which many bloggers and commenters have mocked as being an E.T. creature – the creature does look extra-terrestrial, but no real resemblance to E.T. itself. It turns out this creature is the Key to all Knowledge that Morgana seeks. It is the last of its kind and it tells Merlin that he can ask any questions he wants, but after it informs Merlin that knowledge is both a blessing and a curse, he decides it best not to ask any questions, then changes his mind and asks if Mordred is not Arthur’s Bane then who is, for earlier Arthur’s Bane had been prophesied as his downfall. The creature replies that it is Arthur himself.

I love this detail, and it is the kind of detail that Merlin pulls off so successfully, not always giving us what is expected but rising above into metaphor and mystery. Of course, the psychological outdoes the dramatic in the series – Arthur will be his own downfall, just as anyone can choose whether or not to let circumstances or his own flaws defeat him. We will have to wait to see how Arthur is his own bane – will Merlin’s vision of Mordred slaying Arthur turn out to be true, or can it be changed and Arthur’s fall will come about another way – will the series choose to change the tragic ending of the legend or be traditional instead?

The biggest shock in this episode suggests a leaning toward the traditional storyline. Morgana, about to destroy Arthur when she finds him in the caverns beneath Ismere, is stabbed in the back by Mordred in a shocking twist of events. The result is that Merlin is surprised that Mordred saves Arthur – leading to his question of who is really Arthur’s bane – and Arthur has Mordred accompany him back to Camelot where Mordred is rewarded by being made a knight. First, let me point out here that Merlin has saved Arthur plenty of times but no knighthood has ever been installed upon him. Secondly, Mordred is a member of Arthur’s court now, as is typical in the legend (although not Arthur’s son or nephew in this series) and consequently, we can assume that perhaps Mordred will now try to bring about the fall of Camelot from within.

In the final scene, we see Morgana and her dragon making their way through the snow near Ismere. She has apparently survived Mordred’s attack – a strange moment because she clearly seemed to be dead when Mordred stabbed her, and one would think Arthur would have made certain she was dead and seen her body burnt or buried, or have sought to help her if she were still alive (after all, she is his sister). The series’ need to keep Morgana alive is understandable, but no explanation given of how she survived or why her body was not disposed of is a bit of a stretch.

As for the dragon, questions are left open. Merlin earlier tried to stop the dragon from attacking and is surprised when the young dragon cannot speak, finally asking the dragon who has done this to him since the older dragon in the series always speaks. Did Morgana cut out the dragon’s tongue or make him unable to speak, and if so, why would she do so? While she and the dragon are both part of the Old Religion, Morgana leads the dragon on a leash, clearly not respecting him but treating him like a pet for her own purposes. We shall just have to wait to see how these two characters will resurface and whether they will ally themselves with Mordred in a future episode. I’ve learned to expect anything from this series.

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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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The following discussion is taken from my book King Arthur’s Children:

Perhaps the work that takes the most liberty with the Arthurian legend, and therefore, opens itself to create larger roles for Arthur’s children and descendants is The Keltiad series by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison (widow of Jim Morrison). The author intended to write eighteen novels in the series, but after publication of the eighth novel, the publisher HarperCollins decided to drop the series. The Arthurian world of these novels is placed in outer space, allowing the stories a freedom beyond a typical medieval setting in Britain. The premise behind the series is that a group of Keltic people left earth in 453 C.E. in their spaceships and travelled to outer space to create a new kingdom, Keltia.

Only three novels in The Keltiad series deal specifically with Arthur and are known as the “Tales of Arthur”; they include The Hawk’s Gray Feather (1990), The Oak Above the Kings (1994) and The Hedge of Mist (1996). The plot of this trilogy is long and complicated, but the length provides for an extensive treatment of Arthur’s descendants and their history.

The Hawk's Gray Feather

The Hawk’s Gray Feather

At the opening of the “Tales of Arthur” trilogy, some fifteen centuries have passed since the Kelts first left earth in the fifth century. The nation of Keltia is now divided between the royal House of Don, which is in exile, and the evil Archdruid Edeyrn who has usurped the kingdom. The plot of the first two novels is how Arthur, heir to the House of Don, regains the kingdom.

Arthur has four children over the course of this trilogy, although none of these children is Mordred. There is a character, Mordryth, who is Arthur’s nephew, the son of his evil half-sister Marguessan, but although Mordryth is a villain, Arthur outlives his nephew. Arthur’s own death is in a sort of black hole where his spaceship becomes trapped. Even though he disappears from Keltia when he enters this black hole, Arthur promises his people he will return. The Kelts decide the throne will pass to Arthur’s heirs, but the ruler will always hold the kingdom as a type of regent until Arthur’s return whenever that may be.

The first child born to Arthur is Malgan in The Hawk’s Gray Feather. During the wars with Edeyrn, Arthur takes a mistress named Gwenwynbar, who follows him about on his campaigns. However, Arthur’s men do not like Gwenwynbar, and because Arthur will not make her his queen, she decides to leave him and join his enemies’ side. Soon after, Gwenwynbar becomes the wife of Owain, who is Edeyrn’s heir. Seven months after this marriage, Gwenwynbar gives birth to a son, Malgan. Throughout the remainder of the trilogy, the question remains whether Malgan is Arthur or Owain’s son. Unfortunately, the genealogy charts at the end of the book give away the suspense by showing he is Arthur’s child. After Arthur defeats Edeyrn and Owain, Gwenwynbar plots against Arthur, but her plots are discovered and she is put to death. Arthur adopts and raises Malgan, wanting to believe the boy is his own. Malgan, however, grows up holding a grudge against Arthur for the death of his mother. Malgan soon joins his evil aunt Marguessan in her plans to take over the kingdom. Arthur tries to reconcile with Malgan, but eventually, they battle and Malgan is slain while Arthur survives.

The Oak Above the Kings

The Oak Above the Kings

In The Oak Above the Kings, Arthur marries his cousin, Gweniver, but their marriage remains without issue for many years. Now that Edeyrn is defeated, Arthur seeks to punish those foreign nations which allied themselves to Edeyrn. During this campaign, Arthur visits the planet Aojun and has an affair with the princess, Majanah. Their relationship produces a daughter, Donah, who divides her time between the worlds of Aojun and Keltia. When Marguessan steals the Grail, Donah adopts the role traditionally held by Percival’s sister in Arthurian legend of the female who assists in finding the Grail. Donah also assumes Guinevere’s traditional role of being kidnapped by Melwas. When Donah reaches adulthood, she marries a man named Harodin, and we are told she has “three children, including her heir, Sarinah” (Hedge 449). After Donah’s mother, Majanah, dies, Donah becomes the next queen of the planet Aojun.

After many years of barrenness, Gweniver also produces children for Arthur, first a son, Arawn, who after Arthur’s death, becomes king and is thought “a worthy successor to his great parents” (Hedge 432). Gweniver also gives birth to a daughter, Arwenna, who is not born until after Arthur’s death. While the novels do not say much about these children’s futures, the genealogy charts indicate that Arawn has a child, Arianwen, who rules Keltia after him, and Arianwen also has children. Arthur’s daughter, Arwenna, has a child named Blythan, who also produces children. Finally, the charts indicate that Donah’s heir, Sarinah, also has descendants not pictured on the chart.

Kennealy-Morrison’s novels, therefore, create an extensive family tree that continues beyond King Arthur, providing for his descendants to succeed him as rulers of the kingdom. Toward the end of The Hedge of Mist, Taliesin, Arthur’s brother-in-law and the novels’ narrator, has a vision of the future, in which he sees a great queen who will look like Arthur and Gweniver from whom she will be descended (287). Though not named, this queen is doubtless Aeron, the heroine of another of the Keltiad trilogies, the “Tales of Aeron,” which were written before the “Tales of Arthur” but chronologically follow the “Tales of Arthur.”The novels in the “Tales of Aeron” also contain more genealogy charts which detail Aeron’s descent from Arthur and Gweniver for over nine generations. Because these novels do not deal with Arthur or his children specifically, they will not be discussed further, but they do continue Kennealy-Morrison’s vision of an Arthurian family tree that extends centuries after Arthur’s passing.

The Hedge of Mist

The Hedge of Mist

By setting her novels in outer space, Kennealy-Morrison does not provide Arthur with a bloodline that connects him to the humans of twentieth century earth. Rather the “Tales of Arthur” novels take place in the twenty-first century, while the “Tales of Aeron” are set in the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth centuries. However, this outer space setting is also what leaves the novels open for such extensive creation of descendants for Arthur, providing interesting possibilities for the legend, even if they are greatly removed from the traditional story.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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In my last post I pointed out everything that I thought was wrong with Starz’ Camelot, based solely on watching the first three episodes. Of course, that was a first impression based on only seeing part of the series, and as I suspected, once I got all my preconceived notions out of the way of what the King Arthur story should be, I was ready to focus on and better understand what the series actually was doing right.

Arthur and Morgan in Starz' Camelot

Arthur and Morgan in Starz' Camelot

I remain unimpressed with Merlin, who doesn’t strike me as being very bright for a great wizard. While in episode 4, I do somewhat like that he becomes tormented by Excalibur’s death (he accidentally kills the swordmaker Caliburn and Caliburn’s daughter, Excalibur, then takes the sword and tries to flee, resulting in her drowning by accident and Merlin naming Arthur’s sword for her out of a sense of guilt). Even the program’s explanation for the naming of the sword works for me, but I still don’t think Merlin seems to be very wise (Colin Morgan’s Merlin has more brains in his head I think). Merlin especially doesn’t win any IQ points when in episode 7 he’s dumb enough to let Arthur make another trip to Castle Pendragon to visit Morgan, considering what happened last time, although this time at least they are smart enough to be accompanied by their knights, but not smart enough to leave the women behind.

But what has started to redeem the series for me is episodes 5 & 6, both of which depict justice being given to people by Arthur and Morgan. Here we finally have a hint that Arthur may be capable of becoming a good and wise king–despite his obsession with Guinevere. This Arthur has not yet developed his ideas to the degree that King Arthur does in the musical Camelot of creating a court of justice and understanding that it is not “might is right but might for right,” but there is a start here. In episode 5, Arthur comes upon a man about to be hanged for killing another man. Rather than letting the local villagers carry out their own form of justice, Arthur holds a trial and gets to the heart of the matter, eventually understanding why the man about to be hanged tried to kill another man, and Arthur dispenses justice accordingly. The episode is a bit slow, but it works for depicting Arthur’s slow maturing as a king.

Episode 6 somewhat parallels 5 by showing Morgan dispensing justice. Through manipulation, she has convinced several of the people that she cares about them, more so even than Arthur, and soon she has the people coming to her with their problems and to give them justice. In the first case, she takes on a female King Solomon role. In the Bible, two women come to King Solomon, both claiming the same child is their own, and Solomon solves the dispute by suggesting the child be cut in half. The true mother then agrees to give up the child to the other woman rather than have it killed, a sure sign she loves the child, and consequently, Solomon gives the child to the true mother. In similar fashion, Morgan is presented with a woman who wants to keep her bastard son, but his father is demanding the child go to work with him. In determining who should have “custody,” Morgan offers to buy the child. The man is willing to sell him while the woman is not, resulting in Morgan giving the child to his mother. That Morgan is wise enough to dispense such justice shows that she is shrewd, and she gets to the heart of matter faster than Arthur–the viewer can’t help thinking she’s smarter than Arthur and feeling somewhat sorry for her not to have the throne, instead having to see her untried younger half-brother receive it. But her thirst for power, for reasons that do not exist other than power, make her remain unlikable.

Morgan outdoes herself later when Sybil, a nun from the monastery where Morgan studied, is accused of burning down the monastery and killing another woman’s child. Although Sybil has become Morgan’s ally and right hand, Morgan is forced to dispense justice by burning Sybil’s hand as punishment. This scene is highly effective, both by making Morgan look just to her people, as well as showing how wisely she averts killing Sybil, whom she apparently needs.

In the battle for who is wiser, as evidenced by these two episodes, it is clearly Morgan who is stronger and more qualified to rule, even if she isn’t nicer. Arthur’s chasing after his friend’s wife isn’t all that noble anyway. Nor is the Arthur/Leontes/Guinevere love triangle plot very interesting. Morgan’s evil is far more captivating to watch.

Morgan le Fay studied the Black Arts in a nunnery; painted by Anthony Sandys in 1864

Finally, I’d like to add that I find Sybil a fascinating character. She quickly pushes Vivian to the sidelines so that for several episodes you wonder why Vivian is even in the program as Morgan’s assistant–although she’s integral to the plot in episode 8. I love that Morgan, who is frequently depicted in Arthurian legend, including in Malory, as having been raised in a nunnery where she learned the “black arts,” has her past in that nunnery treated in this series by having a nun of questionable past in the program. In fact, Sybil admits that she did begin the fire, explaining that in the nunnery they still followed some of the old ways, and when church officials were coming to investigate pagan rituals in which girls were “chosen,” she had to burn the nunnery to hide the evidence. (The program hints that Morgan’s witch-like powers have something to do with her participating in such a ceremony.) Evil and pagan doings in nunneries–it’s so very nineteenth century Gothic that I can’t help but love it. I look forward to finding out more about Sybil and Morgan’s nunnery past in future episodes.

So, my opinion of Camelot slowly improved by the time I reached episode 6. I’ve now watched through episode 8 and I like the show more the farther into the series I go. I’ll discuss the last four episodes of Camelot in my next post.

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

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I’m always interested in treatments of King Arthur’s children and grandchildren and beyond–efforts to continue the story–so I was very excited to discover Anna Elliott’s Avalon series, which consists of a trilogy: Twilight of Avalon, Dark Moon of Avalon, and Sunrise of Avalon (the last to be published in the Fall of 2011), as well as two short stories you can download at Amazon from Kindle, or from Elliott’s website: http://www.annaelliottbooks.com/

Twilight of Avalon Anna ElliottElliott’s books seek to place the Tristan and Isolde legend into a new and perhaps more historically correct context within the Arthurian canon. The Tristan stories have always been a sort of digression from the main tales of Arthur and his knights, just plopped into Malory and other works, and not really feeling like they belong there. Elliott bases her versions on the knowledge that Tristan probably lived a couple of generations after Arthur in late 5th/early 6th century Britain, so she sets the novels in the  post-Arthurian era.

Isolde is the main character of the series through whose eyes we see almost everything with occasional switches to Trystan’s viewpoint and even Morgan’s. Isolde is actually Arthur and Morgan’s granddaughter, the daughter of Mordred and Guinevere. In earlier versions of the Arthurian legend, Mordred is said to have sons by Guinevere (see my earlier post While King Arthur was Away did Guinevere with Mordred Play?), but never a daughter. However, I found Isolde being made into Arthur’s granddaughter to be an interesting change.

Isolde is viewed as a sort of trophy wife by the Britons–the heir to Arthur, but a woman unable to inherit, and the local Britons view her more as the traitor’s daughter than the great king’s granddaughter. When the first book opens, Isolde is grieving the death of her husband Constantine “Con” who was chosen to succeed Arthur, and who in legend is the traditional heir of Arthur after Camlann. Isolde soon realizes her husband was most likely murdered and the primary culprit is Lord Marche (Elliot’s version of King Mark of Cornwall, though I don’t understand why she felt the need to change the name’s spelling). Marche now seeks to wed Isolde, although she is rather appalled by the idea. Isolde also encounters Trystan, who is in a prison, and as the novel progresses, she realizes he is Marche’s son and her former playmate as a child. Trystan despises his father (who does not recognize him). With Isolde’s help he manages to escape from prison.Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott

By the second book, Marche wants to become High King of Britain, but Madoc instead is crowned. Marche then seeks to ally himself with the Saxons and it is up to Isolde and Trystan to stop him from trying to seize the crown.

I won’t give away more of the plot than that, and we will have to wait to see how things turn out in the third book. It’s sufficient to say though that King Arthur’s great-grandchild is likely to be born soon based on how the second book ends.

In addition, Elliott creates a bastard son for Arthur, Amhar, based on legendary versions of his son Amir, one of the original sons given to Arthur in Welsh legend; Amhar died at Camlann, several years before the novels open, so he does not figure as a character in the novels, though his mother, Arthur’s mistress, does slightly. Elliott does not mention Llacheu or Gwydre, Arthur’s other two obscure sons in the Welsh legends.

I was really intrigued with Elliott’s ideas for these books and how she maneuvered the characters’ places in the legend. I have to admit, however, that I didn’t think the writing equaled the concept. The books were overly long – each runs about 420 pages, which is typical of Arthurian novels, but I felt Elliott’s scenes dragged and each could have been as much as half as long. I found myself skimming through most of the second book, reading just the dialogue and a sentence here and there of the description to see what would happen. I also never really figured out why she used “Avalon” in the titles since no scenes take place there. “Camelot” might have been more fitting.

Despite my not caring for Elliott’s writing, I will probably read the third book when it is out because of my interest in depictions of King Arthur’s descendants, and I am curious to read her two short stories, one about Morgan and Merlin and the other about Dera, a secondary character in Twilight of Avalon. Other readers may enjoy the books more than I did; before you buy, view free excerpts and download the short stories free at Elliott’s site. I suspect female readers will enjoy the books more than male because they are told more from a woman’s perspective.

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

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