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Posts Tagged ‘Constantinople’

This tenth volume of Prince Valiant is full of the usual adventures, fabulous artwork, humor, and variety we’ve come to expect from Hal Foster’s greatest comic strip. While I would not say it is one of the best or worst in the series to date, it has several notable moments and some awe-striking images.

Prince Valiant, Vol 10 - witches and war just barely start to describe the adventures in this volume.

Prince Valiant, Vol 10 – witches and war just barely start to describe the adventures in this volume.

The story begins with Prince Valiant, Aleta, and companions leaving the Misty Isles. Because they wish to return to Thule, they decide that rather than sail through the Mediterranean and then up through the English Channel to the Baltic, they will journey to Constantinople, through the Black Sea, up the Dnieper River, portage overland, and then sail into the Baltic Sea.

It is a long journey full of danger, excitement, and dress buying—after all, Aleta insists they stop off in places like Constantinople and Kiev so she can buy new clothes and get a good bath. In the process, she often puts Valiant and his companions in some sticky situations, but her sense of humor and ability to flirt quickly get her out of them. At one point, she even finds herself married to the local khan, whom she then convinces to dance to his death for her, making her queen of the land—that is, until Valiant shows up to rescue her. No one seems to care that Aleta committed bigamy—after all, she was forced into it and played along with the monarch to buy time while never really stepping over her boundaries. If any woman in literature ever knew how to get herself out of a sticky situation with aplomb, it is Aleta.

The portage scenes were truly striking. Not only is the image of a giant Viking ship being rolled over land and slid through mud beautifully drawn, but the thought of such an undertaking is completely mindboggling, yet I am sure Foster is not exaggerating in depicting such an event.

Once the Valiant family is safely back in Thule, we get a good sense of how much Prince Arn has grown. Foster doesn’t give his age, but in the illustrations, he looks to be between about eight and twelve. And he is ready for his own adventures. Thule has issues with having enough food to feed all its people, but over its mountains lie pleasant valleys, perfect for farmland. Arn decides that finding a mountain pass to those valleys will be his first big adventure, and he wants to have it by himself, though eventually, he agrees to take Garm, a grown squire, with him. The two go into the mountains, but winter is coming on, so before they know it, they get trapped in a storm and have to build a shelter. They have quite the time trying to survive before they safely return home.

These winter scenes in the mountains are some of Foster’s most dramatic in this volume, and they reflect his knowledge of winter climes, given his Canadian background. There is also one striking image of sailing into Thule, which Foster notes is based on drawings done during a visit to Norway in 1955. Foster truly did visit the places he drew—he cared that much about accuracy, and it is reflected throughout this volume.

Of course, Valiant can’t sit around in Thule forever, so as spring approaches, he decides he’ll return to Camelot for the tournament at Pentecost. This adventure results in his discovering a new champion at Camelot whom he will aid in winning a fair maiden for a wife, and by a strange twist of events, he’ll also pick up a new squire, Alfred, whom I suspect will figure in future volumes.

Volume 10 concludes with some additional advertisements and commentary on Foster’s work for the Northwest Paper Company and his drawings of Canadian Mounties that there wasn’t room to include in Volume 8. In addition, it is clear from these images that Foster was inspired by many of his winter scenes for this work in later depicting winter scenes in Prince Valiant, including in Volume 6 when Valiant is shown snowshoeing in North America.

For me, seeing Prince Arn growing up is perhaps the most fascinating part of this volume. As the strip progresses, the characters do grow up and age, and while that aging is a bit delayed compared to real time, that’s all the better because then Prince Valiant and his companions stay young longer, and as a result, we have a strip now approaching its eightieth anniversary.

Fantagraphics has already produced Volume 11 of the series with plans to release Volume 12 in December so stay tuned for more reviews.

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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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Due to my continuing interest in fictional creations of Arthur’s descendants, I was very excited when I heard about David Pilling’s new book Caesar’s Sword, Book One: The Red Death. This book offers a new take on Arthur’s descendants, resurrecting the overlooked son of Arthur named Amhar, who in the Historia Brittonum, is listed as Arthur’s son whom he slew, and who may have been the source for Mordred later being treated as Arthur’s son.

Caesar'sSwordIn Pilling’s version, Amhar decides to side with the traitor Mordred against his father, Arthur. When Arthur learns of Amhar’s treachery, he fights Amhar and slays him prior to the Battle of Camlann. But that’s just the beginning of this book. Amhar has a son named Coel, Arthur’s grandson, and it is Coel who is the main character of Caesar’s Sword.

Coel and his mother fear that Arthur will be angry with them so they flee Britain. But a few days later, Arthur dies at Camlann and Coel and his mother’s existence is basically forgotten in Britain, which is caught up in battles between its kings.

Coel and his mother, Eliffer, are accompanied in their flight by Owain, one of Arthur’s knights. Owain has retrieved Arthur’s sword, Caledfwlch, which was knocked from his hand during his battle with Amhar. Owain keeps the sword for Coel until he is old enough to wield it. The sword is said to have belonged to Julius Caesar and to have been forged by a god, so Coel treasures it.

Coel, Owain, and Eliffer seek refuge at the French court, but after Owain dies fighting for the French king, Coel and Eliffer decide to travel to Constantinople. They make a long journey, during which Eliffer tells Coel all about his grandfather, Arthur.

So far, so good, but it is when Coel reaches Constantinople that the story really took off for me since I have long been fascinated by the history of the Byzantine Empire, and the rest of the novel covers much of the reign of the Emperor Justinian, the greatest of all the emperors. I won’t give away all the plot here, but it is sufficient to say that Coel will have Caledfwlch stolen from him and he will set out on a quest to win it back. In the process, he will find himself in slavery, working in the Hippodrome’s Circus, and making an enemy of a harlot who ends up becoming an empress and seeking revenge on him.

While the Arthurian elements are strongest in the novel’s beginning, David Pilling brings back the significance of Arthur at the end of the novel. Coel finds himself having to fight his own sense of dishonor in having been Amhar’s son, and he feels his grandfather is watching over him, perhaps displeased with him, and he has to come to realize he is his own man and not his father. How he comes to this realization I’ll leave for readers to enjoy discovering themselves.

Pilling writes smooth, clear prose that moves the story along. The plot is not overly tight, but it never lags, as the reader follows Coel through his many experiences. Pilling plans to continue the story, and I am curious to know what will happen next. Perhaps Coel will return to Britain or father more descendants of King Arthur.

Pilling is an extremely prolific author of historical fiction. He has written several other novels set in English history and about other legends, such as Robin Hood, but Caesar’s Sword is, I believe, his only Arthurian novel to date. You can find out more about Pilling and his books at www.DavidPillingAuthor.com

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

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I recently returned from a wonderful trip to the beautiful country of Turkey. I knew Turkey was filled with ancient history—the ruins of Ephesus, Troy, etc.—but I have always been most fascinated with the Byzantines, or the Greeks or Romans, as they called themselves. I am also struck by the similarities between Camelot and Constantinople, and particularly between King Arthur and Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor. Just as Camelot was the brief shining moment before Britain was conquered by the Saxons, so Constantinople was the last remnant of the great Roman Empire which had once ruled most of the known world, including Britain. The city’s fall to the Turks in 1453 marked the end of the Roman Empire, which had stretched on for over 2,000 years.

Constantine XI, the last emperor, had a tragic ending that inspired great myths similar to those of King Arthur, so while the two were not necessarily related, although Constantine XI was named for Constantine the Great, and Arthur is often believed to be a relative or descendant of Constantine the Great, Constantine XI may be deemed a mythical or literary descendant of King Arthur in how they are both depicted as leaders who may come again.

Constantine’s tragedy lies not only in the Fall of Constantinople, but that he was the last emperor, without even an heir. He had two wives but no children, his second wife dying in childbirth. Similarly, Arthur had no children who survived him. His end is more tragic in that his son, Mordred, and he slew each other, but nevertheless, both leaders’ endings spelled the end of an era.

The people of Constantinople, the city being all that was left of an empire, held out under siege by Mehmet II for fifty-three days before the city finally fell. In the city’s last hours, Constantine would have prayed inside Hagia Sophia before going to fight with his people as the city walls were beaten down.

What happened to the emperor once the city fell has become the stuff of legend. The emperor’s body was never found, or if it were, it was not recorded. One source states that Constantine’s last words were, “The city is fallen and I am still alive,” and then he tore off his imperial ornaments so he could not be distinguished from the other soldiers and made a final charge at the enemy. According to Roger Crowley in his wonderful book about the Fall of Constantinople, 1453, Constantine was very aware that he would go down in history as the emperor who let the city fall, so he may not have wanted to be identified because of the shame he felt, and he also would not have wanted to be taken alive and forced into shameful positions of submission before the conqueror, Mehmet II.

One story claims that Constantine was identified by his purple boots, and that his body was decapitated and his head sent around Asia Minor as proof of Mehmet II’s victory, but more likely, his body was never identified and he died in a mass grave with the rest of his soldiers.

The inability to locate the emperor’s body led to myths that he had not died. Just as King Arthur is taken to Avalon before he can die so he can be healed of his wound and allowed to return again, so Constantine is preserved from death so he can return. In one such legend, an angel rescues the emperor as the Ottomans enter the city. The angel turns Constantine into marble and places him under the earth in a cave near the Golden Gate where he waits to be brought back to life to re-conquer the city for the Christians.

Just as the British have hoped for Arthur to return in their hour of greatest need—during World War II, the myth was especially prevalent—the Greeks have held onto the dream of Constantine’s return.

During the Balkan Wars and Greco-Turkish War in the early twentieth century, the name of the then Greek King, Constantine, was used to see him as part of a prophetic myth that Constantine had returned. Although Constantine XII failed to return Constantinople to Christian hands, similar British efforts have been made to recreate King Arthur through another monarch of the same name, such as King John’s nephew in the thirteenth century being named Prince Arthur, to the brother of Henry VIII who was also Prince Arthur, and even the speculation that current Prince William will use his middle name Arthur when he someday ascends the throne of Britain.

Constantine’s return seems very unlikely to me, especially when Istanbul is a thriving busy city of nearly 20 million today, and a largely Westernized if Turkish city. Had Constantine not been the last emperor, doubtless one soon after him would have been, but his myth speaks to the affection his people had for him, that they did not wish him ill or blame him for the loss of Constantinople, but rather they see him as a tragic hero, just as Arthur lives affectionately in the British people’s bosoms.

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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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