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Posts Tagged ‘Drama of the Lost Disciples’

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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I recently read George Jowett’s book Drama of the Lost Disciples (first published in 1961 and still cited as a reliable source by many pseudo-scholars). I had first heard of it in Adrian Gilbert’s book The Holy Kingdom, a book about the Arthurian legend and early British history (with some questionable but also some convincing scholarship—at least more so than Jowett’s scholarship). I was hoping the claims Gilbert makes about early Christianity in Britain and the British role in converting Rome would be explained in more detail in Jowett’s book, which was one of his sources, but while the details were there, I was left highly disappointed by the arguments and scholarship.

Before I say more, let me say that I love the myths of Britain and the possibilities that King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea, and so many other historical figures were part of Britain’s history. I love these myths and legends, but they are myths and legends because we cannot prove them as history; at least, I have not seen sufficient proof that they are more than that, though I am willing to be convinced by the evidence. Nevertheless, I remain skeptical.

George Jowett (1891-1968) was a famous early bodybuilder and fitness instructor. His feats of strength included being the first man in America able to lift double his body weight. As a fitness instructor, his pupils included Joe Weider and Johnny Weismuller. Unfortunately, his physical strength exceeded the strength of his scholarship. Had he lived today, we might well ask whether steroids affected his mind considering some of the outlandish claims he makes about British history and early Christianity in his book Drama of the Lost Disciples

Jowett goes on to argue that the British Church was always separate from the Roman Catholic Church and makes broad sweeping arguments even suggesting that it never broke from Rome because it was never a part of it—this despite the fact that Henry VIII clearly defended the Pope against Martin Luther and even sought the pope’s permission for his divorce. Jowett also makes arguments about the position of the pope, in opposition to Roman Catholic tradition that Peter was the first pope, by saying there never was such a thing as a pope until the early seventh century. It is true that the title was used for many bishops prior to this and only for the bishop in Rome beginning in the seventh century, so I only bring the matter up to clarify when he uses the term pope to refer to Linus and Clement, he means Bishop of Rome. But I find it hard to believe the British Church was never under the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, I do believe there were Christians in Britain before St. Augustine being made Archbishop of Canterbury in 597 A.D. (after all St. Patrick was a Christian two centuries prior to this, and he was British), but since St. Augustine was appointed by the pope, it’s pretty clear the British Church was under Roman Catholic jurisdiction from that time on.

Jowett did do a lot of research and cites many sources, but many of them are Victorian sources that weren’t much more knowledgeable than himself I’m afraid. He also cites many medieval and classical writers and traditions handed down from early Christian times, but many of his sources are not clear, and when all else fails, he seems to suggest his information comes from other people who saw certain unnamed records in the Vatican library. Worse, I suspect he makes up sources. For example, at one point in discussing Linus as being British and the first pope in Rome, he states: “St. Peter affirms the fact. He says: ‘The First Christian Church above ground in Rome, was the Palace of the British. The First Christian Bishop, was a Briton, Linus, son of a Royal King, personally appointed by St. Paul, AD 58.’” When and where did St. Peter say this? The only writings of St. Peter I’m aware of are his epistles in the Bible. This passage is not taken from the Bible so what is its source? Since Jowett has footnotes for so many of his other sources, why here (and many other places) does he neglect to document his sources? No discerning reader could be convinced by this shoddy scholarship, yet this passage and many others have been copied all over the Internet as reliable sources. Since when did St. Peter refer to St. Paul as a saint? The disciples did not use such terms in referring to one another. And as if that weren’t enough of a red herring, what about AD 58? The early Christians did not define years by AD. This dating system was created in the sixth century and not popularized until the eighth century. St. Peter never even heard the term “AD.”

I am willing to believe Jowett is well-intentioned in most of his arguments, and not being trained as a scholar, he obviously wasn’t skilled enough to write a book. He is more of an enthusiast than authority, and that enthusiasm causes him to exaggerate at times. I can forgive his failure always to document sources properly, but his faulty thinking and broad sweeping statements become laughable too often and reveal how little he knows and that he had no reliable editor or scholar to assist him. His mistakes range from a pardonable one such as his referring to Venerable Bede as a saint. Not being Catholic, he obviously didn’t understand that Venerable is a step in the process toward canonization as a saint, but does not confirm sainthood. Perhaps his most laughable argument is that the British are descended from the Jews. (An argument that is popularized and believed apparently all over the Internet.) Among his assertions to support this statement is that the Druids like the Jews believed in the immortality of the soul (highly possible), that the Druids carried around their own form of the Ark of the Covenant (possible I suppose, but he doesn’t document how this is known), and that Jews would not marry with Gentiles, which proves that both the Britons and Saxons were Jews because they only intermarried with each other. (This is ridiculous—the Britons and Saxons fought for centuries over control of Briton—the Britons certainly didn’t say to the Saxons, “Welcome, fellow Israelites! Let us intermarry!”) Finally, Jowett argues as proof that the British (and Americans, whom Jowett, being an American, considers as British-descended—forget all the other immigrant groups that added to the great American melting pot) are the only Europeans who keep the Sabbath properly, which proves they are Jewish-descended.

I love the myths Jowett discusses when they don’t tend toward being racist and overly invested in British superiority theories. At the end of the day, I’m willing to give Jowett the benefit of the doubt about his arguments concerning Joseph of Arimathea and his companions converting Britain and bringing Christianity to Rome, but many of the other arguments are far too over the top to be believed. (Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drama_of_the_Lost_Disciples for more of them). Even being an anglophile myself, I find his book largely unbelievable. But if his propaganda and faulty scholarship are peeled away from these pages, perhaps one or two gems or truth remain worth exploring.

I encourage readers to read the book with skeptical mind for themselves and come to their own opinions. If Jowett’s claims about the early Christian church in Britain are true, it is a fascinating story and one that deserves to be told.

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