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Posts Tagged ‘Galahad’

Donna Hosie’s novel Quest of the Artisan (2015) is the second installment in the Children of Camelot series, following The Ring of Morgana previously reviewed on this blog.

King Arthur’s modern-day daughter and her boyfriend have adventures in this second volume of the Children of Camelot series.

At the end of The Ring of Morgana, Rustin had returned to medieval Logres where he wanted to become an artisan and build a cathedral. Meanwhile, his best friend, Mila, the daughter of King Arthur, had remained in the twenty-first century, but in the final pages, Melehan, the son of Mordred, had found her in Wales to tell her of the recent happenings in Camelot. Little did Mila know Melehan was tricking her into captivity.

Quest of the Artisan opens with Rustin and the rest of the court at Camelot awaiting the Round Table to announce who the next Knight of the Round Table will be. Of course, they are shocked when Melehan is named. They are more shocked when not long after they are attacked by the Undead, raised up by a necromancer, who ultimately turns out to be Melehan. (Spoiler alert coming.)

Melehan, however, is intent on destroying the Round Table. Rustin, Mila, and several other knights, including Galahad, and the modern-day James set out to stop him. However, when they are attacked by his army of the Undead, Rustin is wounded and becomes ill from the Undead’s poison having gotten into him. The only way he can be rescued is if he drinks from a healing cup.

That cup turns out to belong to the Fisher King and be the Holy Grail. The catch is that if Rustin drinks from the cup, he must take the Fisher King’s place. He will also never be able to have children. (The Fisher King is traditionally wounded and impotent.) However, life is better than death so Rustin and his companions set out to achieve the Grail, which includes seven tests they must face. During this process, they enter a cave and Mila falls off a cliff. Melehan is manipulating events and manages to capture Mila and now holds her hostage. Eventually, Rustin confronts Melehan, who refuses to tell him where Mila is, and explains his evil plan—he will kill King Arthur, marry Mila, and become King of Logres.

Rustin refuses to let Melehan succeed. Eventually, Rustin and his friends achieve the Grail (although they realize in achieving it they have also been manipulated by Galahad who has his own reasons for wanting to achieve it—so he can become a Knight of the Round Table.) Once Rustin achieves the Grail, he is crowned as the new Fisher King. (There’s a line here “You have chosen wisely” when he achieves the cup that is an obvious nod to the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which Indiana Jones seeks the Holy Grail.) Rustin will now also end up living in the Fisher King’s castle, and he realizes from looking at maps that belonged to Pelles, his predecessor, that the castle exists in Wales on the same land where in the twenty-first century his village will exist. His role as artisan (woodworker) is now finally revealed also because he decides to build a temple that will one day be the foundation for the twenty-first century church.

But before Rustin can build his temple, he still has to defeat Melehan and save Mila. Of course, this is achieved, but I won’t describe how. However, once Melehan is defeated, everyone recalls how he was the son of the evil Mordred, who was Gareth’s half-brother and “illegitimate or something” (which I suspect means Mordred’s father is not Gareth’s. Who Mordred’s father is does not get revealed here, and I haven’t read Hosie’s The Return to Camelot trilogy that preceded this series, so I’m not sure if Mordred was Arthur’s son in Hosie’s works or not, but if so, Melehan was Arthur’s grandson and technically Mila’s nephew, which would mean incest anyway if they had married.)

A definite love interest exists between Mila and Rustin in this novel, but at the end, Rustin will live in the Fisher King’s castle while Mila will live at Camelot. We are left wondering whether they will ever end up together.

One additional item of interest in this novel is that a modern-day character, James, also has traveled back in time to Camelot, and he develops a crush on Sir Galahad. Galahad seems to encourage his advances as a way to get what he wants, although ultimately James’ love for him is unrequited. James can now be added to what is becoming quite a lengthy list of gay characters in Arthurian literature. (See my previous blog on The Gay Arthurian Tradition.) It will be interesting to see whether James finds love in a future novel in the series. It is also interesting that this series is for young adults yet includes a gay character, something that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago. Kudos to Hosie for not shying away from what is human nature.

I can only guess what a third novel in the series will be like since Hosie has not published one yet. When Quest of the Artisan was published in 2015, Hosie had only published the first of her The Devil’s series and now the fourth book in that series is out, so one has to wonder whether she’s abandoned interest in writing a third Children of Camelot book to write other books, but if so, I hope she’ll reconsider. I want to see Rustin and Mila get married and give King Arthur grandchildren before the series ends. Of course, Rustin cannot have children now that he is the Fisher King, but I imagine Hosie, if she writes a sequel, will find a way to get around that problem. Long live King Arthur’s descendants!

For more information about Donna Hosie and her Arthurian books, visit http://donnahosie.wixsite.com/website

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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, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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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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Knights of the Round Table – movie poster

I remember seeing advertisements for Knights of the Round Table being shown on TV when I was a kid, but I never got the chance to watch it. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get the chance because it’s surprisingly a rather distorted version of the Arthurian legend in many ways. Still, when I stumbled across it the other day, I watched it with interest.

First, let me say I’m a sucker for these old movies. Just that it is shot in Technicolor makes it beautiful in many places. There is a lot of color and pageantry, and I give it credit for being, to the best of my knowledge, the first film to try to tell the entire Arthurian story. Previously, King Arthur in Hollywood had been mostly limited to remakes of A Connecticut Yankee.

But in telling the full story, the studio must have felt they had to clean up the story. I mean, even if 1950s audiences, not to mention the movie censors, could get past Guinevere and Lancelot’s adultery, they certainly couldn’t accept Mordred being a child of incest and killing his father.

So some rather big changes had to be made. First of all, Mordred replaces King Lot of Orkney as Morgan le Fay’s ally. I was never quite clear in the film if he is her husband or just her lover, but they are obviously a couple and King Arthur’s primary enemies. The film begins with Morgan, Mordred, Arthur, and Merlin meeting to determine who will rule Britain upon Uther Pendragon’s death. Morgan believes she deserves the throne as Uther’s only legitimate child, but Merlin has Arthur draw the sword from the stone, thus leading to his being proclaimed king. Mordred and Morgan aren’t too happy about this decision and cause plenty of trouble before they finally agree to Arthur’s rule, which he achieves largely through battle and the help of Sir Lancelot, making Lancelot and Mordred enemies.

Arthur is soon pushed to the side of the story in favor of Lancelot. Although the movie is called Knights of the Round Table, the other knights get very little attention, except for Percival, who is on a quest for the Holy Grail. He meets Lancelot early in the film and tells Lancelot of his quest. In the same scene, Percival’s sister, Elaine, meets Lancelot and falls in love with him, and eventually, she is married to Lancelot, after Merlin realizes Lancelot and Guinevere have begun to have feelings for one another so it would be best to have him away from court.

I won’t give away all of the plot, and there’s not much to give away if you know the Arthurian legend, but I do need to discuss the end a bit. I do give the film some points for a stab at historical accuracy since it sets the film at the time soon after the Romans have left. That said, I think John Wayne had a stab in writing the script since upon first meeting, Lancelot says to Percival, “Declare thyself, Cowboy.” I think he should have changed “Cowboy” to “Pilgrim”—it would have been funnier.

The Holy Grail legend has always been an oddball part of the Arthurian story in my opinion, and it definitely is here. At one point, Percival comes to Lancelot’s castle to tell him the Holy Grail appeared at court, which I thought a shame, since the filmgoers never get to see the Holy Grail’s appearance in that scene, but it does lead to the knights going off to seek the Grail. At about this time, Elaine also has a dream about their son. Elaine dies soon after Galahad is born. Later the child Galahad is sent to be raised at Camelot.

And then Camelot begins to fall. After Elaine’s death, Lancelot becomes interested in Lady Vivian. Guinevere accuses him of trying to humiliate her in front of the court by making eyes at Vivian. While they are arguing alone, their enemies find them and accuse them of adultery. They manage to escape without any dramatic attempts at burning at the stake (a disappointment)—no dramatic “Guinevere” song for this movie like in “Camelot.” Things go as expected, leading to Arthur being slain by Mordred. Then Lancelot fights and kills Mordred.

The magic at the end of throwing the sword into the lake is missing because no hand rises up to catch it, but we are left with Lancelot and Percival going together to Camelot to see the Round Table in ruins. The film ends with a vision of the Grail, and Lancelot finding comfort in hearing that someday Galahad will achieve it. (A strange twist since Galahad usually achieves the Grail before Camelot falls.)

I certainly don’t think this film as entertaining as Prince Valiant or Lancelot and Guinevere (Sword of Lancelot) which followed in the next decade, although it does have its moments. People familiar with the legend will perhaps find it mostly entertaining for the fun of picking apart the changes made in the film from the usual legend and try to guess why such changes were made. (The opening credits claim the film is based on Malory, but it’s very loosely based.)

The cast has some big names—Robert Taylor as Lancelot and Ava Gardner as Guinevere, among others, but I have never felt very impressed by Robert Taylor. For me, Franco Nero is the best Lancelot. Ava Gardner is beautiful as always, but she just doesn’t have the role to make her acting skills stand out in this film.

If you’re an Arthurian enthusiast, you’ll want to watch the film, although on a scale of 1-5, I probably wouldn’t give it more than a 3. You can still catch it in reruns on TV or buy the video, or watch online at Amazon Instant Video. For more information on the film, check out IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045966/ or Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Round_Table_%28film%29

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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 Le Morte D’Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory greatly reduced Merlin’s character from a great magician and prophet to little more than a counselor to King Arthur.  Malory’s story begins with how Arthur became king, totally omitting Merlin’s early history and actions prior to King Arthur’s birth.  While Malory may have expected his readers already to know the tales of Merlin’s early life so there was no need to repeat them, Malory’s primary concern was to give a history and portrayal of Arthur’s court.  Peter Goodrich states that Malory was more interested in expressing his concept of kingship than showing how Merlin could control events with his magical powers (130).  Malory’s text reflects a rejection of any magic or prophecy that might control events.  Instead, Malory’s intent is a portrayal of how characters’ actions are determined by their own free will.  In establishing Camelot, however, someone other than the young and untried Arthur was needed to make believable the foundation of the court and its ideals.  Perhaps also feeling Merlin was too integral a part of the Arthurian legend to be deleted, Malory transformed Merlin from a great magician and prophet into King Arthur’s counselor.  While Merlin does still display some magical and prophetic aspects in Le Morte D’Arthur, he primarily counsels Arthur in establishing Camelot.  Occasionally Merlin does use magic or utter prophecy, but in such situations, Merlin only does so to establish the values of Camelot or to open up opportunities for the characters to make important choices.  Merlin is a tool for the possibility of free will rather than a person who can manipulate future events.

Merlin and Baby Arthur by N.C. Wyeth

Merlin taking away the child Arthur, an illustration by N.C. Wyeth from Sidney Lanier's "The Boy's King Arthur"

What Malory retains of Merlin’s mystical and prophetic side is embodied in Merlin’s role as counselor to Arthur and the other characters.  Lambert remarks that Malory’s reduction of Merlin to counselor does not reflect his attitude toward “fairye” but instead reflects his purposes and attitudes about his writing (115).  Lambert also believes Malory was indifferent about religion (118).  I believe religion and magic (“fairye”) were both of minor concern to Malory because they did not fit his purpose of expressing free will.  Just as Malory sparsely uses magic, he rarely uses Christian miracles to promote the action, with the exceptions of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone and the Grail Quest.   In “The Tale of the Sankgreal”, Malory largely secularizes the story by deleting the theological explanations in the work, so the story, not the religious message, is most important, unlike in his source the Queste del Saint Graal (Vinaver, “Malory”, 547).  Vinaver says Malory does not give doctrinal interpretations because Malory wants the story to speak for itself (“Malory” 548).  I would go one step further by adding that Malory wants the reader to interpret for himself rather than accepting an author’s imposed viewpoint.

The lack of interpretation and magic also allows the characters to act by their own choices rather than exist in some predestined world over which they have no control.  Malory does not want magic or a Supreme Being to act as a type of “deus ex machina” to rescue the characters from difficult situations.  Instead, the characters must make their own choices and accept the results.  Malory’s treatment of Merlin best exemplifies how magic is used only when absolutely necessary, while at other times, Merlin merely makes suggestions that open up situations where the characters can exercise their free will by making their own choices.  Neither does Malory allow Merlin’s prophecies to effect the characters’ actions.  Goodrich states that Malory did not feel comfortable with the authority Merlin has by being a prophet (164).   If Merlin tells characters what the future holds, the characters could be interpreted as purposely bringing about that future, thinking they have no other choice.   Malory does not allow Merlin to control the characters’ futures by prophecies about their destinies because chance occurences are problematic enough for the characters to base their choices upon;  the choices made in chance situations are what determine the fate of the characters’ world (Mann 89).  When Malory does allow Merlin to utter prophecies, the prophecies are vague enough not to control the actions of the characters, and usually the characters reject or ignore the prophecies.  Mann remarks that Malory’s use of Merlin is to show how the action occurs not in the adventures but in the knights’ own decisions (74-5).  What control Merlin does have over the action is a manipulative role where he stays in the background, offering advice and suggestions.  Characters who take his advice are usually wise to do so, while those who do not heed his advice end up in tragic situations, but what remains important is that there is always a choice open to the characters.  While Merlin appears authoritative and tells characters what to do in “Merlin”, as the narrative progresses into the “Balin or The Knight with the Two Swords” and “Torre and Pellinor” sections, Malory lessens Merlin’s control, placing him more and more in the background, and only making suggestions rather than giving orders for the characters to follow.  These latter two sections are the most important to understand how Malory uses Merlin to illustrate the characters’ opportunities to make their own choices and exercise their free will.  In these two sections, Merlin primarily acts as a counselor or a manipulator of events, but he never participates in the primary action.  In other places, Merlin does utter prophecies, but these prophecies are only a means of foreshadowing future events in the narrative to retain the reader’s interest.  The prophecies never have a direct influence upon the story’s action.

Two of Merlin’s prophecies occur in “Balin or The Knight with the Two Swords”.  Merlin appears to King Mark at the tomb of the Lady Columbe.  Here he prophesies that Tristram and Lancelot will fight at the tomb, but neither one will slay the other (Malory 45).  The foreshadowing of this event is an advertisement for upcoming scenes in the book, but the prophecy has no effect on any of the characters’ actions.  Those who hear the prophecy do not even remark or seem to pay any attention to it.  Immediately after uttering this prophecy, Merlin is asked who he is by King Mark.  The wizard replies, “ ‘I woll nat telle you.  But at that tyme sir Trystrams ys takyn with his soveraigne lady, than shall ye here and know my name;  and at that tyme ye shall [here] tydynges that shall nat please you’ ” (Malory 45).  This prophecy is also of little effect, and King Mark does not even react to it.  More importantly, the prophecy does not state what the outcome will be of sir Trystram being taken with his “soveraigne lady”.  It is not even clear, though perhaps implied, that the “soveraigne lady” will be King Mark’s wife.  Merlin makes a more important prophecy in the next scene.  Malory writes, “Merlion tolde unto kynge Arthure of the prophecy that there sholde be a grete batayle besydes Salysbiry, and Mordred hys owne sonne sholde be agaynste hym” (Malory 49).  But Merlin does not tell Arthur what will be the result of this battle.  For all the king knows, he may defeat Mordred or the battle may end with a peace treaty.  Oddly, Malory does not even make Arthur curious enough to ask what the result of this battle will be.  Again the prophecy has no effect upon the story, but instead, it works as a foreshadowing.  Merlin might as well be speaking to himself, considering the lack of reaction from Arthur.

In the following book “Torre and Pellinor”, Merlin makes another similar prophecy without explaining what will be the full effect of the event he foretells.  When Arthur wishes to marry and chooses Guinevere, Malory says, “But M[e]rlyon warned the king covertly that Gwenyver was nat holsom for hym to take to wyff. For he warned hym that Launcelot scholde love hir, and sche hym agayne” (Malory 59), but then Merlin changes the subject to the adventures of the Holy Grail.  He omits to tell Arthur that Lancelot and Guinevere’s love will result in the fall of Camelot.  Merlin appears only to be giving Arthur information rather than forbidding Arthur to marry Guinevere, so Arthur is left to make his own choice, and he chooses Guinevere despite Merlin’s words.  Arthur is not even depicted as considering what Merlin’s words might mean.  Instead, Arthur is simply given knowledge of the future, but the knowledge is so incomplete that Arthur cannot know the future’s outcome.  This ambiguity places Arthur in a position where he does not have to feel the future is destined to be a disaster.

Only twice does Merlin utter prophecies that characters respond to, and curiously, these prophecies are Merlin’s most specific ones.  The first occurs when Merlin warns Balin of what will happen because Balin failed to save the Lady Columbe.  Merlin states:

“because of the dethe of that lady thou shalt stryke a stroke moste dolerous that ever man stroke . . . . For thou shalt hurte the trewyst knyght and the man of moste worship that now lyvith;  and thorow that stroke three kyngdomys shall be brought into grete poverte, miseri and wrecchednesse twelve yere.”  (Malory 45)

Balin responds, “nat so;  for and I wyste thou seyde soth, I wolde do so perleous a dede that I wolde sle myself to make the a lyer” (Malory 45).  Rather than reply to Balin, Merlin now vanishes.  Even though the dolorous stroke does later occur, Balin’s reaction is a refusal to believe in destiny;  therefore, Merlin’s prophecy in no way determines Balin’s actions.  The second response to one of Merlin’s prophecies is uttered by King Pellinor in the “Torre and Pellinor” section.  Pellinor returns from a quest and tells the court how he did not help a maiden when she asked for his help.  As a result of Pellinor’s inaction, the maiden was later eaten by a lion.  Merlin then tells Pellinor:

‘Truly ye ought sore to repent hit . . . for that lady was your own doughtir . . . . And because ye wolde nat abyde and helpe hir, ye shall se youre best frende fayle you whan ye be in the grettist distresse that ever ye were othir shall be.  And . . . he that ye sholde truste moste on of ony man on lyve, he shall leve you there ye shall be slayne.’

‘Me forthynkith hit,’ seyde kynge Pellynor, ‘that thus shall me betyde, but God may well fordo desteny.’  (Malory 75)

Like Balin, Pellinor rejects that there is a future that must be his destiny.  Although both prophecies come true, the characters’ reactions reflect that Merlin can in no way be considered an agent in making destiny shape the characters’ future decisions rather than allowing them to exercise free will.

Merlin’s prophecies are less important than the way Merlin manipulates situations for the good of the kingdom.  The wizard often makes suggestions or pulls strings to create situations that provide the characters with choices.  When characters make the right choices, the kingdom prospers.  A simple example of such a situation occurs when Merlin suggests to Balin and Balan that the two brothers ambush King Royns who is waging war against Arthur.  While Merlin suggests the action to Balin and Balan, the two brothers are the ones who act.  Unlike in the text’s earlier scene where Merlin enchants Pellinor so Pellinor will not see or harm Arthur (Malory 36), Merlin is now placing the fate of the kingdom in the hands of the characters rather than using his own powers to establish the kingdom’s security.  Balin and Balan choose to act on Merlin’s suggestion, and they succeed in capturing King Royns and bringing him as a prisoner to Arthur (Malory 46).

Once King Royns is captured, his brother Nero and King Lot decide to attack Arthur.  They lead their armies against Arthur, but Merlin prevents Lot from going into battle.  “And Merlion com to kynge Lotte of the Ile of Orkeney and helde hym with a tale of the prophecy tylle Nero and his peple were destroyed” ( Malory 47).  This passage leaves unclear whether Merlin detains Lot with a story or more likely enchants him in some way.  When Lot then hears that Nero’s army has been destroyed while Lot tarried, Lot is angry at Merlin, exclaiming, “thys faytoure [impostor] with hys prophecy hath mocked me” (Malory 48).  Here Merlin does effect the action, as earlier when he enchanted Pellinor, but Malory explains Merlin’s purpose by stating that Merlin

knew well that [and] kynge Lot had bene with hys body at the first batayle, kynge Arthure had he and all his peple distressed.  And . . . that one of the kynges sholde be dede that day;  and . . . he had levir kynge Lotte of Orkeney had be slayne than Arthure.  (Malory 48)

Malory only allows Merlin to act in situations where it is vital that Merlin protect the king.  As long as Arthur is safe, Merlin appears content merely to manipulate events while letting the other characters perform the action.

As with Arthur, Merlin plays the role of counselor to Balin.  Merlin warns Balin that the knight will strike the dolorous stroke, but Merlin does not attempt to prevent it from happening.  However, after Balin has struck King Pellam and the castle has crumbled, Merlin appears and rescues Balin from where he lies among the castle ruins (Malory 54).  It is significant that Merlin acts only after Balin has acted for himself, so Merlin in no way causes the dolorous stroke.  Merlin now gives Balin a horse and tells him to leave the country.  Balin agrees to go, remarking to the wizard that they will never meet again.  I believe, however, that Merlin appears once more in Balin’s life.  When Balin later approaches the castle where he will slay his brother in a tournament, Balin is met on the road by “an old hore gentylman” who warns him “ ‘Balyn le Saveage, thow passyst thy bandes to come this waye, therfor torne ageyne and it will availle the,’ and he vanysshed awey anone” (Malory 55).  Merlin often appears in disguise as well as often vanishing so disguising himself as the old man would be characteristic of Merlin.  Even if the old man is not Merlin, what is important is that the old man’s words are only a suggestion and do not control the action.  Balin is told what would be the best choice, but he instead chooses to go to the tournament.  Only after he has given up his shield does Balin repent the deed, but then he knows he cannot change it, remarking “I will take the adventure that shalle come to me” (Malory 56).

Merlin reappears after Balin and Balan have slain one another.  The wizard now removes the pommel from Balin’s sword, replacing it with another.  Upon the pommel, Merlin writes the prophecy that Lancelot will slay Gawain with this sword.  Then Merlin places the sword in a stone and floats the stone down the river where it will eventually come to Camelot for Galahad to achieve.  Merlin also takes Balin’s scabbard and leaves it on the island for Galahad to find (Malory 58).  Although Merlin does tell an unnamed knight that no one shall use Balin’s sword again until Galahad, the text is ambiguous as to whether the unnamed knight witnesses what Merlin does with the sword and scabbard.  Merlin may be making preparations for the future, but these preparations may, like many of the prophecies, merely be a foreshadowing to keep the reader’s interest since there is no indication that the other characters know of Merlin’s actions.  After Merlin makes these preparations for the Grail Quest, Malory writes that Merlin told Arthur how Balin committed the dolorous stroke, and also how Balin died, but Merlin does not mention that Balin’s sword and scabbard will be important in the Grail Quest.  Later in “Torre and Pellinor” when Arthur and Merlin are discussing Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere, Merlin changes the subject, “and so he turned his tale to the aventures of the Sankegreal” (Malory 59), but the obscurity of this passage leaves unclear what Arthur knows about the Grail Quest other than that it will take place.  “The Tale of the Sankgreal” suggests that all the characters except Merlin are largely ignorant about the Grail Quest.  When Galahad appears, no one at Camelot remarks that this knight is the one whom Merlin foretold would come.  Even Arthur marvels at the stone floating in the river which holds Balin’s sword, never reflecting that Merlin foretold this event (Malory 516-19).  Whatever Merlin told Arthur could not have been very detailed.  Oddly, it is Galahad who remarks that the sword once belonged to Balin (Malory 520).  Galahad had not even been born when Merlin was at Camelot, and since no one seems to understand the appearance of the sword, it is unlikely that Galahad came by his knowledge of the sword from one of the knights at Camelot.  The only knight who might know about the sword is the knight to whom Merlin had told the sword’s prophecy, but since this knight is nameless, the reader does not know whether this knight is present when Galahad achieves the sword.  The anonymous knight merely seems a tool Malory uses so Merlin will have someone to hear his prophecy, thereby allowing the prophecy to appear in the text as a foreshadowing to keep the reader’s interest.  Merlin’s actions and prophecies regarding the Grail Quest have only set up a situation for the characters to react to while Merlin in no way controls the characters’ actions regarding the Grail Quest.

Merlin also sets up the Round Table at the time of Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding.  The wizard creates seats for all the knights, including creating the Siege Perilous;  he foretells that in the Siege Perilous shall sit the greatest, most worthy knight (Malory 63), but as usual, Merlin is ambiguous in presenting information, not saying who that knight will be, nor that the knight is the one who will achieve the Holy Grail.  As earlier with the sword in the floating stone, when Galahad sits in the Siege Perilous (Malory 518), no one remarks that Merlin foretold Galahad would specifically be the knight to occupy that seat, nor is Merlin responsible for determining which knight will have that honor.

Now that Merlin has established Arthur as king, prepared for the Grail Quest and organized the Round Table, Merlin’s remaining task is to set up the values which will be the standards of Camelot.  These values are established during Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding celebration.  Malory does an ingenious job of depicting Merlin as manipulator of the action to the point where Merlin’s own actions are almost not noticeable in the text.  Merlin’s manipulations show that he does not impose a set of values upon the Round Table but merely opens the way for the characters’ actions to be used in the creation of these values.  At the wedding feast, a hart, a brachet, and thirty hounds run through the banquet hall.  They are followed by a knight, a lady, and then another knight who carries the lady off by force.  After this interruption, Arthur is thankful to have peace restored to his castle;  however, Merlin tells him “ye may nat leve hit so, this adventure, so lyghtly, for thes adventures muste be brought to an ende, other ellis hit woll be disworshyp to you and to youre feste” (Malory 63).  Merlin has not forced Arthur to act, but merely made a suggestion.  Arthur acts upon the suggestion by selecting Gawain, Torre, and Pellinor to follow the company that has just passed through the banquet hall.  The king requests that the knights return with the beasts, knights and lady so the strange adventure can be explained (Malory 64).  The three knights split up, each having a separate adventure.  Upon the knights’ return, Merlin suggests that Arthur order the knights to swear to tell their adventures.  “Merlion dud make kynge Arthure that sir Gawayne was sworne to tell of hys adventure” (Malory 67).  The same order is given to Torre and Pellinor.  Arthur, not Merlin, forces the knights to tell their tales, but Merlin has indirectly caused the tales to be told.  After each knight tells his story, the court passes judgment on each knight according to his deeds.  Torre is found honorable while Gawain and Pellinor have both made mistakes judged unworthy of knights.  After judgment has been passed on the knights’ actions, Arthur, for the first time without prompting from Merlin, stands up and declares what will be the values of Camelot (Malory 75).  This scene is the epitome of Arthur’s instruction under Merlin for now the king has learned to judge and act upon his own without Merlin’s tutelage.

The Beguiling of Merling by Edward Burne-Jones

"The Beguiling of Merlin" by Edward Burne-Jones

            Now that Arthur is a capable monarch and Camelot’s values have been established, Merlin’s work is finished.  In the next section, “The War with the Five Kings”, Merlin immediately falls in love with Nenyve, and in only a page and a half, Malory summarizes Merlin and Nenyve’s trip to the continent and how she traps him in a tomb.  Although Merlin has known what his fate will be, when Arthur asks if Merlin cannot stop the events from happening, Merlin replies “Nay . . . hit woll not be” (Malory 76).  Merlin is the only character to whom a prophecy is completely revealed, and he is also the only character who does not question or act contrary to that prophecy.  While Malory allows his other characters to make their own choices, Malory does not give Merlin free will, largely because Merlin’s omniscient nature makes Merlin unable to act without knowing the future.  Malory’s treatment of Merlin appears as a cruel trick, denying free will to the one character who has provided free will to the others.  While Malory is following his French sources in Nenyve’s enchantment of Merlin, Malory’s banishment of Merlin from the text seems much too sudden, but it results from Malory no longer having a purpose for the wizard (Goodrich 130).

            Malory’s use of Merlin reflects the impossibility of making any link between Camelot’s fall and any human or divine will (Mann 91).  Merlin provides characters with a chance to exercise free will rather than follow a preordained destiny.  While Merlin opens up situations for the characters to make choices, however, there are also occurences which happen by chance rather than being caused by the wizard.  Characters’ choices cannot always govern their world because chance events occur which people cannot control.  Merlin can prophesy what will happen to a character, as he does with Pellinor and Balin, but he cannot stop such events from happening.  When the values of the Round Table are established, the wizard has no control over Gawain, Torre, and Pellinor’s experiences.  Instead, Merlin merely knows what their actions are, and he uses this knowledge to manipulate the establishment of Camelot’s values.  Malory’s Merlin symbolizes how characters are not controlled by destiny but by the choices they make in whatever situations they encounter, whether such situations occur by chance or by Merlin’s creation.  While Merlin was traditionally a prophet and magician, Malory ingeniously twisted Merlin’s character into an example of how free will, not destiny, can shape the outcome of a person’s life.

Works Cited

Goodrich, Peter, ed.  The Romance of Merlin:  An Anthology.  New York: Garland, 1990.

Lambert, Mark.  Malory:  Style and Vision in Le Morte Darthur.  New Haven, CT:  Yale UP, 1975.

Malory, Sir Thomas.  Works.  Ed. Eugene Vinaver.  Oxford:  Oxford UP, 1971.

Mann, Jill.  “ ‘Taking the Adventure’:  Malory and the Suite de Merlin”.  Aspects of Malory.  Eds.  Toshiyuki Takamiya and Derek Brewer.  Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1981.  71-91.

Vinaver, Eugene.  “Sir Thomas Malory”.  Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages:  A Collaborative History.  1961.  Ed. Roger Sherman Loomis. Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1979.  541-552.

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copyright 2012 Tyler R. Tichelaar

Visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com for more about King Arthur and His Descendants in Spirit and Blood.

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Camelot has gotten a lot of attention, not all of it good. I find in the end I’m quite disappointed with the show, although the final episode was intriguing for a few twists and what it left open for the next season, which since the show has been cancelled, is not likely to happen unless the series is picked up by another network – highly doubtful.

This final episode drags through its first half. Arthur shows himself to be fairly stupid in remaining behind at Bardon Pass to fight Morgan’s soldiers by himself just to prove himself to the men, after they are upset with him for sleeping with Leontes’ wife Guinevere. Arthur doesn’t really prove anything except his stupidity. He does make some entertaining traps to stop the enemy, but in the end, he needs the other men to come back and help him anyway. The best part of this whole scene was when one of the opposing soldiers tells Arthur they fight for Morgan and adds, “You’re a fucked up family all right.”

Leontes gets mortally wounded in the battle. As he’s dying he tells Arthur to “treasure her.” Of course, Leontes knows Arthur and Guinevere will get together–this isn’t permission so much as his accepting reality and Leontes is a gentleman to the end. Too bad he has to die; to bad he wasn’t king and Arthur couldn’t die instead. What a waste to create a fake Arthurian character only to kill him off. Why not start out with Lancelot in the first place since Lancelot is apparently going to show up in season 2? Later in the show, the Round Table is built and a special seat is created in Leontes’ memory until someone as good as him can take it. Gawain says it will remain empty, but I suspect it’s the Siege Perilous which normally in the legend only Galahad is pure enough to take, but the writers probably planned to have Lancelot take instead–thus beginning the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle.

Merlin also decides to leave after Morgan’s plot is foiled. He should have left a long time ago. While Arthur has been away fighting, Morgan almost ends up being crowned queen, under the belief that Arthur has died. Merlin is tied up and helpless and completely useless to stop the crowning. As I’ve said previously, he’s the most pathetic version of the great wizard in any film or written version of the Arthurian legend to date.

I’d like to mention here that a lot of people have posted about Camelot online besides me, and I’ve read several of the other posts. One I think particularly worth reading is at: http://www.denofgeek.com/television/938298/camelot_episode_10_review_reckoning_season_finale.html because the reviewer thinks the show as ridiculous as I do.

That said, I disagree with this reviewer, as well as most of the others, that Merlin was the best part of Camelot. In fact, as I’ve pointed out in every post I’ve written about Merlin so far, he’s the worst depiction of the famous sorcerer I have ever seen, and totally incompetent when he’s not doddering. Other than getting Arthur a sword and getting him elected king, what has he done of any real value? Did all his stupidity in going with Igraine to Morgan’s castle reflect a deeply thought out plot to get Morgan to Camelot to seize the crown so she can be exposed? If so, he didn’t foresee that Igraine would get killed in the process; and his being tied up and unable to escape during the crowning ceremony just makes him look all the more unimpressive.

Then, after Arthur accuses Morgan of treason and Sybil takes the blame for it, Merlin has to be a total prick by going to watch Gawain behead Sybil and tell her, “There is no God.” Perhaps he’s just that small that he needs to taunt her, to kick his enemy when she’s down, but seriously, how stupid is he to think there’s no God? How else do you explain the other supernatural elements in the show like magic and witchcraft. It’s possible the god in this show isn’t a Christian god, but there’s got to be some godlike force in this program, and God isn’t going to be nice to Sybil after all the bad things she’s done anyway. Saying there’s no God implies there’s no afterlife. But the show obviously makes it clear that’s untrue when Morgan prays at Sybil’s grave and then hears a voice telling her what to do. Sybil is able to influence Morgan from beyond the grave, and since Merlin is now going off to “find himself” as one reviewer put it, I imagine Sybil will have more power than ever, even if it’s filtered through Morgan. At the end of the day, if you had Sybil and Merlin match wits, odds are Sybil would come out ahead. Too bad we can’t give Sybil and Merlin I.Q. tests. I’d rather have a clever villain than a stupid good wizard any day.

I admit I was impressed by the final twist. When Guinevere showed up in Arthur’s bedroom I thought she must be a total slut–Leontes is barely dead and she’s throwing herself at Arthur already–wait at least 30 days, I thought. But we then find out Guinevere was really Morgan in disguise–something I should have guessed from Sybil’s voice telling Morgan to sire a king. This plot twist completely worked for me and solved the problem of Morgan getting pregnant with Arthur’s child–Mordred. In fact, other than Marion Zimmer Bradley’s depiction in The Mists of Avalon of how Arthur and Morgan come together to have a child, I thought it the best explanation for the incest twist in the legend that I have seen. I admit, it made me anxious to see the next season–the season that will not be.

My personal opinion, in the end, is that Camelot had great potential but just about fell flat on its face. Ultimately, only Sybil was able to capture my imagination and retain it through the 10 episodes, although Morgan came close. And if the show is cancelled, we’ll never know just exactly what that wolf was that Morgan slept with. 😦 Oh well, there’s always season 4 of Merlin to look forward to.

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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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