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Posts Tagged ‘Gawain’

The Prince Valiant strip’s subtitle is “In the Days of King Arthur,” but I have to admit the scenes that take place at Camelot are often less inspired than those that take place elsewhere in Foster’s strip, and I felt that was the case with this volume, though there are still notable moments.

This volume opens with Val, Aleta, and their family on their way back to Camelot, and other than a little subplot in which Arn gets kidnapped and is rescued, they arrive there safely.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 14 includes King Arthur’s famous Battle of Mount Badon.

In the two years of work presented in this volume, Foster seems to be wanting to push his storyline closer to the catastrophe that brings about the end of Arthur’s reign, but at the same time, he holds back, making it happen very gradually. Once Valiant is back in Camelot, there are two key Arthurian moments in the book. The first concerns Modred (Foster’s spelling). Modred is complaining about how he and the other knights do all the work but Arthur gets all the glory and money. He has enlisted his four brothers of the Orkney clan, along with several younger knights, in his cause. When Gawain brings Valiant to one of Modred’s meetings, Valiant quickly makes the other knights see the treachery and lack of validity in Modred’s words so that soon all of the knights abandon him other than the Orkney clan. Valiant notes also that none of the established Knights of the Round Table are at the meeting other than those of Orkney.

The Orkney clan still wishes to plot with Modred. Modred wants to catch Lancelot and Guinevere in a trap and include Aleta in it. At this point, Gawain is torn between his friendship for Valiant and Aleta and his loyalty to his brothers. He warns Aleta to be careful, but she doesn’t understand the warning. The plot Modred ends up hatching is to distract and lead Valiant’s twin daughters away from the court just long enough so everyone will go looking for them. Both Aleta and Lancelot go looking in Guinevere’s private garden. The Orkneys lock them in the private garden for the night, thinking in the morning they will be found and it will look like they’ve committed adultery. (This plot doesn’t hurt Guinevere directly, but, of course, she’ll be heartbroken if Lancelot has to leave Camelot, and it will hurt Valiant also. If two of Arthur’s chief knights leave Camelot, Modred will have better opportunity for overthrowing the king.)

Of course, Modred’s plans come to naught. Valiant and Arn realize where Aleta is and climb over the garden wall. When the garden is later unlocked, Modred sees Lancelot and Aleta together and starts to accuse them, only to have Valiant and Arn then step out to show there is no dishonor because the four of them have all been together. Valiant then tells Modred he does not appreciate his insinuations. Modred, fearing Valiant will challenge him to a duel, flees Camelot, planning to continue to plot against King Arthur from a distance.

The other major Arthurian moment in this volume is the Battle of Mount Badon. I admit I found the battle a bit dull, but what is wonderful is the lead-up to it, involving Valiant’s son Arn. We have watched Arn grow up throughout the strip, and now he is old enough to go out as a scout, only to be captured by the Saxons. He gives them information about Arthur’s plans, then fakes his death when he escapes from them so they cannot know that he lives and has returned to Camelot to warn Arthur. The result is that Arthur knows exactly what to expect from the Saxons, so he takes them by surprise and soundly defeats them.

I’m not a fan of battle scenes, though Foster draws them well. What I love is the cleverness that Valiant and Aleta always display in getting out of sticky situations, and now it’s clear they’ve passed that cleverness on to their son.

It’s important to note that, according to most versions of the legend, Mount Badon was Arthur’s last great victory against the Saxons, followed by twenty or so years of peace before Camelot’s fall. One wonders whether Foster was starting to consider moving toward the fall of Camelot in the strip. By this point, Foster was in his early seventies, so he must have realized he could not draw the strip many more years, although it wouldn’t be until 1970 that he started looking for a successor and 1975 before he retired completely from the strip. In the end, I assume he couldn’t bear to see the strip end with his retirement, and so the fall of Camelot was put off indefinitely.

Valiant and Aleta’s twin girls are also growing up in this volume—they end up having their first crush on the same boy, and they employ a bit of trickery themselves to try to get him interested in them; however, they’re still too young to succeed, as is their victim, a twelve-year-old king. Nevertheless, I imagine they will be quite able to manipulate men with their feminine wiles just like their mother before too many more volumes have passed.

Two other passages worth noting in this volume are examples of Foster’s postmodern intrusion into the strip. I believe these are the first times he breaks the spell, reminding readers they are reading a story. The first is when he mentions that two characters ride out of the story. The second is when he claims the manuscripts he is basing the story on were damaged at one point, and so he can’t complete a specific episode and has to guess what happened. He then picks up the story with Valiant and Aleta traveling to Thule. The volume ends here with Valiant’s arrival in Thule where he has to trick some raiders to protect his father’s kingdom.

I wouldn’t say this is one of the stronger volumes in the series, but it still has its moments. Of added interest is the introduction by Roger Stern about other cartoon artists who engaged in “swiping” Foster’s work. “Swiping” is a term meaning copying or even plagiarizing. Numerous frames are presented as examples of Foster’s Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips beside frames of other cartoonists who have figures in similar poses—most notably a comparison between Tarzan and Batman’s poses—and also backgrounds that are so similar the artists obviously copied from Foster—one of an interior banquet hall in the Valiant strip is compared to one by Don Rosa for a Clan McDuck strip. Also interesting is the essay at the end of the book about Foster’s desire to be a fine art painter before he became a famous cartoonist. Several of Foster’s landscape paintings are presented—some are not overly impressive but some are quite exquisite. While he never saw his dream realized of being a famous painter, I’m sure Foster delighted far more people with his Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips than he ever would have with landscape paintings.

Volume 15 of the Prince Valiant reprints by Fantagraphics will be released in June. In it, there will be a return to the New World. Watch for the review later this year.

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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 the upcoming 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. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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In the past, I’ve written an individual blog for each volume of the Prince Valiant series, but I decided to group these two together because I couldn’t get myself too excited about Volume 7; furthermore, the adventure in it continues into Volume 8 because the books are printed by the years the strip was published and not by breaks in the storyline. Volume 7 contains the strips from 1949-1950 and Volume 8 covers 1951-1952.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 7: 1949-1950, published by Fantagraphics Books

Prince Valiant, Vol. 7: 1949-1950, published by Fantagraphics Books

Volume 7 begins by concluding Valiant’s trip to North America that was covered in Volume 6. Valiant, Aleta, newborn Prince Arn, and his other companions return to England and Camelot. They don’t have much time to rest, however, before new adventures begin for them. First there is an adventure with a haunted castle, and then a journey to Hadrian’s wall where the Picts are invading. Aleta is the great negotiator and trickster here as she wins over the Picts and stops the war. However, Valiant is wounded during the skirmishes, so he cannot travel by land back to Camelot because it would be too painful for him. Consequently, they take a sea voyage to visit his family in Thule. During the time in Thule, an enemy tries to overthrow Valiant’s father, King Aguar, and once again, Aleta steps in and saves the day through trickery; Foster, I believe, uses this method frequently to resolve conflict to provide a humorous tone to many of the adventures, while avoiding a lot of bloodshed in a Sunday comic strip—a couple of times when he did create frames that were too violent, they were censored and he had to change them.

To me, the most interesting part of this volume was that King Aguar listens to Christian evangelists who try to explain Christianity to him, but he finds they are poorly informed and they argue among themselves about the key points of their religion. Consequently, Valiant, who has been exposed to Christianity in Camelot (although he’s never been depicted as being baptized as a Christian) decides to travel to Rome to find teachers who can return with him to Thule to convert his father’s people.

The adventures in Volume 7 end there, but there is also an interesting article included about Hal Foster’s work painting illustrations for the Union Pacific Railroad. Many of these paintings show mountain scenes with railroad trestles, and this work may have informed his creation of scenes of the Alps and others in the Prince Valiant strip. While Foster’s storylines read like a soap opera and tend to wander about, no one can fault his ability to create great landscape drawings, so it’s interesting to see how his early career influenced the Prince Valiant strip in this way.

Volume 8 was much more to my taste. Valiant has several adventures on his journey to Rome to find Christian missionaries to return to Thule. He has even more adventures on the way back to Thule. However, we are informed briefly that the people of Thule do not warm to the missionaries easily, and it will still be centuries before the country converts to Christianity. The illustrations of Valiant crossing the Alps in this volume are incredible and reflect the influence of Foster’s Union Pacific Railroad artwork.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 8: 1951-1952

Prince Valiant, Vol. 8: 1951-1952

Other highlights of this volume include Valiant’s squire, Arf, who ends up losing a leg to frostbite during the journey and getting what must be one of the first prosthetic legs in history. On the way home, Valiant travels back to Camelot and then to the Orkneys to take a ship over to Thule. Gawain is his companion on this trip, and they stop to visit Gawain’s family, his mother Morgause, as well as brothers Gaheris, Agrivaine, and Mordred. We are only given the first hints here of the sinister role of Mordred in the strips that are yet to come.

Foster isn’t above some cutesy moments. Besides Val returning to Thule to discover Aleta has given him twin daughters, Valeta and Karen, we have Prince Arn, now a toddler, being jealous of his sisters, including several frames from his viewpoint. Arn even gets his own adventure when he is kidnapped and rescued by Tillicum, the Indian woman who returned with Val and Aleta from North America. Tillicum has her own subplot romance in this volume as well with a surprising twist.

At the end of this volume, another great adventure is in the works. Val travels around Thule to discover how receptive the people are to Christianity. He meets a druid (I didn’t know the Norse had druids) who gives him nectar to drink, resulting in Val having a vision of the Rainbow Bridge, the Norse Gods, and Valhalla. This vision is supposed to be proof, according to the druid, that Christianity is not the only true religion. Val will apparently explore this idea in more detail in Volume 9.

While I find moments of the story lag in places, the illustrations throughout these volumes are beautiful and breathtaking, whether it’s of Val and his men fighting the rapids in North America or Val seeing a rainbow bridge, or just splendid landscapes showing mountains and castles. I am looking forward to seeing what Val learns about the Norse Gods, as well as seeing his children grow up, and how Mordred plays a larger part in successive volumes. Stay tuned for more.

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Prince valiant volume 4

Prince Valiant, Vol. 4

In this fourth volume of Prince Valiant: In the Days of King Arthur, Hal Foster’s illustrations are fantastic as always—I especially love his extensively imaginative and elaborate castles—but I found the story less interesting than in the past strips.

Ever since Prince Valiant first encountered Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles, he has been smitten with her, even believing that she has placed an enchantment upon him. In this volume, he continues to yearn for her, feel cursed, and seek her. Early in the book, he goes back to visit the witch Horrit to ask her whether Aleta is part of the prophecy she foresaw that said he would never know happiness. Sadly, she confirms that again she sees no contentment for him. Despite this prophecy, in one scene Val actually realizes he has everything he wants and wonders whether life would be dull if he had Aleta for his own, realizing he wants to have his adventures.

And numerous adventures occur in this volume, including a visit to his father where Val stops another king from conquering Thule. And Gawain is back to adventure with Val. I’m always curious how much of an overarching plan for the pacing of the strip Foster had since he didn’t know how long the strip would continue—did he just assume it would always run, or did he feel any urgency to move along the well-known plot points of the Arthurian legend? In this volume, Valiant and Gawain try to get Tristram to travel with them again, only to go to King Mark’s castle, where they witness the king slay Tristram. Is this event surprisingly early in the storyline, considering the strip will run for another seventy years? But Horrit never made any prophecies for Foster himself about the strip, so I imagine he sprinkled in key moments of Arthuriana as it struck his fancy.

I won’t go into all the subplots and little charming stories, and while I enjoy them, some of them are starting to sound like I’ve read all this before. Twice in this volume Val is shipwrecked, and he was at least once in a previous volume.

But I kept reading on, and there are moments where I’m very grabbed by the storyline, even when Val goes wading into a river running through a glacier in his bare legs without wincing once at the ice cold water. I felt Foster hadn’t completely forgotten reality when Val ends up with what must have been hypothermia a few strips later.

Finally, in this volume, Val does find Aleta. And sadly, I was a bit disappointed when he did. In the last volume, she had told him he could not know her reasons for sending him away and why such horrid things happened on her island. Now it seems people were simply killed if they landed on the shore without going into the main harbor because they are then thought to be pirates.

But Val and Aleta’s love-hate relationship isn’t about to end. Let’s just say Val gets a bit violent at the end here when he grabs Aleta by her hair and drags her from her castle, and what happens next…well, we must wait for Volume 5 to find out.

This volume includes the beginnings in 1944 of Hal Foster’s strip The Medieval Castle which was affixed to the bottom row of Prince Valiant, meaning the main strip was left with only two-thirds of its previous space. This volume includes an interesting article explaining how this new strip resulted from paper shortages during World War II. The history of the strip, its frames and layout is interesting, but The Medieval Castle itself was quite a disappointment to me, having little character development, and at times, reading more like a documentary on medieval times. It only lasted another year and concludes in Volume 5, although Prince Valiant was not to regain its full page and the great large panels were never again to be seen in the strip.

So ultimately, this fourth volume is a bit of a disappointment to me for several reasons, but will I journey on with Valiant and Aleta from here? Yes, because I just want to know what happens next.

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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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This volume picks up with Prince Valiant escaping on a ship and trying to get back to Camelot only to have his ship attacked and captured by Angor Wrack, the Sea King, who takes Valiant’s Singing Sword. For the rest of these two years of strips, Valiant is trying to get back the sword, leading him on many adventures throughout the Mediterranean and into Africa before he finally returns to England and Camelot.

The back cover of this volume claims that Hal Foster reached his peak in these years, now that Prince Valiant was into its fourth year, and he never came down from that peak. I don’t know that I would go that far, not yet having read all the strip, but I did find this volume more entertaining than the last two despite it again having very little connection to King Arthur and the Round Table since only a small part takes place in England. The adventures are entertaining enough that, honestly, King Arthur and his other knights’ absence isn’t even noticeable by this point since readers know Camelot is largely marginal to the story.

I won’t go into a full summary of this volume, but the most important part of the adventures have to do with the Singing Sword and Valiant meeting his future wife, Aleta. The story begins with Valiant on a ship that is captured by Angor Wrack, the Sea King, who takes Valiant’s sword. Valiant manages to escape after being a prisoner for a while, but he leaves behind the sword, vowing to reclaim it when he is in a better situation to do so. Valiant manages to obtain a small boat, but he drifts about the Mediterranean, becoming weak from lack of food. At one point, he nears shore and meets Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. She fills his ship with provisions and feeds him and then orders him to sail off. Enchanted by her beauty, Valiant’s search now extends to coming back into contact with Aleta, questioning everyone he meets about how to get back to the Misty Isles.

Valiant’s adventures eventually take him to Jerusalem, as a slave along the Euphrates River, to Athens, up a river with a group of Vikings to find gold, and finally, he reunites with Sir Gawain and they return to England. After a short stint at King Arthur’s court, Val goes north to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall and he also solves the mystery of a haunted castle.

But finding Aleta is the key adventure in this book, and although most readers of the strip know that Valiant will end up marrying her, Foster was not about to make it easy. After Valiant’s first meeting, he finds himself shipwrecked again on the Misty Isles, and this time, he witnesses his crew killed and their bodies hung on stakes by Aleta’s subjects, although he does not understand why—Foster makes it clear they deserved it for their crimes, but this knowledge is withheld from Valiant. When Valiant meets Aleta, he is discouraged and feels she, as the queen, must be the worst of her people for allowing such cruelty. She in turn tells him she warned him not to return before. She has her women again give him provisions and leaves him a note saying, “You merit punishment for speaking harsh words to a queen, impetuous youth, but once again I help you to escape from this troubled land. You will never guess why!” Aleta’s reasons are withheld from both the reader and Valiant, so we must wait for successive volumes to find out how Foster will reunite Valiant and Aleta in love.

But Valiant has plenty of time for love, for he only celebrates his eighteenth birthday in this book in the October 26, 1941 strip—it’s hard to believe he is so young after all the adventures he has already had.

I was expecting some sort of social commentary on World War II in this volume after the assumption that Foster’s depiction of Valiant fighting the Huns in previous volumes related to the war against Germany; however, there is no hinting of World War II in this book that I saw. Even following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, nothing changes in the strip. No past and present day parallels exist, although I did find an anachronism. When Valiant is in Jerusalem, he consecrates a pagan sword he acquires to Christian service under the scowls of “Islamites.” Since the strip takes place during the time of Attila the Hun (died 453 A.D.) and King Arthur (died perhaps in 539 A.D.), it would predate by about a hundred years the beginning of Islam (but Foster isn’t the first writer of Arthuriana to ignore historical dates). I did feel Foster was bordering on racism in these scenes (June 1 and June 8, 1941) when after freeing a group of slaves held by Arab merchants, Valiant “leaves behind such hate and desire for vengeance as only an Arab can feel.” Of course, Foster was a product of his time and the prejudices of it, and he did not go overboard to the extent other writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs (of whom I am a huge fan regardless, and whose Tarzan strip Foster illustrated before Prince Valiant) did in depicting Muslims or Africans.

While I still feel it would be difficult to stay engaged reading Prince Valiant in its original weekly format, this third volume really drew me in with all the adventures, and I highly recommend it over the first two as an impetus to want to keep reading—if not Foster’s peak, he is nearing it, improving on the story and interest from previous volumes. This volume also contains some interesting commentary on scenes that were considered too violent in the strip that were changed in some printings by various newspapers.

Stay tuned for my review of Vol. 4 in a future post.

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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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When we last left Prince Valiant (see my review of Vol. 1), the young prince wanted to re-conquer his father’s kingdom of Thule but the invasion of England by Saxons put a damper on his plans. This second volume of the collected Prince Valiant strip begins with Valiant being knighted after he succeeds in creating a plan that leads to the successful defeat of the Saxons invading the Fens.

Prince Valiant Vol 2: 1939-1940

Prince Valiant Vol 2: 1939-1940, published by Fantagraphics

And once the Saxon invasion is defeated, Val successfully leads his people to Thule to achieve its re-conquest, not by violence but by rallying the people to turn against Sligon, who had previously stolen the crown from Val’s father. Old and fearing for his life, Sligon agrees to trade Thule for the English Fens where Val and his people have lived in exile.

With peace restored to Thule and his father restored to the throne, Val soon becomes bored and goes off on adventures again. After a strange adventure in the Cave of Time, Val decides to make his way to Rome, and joins in fighting the Huns, led by Attila, who has conquered the eternal city.

The rest of this second volume takes place far from King Arthur’s court, covering Val’s adventures as he fights the Huns in Europe. Val is joined in his efforts by Sir Gawain and Sir Tristram, who after many heroic feats of rescuing people from Hun rule, make their way to Rome. On the way, Val also defeats a giant through using his wits, and Val saves an oriental merchant from thieves, who in return gives him a necklace that protects him from being bound in chains while possessing it.

As they approach Rome, the three Knights of the Round Table befriend Aetius, the last great general of Rome, who has been out fighting the Huns. Aetius’ victories have made the Emperor Valentinian jealous so he plots to destroy him. And Gawain, who is always getting into sticky situations, also gets involved with a married woman, who then mistakes Val for Gawain. When Aetius’ men slay the emperor to protect him, Val and his friends have to flee Rome, and they split in the process. As this second volume ends, Val finds himself on a ship at sea, and we are told the next strip will be “Scylla and Charybdis.”

I have to admit that while the illustrations are magnificent as always for Hal Foster, and while Val has his two companions, Tristram and Gawain, who are from the Arthurian canon of characters, this volume is far less “Arthurian” than the previous one. That said, the storyline is very readable, the adventures colorful, and a variety of interesting characters introduced.

By the end of this volume, and the fourth year of the Valiant strip, it is apparent that readers must have found Valiant and his adventures entertainment enough regardless of how closely connected they were to the Arthurian legend.

Also, since these volumes were produced in 1939-1940 at the beginning of World War II, one wonders whether Foster’s depictions of Val fighting the Huns, despite the Huns being historically accurate for the time period of the stories, is not some sort of commentary upon the German invasion of much of Europe during this time. That said, Attila conquers Rome in the May 14, 1939 strip, which was several months prior to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Perhaps Foster just was fortunate in his timing, but doubtless, the succeeding months while Poland and France and other countries fell to Hitler, must have made the fighting against the Huns, commonly a derogatory name for the Germans, resonate with Foster’s readers.

Finally, I was curious to see that for numerous issues of the strip in this volume, there were “stamps” drawn in the corners of the strip, representing various Arthurian and historical people including Attila, Arthur, Charlemagne, modern soldiers, and countless others, with the message “Save this Stamp” written under them. Were the stamps for some sort of promotion where you received something free if you had so many stamps, or were they more like collectors’ stamps, where you just tried to save them for their own sake? They are not explained in the strip itself. I’d be interested if any of my other readers knew the reason for them.

I plan to take a break from reading Prince Valiant for a while now but will return to the write about the successive volumes in future blogs. And if you missed the special 75th anniversary strip of Prince Valiant, you can view it at this other wonderful blog devoted to Prince Valiant: http://aprincenamedvaliant.blogspot.com/2012/02/something-very-special.html

Happy 75th Birthday, Prince Valiant!

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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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Prince Valiant Vol. 1 hal Foster

Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938 by Hal Foster

Because it’s the 75th anniversary of the Prince Valiant comic strip this month, I thought I would summarize and review the first volume of the series, now reprinted by Fantagraphics Book, which covers the first two years of the series in print. Fantagraphics is planning to reprint hopefully the entire series, but so far the first five have been released (the 5th is coming in March actually).

The Prince Valiant strip is subtitled “In the Days of King Arthur” and consequently some people have been skeptical about whether it really belongs in the Arthurian canon. In truth, it is often marginal as Valiant goes off on adventures on the Continent, far from King Arthur’s court, but Camelot remains home base throughout the series. Following is a summary of what occurs in this first volume. I usually don’t like to give away full plots, but since this volume is the beginning of the story, it’s important to clarify just how much of the strip is relevant to King Arthur.

The story begins with the King of Thule and his family being forced to flee from their country. They go to Britain, fighting the locals to land on the shore. At this time, Prince Valiant is just a boy. He looks to be between about ages six and eight in the strip. King Arthur, to keep the peace, allows the King and his faithful followers to settle in the Fens, a marshy area where the people live on islands in a swamp and make their way through the swamps on boats and rafts. Lizard type monsters are also hiding in the Fens.

Valiant grows up in this environment until he approaches manhood. One day, after fighting one of the monster lizards, Valiant sees a mysterious light far off in the Fens and is determined to find its source. In the process Valiant is attacked by a monster who turns out to be a “huge misshapen man, horrible in his deformities.” Valiant wounds the man but then cares for him and takes him home to his mother, who turns out to be the witch Horrit (the first time she is mentioned her name is Horrid, but Hal Foster must have decided to change the spelling in subsequent strips). This meeting is significant because Horrit makes a prophecy that will haunt Valiant for the rest of his life.

As the witch makes her prophecy, Val gazes into the fire and becomes dreamy until he has visions of castles and armies, knights in armor, and then a king and queen, whom the witch says is “Stupid Arthur and his flighty wench, Guinevere.” She goes on to prophesy, “And you will confront the unicorn, the dragon and the griffon, black men and yellow. You will have high adventure, but nowhere do I see happiness and contentment,” and she tells him already his greatest sorrow awaits him.

Valiant leaves the witch to discover his greatest sorrow—that his mother has died. After grieving, Valiant decides it’s time to set off to seek his fortune. Soon after, he meets Sir Lancelot and his squire, and when the squire is rude to him, Valiant pulls him off his horse and beats him to give him a lesson. Lancelot is good natured but stops the fight and then rides off with his squire. The incident makes Valiant determined to become a knight. Eventually, Valiant finds a horse, learns to ride, and then saves Sir Gawain from another knight who attacks Gawain. Soon Valiant and Gawain have formed a lasting friendship.

Gawain takes Valiant to Camelot where two conspirators soon after decide to kidnap Gawain and hold him for ransom. They trick Valiant and Gawain to visiting the Castle of Ereiwold where Gawain is captured and becomes a prisoner. Of course, Valiant eventually rescues him. After the rescue, however, Gawain gets wounded in a fight with another knight, and Val has to take his place to go on his first quest to rescue the fair maid Ilene’s parents, who are being held prisoner in their castle by an ogre.

Once he sneaks into the castle, Val soon realizes the ogre is a fake with makeup to make him look frightening. Val decides to use fear, the same weapon, to conquer the ogre, disguising himself and appearing like a flying demon in the castle’s hall. In time, Val defeats the ogre and his men, and he rescues Ilene’s parents.

Val is in love with Ilene by this point, but she is already betrothed to the King of Ord. Val wants to stay and fight for Ilene, but Gawain has gotten in trouble again, kidnapped by Morgan le Fey, half-sister of King Arthur. Val goes off to rescue his friend, making the mistake of confronting Morgan le Fey, who puts him under a spell, but in time, he realizes his food is drugged and he quits eating so he’s in his right mind. Then he is able to escape from the castle. Val goes to Merlin, who works his own spell to scare Morgan le Fey into freeing Gawain.

Gawain is freed in time for Val to be invited to a tournament to celebrate the marriage of Prince Arn of Ord and Ilene. Val is determined to challenge Arn, but the challenge occurs on a bridge, resulting in Arn falling and nearly drowning and Val saving him. They plan to fight again nevertheless, but when they begin, a Viking raid occurs and instead, they become allies against their enemies. Before the battle with the Vikings, Arn gives Val the famous Singing Sword, which bears a charm and of course helps him to defeat his enemies. Despite his success, Val is captured by his enemies and he and Ilene are taken over the sea, while hoping Arn will rescue them. In time, Val and Ilene are separated and Ilene ends up on a ship that sinks, leaving Val and Arn heartbroken.

Once Val and Arn return to Camelot, Lancelot tells them they are fortunate Ilene drowned because now they are friends whereas otherwise there always would have been strife between them and Ilene would have blamed herself as the cause of it all.

To deal with his grief, Val returns home to the Fens. As this first volume ends, Val overcomes his grief and decides it’s time he lead his father’s people to return and re-conquer Thule, but before they can act on their plan, a major Saxon invasion threatens England. Val returns to Camelot to fight beside the Knights of the Round Table.

In addition to the strip itself, which is in its brightest glorious color because it’s reprinted directly from Foster’s colored plates, there is an essay in the back by Kim Thompson about the reproduction of Prince Valiant and the various plates, which is quite interesting to read, and even mentions a few of the more gruesome scenes in the story that were censored out. The book also contains a biographical essay about Hal Foster and an interesting interview with Foster.

The plot of Prince Valiant is more like a soap opera in terms of its cliffhangers at the end of most strips and its constant continuation with no end in mind. Foster reputedly was usually ahead in creating the strip by several weeks, but one wonders if he ever imagined when it began that the strip could run not only for many years but many decades and encompass all of Prince Valiant’s life basically. He had no need to plot it in a specific direction, yet there are still certain arching points to the story, including the prophecy that Valiant can never know happiness and the basics of the King Arthur story as well.

For people still uncertain whether they would enjoy Prince Valiant, I recommend getting a copy of this first volume and trying it out; then you can determine whether you want to continue to read the successive volumes, which would be quite a time commitment, but there are far worse ways to spend your time than with Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur.

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After several posts on Camelot, which I have to admit is pretty much a flop and I can see why it was cancelled after its first season, it’s time for me to admit that I love Merlin. It is probably my favorite show on television right now, and I suspect it is the best Arthurian television series ever made.

When I first heard about Merlin in 2009 before it began to premiere, I was excited but skeptical, and the first few episodes did not convince me to like the show, but I kept watching.

I had several initial reservations about the program, including:

  • A talking dragon: Seriously! I was expecting cheesiness to result, but instead the show slowly built up the relationship between Merlin and the dragon until the dragon came to play a pivotal role and by the end of the second season was intriguing because of its past and its connection to the old religion.
  • An African American playing Guinevere: No offense intended, but what is she doing in Camelot? And what is Guinevere doing as a servant? And yet, the actress playing her grows on you until you think she’s quite cute and you root for her and Arthur as they fall in love.
  • Merlin himself: Colin Morgan looks like a clutsy boy in the beginning. Where is Merlin’s long beard and robe? Shouldn’t he be older than Arthur? Why do we need a slapstick cheese Merlin instead of a great wizard to awe us? And yet, Colin Morgan is a phenomenal actor–the more I watch him, the more he impresses me.
  • Morgana: For the first several episodes I wondered why she was even in the show. Her role seemed to be pointless and she was tossed in just because she was in the legend. But boy was I wrong. She is an integral part of the program and one of the most intriguing characters, and the actress playing her does a better job even than Eva Green does playing her counterpart on Camelot–although better writing has something to do with that.

I was wrong on all of these points. By the sixth episode or so, I knew I would keep watching. By the second season I was a fan, and now having watched the third season, I am hooked and eagerly awaiting the fourth season and thrilled to know that a fifth season is planned. I’ll go so far as to say that Merlin is my favorite show in a decade–since The Lost World was cancelled.

Merlin succeeds by steady and careful pacing and plotting. Yes, there are some borderline cheesy episodes, such as the troll who farts and marries Uther, and slapstick moments where Arthur throws things at Merlin, but overall, this series succeeds by slowly developing the characters, revealing new things about them, and aligning itself closely yet distantly enough to the Arthurian legend to keep the magic alive without having to worry about historical accuracy because of its fantasy kingdom setting. Camelot is the capital of a kingdom named Albion surrounded by several other countries–they are pseudo-historical, but there is no mention of Britain or France or a time period to make us expect the show is actually historical. At the same time, all the great Arthurian characters are here: Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Morgana, Guinevere, Mordred, Lancelot, Gawain, Percival, often with new twists and development.

In future posts, I’ll analyze some of the splendid ways Merlin plays with the Arthurian legend, but for now, it’s sufficient for me to say: Two Thumbs Up!

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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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