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Posts Tagged ‘Helen Hollick’

The Sons of Constance is the second book in the new Swithen series by Scott Telek. The first book Our Man on Earth, tells the story of Merlin’s conception, birth, and amazing ability to speak as a young child and defend his mother against the charge of sexual immorality when she claims he is the son of the devil. In this second novel, we see Merlin at age ten, at the time when traditionally in the legends, King Vortigern seeks to have him killed to offset the continual falling down of his tower. Telek’s purpose is to write a series of Arthurian novels that remain faithful to their originals “by retaining the plot, story, and weirdness of the original legends from nearly a thousand years ago, but filling in the character and psychology in ways that are compelling to modern readers.” So far, I believe he’s been successful in this endeavor.

The Sons of Constance tells the tale of Merlin’s dealings with Vortiger, Pendragon, and Uther.

If you weren’t fascinated by how Telek depicted Merlin in the first novel, I guarantee you will be here. At age ten, Merlin is wiser than any other man. His great wisdom is the result of his being the son of the devil, as explained in the first novel. The devil granted him the power to know all things from the past. However, God stepped in and redeemed him, and in the process, gave him the power also to know all things in the future, which means he has a great gift for prophecy.

The novel opens in the time of King Constance, who has three sons: Maine, Pendragon, and Uther. When Constance dies, Maine becomes king. He is welcomed as king by the people, being handsome and charming, but it soon becomes apparent that he is more a pretty boy than an able administrator of a kingdom. His primary advisor is Vortiger (Telek drops the “n” because he is following the spellings used in the Post-Vulgate version of the Arthurian legends), and soon the people realize that if they want to get something done, they need to go to Vortiger. Then people start suggesting Vortiger should be king. He responds by saying he can’t be king while Maine is alive, a remark that people interpret as his wanting them to kill Maine. Of course, they do and Vortiger becomes king, while Maine’s brothers flee to the continent to safety.

Merlin enters the story when Vortiger is trying to build his tower and it continues to fall down. His counselors tell him he must sacrifice a boy who has no father in order to appease the gods so the tower will stand. Of course, Merlin is that boy, and he knows of this plot against his life before the counselors even arrive. Anyone who is a fan of the Arthurian legend will know what happens next, and there’s really nothing to Telek’s basic plot that will surprise anyone in that regard, so I apologize for any spoiler alerts that follow.

Merlin reveals to Vortiger that the real problem is that two dragons are lying under the tower, one red and one white, who occasionally move or roll over and cause the tower to fall. Vortiger is finally convinced that Merlin might be telling the truth, so he has his men dig under the tower, and indeed, they do find the two dragons. As Merlin predicts, the dragons wake and fight and the white dragon wins. Vortiger realizes the red dragon is symbolic of who he is since he always wears red, and that his death is approaching.

Arthurian fans will know what happens next. Vortiger dies and Pendragon (or Aurelius Ambrosius as he is often called, although Telek avoids the name) becomes king. In time, Pendragon also dies and Uther becomes king. What is fascinating about the novel is not the plot—truthfully, I thought the pacing of it a bit slow at times—but the psychology of the characters as the chain of events unfolds.

For me, Vortiger may have been the most interesting character in the novel. Telek gets into his mind, showing his guilt and fear over Maine’s death. It’s clear that he did not intend for Maine to be killed, but his words that led to Maine’s death were misinterpreted, and yet, perhaps on some subconscious level he did mean them as they were spoken. In his conversations with Merlin, he comes to realize Merlin’s great knowledge and also to feel guilt over his past. The battle of the dragons he also sees as a prophecy of his death, which leads him to make a rash act that ends in his destruction. I don’t want to give away the details of Vortiger’s death, but I will say that I think Telek has created the most real and sympathetic version of Vortigern to date. Vortigern has always been a rather undeveloped figure in Arthurian legend (except in Helen Hollick’s The Pendragon Banner Trilogy), but here he comes to life as a fully-rounded individual.

Both Pendragon and Uther are also well-rounded characters. Merlin immediately befriends them and helps to establish Pendragon as king, but Pendragon has a counselor, Brantius, who is skeptical of Merlin’s powers, primarily because he doesn’t like that Pendragon listens to Merlin over him. He sets up an elaborate ruse to prove that Merlin is a liar and cannot predict the future, but of course, it backfires on him. Merlin is then angry that Pendragon does not trust him and foretells that one day Uther will be king. This prophecy sets off a chain of events that are more emotional and psychological than action-packed. Telek delves into the feelings of Pendragon in knowing he must die so Uther can have the throne and into Uther’s feelings of guilt over his brother’s approaching death and his unreadiness to be king. Both brothers also are presented as realistic and ultimately noble as a result of the prophecy.

Of course, Merlin is the star of the novel, although the depiction of the three kings who precede Arthur are, in my opinion, Telek’s triumph simply because they have been sketchy and not fully detailed in most Arthurian works to date. But Merlin remains fascinating. At age ten, we see him able to change his appearance to that of an adult. We also see him able to open doors in the air so he can pass from one place to another (a type of portal apparently). And he is already predicting that an even greater king will come after Uther and setting events in motion for Arthur’s reign, including creating the Round Table and being concerned with the sangreal. And yet, despite all Merlin’s wisdom, his mother Meylinde still proves herself wiser in teaching him the secrets of the human heart and the true will of God.

The Sons of Constance ends with Uther as king and the realization that he will be a good king, but also a short glimpse at what will come in the third book The Void Place, yet to be published, in which will occur the events that lead to Arthur’s birth. I am looking forward to the next installment in this series.

For more information about the Swithen series, visit https://theswithen.wordpress.com/. The Sons of Constance is available at Amazon in ebook and paperback editions.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, 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 books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Pendragon’s Banner: Book Two of The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy by Helen Hollick

(published by Sourcebooks Landmark 2009; ISBN 978-1402218897)

In this second volume of The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, Helen Hollick continues her historical portrayal of the Arthurian legend. Arthur is now firmly established as King of Britain, although he has plenty of opposition, including his ex-wife Winifred, who seeks what is best for her son by him, Cerdic, as well as his own people who oppose his making peace with various of the Saxon peoples.

But in my interest in how modern fiction writers treat King Arthur’s children, I think the results here are fairly predictable for his children based on Welsh tradition, all of whom are Arthur’s children by Gwenhywfar in this novel, namely Gwydre, Amr, and Llacheu. Hollick, following their traditional stories, more or less, has each of them die before Arthur.

In legend, Amr usually dies in battle with Arthur—he is believed to have been the original version of Mordred, but Hollick has other plans for Mordred, named “Medraut” in her story, she can’t allow Amr to have the same ending as Medraut so she has him fall into the river and drown when he’s about two years old (p. 98-102). Amr’s death causes hostility between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, who blames Arthur for not watching him closely.

During Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s time fighting following Amr’s death, Arthur ends up bedding his cousin, Elen, the daughter of one of Uthr’s sisters. She is demanding and manipulative and claims she is pregnant with Arthur’s child. She also wants more from him than just a fling on the side. When they have a disagreement, Elen pulls a knife on Arthur, resulting in his kicking her in the stomach in defense. It’s unclear whether he’s caused her to miscarry their child, and if so whether intentionally, but it does not matter since she becomes despondent and soon after slips off a cliff. However, as I said in my earlier blog about The Kingmaking, Hollick’s Arthur has few if any qualities that make him likeable.

Arthur and Gwenhwyfar soon after reconcile, but then she loses a son of Arthur’s in childbirth.

The fate of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s sons continues to be ill. When Hueil of Alclud, a lover to Morgause, accuses Gwenhwyfar and Bedwyr of adultery, Arthur does battle with Hueil, and in the battle, Llacheu is accidentally stabbed by Hueil. He manages to recover, but soon after eight-year old Gwydre is gored to death during a boar hunt, leaving only Llacheu alive of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children.

When Llacheu becomes deathly ill, Arthur seeks out the Lady of the Lake, Morgaine, desperate not to lose his and Gwenhwyfar’s last son. Morgaine uses her skills to keep the child alive, but Arthur has no idea she is Morgause’s daughter, or that Morgause has ordered her to hurt Arthur. Neither Morgaine nor Arthur know she is also Uthr’s daughter, and therefore, Arthur’s half-sister. Morgaine tells Arthur her mother orders her to sleep with him, although Arthur interprets what she says to mean the Mother Goddess. They sleep together and Morgaine soon after gives birth to Medraut.

Despite Arthur’s bargain with Morgaine, Llacheu ends up being killed in battle when Morgause is involved in a plot to overthrow Arthur. The novel ends with all of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children dead, but Gwenhwyfar pregnant.

Arthur is left with two living sons, Cerdic, by his first wife, Winifred, and Medraut, by his half-sister Morgaine.

Doubtless, Medraut will be a key player, and perhaps the traditional villain in the final book of the trilogy Shadow of the King, but what about Cerdic? My guess is he’ll end up ruling the kingdom when all is said and done and being ancestor to the Wessex royalty that will eventually rule all of England, but I’ll have to read the third book to find out how it all actually turns out.

For more information about Helen Hollick and her Arthurian novels, visit www.HelenHollick.net

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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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The Kingmaking: Book One of The Pendragon Banner’s Trilogy by Helen Hollick (published by Sourcebooks Landmark 2011; ISBN 978-1402218880). Available at Amazon.

Somehow in writing King Arthur’s Children, I overlooked Helen Hollick’s The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. I would like to remedy that by discussing each of the books in the trilogy in separate blogs, beginning here with the first book The Kingmaking.

Modern Arthurian novels can be divided up between those that seek to be truly historical and those that are vaguely historical with fantasy elements. Hollick’s retelling is purely historical. There is no Merlin and no magic in this book, and the same is true of the succeeding two books.

The Kingmaking begins with Vortigern ruling Britain and Uthr Pendragon seeking to overthrow him. When Uthr is killed, Arthur eventually takes his place and the rest of the story will ultimately lead to the event of the book’s title. Anyone who reads an Arthurian novel basically knows what’s going to happen since there is a general structure to the legend that influences all modern fiction writers of Arthurian lore, but the legend has room to stretch and Hollick does her fair share of stretching within the legend’s boundaries while retaining her historical focus on what may have been likely to happen, much of it based in historical research and theories by Arthurian scholars.

One interesting change Hollick makes centers around Morgause’s role in the novel. Uthr is married to Morgause’s sister Igraine, but Morgause is Uthr’s mistress on the side. Morgause has had many daughters by Uthr but she has always exposed them to die. Morgause despises Arthur, not realizing until Uthr has died that he is Uthr’s son, but thinking he is only Uthr’s bastard-born nephew. Morgause’s hatred for Arthur causes her later to attack him sexually. The result is not quite what readers might expect, but it deeply shapes Arthur’s future character.

Arthur later admits that his disgust over what Morgause did to him has resulted in how he mistreats women. He is not a gentle man, but rather one who takes women whenever he chooses, determined not to let them exert any feminine power over him. He impregnates a slave girl (p. 160), and he later says he knows he has many bastard daughters (p. 220). Arthur ends up marrying Vortigern’s daughter, Winifred, as a political alliance, and by her he has a sickly daughter who dies soon after birth (p.313). Arthur, however, hates Winifred and is in love with Gwenhwyfar throughout the book.

Eventually, Vortigern dies and his son Vortimer assumes the kingship, but Arthur is on the road to gaining it for himself. During this time, he abandons Winifred and marries Gwenhwyfar. Both women then have sons by him. Gwenhwyfar’s son Llacheu is born first (but in what we would call a bigamist marriage today) while Winifred’s son Cerdic is born a few weeks later. Both women want to see their own sons acknowledged as Arthur’s heir. Winifred threatens to complain to the Pope to make sure Cerdic is acknowledged, but Winifred is half-Saex (Vortigern’s wife Rowena had been the daughter of the Saex leader Hengest) while Llacheu is fully British born. Arthur is disgusted at the thought of having a partially Saex child and lets Winifred know the British people will rally around Llacheu when the time comes.

That Arthur should have sons is unusual but not a new idea as I’ve shown throughout King Arthur’s Children. Llacheu is a traditional son of Arthur in the early Welsh legends and is usually attributed to being Gwenhwyfar’s son as well. More surprising is that Cerdic is credited as Arthur’s son. Hollick, in her “Author’s Note,” states that she is not the first to suggest Cerdic (who is a historical King of the Saxons) was Arthur’s son, but I believe she is the first novelist to do so. The idea was originally suggested by Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe in The Discovery of King Arthur (1985). [see the family tree for Ashe’s theory at http://www.childrenofarthur.com/. Finally, years after Morgause sexually forced herself upon Arthur, she is revealed to have had a daughter named Morgaine. Hollick does not reveal whether the daughter is Uthr or Arthur’s, but it’s a good bet it is Arthur’s daughter considering she exposed her other daughters. While Morgaine is a girl and not likely to inherit the throne, no doubt Morgause has kept her alive to serve as a way to hurt Arthur down the road. (Having not yet read the second book in the series, at this point I am pondering whether Morgaine is really a he and the future Mordred while Morgause is hiding the child’s sex while biding her time. My discussion of the next two books will reveal the details.)

While I was a bit put off by Hollick’s writing style, primarily the way she uses verbs in her sentences, I did find The Kingmaking to be entertaining reading, both for its depictions of Arthur’s children as well as the rather brutal and rough Arthur. I did not find Arthur likeable, but I did like Gwenhwyfar, and I am curious to see how the story will turn out. In her “Author’s Note,” Hollick states that because Lancelot and Merlin were the creations of later twelfth century Norman romancers, readers will not find them in her books since she wants to provide a historical portrait of what could have actually happened. While Merlin was actually established in Welsh tradition so I don’t understand this reasoning (other than perhaps Hollick saw no use for Merlin in a historical rather than fantasy novel), if there is to be no Lancelot, then I am curious to see how Camelot’s fall will be brought about. Will Gwenhwyfar find herself another lover, or will Morgause’s plotting be sufficient to bring about Arthur’s downfall? It’s on to reading Book II: Pendragon’s Banner to find out.

For more information about Helen Hollick and her Arthurian novels, visit www.HelenHollick.net

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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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