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Posts Tagged ‘homosexuality in the Arthurian Tradition’

As I noted in my last blog post, Sarah Luddington’s novel Lancelot and the Wolf has gained a lot of attention for its explicit sex scenes between Lancelot and Arthur. While the sex scenes are fairly spicy, the truth is that there’s little else in this novel to make a fuss over. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, but it’s obviously a self-published book (not a bad thing in itself) and one badly in need of a good editor.

Lancelot and the WolfFor those who want to explore the love between Arthur and Lancelot, they will find a few explicit sex scenes, but also a convoluted plot. The story begins with Lancelot having left Camelot in shame and in exile in France (although I was well into the book before I realized he was in France). Why he left has something to do with his love for Guinevere, but it’s never really clear what happened until halfway or better through the book (not because the author is purposely withholding information for suspense, I’m afraid). Lancelot ends up returning to Camelot after he meets Else, who turns out to be Merlin’s daughter and part fey. Her real name is Eleanor de Clare, and that’s where the string of anachronisms in the novel begins….I’ll get to those in a minute. Anyway, through his interactions with Eleanor de Clare, Lancelot comes to learn that evil spirits are threatening Camelot and he must return there to save Arthur. The plot has its twists and turns and moments where I had to go back to reread because I got bored and wasn’t paying attention to what I was reading, although at other times, the story moves forward quickly.

As for the anachronisms, Luddington drops words and names and doesn’t always follow through or explain them. At one point, she refers to Wessex—where and what is that? King Arthur lived probably in the 6th century—Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, was in its infancy if it even existed then and there are no Saxons in this novel; nor is it clear whether the story takes place in Wessex. Happy is the reader whose author provides a map. Later, there are references to England. Whatever happened to Britain? As for Eleanor de Clare, there was a historical woman of that name who was niece to King Edward II and married to Hugh le Despenser (read Susan Higginbotham’s wonderful novel The Traitor’s Wife for Eleanor de Clare’s story). Luddington’s Eleanor de Clare is not the historical woman and her Norman surname has no place in an Arthurian novel.

In her afterword, Luddington states that she likes the Arthurian world of Malory more than the historical Arthur. She has set her Camelot in a time equal to that of the Hundred Years War of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and that’s fine. A good editor could have helped clean up, smooth over, and explain the anachronisms to her later medieval period story. And Luddington does have a good imagination and an ability to write prose that moves the plot forward and can be a fun and easy read. She just needs to work at it more or find a good editor to help her. Perhaps the other novels in this series show improvement.

Unlike Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame, who claims she never read a vampire novel or saw a vampire film (a claim I don’t believe but that’s another blog and it would be hard to say whether Luddington or Meyer is the better or worse writer—but at least Meyer had a decent editor), Luddington states in her afterword, “see I’m educated, even if I can’t use commas properly” (I’m glad she realizes her punctuation problem because her comma use or lack of use irritated me quite a bit). Her use of “educated” means she has read other Arthurian works and is familiar with the literary tradition, citing such authors as Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chretien de Troyes—so she does have some knowledge, but fact checking we apparently can’t expect, considering she mentions that “In the space of the two hundred years between Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chretien de Troyes we’ve seen a vast sea change in the way the myths are presented.” Hmm, I’ll pass over the “myth vs. legend” issue here and point out that Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain around 1135 and Chretien de Troyes wrote The Knight and the Cart around 1180—hardly a 200-year difference. A good editor would have caught that mistake as well.

I read the “Special Edition” of Lancelot and the Wolf which included two extra stories and a novella in it, which left me wondering just how many gay men lived in Camelot—seems like a lot to me. By the way, the novella “Taliesin’s Song” I actually think I enjoyed more than the novel itself.

Lancelot and the Wolf is a fun book to read if you don’t have high expectations for it. If you’ve already read the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mary Stewart, Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell, Stephen Lawhead, and about a dozen other authors I could name, then you will find Lancelot and the Wolf disappointing, but you’ll maybe read it because like me, you read all the Arthuriana you can. On a scale of 1-5, I will give it 3 stars. If you are looking for gay Arthuriana, you might be more likely to enjoy it, but it’s still a 3 star book. That said, if you buy it, buy the special edition Kindle version for $3 because the proceeds go to Stonewall to fight gay discrimination. The greatest strength of this book is Luddington’s willingness and courage to write a gay Arthurian novel. I doubt it will go down in literary history as a great book, but one of those books that nevertheless made an impact and hopefully paved the way for greater books.

The ultimate question is: Was Lancelot and the Wolf good enough to make me read the next book in the series, Lancelot and the Sword? Yes, I think there’s a 50/50 chance that I will, although I won’t be rushing to buy it right away but it might be something to read while I wait for the next season of Merlin.

For more information about Luddington and her novels, visit her website http://www.darkfiction.eu/ and the site devoted specifically to the Lancelot novels, www.theknightsofcamelot.com

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Recently, Sarah Luddington published a novel Lancelot and the Wolf, with explicit gay sexual content depicting Lancelot and Arthur as lovers. The book has created a controversy and even hate mail to Luddington and her publishers. In response, she has created a special Kindle edition at Amazon, for sale for $3.00, to raise funds to help the LGBT charity Stonewall in Britain.

But what is all the fuss about? The Arthurian love triangle of Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot has always had a hint of homoerotism in it—and romantic feelings between Lancelot and Arthur seem a reasonable reason to many for why Arthur would not do anything about his best friend sleeping with his wife. Luddington may be the first one overtly to depict a homosexual relationship between Arthur and Lancelot, but the possibilities have been implied or suggested in numerous Arthurian works, especially in the twentieth century.

Even as far back as Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, there are homoerotic hints in cross-dressing scenes and a scene where two knights accidentally end up in bed together. Dorsey Armstrong’s Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur has explored this topic and how the knights of Camelot themselves are aware of the possibility of homosexual rumors surrounding a group of men in an organization like the Round Table.

Aubrey Beardsley’s image of Sir Bedivere returning the sword to the lake. Beardsley, who may have been homosexual or asexual, was known for his androgynous looking characters in his Arthurian illustrations, and for very erotic works, complete with enlarged genitalia, in other works not geared toward children.

More recently, in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958 but published in smaller pieces 1938-1941), the scenes of Lancelot’s youth where he dreams of coming to Camelot express a sort of boy crush upon King Arthur. Later, the story takes normal turns of Lancelot loving Guinevere, but is that not a more acceptable outlet for his love for Arthur? T.H. White was himself later treated at the end of his life for his own homosexuality.

In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982), Arthur endorses the romance between Guinevere and Lancelot. He cannot provide an heir so he hopes Lancelot will do it for him, leading Lancelot to his bed to sleep with Guinevere. Arthur joins them in bed, and later, Guinevere comments to Arthur that she saw how he touched Lancelot.

But White and Bradley only hint at homosexuality. Other authors introduced it into the legend, but perhaps felt creating a gay King Arthur was going too far. Furthermore, homosexuality is a negative behavior in these works that can bring about Camelot’s downfall, so other characters than Arthur are the ones afflicted with homosexuality—notably, the villains.

In Joan Wolf’s The Road to Avalon (1988), Agrivaine is homosexual and the downfall of Camelot comes largely due to his jealousy because of his crush on Bedwyr, the Lancelot character in this novel. Because he can’t have Bedwyr, he doesn’t want Guinevere to have him so he reveals their love and brings about Camelot’s downfall.

Douglas Clegg goes even further in Mordred, Bastard Son by depicting Mordred as homosexual—and while Mordred is not a villain in this book (it’s only the first of a planned trilogy), homosexuality being associated with him seems to imply a negativity to it. Mordred is hopelessly in love with Lancelot, and while he is well-meaning in this first novel, we know from the story’s frame that he will bring about Camelot’s fall nevertheless. (Clegg has not yet published the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.)

And that brings us to “Merthur.” If you don’t know what Merthur is, where have you been? I’m talking about the legions of fans for the successful BBC television series Merlin who insist and badly want Arthur and Merlin to be in love in the show. These fans are convinced there is a secret love between Arthur and Merlin and they are even making YouTube videos with clips from the TV show either to promote their argument that there is a Merthur bromance going on, or even splicing to make there be actual love glances and scenes between the two characters. Just go to YouTube and search for “Merthur” and you’ll find dozens of these videos.

So why has Lancelot and the Wolf created such a fuss? I think it’s because while these other works depict homosexual desires not acted upon, Susan Luddington is the first author to depict actual sex between Arthur and Lancelot—in fact, her reviewers are calling the book an adult version of the Merlin TV series.

And while Luddington might be getting hate mail, she’s also found a gay readership longing for such stories, and her Kindle sales are reportedly skyrocketing. With Luddington, perhaps the Arthurian legend has taken a new turn and will never be the same again, and it is always an author ready to push the story, push the boundaries, and thereby renew the legend for the next generation.

I haven’t yet read Lancelot and the Wolf, but I plan to and will review it in the near future.

Meanwhile, for more information about Lancelot and the Wolf and the special edition to raise funds to support the LGBT British charity Stonewall, visit: http://www.xtra.ca/blog/ottawa/post/2012/08/14/King-Arthur-and-Lancelot.aspx

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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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