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Surprisingly, I had not come across mention that King Arthur was connected to the White Horse of Uffington until recently when reading Benjamin Merkle’s The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great.

The White Horse of Uffington

Early in the book, Merkle mentions speaking to someone who suggested King Alfred the Great may not have been real. This outlandish statement, since we know Alfred was King of Wessex from 871-899, reveals that King Arthur and King Alfred the Great may be confused in the popular imagination. The same may be said about their legends associated with the White Horse.

The White Horse of Uffington is located in the Berkshire Downs. It is 374 feet in length and made of chalk. Every few years, it is rechalked to maintain its appearance. The White Horse is believed to be the oldest hill figure in Britain, some experts dating it back to 1000 BC. Some even think it represents a dragon, although it more closely resembles a horse in my opinion. In fact, similar images have been found on coins from the period which have caused scholars to think it may have represented some sort of local horse goddess, one form of Epona, a fertility goddess who was worshipped throughout the Celtic world and known to be a protector of horses.

As for King Arthur, Whitehorse Hill is also sometimes referred to as Mount Badon hill, the site where Arthur allegedly defeated the Saxons in 516 AD. Another story connected to King Arthur is of Wayland, the Norse god of blacksmithing, who is said to have had his forge about a mile away. Some legends even say that Wayland forged Excalibur. One legend says the horse leaves the hill once a year to graze, but others say it will not leave the hillside until King Arthur returns, and then the horse will dance on the Berkshire Downs to welcome the king home. These legends are all entertaining, but given that the horse is about twice as old as King Arthur would be, a connection between them seems unlikely.

The belief that the White Horse of Uffington actually looks like a dragon has also given rise to the stories that this is the very spot where St. George, England’s patron saint, famously killed the dragon.

The White Horse at Westbury

As for King Alfred, he also was said to have fought a decisive battle here, the Battle of Ashdown against the Danes in 871. He fought under his brother Aethelred who was king at the time but would die a few months later. Ashdown was the only of several battles that year that the Anglo-Saxon House of Wessex won. We also don’t know for sure that this hill was the sight of the battle, though Merkle says it is the likeliest candidate. Interestingly, at Westbury is another White Horse. This one we know dates only to 1778 when a local resident created it. Evidence exists, however, of another White Horse at this location facing toward the current horse. Records of that horse date only to the seventeenth century but many think it was created to commemorate Alfred’s victory over the Danes at the Battle of Ethandium in 878.

We will likely never know the truth about the history of the White Horse of Uffington, but one thing is for sure, it was there long before King Arthur or King Alfred, who probably both knew it well.

To discover more interesting places associated with King Arthur, I highly recommend Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian Tour, Uncovering Camelot.

Not surpringly, a white horse was chosen for King Arthur to ride in the 2004 film “King Arthur” starring Clive Owen.

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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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Glastonbury is my favorite place in England. It is also, in my opinion, the most magical. Perhaps that’s because I first visited it in May 1993, just a few months after I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, so I could just see Morgan le Fay there, like she is at the end of the novel. But there is far more to this historical place than its role in some fantasy novels. In fact, it is England’s holiest ground.

Ruins at Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury’s story is shrouded in mystery. There is a cross there presented by Queen Elizabeth II to honor it as a place so ancient its orgins can only be sought in legend. Consequently, many legends have arisen about it, especially concerning King Arthur.

Glastonbury’s King Arthur connections actually go back five centuries before his time. That’s because it was to Glastonbury that St. Joseph of Arimathea, allegedly an uncle or great-uncle to Jesus Christ, brought his nephew to study with the druids, an explanation for the lost years of Jesus’ childhood and early adulthood. Later, Joseph of Arimathea returned to Glastonbury after Jesus’ death; there he established the abbey and became its first abbot. He also brought with him the Holy Grail, in which he had captured Jesus’ blood after he had been pierced by the Spear of Longinus while dying on the Cross. The Holy Grail was believed to have been kept at Glastonbury for many years.

Inside Glastonbury Abbey’s ruins.

Also connected to Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury is the Holy Thorn. It is said that this thorn tree grew from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff, which he planted into the ground at Glastonbury. The thorn was remarkable because it blossomed with flowers at Christmas and may be the only thorn in the world to do so—Christmas being Jesus’ birthday and thus a time when the thorn celebrated Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, the original thorn was destroyed by the Puritans during the English Civil War. Offsprings of that thorn continued to grow at Glastonbury until just last month when, after repeated vandal attempts, the last one was removed by the landowner. (see “Glastonbury’s Famous Holy Thorn Removed.”)

The holy thorn as it appeared circa 1991.

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

As for King Arthur, we all know that after he was wounded at the Battle of Camlann, Morgan le Fay took him away on a barge to Avalon. Speculation exists that Avalon was nearby, possibly being Glastonbury Tor, a hill that rises up like an island shrouded in mist. Here it has also been said that the Holy Grail was kept. While I prefer to believe King Arthur is still living on Avalon—a place yet to be discovered by the modern world—and waiting to return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need, one tradition is that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have discovered the remains of Arthur and Guinevere on the abbey property. Also found was an iron cross verifying they were Arthur and Guinevere’s graves. The original cross has since disappeared—if it ever existed—but a drawing of it was made that has survived. The story also goes that one of the monks reached in and touched Guinevere’s golden tresses, but they then instantly disintegrated. In 1278, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor attended a ceremony at the abbey when King Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies were reburied under the high altar. No one has apparently disturbed the bodies since then, although I am surprised no archeologist has tried to.

Arthur and Guinevere’s most likely fake grave at Glastonbury Abbey

Were King Arthur and Guinevere really buried at Glastonbury? I’m skeptical. Many scholars have speculated that the bodies were planted there by Henry II as a hoax to destroy myths that King Arthur would return, thus keeping the Welsh and Saxons from having any hope that they could rebel or that they would be saved by Arthur from the rule of a Norman Plantagenet king. It’s also possible the monks themselves created a hoax so they could make Glastonbury a place of pilgrimage, thus increasing the money coming into their coffers.

One of the abbey walls.

No one can say if any of the stories of Glastonbury Abbey associated with King Arthur or Joseph of Arimathea are true or even if they have any shred of truth to them. I only know that for me, my visit to Glastonbury Abbey was a surreal experience. Something instantly drew me to the place that I cannot explain. On my first visit, I was on a tour. I remember that after fifteen or so minutes, everyone on the tour with me left the ruins to go into the gift shop or the village for coffee, but I remained behind, my heart leaping with joy to be there. I wandered all over the ruins, taking numerous pictures, climbing the stairs, visiting the chalice well, and exploring every inch of the property. I honestly cannot think of another time when I was so excited to visit a place. It wasn’t that I had been greatly anticipating my visit there, but that something about the place made me feel like an overjoyed child; my heart was laughing and I wanted practically to skip as I explored the ruins. My reaction could be because Glastonbury is a sacred space, or because it is believed to be one of the energy sources on the planet. I also think it’s possible, since I believe in reincarnation and think it likely I spent several past lives as a monk or priest, that perhaps my past is connected with Glastonbury. I cannot truly explain why it attracts me so much. I only know that for me, after all these years, the magic of that visit has never faded.

A reproduction of the lead cross found at Glastonbury Abbey claiming it as the place of King Arthur’s burial.

If you only get to visit one Arthurian place in your life, hands down Glastonbury Abbey is the place to visit. If you wish to learn more about it, I highly recommend John Matthews’ book A Glastonbury Reader: Selections from the Myths, Legends and Stories of Ancient Avalon, and I also recommend The Mists of Avalon as a novel that is partly set there. Several other Arthurian novels have also incorporated Glastonbury into their storylines.

If you do wish to visit Glastonbury, as well as other Arthurian sites, I recommend you check out the Scholarly Sojourns tour Uncovering Camelot: A Journey Through Arthurian Britain.

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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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I am so excited to announce that Scholarly Sojourns, a tour company that provides tours of interest to scholars, is now offering a special tour of Arthurian Britain, titled “Uncovering Camelot.”

As someone who has twice gone to Britain seeking Arthurian sites, this is the kind of trip I have always wanted to go on, so I have to share it with my readers. Many of the Arthurian sites I’ve visited myself, including Stonehenge and Glastonbury Abbey, are included on this tour, but besides the sites in England, there are many in Wales to visit, some of which I didn’t even know about, including the lake where the Lady of the Lake reputably gave King Arthur his sword.

This incredible eight-day tour takes place October 6-13, 2019. Below is a short itinerary of sites that will be visited. More details can be found at the Scholarly Sojourns’ website: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

DAY 1—ARRIVE IN SOUTH WALES: The trip begins at the Swansea rail station in South Wales. The first excursion is to Carreg Cennen Castle, which has Arthurian connections as well as beautiful scenery. Traveling that afternoon through the Welsh countryside, the trip leads to the Falcondale Hotel, where visitors will stay for the night. Tour leader Professor Dorsey Armstrong will host an opening reception and give a keynote address followed by a special welcome dinner.

DAY 2—CARMARTHEN AND PEMBROKESHIRE COAST: On this day, travel to Carmarthen—birthplace of Merlin. The visit includes numerous sites associated with the famous wizard, including Merlin’s Tree, Merlin’s Hill, and Merlin’s Stone. Next, travel through the Preseli Mountains, home to the stones Merlin magically transported to build Stonehenge. Also visit the Neolithic burial chamber Pentre Ifan, or Arthur’s Quoit. After lunch, visit Lake Bosherton—one of the possible resting places for Excalibur. Nearby is St. Govan’s Head, where a chapel marks the spot Sir Gawain settled as a hermit after Arthur died, and where he was buried.

DAY 3—CAERLEON, CAERWENT, AND KING ARTHUR’S CAVE: Highlights for this day include traveling to Caerleon, site of a Roman fortress, and the location Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed was the site of Arthur’s court. Next, explore Arthur’s Cave—perhaps this is where he sleeps according to some versions of the legend. The night is spent in a historic hotel that was once a Cistercian monastery that dates from 1180.

The ruins of Tintagel Castle where King Arthur was reputably born.

DAY 4—CAERLEON TO TINTAGEL: From Caerleon travel in the morning to Cornwall. First stop is Bodmin Moor, filled with sites associated with Arthur. Visit the Dozmary Pool—another possible resting place for Excalibur. In the afternoon, travel to Slaughterbridge near the town of Camelford, one possible location for Camelot. View a sixth-century stone inscribed to mark the spot King Arthur was mortally wounded by Mordred. Next, visit Tintagel Castle, the reputed birthplace of King Arthur. For the next two nights, stay at the Camelot Castle Hotel within walking distance of Tintagel.

DAY 5—LAND’S END, ST. MICHAEL’S MOUNT, AND ROCHE ROCK: Today, travel to Land’s End, the very tip of Great Britain. From there, view the Isles of Scilly, believed by some to be the Isle of Avalon where Arthur was brought to be healed of his wound. After visiting Penzance, travel on to St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought the mythical giant Cormoran. Finally, stop at Roche Rock where Tristan and Isolde are said to have hid from King Mark.

St. Michael’s Mount, where King Arthur fought a giant.

DAY 6—SOMERSET TO WELLS: Today, enjoy a visit to the enormous, ancient hill fort of Cadbury Castle, one of the primary contenders for Camelot. Locals believe King Arthur still lies sleeping in a cave within the hill. Next, visit Bath, claimed by Geoffrey of Monmouth to be the site of Arthur’s last great battle, the Battle of Badon Hill. In the evening travel to Wells, home to an eighth-century cathedral.

DAY 7—OLD SARUM TO AVEBURY TO STONEHENGE: Depart Wells to encounter three of the most significant prehistoric sites in Britain. First is Old Sarum—an Iron Age hilltop settlement that some argue may have been the location of Camelot. Next, explore the largest stone circle in Europe at Avebury—believed to have been built to commemorate King Arthur’s final battle. Arthur’s slain warriors are said to be buried there. Finally, visit Stonehenge which legend says Merlin constructed as a memorial after a fifth-century massacre.

DAY 8—GLASTONBURY: This final day, visit Glastonbury (my personal favorite of all Arthurian sites). It is here that Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought the child Jesus to study and later Joseph returned with the Holy Grail after Jesus’ death. The holy thorn grows here, the descendant of the thorn that grew out of Joseph’s staff. The visit includes a walking tour to Chalice Well, the purported resting place of the Holy Grail. Climb Glastonbury Tor if you wish. Finally, visit Glastonbury Abbey, home to the purported tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, discovered in 1191.

A more complete itinerary of the “Uncovering Camelot” tour can be requested through Scholarly Sojourns website, where you can also sign up for the trip: http://www.scholarlysojourns.com/ap/coa/uncovering-camelot-a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/a-journey-through-arthurian-britain/

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

This trip is an Arthurian enthusiast or scholar’s dream come true. I know that as an American who is an author of both Arthurian fiction and nonfiction, my writing was deeply enriched by my visits to many Arthurian locations. I cannot recommend such a trip enough, and I hope you’ll get to enjoy it this year or sometime in the near future.

In future posts, I will write up details of some of the places on this trip that I visited myself because even though I first visited some of these sites as long ago as 1993, I still cherish my memories of my own Arthurian excursions in Britain.

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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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Today, I’m pleased to interview Scott Telek, author of The Swithen, an ambitious new fiction series that plans to depict in detail the psychology of the characters in the Arthurian legend while retelling that legend.

So far, Telek has published the first three books in the series: Our Man on Earth, The Sons of Constance, and The Void Place. Today he’ll tell us a bit about the series and his overarching plans for it.

Tyler: Welcome, Scott. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. I must say I think you are the most ambitious Arthurian novelist I have met so far. You plan to retell the entire Arthurian legend and so far have produced three books and Arthur isn’t even born until the end of the third one. How many books do you intend to write and what is your overall plan for the series?

Scott Telek, author of The Swithen series

Scott: Thanks Tyler, I’m happy to be here as well! I know the series is very ambitious, but…you’ve got to dream! I was just struck by the need to slow down while reading these stories—especially in Malory, where world-shattering events go by in a flash—and think about what these people might be feeling and thinking, and it occurred to me that you could write a really interesting series that puts the meat on the bones in a way that makes the people seem real, not just symbols and figures.

Right now I have planned out twenty-five novels to tell the entire story, and really, even that is not enough. There are ones where I’m thinking “How am I possibly going to get all of this into one book while giving the story the proper weight?” And please note that I am leaving out Tristram entirely.

The ultimate goal is to produce a really deluxe telling of the Arthurian legend, which illuminates all of its scope, weirdness, and majesty. We will also have birth-to-death life stories of all the major characters—because I plan to write childhoods for Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Mordred—and then they will all twist together into this incredible tapestry. I also want to provide a long, intimate arc to Arthur and Guinevere’s marriage and the affair with Lancelot. And then the interlocking stories of all of the minor characters and how the events ripple across generations. And then you have the inherent monumentality and shattering scope of the work, so—I can’t lose! I have the entire story laid out, so it gives me the opportunity to focus and tighten it in a way that makes its greatness clear to people who would never look into the sources.

Tyler: Can you explain why you chose the title The Swithen to describe the series. What does it have to do with the Arthurian legend?

Scott: The word itself has nothing at all to do with the Arthurian legend, but a lot of the good titles were already taken! One of the major goals of this series is to further unify the story into one cohesive narrative, and the one event that looms over everything is the Grail Quest. And I was struck—shocked, actually—that what is often portrayed as the ultimate, awesome achievement of the knights is actually them getting their asses kicked, and the ruin of the Round Table. They basically discover that their entire way of life, which was great to bring the country out of chaos and into civilization, is now no longer needed and they should just piss off. There is that devastating line when one of the holy figures they encounter says that they should “go back to their waste countries and kill each other.” Which they ultimately do!

So it struck me that this is like the burning of a field to make it fertile for the next generation, and then I found this old Norse word “Swithen,” which means exactly that. It’s about this devastating realization that everything you’ve done is great, now get out of the way and make room for the next generation. So to me it amplifies one of the major themes that is already there. Uther got the Swithen speech in The Void Place, and reacted poorly, as you saw, and poor Arthur is going to get it for sure, and have to deal with its implications. I find I like to force my characters to face the harshest possible existential realities, and poor Arthur…he’s really in for it. But he can also stand up to it, which is why he’s Arthur.

Tyler: I mostly want to discuss the newest book, The Void Place, but before we do that, will you give us a little background about the first two books?

The Void Place, book 3 in the Swithen series, delves into how King Arthur was conceived by magical means.

Scott: I decided that the story of Merlin’s conception sounded like a great book. A woman’s family is killed off one by one by a demon, then her talking baby saves her at the trial for her life—sounds like a hit! I was also fascinated by starting a retelling of the Arthurian legend from this point, which positions the entire thing as the result of a failed attempt by the devil to deceive mankind, and thought that was a fascinating way to look at it.

The second book takes Merlin from his mother’s side, through kings Vortiger and Pendragon, and right up until Uther is about to lose it over Igraine. It is a bit of a “middle” book, as it meanders and doesn’t have one solid story, but I love it and it has some great Merlin moments, like when Pendragon has let a man test him by asking when he will die, and Merlin says to Pendragon, “Do you think I don’t know how this fool will die? I see his death very well—and yours, too!”

Tyler: Merlin is at the center of the first three books. What would you say was your greatest challenge in depicting him, and what did you have the most fun with?

Scott: I know you’ve been enthusiastic about this incarnation of Merlin, which I very much appreciate. I actually didn’t intend him to be so ruthless when I started. I think I pretty much conceived of him as the standard supportive but cantankerous wizard, and basically perfect and always right, as we usually see him. But then in the first book, I had that idea that because he sees across time, he doesn’t really care about individual people. That was supposed to be just a characteristic, but as the series went on, that developed into this ruthlessness to get Arthur born no matter what the cost, which leads to him being somewhat the villain of The Void Place. But also…it opens up an arc for Merlin, and areas where he still needs to develop, and we will see in the future that he has learned from what happened with Uther, and tries a different approach with Arthur.

One thing you might find interesting that you would not necessarily get from the books is that I see this contemporary resonance between Merlin and the young tech moguls, like Mark Zuckerberg or early Steve Jobs. They created these world-changing technologies when they were young, but they didn’t have the maturity to think through the vast implications of how they might affect people and society. They also see the world only through data, just as Merlin only sees events, and there’s the question of whether there is something in people that can’t be summed up in data, just as Merlin is starting to discover that there may be more to people than simply knowing what they do, and is finding that the world, and people, are far more complicated than it seemed when he was a child—just as Mark Zuckerberg is finding, right now.

Tyler: I don’t want to overlook Meylinde, Merlin’s mother. You didn’t have much to work with from the legend as a framework with her, so why did you feel it so important to make her an integral part of the series?

Scott: Again, not planned. The first story is really a parable about faith, and the first book is about how her baby develops into the Merlin we know, so I thought that it would be cool if there was a human component—his mother—behind who Merlin becomes and his sense of morality and humanity. In the legend, she never receives a name, and is dropped entirely once Merlin leaves her. But then I couldn’t stand to just drop her, and once I found a way that she can stay in the series but still be true to the legend—which is that Merlin goes to her when he has to be away from people—I started to develop this idea that she would be Merlin’s moral advisor, and the only one that he shows true vulnerability with. And I will say that I have something planned for her in which she will leave a very influential mark on the entire series.

Another aspect I didn’t intend, but I am quite happy with, is that the simple act of giving names and complex psychologies to women who are little but symbols and passive figures in the legends is a bit of a feminist act, and makes this series much more contemporary. Now the women, and their thoughts and feelings, are given equal importance to the men, which places the genders on much more equal footing, and completely re-orients the legend, which is very man-focused. Arthur’s adoptive mother, Lady Ector, is also never given a name, and barely mentioned in the legend, but in my series, she too will be a tremendously influential character.

Tyler: In The Void Place, the novel opens with Uther as king. Merlin has already set up the Round Table. I was a bit surprised by this since I tend to think it doesn’t happen until Arthur’s reign. Did you draw on sources for it happening during Uther’s reign?

Scott: The Vulgate Cycle has Merlin create the Round Table in the first part of Uther’s reign, just as you see at the end of The Sons of Constance. Then when Uther dies it goes to King Leodegrance, and then Arthur receives it when he marries Guinevere. The other thing is that Uther creates the first generation Knights of the Round Table, and then some of them go on to serve Arthur when he takes over.

One of the things that I love about the Arthurian legend, and I think is one of its major themes, is the passing on from generation to generation. Objects are passed on, but so are conflicts and alliances, and values and ideals, and Arthur has to deal with some conflicts that began in his father’s time. So I really wanted to capture that here, with the passing on of the Round Table and the first generation of knights, and this connection between Uther’s generation and Arthur’s. And you’ll see as we go forward that Uther’s knights, like Ulfius, come from a time that is more mercenary and brutal, and we will see Arthur develop an ideal of knighthood that is more refined, honorable, and chivalrous.

Our Man on Earth, the first book in the Swithen series, tells the story of Merlin’s birth and childhood.

Tyler: There are a few characters in The Void Place I don’t remember from the Arthurian legend, such as Ulfius and Riger. Are they your own invention, and why did you feel the need to include them?

Scott: The story of the knight who tests the Siege Perilous is in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, as is the idea that Merlin was said to be dead. I didn’t think this knight had a name, but upon a little research I found that he is called Riger le Brun in another version, and Riger is a fine name, so I went with that. Everything about his character was made up by me, as a foil to Uther and someone who would play on his uncertain feelings about Merlin. I also added the loose idea that Uther’s failure with the seat in some way causes, or leaves Uther in a state to fall into obsession over Igraine.

Ulfius is in Malory, very slightly, but is a medium-sized presence in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, where he is named Ulfin. He does act as go-between with Igraine and he does arrange the marriage, as you see in The Void Place. I just…for some reason, I just adore Ulfius. There is a line in Malory that while Arthur has to keep pulling the sword again and again, he goes to live with the knights, including Ulfius, and that one line will become the entire basis of Book 5, because I am so taken with the idea of the teenage Arthur hanging with these adult knights and learning the ideals of knighthood and what knights need from their king, so that’s going to be really fun.

The other thing that Ulfius touches on is what I mentioned about aspects continuing through generations…. So Ulfius is Uther’s best friend, and he’s going to be a good friend and mentor to Arthur and he will go on to fight alongside Arthur in his wars against King Lot and the others. So he’ll be offstage for Book 4, but very present for Books 5 and 6, and…there’s one more thing about Ulfius that makes him very special, but I can’t tell you without ruining a surprise.

Tyler: Do you feel Uther is justified in his feelings toward Merlin? They seem to have a love-hate relationship?

Scott: I’m curious to see how people react to my version of Uther, since he’s usually considered fearsome and admirable, and here he’s very insecure and self-centered. And also his relationship with Merlin is quite strained. My main source, the Vulgate Cycle, tries to have it both ways, saying on the one hand that they had great love for each other, while on the other Merlin will not speak to Uther by the end. That’s all from the legend, as well as that they must do penance and that Uther’s hands and feet swell and he physically withers away.

As far as their poor relationship, this all grew out of my conception that the kings would feel that Merlin has taken away any agency they have, because they are just enacting his plans, not having ideas of their own. There is also the issue of them knowing that there is this greater king to come, which is, of course, Arthur. Between Books 2 and 3, you see that Pendragon wrestles with this, but ultimately accepts Merlin’s advice and his final act is one of generosity toward Arthur. Uther is self-centered, and resents the coming of Arthur. It’s meant to contrast their approaches toward a king’s service to the country—is it about serving others, or is it about their own glory? And both of these approaches is leading up to how Arthur will handle it, and how Arthur will feel about Merlin.

You notice by the end of this novel people are asking Merlin “What if Arthur hates you?” And Merlin’s relationship with Uther is meant to highlight the ways in which Merlin will have to adjust his approach, learn humility and learn to be more gentle with humans and their emotions if he is going to keep Arthur from turning away and rejecting him.

Tyler: We meet Viviane for just a brief moment in The Void Place. I assume she is to enchant Merlin later. I’m curious why you chose Viviane over Niniane or Nimue as the enchantress. I believe Viviane was a name Tennyson invented. In The Void Place, it seems like she already has supernatural powers from the brief encounter she has with Merlin, so can we expect some differences in the story with her since usually Merlin teaches her magic.

Scott: I also have her appear in a dream to Meylinde in Our Man on Earth. Viviane was the first Lady of the Lake, and is killed by Balin, then Nimue is brought to the court later. I believe Viviane is named in the Vulgate Cycle. My choice to include her so soon has to do with larger things I’m cooking up to go across the entire series, and one of those has to do with the coming of Christianity and the driving out of Paganism and magic.

One thing—one amazing thing—that is in the Vulgate Cycle but not in Malory, is the fact that Nimue lives in an illusory lake, where she rules a matriarchal society, and that is where she raises Lancelot after she kidnaps him. This whole history of Lancelot—and his connection with one of Arthur’s biggest life mistakes—is heavily explored in the Vulgate and you had better believe it’s going to be delved into here, because I like it as nasty and complicated as possible! One entire book of this series is planned to be Lancelot’s youth, with Lionel and Bors, in Nimue’s magical lake, so there’s a lot to come in terms of the Ladies of the Lake. Viviane’s appearances are just the tip of the iceberg, and placed there to build toward something major that is coming.

Tyler: Scott, what have you most enjoyed about writing this series so far, and what would you say has been your biggest challenge?

Scott: The biggest challenge is definitely working the chronology out to the degree that I know enough of what is coming that I can insert it into the story at the appropriate point. Sometimes when reading this stuff, it’ll say “this happened two years earlier,” and I have to figure out when it happened in relation to other things, and what else was happening then. For example, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—which I am going to work into this narrative—the Green Knight appears a year before Gawain goes off to visit him, so…is his first appearance in one book, and the resolution in another? Or do I just say “a year ago, this happened”? And what else was going on at that time? So it’s a huge challenge.

The three books so far have been largely before the main story begins, so I have had some time to lay out what’s coming. I have a huge Excel spreadsheet with a page each for each of the books, as well as character notes and suchlike, and have things like “Viviane dies here” and “Gawain comes to court,” as well as what the beginning and ending will be, the theme of each book, and I list each character and say what their age and mental state is at that time in the story so I can give them compelling arcs over the whole series. I am writing individual novels, but also one huge novel where each book is just a chapter.

Which leads us into what I have enjoyed the most, and will enjoy, which is the prospect of creating this huge, very intertwined tapestry of characters and this massive, truly epic story. I really look forward to creating a very rich life story for Arthur from his birth to his death. And ultimately we’ll have about sixty years in the lives of a great number of connected and intertwining characters, which will be an incredible thing. Books 2 and 3 were the first where a set of characters went from one book directly into another, and I really enjoyed the resonances and added meanings that the additional space can bring. By the time we get ten books in, I think that’ll be amazing, and by the time we’re twenty books in, I think—I hope!—that the accumulated weight of the story and the characters’ histories will be incredible and overwhelming.

Tyler: Spoken like a true novelist, Scott. I love how detailed and intertwined all your plans are. For me, personally, that is the great fun of writing fiction and especially a series, building all these layers and interconnections between characters and book after book. So that said, of course, I’m anxious to know when we can expect the fourth book. Will you give us a preview of what to expect in it?

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

Scott: I’ve already started writing it, and I’m really into it. The tone will be much more lovely and gentle, and it will be kind of a Young Adult novel, about Arthur’s childhood and the formation of his character. None of the sources give any information about Arthur’s childhood, and the big challenge to create something different than T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone or other versions of his boyhood.

I’ll tell you that Sir and Lady Ector will be fleshed out in depth, as will Kay and Arthur’s relationship with him. This is what I was saying is the best part of writing this series, because I am writing their boyhood relationship knowing they will be together their entire lives, and there is so much to come. Arthur will be struggling with feeling that he doesn’t belong with this family, as well as having to swallow that he will be Kay’s squire, not a knight himself. So like Our Man on Earth was with Merlin, in this we will see the formation of Arthur’s character. Books 4 through 6 will be formative experiences and adolescence for Arthur, and he will not be a mature adult king until Book 7. And there are some other things I have planned that I hope will be a very surprising, unusual way of coming at the familiar story we all know.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Scott. Can you tell us where we can go to get more information about your books or to purchase them?

Scott: I sure can! The books are available in ebook and paperback at Amazon and other retailers, and the easiest hub to get to them all would be to visit the website for the series.

Tyler: Thanks again, Scott. Best wishes for the continuation of your truly breathtaking series.

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Scott Telek’s The Void Place is the third book in his new Swithen series, following Our Man on Earth and The Sons of Constance, which have previously been reviewed here at Children of Arthur. The purpose of these novels is to explain the psychological motivations behind the characters’ sometimes-inscrutable actions, while remaining completely faithful to the Arthurian legend, and so far, I think Telek is successful in creating insightful reasons for many of his characters’ behaviors.

The Void Place, book 3 in the Swithen series, delves into how King Arthur was conceived by magical means.

This novel once again has Merlin at its center, though he is off stage for much of it. Merlin has told Uther that the greatest king is yet to come, which makes Uther feel like he is just a placeholder king, and as a result, he’s rather depressed and feeling inferior. Merlin has also set up the Round Table and even created the Siege Perilous and warned Uther not to let anyone sit there until the one destined to do so arrives. Uther, however, doesn’t like Merlin telling him what to do, and he also finds himself being pestered by Sir Riger, a knight who didn’t make the cut to sit at the Round Table. When a rumor spreads that Merlin has died, Riger convinces Uther that they need no longer listen to Merlin so he should get to sit in the Siege Perilous. I’ll let readers read for themselves what happens when Riger tries to sit there. I’ll just say I thoroughly enjoyed the situation surrounding wondering whether the Siege Perilous was truly perilous.

Eventually, Uther shakes off his doldrums when Duke Gorlois brings his wife Igraine to court. I was struck by Telek’s depiction of Gorlois as handsome, strong, and sensuous—not the old man he is often depicted as. Gorlois and Igraine are very much in love, and she has no interest in Uther when he begins expressing interest in her.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by describing what happens next—Uther convinces Merlin to help him sleep with Igraine, which Merlin does by enchanting Uther to look like Gorlois. What is more subtle is how Merlin manipulates Uther into doing exactly what he wants—it’s like trick child psychology where he tells Uther he mustn’t pursue Igraine, only to get Uther to pursue her, so that Arthur can be conceived. Ultimately, this leads to questions of whether Merlin is justified in his actions—is his manipulation wicked, or is he doing God’s work by setting in motion events to culminate in Arthur’s reign? Interestingly, his mother Meylinde, as in previous novels, steps in to serve as his moral conscience when he, in her eyes, misbehaves. Meylinde’s moral compass provides a lot of depth to the novel and restrains Merlin from doing whatever he chooses, thus providing some excellent internal conflict for him as well.

Besides the main storyline, several characters make minor appearances in the novel that will be developed more fully in future novels. These include Igraine’s daughters, Morgause and Morgan. Early in the novel we get a glimpse of Morgan’s future. She is only a child, but she has already poisoned a playmate, a situation that is quite funny, even if sinister. When the novel ends, she is engaged at age ten to marry King Uriens, and she is being sent to a nunnery until she is fourteen when the marriage can take place. I already think she will be a great villain and hope to see more of her soon.

I enjoyed the moments of humor in this novel, especially in the first half when Uther feels so frustrated by Merlin’s control over him. I admit I felt the pacing a bit slow in the middle as we waited for Uther to seduce Igraine, perhaps simply because I knew what was coming and was impatient for more twists on the traditional story. I especially enjoyed that in this version, Igraine never even learns that it was Uther who was disguised as Gorlois, although she does realize it was not Gorlois who conceived Arthur upon her that night. However, I was pleased by the shenanigans surrounding keeping Igraine’s reputation in place for having a child with a man who wasn’t her husband, including the arrangements for Sir Ector and his wife to raise the child and how they were depicted.

The novel ends with Merlin setting things in motion for Arthur’s reign, including the sword being planted in the stone. The land must now wait fourteen years without a king until Arthur is ready to claim his kingdom. The next novel in the series is intended to depict Arthur’s childhood.

This novel is also the first to provide the overall plan for the Swithen series. Telek plans twenty-five novels total, leading all the way to Arthur’s death. Previously the longest Arthurian series to my knowledge has been Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s The Keltiad, often referred to as “Celts in Space.” She planned eighteen novels in her series, although to date only eight have been published and one collection of short stories, and only three of those novels really centered on the Arthurian legends while the rest were other retellings of Celtic legends. (Jack Whyte has actually written nine novels in or connected to his Camulod Chronicles series, although he never aspired, to my knowledge, to double-digits for his books.) We’ll see if Telek will someday hold the record. As long as he keeps writing them, I’ll be eager to read them.

More information about Telek’s Swithen series can be found at https://theswithen.wordpress.com/.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s LegacyMelusine’s GiftOgier’s PrayerLilith’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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I’m pleased to welcome back Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy. Nicole has been a guest here in the past when I interviewed her about her previous books in the series, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. Reviews of those books and my previous interviews with Nicole can all be found here at ChildrenofArthur.com. Before we get into today’s interview, here’s a little background information about Nicole.

Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere trilogy

Nicole Evelina has spent the last nineteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome.

Nicole holds a BA in English and an MA in media communications. Her previous novels have won multiple awards, including two Book of the Year designations and the North Street Book Prize. Her non-Arthurian works include Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for president way back in 1872, and Been Searching for You, a contemporary love story. Nicole is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m delighted to have you back, and I have to say I was completely wowed by how you ended this trilogy. For starters, will you tell us why you decided to have Mistress of Legend continue Guinevere’s story beyond the Battle of Camlann?

Nicole: I’m so glad you liked it! My goal in writing the trilogy was to explore Guinevere’s whole life, not just the parts that include King Arthur. So, just like I covered her youth in Daughter of Destiny, I wanted to shed light upon her life after the fall of Camelot in Mistress of Legend. Guinevere was her own woman, independent of the men history associates her with, and it was important for me to show that in order to dispel the long-held belief that she couldn’t function once Arthur died. She still had very much living to do, thank you very much.

Tyler: To my knowledge, Parke Godwin’s novel Beloved Exile (1984) was the only other Arthurian novel to tell Guinevere’s story after Camelot’s fall. How would you say your book or your vision for Guinevere was different from Godwin’s?

Nicole: Oh, I loved that book! It was one of the two (along with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon) that really influenced my portrayal. I loved that Godwin made his Guinevere a strong, intelligent woman. It gave me the courage to do so as well. That being said, I didn’t think it very likely that the queen of Britain (SPOILER ALERT) would be taken captive as a Saxon slave as she is in Beloved Exile. The idea rang very false with me as a reader. I went in a different direction because of that, but also because of the backstory I had given Guinevere and her mother. I wanted to bring the series full circle by connecting her with her heritage. Also, it was important to me that she not seek the throne of Camelot, as she has done in other novels. After all she’s been through, my Guinevere is tired of politics and war, though she does get pulled back into both just by the nature of her former position.

Tyler: Your Arthur comes off looking somewhat weak and ineffective at the end of the novel? What were your goals in your depiction of Arthur, especially as a contrast or complement to Guinevere?

Nicole: I don’t know that I would necessarily characterize him as weak. He’s more lost and confused. Father Marius’ betrayal and its almost-deadly consequences have shaken him to his core, resulting in a king who is not only unsure of himself, he’s also for the first time being doubted and mistrusted by his people. We tend to think of Arthur as this superman, this all-powerful, almost godlike figure, but I wanted to portray him as very much human, prey to insecurities and crippled by pain just like everyone else. Whereas the events of Camelot’s Queen brought Arthur to a breaking point, Guinevere was able to use the calamity to strengthen herself all the more. In many ways, the series is about how two very different personalities process adversity. As we see in the previous books, Arthur can handle external political challenges just fine, but he is incredibly vulnerable when it comes to matters of love and emotion, especially where Guinevere and Morgan are concerned. Guinevere’s trial and sentencing and the role Morgan may or may not have played deeply affect both women, and in many ways that is Arthur’s Achilles’ heel. Guinevere, on the other hand, is more used to emotional upheaval, having dealt with so much of it in her past. As we see in Mistress of Legend, it is the external, political aspect of her role that she struggles with, despite her years of experience. If you think about it, that makes sense because she never intended to become queen, much less contemplated ruling Camelot without Arthur, so she wasn’t exactly prepared for the role fate thrusts upon her (once again) and we see her struggle with that.

Tyler: Did you find it easier or harder to write the parts of the novel that are not based deeply in the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: Easier. There aren’t nearly as many expectations involved in the parts of the story that aren’t part of the cannon of the Arthurian legend. That means I was able to let my imagination run free and use history as a guide to direct where Guinevere’s story went—when the characters weren’t totally throwing me for a loop, that is.

Tyler: I was fascinated by the role of religion in the novel, especially at one point when Guinevere decides to start praying to the Virgin Mary even though she doesn’t believe in Christianity. What kind of message about religion were you trying to convey in the novel?

Nicole: One of the things that was important for me to explore in this series is the conflict between paganism (in this case Druidism) and Christianity in the early Dark Ages. This was a very real, historical struggle that affected hundreds of thousands of people. I was able to use Guinevere’s paganism as a way to explore the old ways that were dying out and show the rise of Christianity through Arthur and his conversion from the cult of Mithras. It’s a well-established fact that in converting pagan peoples, the Catholic Church adopted or subsumed many pagan deities and traditions. One of these was the idea of a divine mother-figure. Paganism was polytheistic, and many versions included the worship of one or more goddesses, who were naturally identified with motherhood, given that is a uniquely female role. To lose that portion of their faith would be untenable to the people they were trying to convert, so the Church encouraged veneration of (although not officially, worship, but I suspect many common people did in fact, worship) Christ’s mother, the Virgin Mary.

Throughout the books in this series, Guinevere is highly aware of the similarities (and differences) between Christianity and her own faith. When she is at her lowest point, when she feels like everything and everyone she has ever loved has been taken away from her, including her own identity, she naturally turns to this mother-figure, just as we as children cry to our human mothers. At the time, she is in a Christian convent (and very hurt by what she sees as abandonment by her own gods and goddesses), so she seeks refuge where she can, at the feet of the Blessed Virgin. Some readers may note that in The Mists of Avalon, Morgaine has a similar experience, but I want to be clear that unlike Morgaine, Guinevere never considered converting to Christianity. She is very much aware that the Christian faith is not for her, yet she sees echoes of her own mother goddesses in the Blessed Virgin, and, therefore, finally gives herself permission to turn to her in time of grief, adding another goddess to her personal pantheon.

Tyler: Guinevere is not the only strong female character in the novel. She comes into conflict multiple times with other strong women, including Morgan, Evina, and Elga. Will you tell us why you included them in the novel, especially since the latter two are your own creation?

Nicole: While this book is Guinevere’s story, it would have been very boring if Guinevere was always right and always had all the answers. I’m seeking to portray her as human, so she has to have adversaries and foils, just like we all do. I also wanted to show that she was not the only woman to be reckoned with in Dark Ages Camelot, a time when respect for women was within bardic, if not living, memory. I also wanted to explore the different peoples of Britain at the time, so I needed a strong Saxon (Elga) and a strong Votadini (Evina) to compare and contrast with Guinevere. All three women have very different moral compasses and different approaches to power, which is part of what I think makes them work so well together, as well as what helps enrich the world of the book.

Mistress of Legend tells a new story of what happened to Guinevere after Arthur’s passing.

Tyler: Typically, after Camelot’s fall, we are told Constantine became King of Britain. You mention Constantine, but he plays only a minor role in the novel. What would you say was the state of Britain after Arthur’s death and what challenges did you face in depicting that situation?

Nicole: I think Britain would have been in total chaos. No one expected Arthur to die so young, and for his heir to die at the same time would have been unthinkable. There really would have been no blueprint for how to move forward. Add to that the fact that many, many power-hungry men (and maybe a few women) would have seen this as an opportunity for advancement, one which they would use any means to achieve, and you have a recipe for civil war.

One of the main challenges for me was that my story is one of women and they aren’t the ones history typically remembers, so I had to construct their story based on what might possibly have happened. Another challenge was helping readers to understand and remember the complex political situation of the time. It took me a long time to get it straight, and I have all the resources at my fingertips, whereas readers have only what I can reasonably put into the story without messing up the narrative flow. My answer to that was to try to simplify it down to a handful of key players and get readers truly invested in the roles that each person plays so they were more likely to remember who was who.

Tyler: I’m frequently asked questions about the Arthurian legend on Quora, and one question I was recently asked was “Why do you think so many retellings of the Arthurian legend fail?” How would you answer that question, and what do you think you’ve done to make yours succeed?

Nicole: Well, as with any type of book, some are just poorly written or constructed, but I think many fail because they simply retread the same old material over and over. That gets boring very fast. I have had purists criticize me for taking the story in another direction than the one they treasured/expected, but if you don’t add anything new to myth and legend, it can’t grow. As we see over and over in the evolution of the Matter of Britain, each author who has come down to us through time has added his or her own mark to the traditional story, fleshing it out, changing it to meet the needs and expectations of his or her time. This is what gives it life and keeps it from becoming irrelevant. As you can tell, I’m rather passionate on this subject; I actually wrote a book on how Guinevere has changed over time, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend.

Only time will tell whether my books succeed or fail, but I believe I have given them a strong shot at success by doing just that, taking the character of Guinevere—and with her, the rest of the Arthurian legend—to places previously unexplored. For example, few authors have asked the question “What was Guinevere’s life like before she met Arthur?” or “What did Guinevere do after Arthur’s death? What if she didn’t take the easy way out and become a nun?” I sought to answer those questions as my way of adding to the time-honored story.

I think two other things may help my books last. One is that I created a Guinevere who can stand up to the scrutiny of feminism and the #MeToo movement. She is a strong woman for a new generation. While she’s not perfect and she has her moments of being used (especially as a political pawn in Daughter of Destiny and Mistress of Legend), she certainly is no one’s docile doormat and she finds ways to make the most of what life hands her, which is something everyone struggles with. The other thing that I hope will help my books is that they are very much anchored in the history of the late fifth and early sixth centuries. That means they have a chance of remaining relevant as a way to experience and understand that mysterious time period, if nothing else.

Tyler: Now that you’ve finished your trilogy, do you think you’ll write anything more about the Arthurian legend, either in fiction or non-fiction?

Nicole: Yes, I do. I’m planning to eventually write Isolde’s story, which already has a good head start given that I have something like 40,000 words that I cut from Camelot’s Queen that help tell her tale. Sobian, my fictional pirate-turned-assassin, wants her own novel, so that is on the horizon, and I’m toying with the idea of telling Morgan’s side of the story, given that there is so much that happens with her off the page in this series. I’d also love to play with how she sees herself versus how Guinevere saw her, and I want to find out what else happens to her daughter, Helena, whom we meet in Mistress of Legend. I see each of those being their own book, so there may well be another trilogy in the future.

I also really want to do a series guide/companion guide that gives you a behind-the-scenes type look at the world of my Arthurian books and goes into detail about many of the aspects of my world and its characters. I think I likely will end up crowdfunding that one.

Unfortunately, none of these are top priority at the moment because I need to switch my focus to books that will hopefully land me a traditional publishing deal and finance these future Arthurian dream children of mine, which likely will all be self-published.

Tyler: They all sound like fascinating books, though, Nicole, and I’ll be eager to read them. But what projects are you currently working on?

Nicole: As I said above, I’m looking toward traditional publishing. I am currently researching sample chapters for a non-fiction proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the United States, which I’d really like to release in August 2020, to coincide with the centennial of women getting the right to vote in the U.S. On the fiction front, my next novel will be a biographical historical exploration of a little-known World War II heroine who was a French nun who worked for the resistance. I can’t wait to share her story with the world!

Tyler: Those sound awesome too. I can’t wait to read them. Thank you again, Nicole, for joining me. I have no doubt Mistress of Legend is going to be another award winner for you. Thank you for helping us see the Arthurian legend in new ways through Guinevere’s eyes, and best of luck with all your future books.

Nicole: Thank you. And thanks so much for your support and enthusiasm along the way. Friends and readers like you make the writing journey so much easier. I’m so glad we have been able to share our passion for the Arthurian legend!

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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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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new book The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction study of Guinevere as she’s been depicted in literature for the last fifteen centuries.

Nicole Evelina, author of “The Once and Future Queen,” is also the author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy.

Nicole has previously been my guest when I’ve interviewed her about the first two books in her Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen.

Nicole has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skills, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide. Her goal in writing Arthurian fiction is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series. And it looks like she’s succeeded because Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen have already won several awards. But now she has come out with The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction book about Guinevere.

 

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m so pleased to be able to talk with you today. To begin, will you tell us what made you decide to write a nonfiction book about Guinevere?

Nicole: I was asked to give a presentation on Guinevere for Women’s History Month in March 2017 at a local library. I was thinking, “Ah, she’s not real. What am I going to talk about?” So I decided to look into how she has changed over time. The result was 30,000 words worth of notes—and a thesis that I thought was very interesting: the idea that Guinevere changes over time along with society’s views on women.

At a presentation the previous November, one of the audience members suggested I write non-fiction, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to take his advice. Besides, I was an English major in college so this was fun for me—like writing a really long research paper!

 

Tyler: Your book focuses on the literary record of Guinevere, but have you read any of the nonfiction works that try to pinpoint who the historical Arthur is, and even sometimes the historical Guinevere? How important do you think it is that we search for the historical counterparts of these characters?

Nicole: I’ve read a lot of books on the possibly historical nature of King Arthur as research for my fictional Guinevere trilogy. I particularly enjoyed Christopher Gidlow’s The Reign of Arthur, David Day’s The Search for King Arthur, and King Arthur: The True Story by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, although I know that one is controversial. And of course, all of Geoffrey Ashe’s books. The ones on Guinevere are few and far between, mostly because it’s hard to prove she existed until we can prove Arthur did, as he was the doer of big deeds. I’m assuming you’re referring to Norma Lorre Goodrich’s book on Guinevere? I own it and I’ve read it (twice, actually) and I’ll just say it is best used to inspire fiction.

I do believe the historical research is very important. If nothing else, it sheds light upon a very mysterious and often misunderstood time period (the Dark Ages or early Middle Ages). It would be great if we can someday prove or disprove the existence of Arthur because that will give us clarity and, no matter what the answer is, will provoke additional research. Even if Arthur is historically disproven, I don’t think that will dampen the power of his myth. Look at Robin Hood; the best anyone can do is call him an amalgamation of historical people, but yet the lessons in his myth continue to inspire us. The same would be true for Arthur and Guinevere.

 

The Once and Future Queen offers an insightful look at Guinevere from medieval times into modern fiction.

Tyler: Who are some of the major and more traditional (pre-twentieth century) authors you discuss in the book and how are they different in their portrayals of Guinevere?

Nicole: Knowing that my target audience was non-academics who are interested in the Arthurian legend, I tried to pick works most people would have at least heard of and maybe studied in school. I touch on some of the key Celtic documents, like The Mabinogion and the Welsh Triads, and then cover the major medieval writers—Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, Layamon, Chretien de Troyes, the Vulgate Cycle, and Thomas Malory, among others. Then I moved into the Victorian Era with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Morris. T. H. White is really the one who straddles the traditional and modern for me, although he’s probably considered modern.

 

Tyler: Was there anything that surprised you about how Guinevere was portrayed in these earlier works?

Nicole: I think the inconsistency was the biggest surprise for me. While Guinevere is pretty much universally depicted as negative in the traditional texts, exactly how—her personality and motivations—and why—the author’s message and motives—often differ wildly, even among a single author’s oeuvre. Chretien de Troyes and Thomas Malory are examples of authors who depict Guinevere one way in one story or even a part of a story, and totally differently in the next or later in the same work.

 

Tyler: Who do you consider to be the first author to treat Guinevere in a truly revolutionary way and how does that author do so?

Nicole: There is more than one, and I think it depends on what aspect of the story and character you’re thinking about. I think Chretien was revolutionary in that he gave Guinevere and Lancelot a bit of a happy ending because Arthur never finds out about their affair in his version of the story. William Morris certainly was because he gave Guinevere a chance to speak for herself—although her “defence” really isn’t so much a defense as audience manipulation. Parke Godwin gave us the first truly intelligent and independent Guinevere in the 1980s. Sharan Newman was the first to depict Guinevere’s childhood and give her a fully-formed backstory. Of course, I like to think that my own novels have revolutionary elements as well—i.e., Guinevere being a priestess, Arthur’s marital situation in Camelot’s Queen, but I’m certainly not impartial. I’ll let time and reader opinion decide that one.

 

Tyler: You talk about Marion Zimmer Bradley in the book, although you don’t like her depiction of Guinevere, but would you agree with me that she is probably the biggest influence upon Arthurian fiction in the last forty years? How would you define that influence and do you think she influenced depictions of Guinevere also?

Nicole: Oh, most definitely. Even though others have done more for the character of Guinevere, Bradley turned Arthurian legend on its head by marrying it with feminism and focusing on the female stories. She also shifted the story from being solidly built on Christianity to being built on paganism with Christianity being a disruptive influence.

My books certainly would not exist without hers, and I’m sure she influenced at least two generations of writers who came after her. But I don’t know that that is true for most of the Guinevere novels that came out either in the 1980s or 1990s, at least the ones I examine in The Once and Future Queen. Looking at the timeline and the motivations of the authors, I think they would have written theirs anyway. Parke Godwin’s books came out either before or nearly at the same time as Bradley’s so unless the two were in correspondence (which I doubt), they wouldn’t have influenced one another. Likewise, Gillian Bradshaw’s novels and Sharan Newman’s first Guinevere book were published before Mists. The only authors who could have been reacting to Bradley would have been Woolley, McKenzie, and Miles. I haven’t read anything about McKenzie’s motivations, but I’m pretty sure Woolley and Miles both said their books were at least started before Mists. I think the trends that we see in the 1980s and 1990s to focus more on Guinevere and make her a strong female character were more motivated by the cultural shifts taking place and the influence of feminism than on Bradely’s work.

 

Tyler: I feel in the light of all the shocking revelations of sexual harassment and abuse coming out of Hollywood today that I should mention a similar charge was made about Marion Zimmer Bradley a few years ago—her daughter accuses her of sexually abusing her as a child. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/27/sff-community-marion-zimmer-bradley-daughter-accuses-abuse) Given that knowledge, do you think it will or should make a difference in how we view her work and her influence? Do you think it will hurt her place in the Arthurian canon?

Nicole: I think it will affect how some people view her work, especially those who have been victimized themselves, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But I don’t personally think it should affect our views in the long term. Regardless of what Bradley may or may not have done, the work stands on its own. Its impact shouldn’t be lessened because of her personal life. The charge against her is disgusting, and I will admit it makes me wrinkle my nose at her name, but it doesn’t change how I view the story. If there was anything that smacked of child abuse in the story itself, I’d be giving you a different answer. Mists can be considered strange on many levels that don’t have anything to do with abuse but are related to sexuality, i.e. the Beltane ritual, the threesome between Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur, Morgan’s lesbian encounter with the faerie, etc., but I don’t know that a logical correlation can be made between those plot points and the charge against the author. For example, you could argue that her depictions of sexuality were an attempt to modernize the Arthurian story and make it appealing to an audience in tune with the changing values of the time.

There are many other authors you could ask the same questions about, such as Orson Scott Card, but their personal views still don’t lessen their contribution to literature, except of course, if their storylines were to promote hate, abuse, or whatever they are charged with believing. If we took away all the art and inventions that were created by people who did terrible, sometimes unforgivable things, we’d be in a world of hurt. This is a case where separating the creator from the creation is necessary. I know not everyone will agree with that, and that is fine.

 

Tyler: You mention several other modern female novelists in the book, some of whom you think did nothing to help develop Guinevere’s character but others you find favorable. Can you give us some examples?

Nicole: I’ll give you one example on each side of the question. (You have to read the book for the others! J) I think Persia Wooley did much to advance the character of Guinevere. Her queen is equal to Arthur and very much knows her own mind. She’s even a sex-positive character without being portrayed as a whore.

On the other hand, Nancy McKenzie’s Guinevere is a throwback to the weak, indecisive character that we saw in Malory. Rather than acting from her own will and agency, this Guinevere is constantly reacting to the stronger characters around her, especially Elaine and Arthur. This dependence on the thoughts and deeds of others lessens Guinevere in the eyes of the reader, especially in light of the stronger Guineveres produced by other authors.

 

Tyler: As a male novelist of Arthuriana myself, I couldn’t help noticing the lack of reference to novels by male authors, especially the ones that are modern classics, such Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen Lawhead? Why did you choose to ignore many male authors?

Nicole: If I was doing an overall survey of Arthurian legend I would have included them—and I mean no disrespect by not focusing on their works—but this is specifically a book on Guinevere. My reason for not including them is that none of them really focus on Guinevere. She’s there, of course, but it’s easier—and I would argue more effective—to analyze changes in the character when she’s a main character as opposed to secondary or tertiary.

I do discuss T. H. White at length, as well as Parke Godwin, so it’s not that I abandoned male novelists when talking about modern books. But I believe the shift from male authors having total control over Guinevere’s story historically to female authors telling her story from a female point of view for the first time in the 1980s and 1990s cannot and should not be underemphasized. We know that men portray female characters differently than female authors do (just as female authors write their male characters differently than male authors do), so analyzing how she changed at their hands tells us a lot about society and the views of readers.

 

Tyler: You talk about how it’s too early to say what place your own novels will have in the Arthurian canon and whether they’ll have any influence, but how do you think your Guinevere is different from all the others?

Nicole: I feel like she’s built on the shoulders of those who came before me. There is no way my Guinevere could exist without those who broke the ground in the ’80s and ’90s and seeded reader acceptance of a strong Guinevere. And because I was raised in a family and society that taught me to the value of “girl power” (we can thank the all-girls high school I went to for a lot of that), I think my Guinevere is more aggressive than many others, much more empowered, and determined to have her own way. That is both a plus and a negative for her, as it also means she’s very self-centered. I also think the relationships she has with other characters in my books—especially Aggrivane and Morgan—help set her apart from previous versions because they put her in unusual situations and present her with challenges no other Guinevere has had to react to.

 

Tyler: When can we expect the final volume of your trilogy to be published? Any hint at how Guinevere will fare in it? Will readers be surprised by the end?

Nicole: I am determined that it will be published in 2018. I’ve had a partial draft written since 2013, but with my change from the traditional publishing path to independent publishing and all the work that has entailed, I haven’t had as much time to focus on it as I would like. Within the last year, I finally figured out what it was missing (oh you know, most of the middle of the book). Now I just have to make that happen, which is easier said than done, especially now that I know how much people like the first two books.

I will tell you that after the battle of Camlann and the fall of Camelot, Guinevere heads north into her mother’s native Votadini homelands to try to figure out who she is now that Camelot is gone. With her husband and many of her friends now dead, being a Votadini is the only bit of identity she has left, and it ends up propelling her into a new stage in life, where her skills both in the political arena and on the battlefield have the potential to change history. Obviously, Lancelot is a huge part of the story, as is Morgan, but you’ll also see a lot of characters reemerge that might not expect—Mayda, Elga, Accolon, and others who were bit players in previous novels now come to the fore. And there is one that I’m not going to tell you about, but I’ve been waiting years to write his comeback!

I’ve known all along how the series would end. I think some people will be surprised and possibly irritated by what happens, but I think others will find it very satisfying. Hopefully, more of the latter! I will say that despite all Guinevere has gone through and will go through in this book, Mistress of Legend has a happy ending…at least as happy as any Arthurian story can be.

 

Tyler: What do you think Guinevere will look like in future books and films?

Nicole: I think there is no telling, but that is a good thing. That means she can be anyone or anything society needs her to be. Personally, I hope she continues to be a strong woman who fights for herself and for what is right. I’d love to see more historical fiction/historical fantasy authors delve into what life was like for Celtic women in post-Roman Britain using her story as a basis, especially if archeology continues to point to that historical period being the most likely for Arthur to have lived. I’ve done that somewhat, but my skills and education have their limitations. I’d love to see what a true expert can do.

I do speculate a little on how Guinevere might change in the future in the conclusion to The Once and Future Queen. I can imagine her becoming a person of color (yes, I know, the TV show Merlin did that already, but I mean more regularly), perhaps even gay or transgender. For those of us used to traditional portrayals of her, that might seem like a leap, but for a long time so did a strong Guinevere. A friend of mine just posted on Twitter the other day that she’s reading a comic book called, oddly enough, The Once and Future Queen, in which Arthur is a gay woman. That means her relationship with Guinevere will be non-traditional. So in many ways, the evolution is happening right before our eyes.

 

Tyler: Thanks for all that information, Nicole. Since it’s so much fun to speculate, if the historical Guinevere could be here with us today and you could only ask her one question, what would it be?

 

Nicole: The first thing that popped into my head was “Was Arthur worth it?” but upon serious reflection, I think I’d ask her where it all went wrong. By that I mean the dream of Camelot and a united Britain, but she could take it however she likes.

 

Tyler: Thank you again for joining me today, Nicole. It was a very informative discussion. Before we go, will you let our readers know where they can get copies of The Once and Future Queen?

Nicole: Thanks again for having me. You are too generous with your time.

Here are the links to the major online retailers:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Once-Future-Queen-Guinevere-Arthurian/dp/0996763244

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-once-and-future-queen-nicole-evelina/1127289906

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-once-and-future-queen-4

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-once-and-future-queen-guinevere-in-arthurian-legend/id1314772771?mt=11

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Nicole_Evelina_The_Once_and_Future_Queen?id=nEM_DwAAQBAJ&hl=en

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/755384

 

Tyler: It’s been a pleasure, Nicole. Good luck with The Once and Future Queen, and I’ll look forward to talking to you again when Mistress of Legend is published.

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