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And yet another novel has been written featuring King Arthur’s children. This one focuses on the child from Welsh tradition, Amir or Amr, here named Amhar. He is one of the main characters in Aenghus Chisholme’s 2014 novel AD 517: Arthur the King.

AD 517: Arthur the King makes King Arthur’s son Amhar its hero.

Actually, two of Arthur’s children are in this novel. Amhar is the legitimate son of Arthur and Gwenhwyvar, and heir to the kingdom. Mordred is the illegitimate son of Arthur and Morgan. For most of the novel, Mordred is a bit in Amhar’s shadow, and the two act together, which is not surprising given that Amr’s story is one in which he is slain while fighting his father, and he may likely have inspired the development of Mordred’s role as the son who slays his father. (In the original Welsh legends, there’s no indication Mordred and Arthur are even related to one another. For more on the development of both of these children in early Welsh sources, see my book King Arthur’s Children.)

Aenghus Chisholme has previously written three other Arthurian novels, the stories of which are occasionally referenced in the novel, although AD 517: Arthur the King can be read as a stand-alone novel. Amhar appears in all of the earlier novels, but he is just an infant and small child in them and not a major character.

Before I describe the plot of AD 517: Arthur the King, I will give a spoiler alert here since it’s impossible to discuss this novel without giving away the ending.

The story begins with Arthur defeating the Saxons at Badon. He now rules more of Britain than any previous king. That said, he has not driven away all the invaders of Britain. The Saxons, Jutes, and Angles still exist on his shores. Arthur wants to rid the island of all these invaders, but his son Amhar is against this, trying to convince his father that many of them were born in Britain and are as much Britons as the Britons themselves. Arthur does not want to hear this and begins a program of ethnic cleansing that enrages Amhar. Arthur is upset by his son’s attitude, even though Gallahalt tries to explain to him that Amhar, who is twenty-five, is too young to remember the earlier years when war was necessary.

Meanwhile, a sorcerer named Ivorwulf has been spying on Arthur’s castle at Caerleon. Morgan eventually realizes this and warns Merlin. They decide they will kidnap Ivorwulf to prevent him from aiding their enemies. Ivorwulf is working for the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles, who are forming an alliance against Arthur. However, before Morgan and Merlin can get Ivorwulf back to Caerleon, they are themselves abducted by Nimue and other fairies. Ivorwulf manages to free them and tells Merlin and Morgan he realizes they must be allies against the fairies who are the true enemies of Briton. (There’s a lot of stuff about fairies in the book and how they can no longer reproduce because Christianity is weakening them. The fairy stuff was a bit much for me. I like a little magic in Arthurian novel, but these fairies were over the top, especially in their sexual appetites. A couple of sex scenes with fairies were nothing but erotica and too gratuitous in my opinion since they added hardly anything to the plot.)

Arthur continues his ethnic cleansing program. Amhar and Mordred decide to go to Camlann to rally the people to pledge their loyalty to Arthur and show they are true Britons, even though many of them are Saxons, Jutes, or Angles. Arthur accidentally learns of their plans and takes a troop to Camlann to punish them or at least quell their rebellion, as he sees it. Ivorwulf, Merlin, and Morgan accompany him. Ivorwulf is pretending to be on their side, but upon arrival at Camlann, he shows his true colors. Through various spells, Arthur and Mordred end up fighting each other, each thinking the other a Saxon. Of course, they kill each other and regret it when they realize what they have done.

As he is dying, Arthur then gives Excalibur to Amhar, making him king. Meanwhile, Ivorwulf reveals to Merlin and Morgan his plan not to betray the invader kings so he can become Caesar of Britain himself. Merlin and Morgan become prisoner to his spells, but in a last act of strength, they help Amhar defeat Ivorwulf.

Here is the most interesting part of the novel. Amhar is now King of Britain, but rather than stay king, he wants all people to live in freedom in Britain, so he abdicates and goes to live in Galloway. He gives Excalibur to Sir Pellus to return to Matrona, the Lady of the Lake.

The novel’s ending is idealistic, and while I sympathize with its message, I’m afraid it’s not very realistic. I’m left thinking Amhar a bit of a fool. After all, who ever heard of him? By abdicating, he leaves Britain ripe for chaos and the resulting Dark Ages.

I also find the date of the novel strange. Only probably a few months at most pass during the time of this novel. Camlann was fought in 537 or 539 traditionally, certainly not 517, which is a year after the traditional date of 516 for the Battle of Mount Badon.

Overall, AD 517: Arthur the King was a bit over the top for my tastes, but I did like the treatment of Amhar and Mordred and the twist on how Camlann happened. The book is a fast-paced read and never dull, although it has more typos than it should. Arthur is a bit too much of a hot-head, but that’s to be expected in a novel that tries to explain how his sons were not the villains history has made them out to be. Some of the scenes felt a bit pointless, especially Arthur’s showdown with a witch, which did nothing to advance the plot. Even so, it’s a fun read and does make you wonder yet again what really might have happened at Camlann.

Those interested in reading Aenghus Chisholme’s other Arthurian novels can visit his website at www.AenghusChisholme.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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Marcus Pitcaithly has launched a new fiction series, beginning with The Realm of Albion. This series is sure to be a treat for anyone who loves British mythology and history. Educated at Oxford, Pitcaithly has had a lifelong interest in history, mythology, and the interplay between the two. He has previously written The Hereward Trilogy, set in England just after the Norman Conquest, as well as scholarly works on Shakespeare and medieval history. While a lot of authors have retold the Arthurian story, Pitcaithly has decided to go back farther and recreate its roots in pre-Roman Britain.

The Realm of Albion, a retelling of the King Lear story drawing on Welsh sources - by Marcus Pitcaithly.

The Realm of Albion, a retelling of the King Lear story drawing on Welsh sources – by Marcus Pitcaithly.

Drawing on an impressive range of sources, including Shakespeare, but also The Welsh Triads, The Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, and the medieval French romance Perceforest, The Realm of Albion is a retelling of the King Lear story from the viewpoint of Lear’s forgotten wife, Penarddun. At age fourteen, this daughter of King Belin is sent to be wife to the elderly King Llyr, and the night before her wedding, she witnesses the famous scene when Llyr asks his daughters whether they love him. But while the basic frame of this novel’s plot follows the tale as told previously, plenty of twists are involved, and those twists are what made me fall in love with this book.

Before Penarddun arrives at Llyr’s court, she stops at Avalon, where she meets Urganda, servant to the goddess Latis. Urganda tells Penarddun that Urganda’s sister, Gogoniant, was Llyr’s first wife and the mother of his daughter Cordelia. Llyr also had a dwarf son he claimed was stillborn and had exposed, although he doesn’t know that son survived and now lives at Avalon. Llyr’s other two daughters, Goneril and Regan, were born to his concubines. Therefore, Cordelia is Llyr’s only truly legitimate daughter, and she is significant as well because of her link to Avalon.

For years, Avalon has been home to the Lady of the Lake and a religious center of Britain, but Llyr, in his lust for power and not wanting anyone to have power over him, invaded Avalon and forced and took Gogoniant away to be his wife. She was the rightful Lady of the Lake, and Cordelia, therefore, is her successor. The Lady of the Lake’s consort is known as the Penteyrnedd, and Llyr has taken that to mean the consort is also the High King. At the same time, he has made himself the enemy of Avalon, even if he has power over it.

The well-known scene between Llyr and his daughters turns out to be staged. Cordelia has been told how to answer her father beforehand and she does so obediently. Llyr asks his daughters how much they love him and Goneril and Regan please him with their answers while Cordelia says she has nothing to add, resulting in her being disinherited. Llyr wants it this way to demolish the power of Avalon and the Lady of the Lake so he remains powerful.

Penarddun witnesses and participates in the events that follow, which will be well-known to those familiar with Shakespeare’s play. In time, Goneril and Regan turn on Llyr and he goes mad, and Cordelia must return to set things right. I won’t say more about the plot because I don’t want to give away all the interesting changes and additions that Pitcaithly has made to the storyline.

I did, however, appreciate the Arthurian elements he is planting in this first book. The sword Excalibur is introduced into the novel. We are told that when Llyr invaded Avalon, it was thrown into the mere to prevent him from obtaining it since it is the sword of the Lady and wielded by her consort. Without it, Llyr would not be the true consort. After Cordelia has set all to rights, the sword is found when the mere dries up. It is given to Cordelia’s husband, with the understanding that he serves the Lady and the consort’s title is now changed to Pendragon.

Cordelia in the Court of King Lear - an 1873 painting by Sir John Gilbert

Cordelia in the Court of King Lear – an 1873 painting by Sir John Gilbert

Another interesting Arthurian element is the role of Merlin. Like Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon, Pitcaithly uses “Merlin” as a title, but it is more than just a position. The “Merlin” in this novel is Awel, a young boy who is believed to be the god Mabon born in human form as happens every so many years. It is believed Awel fulfills this prophecy because he was born at the dawn of Beltane and because his father died three months before his birth, making him a “fatherless” boy. We are told that if Awel has the power of a god, a wise king will want him on his side, but a fearful king would want him dead. Consequently, his identity is kept from Llyr. Awel travels to Llyr’s castle as part of Penarddun’s bridal party, and when Llyr meets him, he thinks he’s a fool and has him dress in fool’s clothes. I really thought this twist on Pitcaithly’s part was brilliant since the fool in Shakespeare’s plays is typically the wisest person and utters prophecies, so it is a logical and intelligent twist for the fool to be the Merlin.

Finally, I really appreciated the scholarship and effort that Pitcaithly put into writing this book. Having written Arthurian fiction myself, I know how much research is required and also how one has to take texts that are often vague, obscure, or fragmented, or storylines that have been embellished over centuries and sift through them as well as embellish them to fill in the missing pieces of the story. In his introduction, Pitcaithly remarks that it “feels almost like detective work, as if I am uncovering a true history from flawed sources.” That’s a feeling I know very well. He has taken a very minor reference to Penarddun in Welsh literature and created an entire novel around it.

What’s to come next in the series? In his introduction, Pitcaithly tells us he was first inspired to write a novel about the Amadis legend based on his early reading of Lewis Spence’s Legends and Romances of Spain. Over time, he realized that despite that legend’s Spanish trappings, it felt distinctly Celtic to him. I am not familiar with the Amadis legend, but in The Realm of Albion, Pitcaithly mentions in passing a couple of times a young prince belonging to another royal family named Amadis—a clear sign that Amadis will figure in later books. But as for the next book, it will be titled Under the Clear Sky and will bring in characters involved in the Sertorian War and the Spartacus revolt, as well as covering the reign of Cordelia and the rise of Bran, son to Llyr and Penarddun.

I highly recommend The Realm of Albion. It is wonderful to see the fragmented stories of the ancient Britons given new life and to have someone enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his subject put together the pieces to create a compelling story for modern readers. Anyone interested in ancient British history or the Arthurian legend will enjoy this book. I don’t know of anyone else who has taken on such a grand and scholarly undertaking to explore in fiction the pre-Arthurian period and even pre-Roman period (the novel’s action takes place around 80 B.C.E.). Marion Zimmer Bradley, of course, wrote her Avalon novels that were prequels to The Mists of Avalon, but with the exception of Ravens of Avalon, completed by her successor, Diana Paxson, I don’t feel those books were very successful or convincing, and they did not have as authentic a feeling of ancient British lore as what Pitcaithly brings to this retelling. With a large cast of bigger than life legendary characters, new twists on old tales, and plenty of Arthurian references, The Realm of Albion is a fabulous start to a fascinating new series. I look forward to reading the next book.

The Realm of Albion is available at most online bookstores. For more information about Marcus Pitcaithly, visit http://marcuspitcaithly.wix.com/marcus-pitcaithly.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and The Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Since I don’t have Starz, I’ve been anxiously awaiting a chance to watch Camelot and finally found it online at http://www.watchseriesonlinehere.com/camelot-s01e01-episode-1/ thanks to a member of the Facebook King Arthur group. It’s an annoying website full of pop-ups, so if you’d rather wait to watch the show on TV, it will be airing on CBC this fall.

Camelot StarzThere is a lot to say about Camelot, so I’ll only discuss the first three episodes here. Of course, I’m eager to watch any program about the Arthurian legend, but I think this program has more marks against it than positive points, and I’m not surprised that it was announced recently that it would be cancelled, based not just on the cost to make a historical production piece but also for the flaws in the story and characters and that the episodes drag a bit. I’m not saying I dislike the show. I don’t think there’s much on TV worth watching anymore so it’s one of the better shows out there, but for lovers of the Arthurian legend, there’s much to complain about it. It’s too bad because nothing would make my TV viewing more pleasurable than a long-running Arthurian series.

Here are my issues with Camelot:

  • The actor playing King Arthur, Jamie Campbell Bower, just doesn’t do it for me, and that’s a big problem since he has the lead role. He may be a good actor, and yes, Arthur was young and naive when he became king, but Bower’s Arthur looks more like a rock star wannabe bad boy than a young man capable of becoming king. Nor is he in any way an imposing or kingly figure–his bio on IMDB says he’s six feet tall, but Guinevere looks taller. And seriously, how can we believe Guinevere would pick this Arthur over Leontes, a trained warrior, better looking, better built. I don’t mean to be offensive to Bower, but King Arthur he just is not. As I watch the show, I keep wishing Peter Mooney, who is playing Kay, were playing Arthur; he much more looks the part.
  • Arthur’s sword – why is the Sword of Mars or Sword of the Gods, or whatever they are calling it being called anything but Excalibur? I suspect because in legend, there are two sword stories–the sword pulled out of the stone which Arthur loses, and then the sword the Lady of the Lake gives him. In the second episode of Camelot, Arthur manages to release the sword, but since it’s sticking out of the middle of a waterfall, when he pulls it out he loses his balance, and consequently loses the sword when he falls and goes underwater. The whole waterfall scene is rather stupid in my opinion, but I do like that the show makes a point that Merlin planted the sword there and planned out the entire thing, much like in Malory. But a smarter Merlin wouldn’t have put the sword where Arthur was likely to lose it.
  • King Lot – he dies in episode 2. That’s a big difference from the legends since he gives Morgan le Fay (or more commonly Morgause her sister; they are often confused and one or two people depending on the version) four children, namely Gawain, Gareth, Agrivaine, and Gaheris. Not to mention being a pseudo-father for Mordred once Morgause/Morgan gets pregnant by Arthur.
  • Gawaine – obviously, he’s not Lot and Morgan’s son in this version.
  • Vivian – why is she black? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not prejudiced, and in the Merlin series, while I was surprised that Guinevere was black, at least that series is far more like fantasy. Vivian is traditionally the Lady of the Lake; instead, here she’s acting like a servant to Morgan. What’s the reason? Perhaps there will later be a Nimue as Lady of the Lake since Nimue was the original Lady of the Lake while Tennyson renamed her Viviane.
  • Merlin – I know Joseph Fiennes is a fine actor, but I like my Merlin’s to have at least a little bit of beard–just a little gray to make me believe he’s old and wise–pretty please? Never mind, obviously this Merlin isn’t very smart. As if putting the sword where Arthur will lose it isn’t enough, he makes a totally idiotic decision when he and Arthur go to visit Morgan at her castle without bringing along any guards, or even that they go at all. And of course, Morgan uses her spells on them–they couldn’t see that coming? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Did what happened at the castle make good television viewing–sure, but not at the expense of logic and characters with common sense. If this Merlin were in a slasher film, he’d play the dumb blonde girl who goes back into the house with the ax murderer.
  • The Nudity – right off we have a nude scene in the first episode – Arthur fooling around with a girl whom Kay is apparently interested in. And what’s the point? Gratuitous nudity from the start. Merlin shows up to say Arthur is the true king of Britain, and Arthur rides off, taking Kay along–poor girl got naked for no reason. She’s not spoken of again. Taking your clothes off just isn’t enough for a long-term role in Camelot apparently. Later we get a wild sex scene between Morgan and Lot, and of course, sex between Arthur and Guinevere. I’m not going to complain though when Eva Green as Morgan drops her clothes to have sex with a wolf. She’s stunning–but seriously, a wolf–I know a metaphor for some dark spirit, but still–bestiality?
  • Leontes – the number one thing people have been Googling to lead them to my blog is Leontes. Everyone wants to know who he is–is he from the legend. NO. He’s completely fictional. Why is he in the story? I don’t know. He seems to be some sort of juxtaposed Lancelot figure. Traditionally in the legend, Arthur and Guinevere are married but Guinevere is in love with Lancelot. Camelot‘s creators apparently decided to twist the storyline and have Guinevere engaged to the made-up Leontes, and then have her in love with Arthur. By episode three, Guinevere and Leontes are married, after Guinevere had sex with Arthur. I can’t wait to see how this triangle is going to work out. I’ll bet Leontes ends up dead–or worse, it won’t be resolved because the program’s already been cancelled and it was planned to be on for five seasons. I will say that Philip Winchester, who plays Leontes, is a great actor and I used to enjoy watching him in the cancelled TV series Robinson Crusoe (2008-2009) on NBC. I hope a series picks him up that will make him a success.

Okay. That’s enough of ripping on the show. There are a few things I like about it. Here they are:

  • Camelot itself – the set of the castle is stunning. I love that it’s an old ruin that Arthur will revitalize. It’s beautiful. In fact, all the scenery and sets are very well done. It’s filmed on the Guinness estate outside Dublin according to an interview with Joseph Fiennes.
  • Eva Green as Morgan – as far as I’m concerned Eva Green is the reason to watch this show. Ever since I saw her in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), one of my all time favorite movies, I’ve thought she was one of the most distinctively beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She’s incredibly sensual–who doesn’t want to watch her suck food off her fingers like Orlando Bloom enjoys doing in the film? She’s equally beautiful, if not quite as exotic, in Camelot. She’s a wonderful actress but I feel like the script may be holding her back. Her character is a bit cliched, but still it’s an interesting role, and Morgan le Fay is perhaps my favorite Arthurian character anyway.
  • It’s a TV series about King Arthur – yes, there are some bad King Arthur films, but for the most part, Camelot is a good show. It’s entertaining. The episodes may drag a little. It’s not perfect, but similarly, I now really like the Merlin series, but it took half-a-dozen episodes to win me over and go from disgust actually to appreciate the talking dragon. Will Camelot have the power to win me over as I watch the rest of the episodes? I’m a bit more skeptical if it’s been cancelled already, but I’ll keep watching. I’m sure I’ll watch it several times over.

As I watch the rest of the episodes, I’ll be posting more of my impressions and where Camelot coincides or strays from the various versions of Arthurian legend. I don’t suppose I’ll be lucky enough to see the program create a child for Arthur, so I can add another chapter to King Arthur’s Children.

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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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