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Marquette, MI, January 13, 2015—What made medieval royalty want to claim descent from a shape-shifting fairy? Whether a mermaid or a flying serpent, Melusine of Lusignan was seen as a desirable ancestor by many noble and royal houses of Europe, and she was both reviled and celebrated by medieval audiences. Now she tells her own story in award-winning author Tyler R. Tichelaar’s new historical fantasy novel Melusine’s Gift: The Children of Arthur, Book Two.

Melusine’s Gift tells the story of a fairy connected to King Arthur and the two magic rings she leaves her children.

 

According to legend, Raimond, Count of Lusignan, met the beautiful Melusine at a forest fountain. They fell in love and she agreed to marry him if he promised never to disturb her when she locked herself away every Saturday. Raimond agreed, but fearing his wife was committing adultery, he eventually spied on her and discovered she was a mermaid. Later, when tragedy struck their children, he lashed out at his wife, calling her a serpent. Heartbroken, Melusine sprung wings and flew out the castle window, her serpent tail trailing behind her.

Tichelaar has always been intrigued by Melusine and believes the explanations behind her mystery lie in her being raised in Avalon, home to Morgan le Fay and King Arthur’s final resting place. “I suspect she learned magic in Avalon and simply enjoyed shape-shifting, something humans couldn’t understand,” says Tichelaar. “As for the connections to royalty, the whole premise of my Children of Arthur series is that King Arthur’s descendants live among us today. I believe Melusine played a key role in that lineage.”

In Tichelaar’s first novel in the series, Arthur’s Legacy, twentieth century Adam Delaney, an American-born young man, meets the wizard Merlin, who reveals to Adam that he is a descendant of King Arthur and his family will aid in fulfilling the prophecy of King Arthur’s return. Now in this sequel, Adam and his English wife are on their honeymoon in France where they discover their family’s connection to Melusine. This knowledge will aid them in the future when they must fight forces determined to stop Arthur’s return.

The Children of Arthur series has won praise from readers and Arthurian experts. Jenifer Brady, author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, says, “Readers unfamiliar with Melusine’s place in history will be drawn into her world, while the captivating web of multi-layered stories within stories combine and complement to obliterate the preconceived notions of those who consider themselves experts on her legend.” And John Matthews, author of King Arthur: Dark Age Warrior and Mythic Hero, states, “Works of this kind are hugely important because they keep the legends alive and bring them into the 21st century. Strongly recommended for all who love the old and the new in mythic fiction.”

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of numerous historical fiction novels, including The Best Place and the award-winning Narrow Lives as well as the scholarly books The Gothic Wanderer and King Arthur’s Children.

Melusine’s Gift: The Children of Arthur, Book Two (ISBN 9780979179099, Marquette Fiction, 2015) can be purchased in paperback and ebook editions through local and online bookstores. For more information, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com. Review copies available upon request.

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I’ve long been interested in the story of Melusine, the fairy with a serpent’s tale. However, it is very difficult to find any scholarly works in English about her – most are in French, so I was delighted to discover Gareth Knight’s recently published “Melusine of Lusignan & The Cult of the Faery Woman.”

Gareth Knight is well-known in esoteric circles and for his work on myths and legends. His previous book on European faery tradition was “The Faery Gates of Avalon,” which I have not read but now am curious to.

“Melusine of Lusignan” is a relatively short book – 124 pages, and I wouldn’t consider it an academic work but rather an attempt just to shed light upon the tale of Melusine. In fact, Knight retells the story at length blending together various versions without specificying which piece he got from where so that I wish he had been more academic about it since bits of the legend that he cites I have not seen elsewhere. That said, I admit I have only read what I could find online about Melusine and a translation of Coudrette’s “The Romans of Partenay” and Lainez’s “The Wandering Unicorn,” which I previously reviewed here. I am no expert but rather an enthusiast on the subject.

What I most valued about Knight’s book is how he retells the story, then breaks it into pieces and offers commentary on each section, including what was added later to the legend and what might be the earlier versions. For example, Melusine’s ten children, excepting Geoffrey, seem to be mostly fictional and added as ways to link the genealogy of several European houses as descendants of Melusine. It’s also interesting that Pressyne’s curse on her daughters for how they punished their father is probably an addition to the story made by chroniclers to explain her serpent’s tale. I think Knight is probably correct that in reality Melusine needed each Saturday alone because it was the Sabbath day, a day of rest, a day for her to reenergize after a week of masquerading as a human.

Knight also offers a lot of historical commentary to the other children of Melusine and the sources for the tales of her sisters which do not appear to be original.

Finally, he speculates that Melusine’s mother Pressyne could be the sister of Morgan le Fay, which links her to Arthurian literature, although I don’t think this connection will ever be fully clarified.

I wish I could find more scholarly works in English about Melusine and also how the Arthurian legends influenced the French romances of Melusine and Charlemagne, since Avalon is connected to both.

Anyone interested in Melusine will want to read Gareth Knight’s book. Much remains to be said on this subject, but Knight has provided a good start for English audiences interested in what is probably France’s most famous fairy tale or legend. Like King Arthur, we will probably never know just who the historical Melusine or who her real descendants are, but it’s always fun to speculate.

Gareth Knight’s “Melusine of Lusignan & The Cult of the Faery Woman” is available at Amazon and at http://rjstewart.net/

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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The legend of Melusine has long fascinated people, although it is less well-known today than in the past. For centuries royal and noble houses tried to claim lineage from the fairy Melusine, although their reasoning for why has never been exactly clear. More interesting to Arthurian scholars and enthusiasts is how Melusine has been linked to the Arthurian legend.

Julius Hubner Melusine

German Painter Julius Hubner’s depiction of Melusine

For those who don’t know Melusine’s story, here is a summary of the legend as it appears on Wikipedia:

Elynas, the King of Albany (an old name for Albania) [Note that Wikipedia is wrong here – Albany was the old name for Scotland.] went hunting one day and came across a beautiful lady in the forest. She was Pressyne, mother of Melusine. He persuaded her to marry him but she agreed, only on the promise — for there is often a hard and fatal condition attached to any pairing of fay and mortal — that he must not enter her chamber when she birthed or bathed her children. She gave birth to triplets. When he violated this taboo, Pressyne left the kingdom, together with her three daughters, and traveled to the lost Isle of Avalon.

The three girls — Melusine, Melior, and Palatyne — grew up in Avalon. On their fifteenth birthday, Melusine, the eldest, asked why they had been taken to Avalon. Upon hearing of their father’s broken promise, Melusine sought revenge. She and her sisters captured Elynas and locked him, with his riches, in a mountain. Pressyne became enraged when she learned what the girls had done, and punished them for their disrespect to their father. Melusine was condemned to take the form of a serpent from the waist down every Saturday. In other stories, she takes on the form of a mermaid.

Raymond of Poitou came across Melusine in a forest in France, and proposed marriage. Just as her mother had done, she laid a condition, that he must never enter her chamber on a Saturday. He broke the promise and saw her in the form of a part-woman part-serpent. She forgave him. When during a disagreement, he called her a “serpent” in front of his court, she assumed the form of a dragon, provided him with two magic rings, and flew off, never to return.

What fascinates me about the legend is two-fold: the fact that Melusine is a fairy who grows up in Avalon (did she know Morgan le Fay and King Arthur?) and how royal lines, including the House of Lusignan, and their descendants, the royal family of England, claim descent from her–why want to be descended from a cursed fairy?

Recently, I discovered Manuel Mujica Lainez’s novel The Wandering Unicorn (1965). More than just a retelling of the Melusine legend, Lainez tells the story in first person from Melusine’s viewpoint but quickly sums up the known story in the first few pages. Rather than a retelling of the story, Lainez continues Melusine’s tale. Tired of hanging around the castle of Lusignan and being invisible, Melusine decides to accompany her strikingly gorgeous descendant Aiol (a fictional character to the best of my knowledge), on his quest to find the lance that pierced Christ, reputedly hidden somewhere in the Holy Land. The novel takes place during the time of the Crusades, and for those familiar with the movie, Kingdom of Heaven(2005), it basically recounts the same events surrounding the reign of the Leper King, Baldwin IV, his death, and the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin.

“The Wandering Unicorn” by Manuel Mujica Lainez

Today, the novel is a bit hard to find but used copies can be bought online. Some reviewers at Amazon have complained that it’s slow. I admit it isn’t an action-adventure novel or even one fully rich on character development, other than Melusine’s character. It reads less like a novel than an old-fashioned French romance or chronicle, with a touch of magical realism. In most of the narrative, Melusine describes what she sees since she is invisible and cannot interact with the other characters. Later, she is granted her request by her mother to be made human–only to be tricked by being transformed into a man so she cannot possess Aiol, whom she is crazy in love with. But Lainez’s prose is musical and magical, and his research into Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the 12th century must have been extensive for Lainez knows the gossip and autobiographical details (some of which I’m sure he makes up) for many of the key and minor players in the politics of the Holy Land during the Crusades.

I found The Wandering Unicorn a fascinating novel, and I can’t say how thrilled I was to discover it because as many of my readers know, my book King Arthur’s Children was written as a form of research into the legend and background for the series of novels I am currently writing about King Arthur, in which I plan to carry King Arthur’s descendants up to modern times, and I have long planned to have both Melusine and the Crusades play a role in those books, so it was fascinating to me that nearly half a century ago, someone else had the same idea. And why not? If Melusine grew up in Avalon and did know King Arthur and Morgan le Fay, how could she not be a significant character in the aftermath of events that happened following Camlann? If Morgan le Fay can show up in the Charlemagne legends, why not Melusine? Even one of my other favorite literary characters, the Wandering Jew, makes a cameo appearance in The Wandering Unicorn. What’s not to like?

It may be years before I finish writing my own novels and creating a new story for Melusine, but she leaves much room for imaginative possibilities; she has definitely become one of my muses, and as one of her descendants (through my descent from the Plantagenets), who can say that she is not guiding me to retell her story? I hope to post more about her in the future. Meanwhile, I encourage people to read Coudrette’s late medieval work The Romans of Partenay or of Lusignen: Otherwise known as the Tale of Melusine and Lainez’s fascinating The Wandering Unicorn. As Melusine herself says in The Wandering Unicorn:

“My name is Melusine, which should tell you all you need to know. But alas, at present it may not be enough. Indeed, what is enough these days, when students have to absorb so much abstruse and futile information that they have no time left for the fundamentals?”

Melusine’s legend is definitely one of the fundamental great legends of Western literature. Explore it.

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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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