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The following excerpt is from my book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition upon a little discussed aspect of Arthur’s perhaps forgotten brother in early Arthurian legends:

Sir Mordred at the Battle of Camlann

Before we leave Mordred, we should notice that there may be some confusion between him as either Arthur’s son or brother, and between Mordred and a brother of Arthur’s named Modron. The confusion is further increased since Modron usually appears as Arthur’s sister rather than brother.

R.S. Loomis tells us that the ravens of The Mabinogion who battle with Arthur’s knights are Arthur’s nephew Owain’s mother, Modron, and her sisters, the daughters of Avallach (Wales 96-7). Loomis also states that Morgan le Fay and Modron have a connection because both are daughters of Avallach (Celtic Myth 192). If Morgan le Fay and Modron are sisters, we must first wonder whether they are Arthur’s sisters, making them the daughters of one of Arthur’s parents, or are they the children of Avallach? If Modron is Owain’s mother, it seems strange that Morgan is also frequently credited with having a child named Owain. Perhaps the two are not sisters, but merely the same person with a confused identity. This situation may be a similar case to Arthur’s Welsh sons becoming confused or integrated into Mordred.

Celtic scholars are in agreement that Modron, who seems to be Morgan le Fay’s sister, is the old Gallo-Roman goddess Matrona, who gave her name to the river Marne, and therefore, seems to be connected with water (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 193). If this connection to a river is true, it should not surprise us that Modron is sister to Morgan, who is often the Lady of the Lake.

When the Welsh wrote of Modron in their legends, they made her the mother of both Owain and Mabon (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 193). This son, Mabon, can be traced back to Apollo Maponos, who was worshiped in both Gaul and Britain (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 4).

What is strange is that if Modron were a female, she should later appear as Arthur’s brother in a modern novel such as in Edward Franklin’s The Bear of Britain (1944), where he is treacherous, along with Mordred, who is here Arthur’s nephew (Thompson 41).

In other works, Mordred has been depicted as Arthur’s brother, which may be another confusion with Modron, but more likely authors just taking license with the story. In Edison Marshall’s novel The Pagan King (1959), Mordred is Arthur’s half-brother. Why would Arthur have both a treacherous brother and nephew? In Marshall’s opinion, it must have seemed easier to combine the two into one character. We may then wonder whether Mordred and Modron have an older mythological connection or at least these writers are drawing upon what they want to believe is a lost connection.

In the Prince Valiant comic strip, begun by Hal Foster in 1937 and still running in more than 300 newspapers each Sunday, Mordred is also Arthur’s half-brother. In this case Mordred has a daughter, but she is not King Arthur’s direct descendant as a result. Mordred’s daughter Maeve marries Arn, the son of Prince Valiant. Arn and Maeve’s daughter Ingrid (born in the 1987 comic strip) has been designated as Arthur’s heir. Mordred has been removed from the line of succession. My guess is that Foster chose to depict Mordred as Arthur’s half-brother to avoid the issue of incest in a comic strip; I doubt Foster was interested in the relationship between Mordred and Modron.

Modron cannot be readily accepted as an early brother of Arthur. Nowhere in early traditions does he appear as such. However, in Welsh tradition is a tale where Arthur speaks to an eagle, which reveals itself to be his deceased nephew, Elewlod, the son of Madawg, son of Uthr (Bromwich, Arthur Welsh, 58). That Madawg’s son should become an eagle, may remind us of Modron as a raven, and also the legends which tell of Arthur being turned into a raven rather than dying. Perhaps then we can accept Madawg as being Modron.

Modron’s reasons for becoming confused with Mordred may also have explanations. We have seen Modron’s possibility as a sister to Morgan le Fay, Lady of the Lake. Modron herself is connected to river goddesses. Mordred definitely has a connection to water through his mythological ancestor, Dylan. Suggested connections have also been made betwen Pryderi and Rhiannon and Modron and Mabon, who was also taken away when three nights old from his mother (MacCana 83). In “Culhwch and Olwen,” Cei and Gwrhyr search for Mabon and must ask all the oldest animals where he may be. In her chapter “Chrétien de Troyes,” Jean Frappier points out that in Yvain are blended in traditions of Modron as a water nymph (Loomis, Arthurian Literature,163), and in an Irish tale, a character named Fraech is wounded by a water-monster and is then carried away by his fairy kinswomen to be healed. In her chapter “The Vulgate Cycle,” Jean Frappier makes notice of another Irish tale that tells of Fergus mac Leite being wounded by a water-monster, and as he lays by the lake dying, he charges his people that his sword Caladcolg (the original of Excalibur) should be preserved till it can be given to a fitting lord (Loomis, Arthurian Literature, 310). Could Mordred then have an origin as a water monster or as a female goddess of the sea? Or could there be a lost tradition that Mordred is the son of Modron? Why not, since we already have Morgan le Fay and Morgause as possible mothers for him.

Accurate connections between Mordred and Modron have not yet been made, but the similarities may point to a need for further investigation into this matter.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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This month, Hal Foster’s masterful comic strip Prince Valiant: In the Days of King Arthur celebrates its seventy-fifth birthday. Foster’s strip first debuted on February 13, 1937, and it has continued to be a hit with comic strip fans, Arthurian enthusiasts, and students of art and illustration ever since.

For many years, I’ve wanted to read the entire Prince Valiant strip. When I lived in Kalamazoo, the local paper used to carry it on Sunday so I got to read it for a short time, but never consecutively enough to follow the story. I had seen books printed of parts of the strip, but it wasn’t until Christmas that I was able to set out on my quest to read the entire Prince Valiant series. For Christmas I received Volume I of the Prince Valiant strip, covering 1937-1938, and published by Fantagraphics Books. I have every intention of reading the rest of the volumes which are coming out every few months and available at bookstores. I’ll write more about Volume I in a future post. Since it’s Prince Valiant’s 75th anniversary, I’ll blog about it throughout the month.

Prince Valiant by Hal Foster

After 75 years, Prince Valiant still rides!

I first became interested in Prince Valiant when writing King Arthur’s Children back in the 1990s, especially because I came across the statement that Mordred had a daughter in the strip, and I’ve always been fascinated by depictions of Arthur’s descendants. It turns out, however, that Mordred is not Arthur’s son but his half-brother in the strip. Mordred’s daughter Maeve ends up marrying Arn, Prince Valiant’s son, and their daughter Ingrid (born in the 1987 comic strip) has been designated as Arthur’s heir while Mordred has been removed from the line of succession. My guess is that Foster chose to depict Mordred as Arthur’s half-brother to avoid the issue of incest in a comic strip.

Despite this disappointment for me, what little I had read and researched of Prince Valiant kept me fascinated. The first volume of Prince Valiant has an interesting introduction that talks about Hal Foster’s artistic style and his background. I was thrilled to discover that before writing Prince Valiant, Foster had worked on the Tarzan comic strip—Tarzan being one of the few characters in my opinion that ranks up there with King Arthur—so I hope to read Foster’s Tarzan strips as well some day.

Foster’s work is very impressive. You wouldn’t think a comic strip that only came out once a week was an arduous task, but Foster would spend about sixty hours a week working on it. Actually, you realize it had to be a big job to create the strip once you look at the art work. Foster’s drawing is superb, and he adds great detail to every panel of the strip. He also had to take the time to plot out the story, and he was usually 9-12 weeks ahead in creating the strip. He also spent considerable time researching the historical Britain of King Arthur and visiting all the places that he would include in the strip. Then he had to take the plot and break it down into week by week separate “chapters” and then each chapter into a panel or “scene.” Foster was a master at offsetting the visual and written aspects of the strip, and it is well-known that he was revolutionary in removing the balloons for speech. The result is something that is closer to book illustration than comic strip, but it is this superior style that has made Prince Valiant endure all these years.

Foster is also great at creating diverse characters and keeping the story moving in multiple directions as well as reintroducing characters as needed. For example, Valiant travels to Camelot, goes off on adventures, and then returns to Camelot repeatedly which provides relief from the strict King Arthur story.

But after seventy-five years, does the strip still stand up? Yes, it does. I have to admit that I don’t think I could read it weekly and stay interested in it, but that is partly the result of our time period today. Back in the late 1930s, in the years before television was common, and far from the days of the Internet, when movies and radio were the primary forms of entertainment, people may have had a greater attention span and been willing to wait for the fulfillment of the cliffhanger each week. Today, cliffhangers still work with half hour television programs, but a strip that only takes a couple of minutes to read each week is a bit different. However, reading the strip in book form works well. I found myself reading about a year’s worth of strips, fifty-two per year obviously, in about an hour, although I paused to admire the art work numerous times. Furthermore, this new edition is beautifully reproduced, along with essays that describe the reproductions to create brilliant colors, and the price of the books at $29.95 (and selling online for about $10 less) can’t be beat for such large full color pages. Prince Valiant is still a remarkable adventure, and if it has a tendency to wander about like a soap opera rather than have a tight plot, that’s the result of the medium, and given its restraints, Foster knew how to keep it interesting for decades, and his successors continue to do so years after his passing.

Not long after the strip debuted, the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII) actually went so far as to say that Prince Valiant was the “greatest contribution to English literature in the past one hundred years.” I don’t know how much of a reader the Duke of Windsor was, but if that were true, it would make Prince Valiant more significant than anything written by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, the Bronte Sisters, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, William Butler Yeats, Robert Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennsyon, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, J.M. Barrie, and countless other great English authors. High praise indeed!

In any case, Happy Birthday, Prince Valiant! May you continue to ride through Arthur’s England for many years to come!

For more Prince Valiant in all his manifestations from toys and figurines to books, visit www.PrinceValiant.org

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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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