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Posts Tagged ‘Marion Zimmer Bradley’

Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new novel, Daughter of Destiny: Guinevere’s Tale, Book One. (You can read my review of her novel at https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/guinevere-gets-her-say-in-new-novel-daughter-of-destiny-by-nicole-evelina/)

Nicole Evelina, author of "Daughter of Destiny" about Guinevere's early years before she married King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina, author of “Daughter of Destiny” about Guinevere’s early years before she married King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina 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 skill, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide.

Her new novel Daughter of Destiny was published on January 1, 2016, and it is the first in a trilogy of novels she has planned. Her goal is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I interviewed you about three years ago about your novel series and interest in the Arthurian legend. Back then you were trying to find a publisher, so it’s been a long journey. How did publication come about and how does it feel now to be a published author?

Nicole: Hi Tyler! Thanks for having me on your blog again. Yes, it has been a long journey. I started out going the traditional publication route and got SOOOOO close three times (twice at Penguin), but it ultimately didn’t end up working out for this book. In the meantime, the self-publishing market exploded. I met more and more people who were doing it, and after a lot of study and serious consideration, I decided to self-publish. I created my own publishing imprint and own my own business now. My first product was Daughter of Destiny.

Tyler: Tell us how you came up with the idea to write Daughter of Destiny and why you think it stands out from other Arthurian novels?

Nicole: When I was in college, I read The Mists of Avalon, and I loved the book, but hated Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere. So I sought out other books about the character. I found Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which covers Guinevere’s life after King Arthur’s death. That made me wonder what her life was like before and after him. You didn’t hear too much about that. Then she came into my head and told me she wanted me to tell her whole life story, before Arthur, with him and after. The rest is history.

I think it stands out because I’ve done things with Guinevere that few, if any, other authors have done. For example, my Guinevere is a priestess of Avalon and that is how she meets Morgan. Their rivalry begins long before Arthur enters the picture. So that means he’s part of it, but definitely not all. Plus, I have made Guinevere’s first love someone I don’t think anyone else has ever done, but there is a mythological connection, a reason that I chose this person.

Tyler: I definitely want to know more about Guinevere’s first love, but first, you’ve said you were influenced by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon in writing the novel, but obviously, you were reacting to her rather than just imitating her. What do you think is or was valuable about Bradley’s novel and what is its place in Arthurian literature?

Nicole: For me, it was the emphasis on the female characters and telling their story. All throughout history, we’ve gotten the male perspective. Ms. Bradley turned that on its head. I also think she was groundbreaking in connecting the Arthurian story to Wicca/neopagan worship. While that’s not historically accurate, it spoke to (and continues to speak to) a lot of people in a way that they need, myself included.

Tyler: In the novel, you have Guinevere go to Avalon while young to study there. Why did you choose to have Avalon play a key part in her background?

Nicole: It was natural to me because I knew I wanted to explore the tension between Christianity and paganism at that point in history and that I wanted Guinevere to be pagan. Having Avalon be the female center of Druidism (while Merlin had the male center elsewhere) was a natural outgrowth of my love of The Mists of Avalon. It also gave me a way to have Guinevere grow up with a group of strong-willed, powerful women who would shape who she becomes.

Tyler: Okay. Now back to that love interest question. I was really surprised that Guinevere’s love interest in the novel is Aggrivaine. How did you come to that decision?

Nicole: Well, I knew I wanted her to have a first love before Arthur. Most authors have chosen to make it Lancelot, but I wanted to go in a different direction. The more I explored the legend, I realized in some versions, Mordred isn’t alone in confronting and exposing Lancelot and Guinevere. Sometimes Aggrivane is with him. I started wondering why. What was Aggrivane’s motivation for such a betrayal? Then it hit me. If he and Guinevere were together first, he would naturally want revenge. He would be wondering why, if she was going to have an affair, it wasn’t with him. So I kind of wrote the relationship backwards, from the endgame. Also, because Lot is Aggrivane’s father and Lot’s kingdom of Lothian is in the Votadini lands (where Guinevere’s mom is from), it was helpful for Guinevere to already have a connection to their family. None of it was an accident.

Tyler: That makes perfect sense, Nicole. Aggrivane is often Mordred’s accomplice in Camelot’s fall. That’s brilliant reasoning and not really so surprising then when you think about it. But there are some other surprises about the characters and their relationships. For example, Arthur’s sister is named Ana, and there’s no sister named Morgan le Fay or Morgause? Why did you make those changes?

"Daughter of Destiny" the first book in a trilogy about Guinevere.

“Daughter of Destiny” the first book in a trilogy about Guinevere.

Nicole: I feel like Ana has gotten lost in all the modern attention to Morgause and Morgan le Fay, both of whom tend to be evil characters. Although Ana is a small character, I wanted to give her back what I feel is her rightful place. In my world, she’s a strong, intelligent queen. Morgan has her own role to play, which you’ll find out in the second book.

Tyler: Of course, there is a Morgan in the novel, and she is a rival to Guinevere. Do you see Morgan as a villain? Is that a reaction against her protagonist role in Mists?

Nicole: Yes, Morgan is the villain. But she has her reasons. She doesn’t know who her parents are and so, as Guinevere observes, Morgan has no tribe, no family outside of Avalon. Therefore, Morgan must do everything she can to secure her place as the darling of Avalon, a role Guinevere also covets. It’s the only way Morgan can survive. Later on, she’s still fighting the same fight, just out in the world, trying to connive her way into survival, and she hopes, eventually to triumph over Guinevere who has been a thorn in her side from an early age.

I don’t think my Morgan was a reaction to Mists, at least not consciously. I’ve always viewed Morgan as a villain.

Tyler: I don’t want to give away too much of the novel, but it’s obvious that Arthur will show up in Guinevere’s life since he’s always her husband in the legend. In this novel, however, he’s a pretty minor character. Did you intentionally hold him off until the end of the book?

Nicole: Yes. This book is meant to show you Guinevere’s life before Arthur becomes a major part in it, to show that she was a person with friends and family, hopes and dreams before queenship ever entered her mind. He becomes a major character in the second book.

Tyler: I’ve seen a lot of Arthurian novelists, especially those who write fantasy, recently be criticized for not trying to create a perfectly historical Arthurian period. How important do you feel it is to create a historical Arthur rather than just a fantasy one, and do you think it matters whether Arthur was historical or not?

Nicole: I don’t think it matters. Personally, I think he did exist on some level, but until we uncover his diary, we just won’t know who that historical Arthur is. History and archeology are changing every single day with new discoveries (for example, they just recently announced that Christians lived at Glastonbury at least 200 years earlier than previously thought) so in some ways, it’s impossible to ever create a historical Arthur. I think you do what you can with the research you can find and as a novelist, are allowed to make up the rest. That’s what separates us from the historians. How historically accurate your world is will depend on your intent—are you trying to show what it really was like in a certain time period? Or are you more interested in the fantasy side? My personal take was a bit of both.

Tyler: I know you did a lot of research on the legend in writing your novels. Will you share with us a little of the experiences you had in doing research and what you learned that most surprised you or shaped your story?

Nicole: Oh gosh. Yes, I did lots of research. There’s a whole page on my website dedicated to it: http://nicoleevelina.com/the-books/guineveres-tale/daughter-of-destiny-book-1/guinevere-trilogy/. Book research was the majority of what I did. It was very interesting to see the number of different theories that were out there on King Arthur. It’s almost like no two people can agree.

I was honored to be able to meet one of my source authors, Geoffrey Ashe, while I was in England as part of an Arthurian legend tour. To get to hear his theories and pick his brain in person was such an honor. As it turned out, the man who led the tour, Jamie George, helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon. I had no idea until I was over there and got to talking. It is such a small world! Then, later on once the first book was finished, I was able to secure an endorsement from John Matthews. He and his wife Caitlin were two of my major sources of research and I respect them both so very much. It was a dream come true to have his name grace the back cover of my book.

I think what surprised me most was what I learned about the dizzying subject of Celtic (Brehon) law. I’ve tried to incorporate a little of it into my books because it’s one of the reasons why Celtic women were so powerful. They had so many more rights than their counterparts around the world. I wish I was enough of an expert in it to speak intelligently about it, but it is just so complex.

Tyler: I’ve traveled and done research as well, and I remember when I visited Glastonbury I felt overcome by a source of energy or power there I had never experienced anywhere else. I just felt so happy and full of energy there. Did you have any experiences like that where you felt connected to an Arthurian landscape or did you just have a favorite place you visited that really helped your imagination come to life for your book?

Nicole: Glastonbury was special to me on a personal level, but not in connection to these books. I’m hoping to get back there this September when I’m in England again. Actually, the place I felt most connected with has nothing to do with these books, but is a main setting for a future dual-time period novel.

As far as Arthurian sites, I loved getting to see Cadbury castle, which some say was Guinevere’s home, or possibly a site for Camelot. I use it as Arthur’s southern power base in the second and third books of this series.

Tyler: The novel has been out a little over a month now. What kinds of responses have you received from readers, and have you been surprised by any of them?

Nicole: I’m surprised by the number of great reviews it’s gotten! Some people really get what I was going for. And when they get it, they get it, as in ALL in. As is to be expected, some people don’t, but that just means they weren’t my intended audience to begin with. One thing I find surprising is that so far, the people who didn’t like Daughter of Destiny have still expressed interest in reading the second book. That’s going to be hard to watch because I have this fear the second book will be very divisive because it’s so dark and deals with heavy subject matter.

Tyler: When can we expect the next two books in the series to be published and what kinds of glimpses can you give us into what will happen to Guinevere in them?

Nicole: The second book, Camelot’s Queen, comes out April 12. That one covers Guinevere’s life with Arthur, her role as a battle queen, her affair with Lancelot and the discovery of the Holy Grail. I can tell you Morgan has a role you won’t see coming, and if you hated Father Marius in the first book, you will loathe him in the second. It’s a much darker book than the first one, covering the subjects of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, all of which have their origin in the legends, and I don’t feel can be ignored simply because they are distasteful. I hope readers see that I have tried to address these issues with respect and give them context so they are not just a plot device, but truly affect the characters’ lives and the decisions they make.

The third book, Mistress of Legend, is tentatively scheduled for late 2016/early 2017. That book begins with the fall of Camelot and the battle of Camlann and then covers Guinevere’s life after Arthur dies. There is a convent involved, but I can promise you she doesn’t live out her days there in penance. She is her mother’s daughter and born to lead, so you will see a strong woman to the end of her days. I have a draft written. I know how it ends. (I’ve known from the beginning.) But the middle of the story is currently missing and I’m not happy with the opening, so I have some work to do.

I tend to think of the three books like this: the first books shows her as a priestess, the second as a queen and third as a warrior.

Tyler: I can’t wait for that third book especially, Nicole. It all sounds fascinating. Thank you for joining me today, Nicole. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about Daughter of Destiny?

Nicole: Thank you again for having me, Tyler. It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you because you understand the legends so well.

My website is http://nicoleevelina.com. In addition to learning about the book, you’ll find my research, a pronunciation guide for the character and place names, and the map that’s in the book. I’ve also got a fan section that contains my playlist, research photos, and soon will have deleted scenes and an “If List” page that lets you vote on who should play the characters if a movie was ever made. I need to link my Pinterest boards for the books up to the site as well. Also, if you’re in a book club, there’s a discussion guide, period-appropriate food, drink and music suggestions and you can contact me if you want me to speak or visit your club in person or via Skype.

Tyler: Thanks again, Nicole. It’s been a pleasure.

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Today, I’ve asked author Nicole Evelina to be my guest and let me interview her about the novel for which she is currently seeking a publisher, titled Guinevere of Northgallis.

Author Nicole Evelina

Nicole Evelina is a writer from the Midwest. Guinevere of Northgallis is her first novel and is part of an anticipated trilogy. Nicole has spent the last 12 years researching 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 M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skill, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. As a writer of Arthurian novels myself (I plan to publish King Arthur’s Legacy in the fall of 2013), I’m excited for the opportunity to talk to you today. First, will you tell us a little bit about how you became interested in the Arthurian legend and what made you decide to write novels about it?

Nicole: I’ve been a fan of Arthurian legend since I was a little girl. While most other kids had Disney princesses as idols, I had the queens, kings, and knights of Arthurian legend. I was so enamored with Guinevere that I wanted to take her name as my confirmation name, but the nuns wouldn’t let me because there’s no St. Guinevere.

How I came to write about it is kind of a funny story. I’d been avoiding reading The Mists of Avalon because everyone told me “don’t read that book if you like Guinevere.” Well, my freshman year of college, a friend gave it to me as a Christmas gift. As predicted, I hated Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere, but loved the book overall, especially Avalon. Shortly thereafter, I read Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which tells what happened to Guinevere after Arthur dies. His premise didn’t really resonate with me, but it got me wondering what did happen to her. You don’t hear much about that. Inspired by the two books, I started thinking about what Guinevere’s real story was, and then one autumn morning—I can still tell you the date—she walked into my head and told me she wanted to tell her side of things. That’s how Guinevere of Northgallis was born.

Tyler: Was Guinevere of Northgallis the first novel you wrote or did you write or attempt to write other novels about it?

Nicole: It is my first novel. I’ve been writing and re-writing it on and off (more off than on) for 13 years now, so it’s gone through several iterations and really has been several different books in that time. Prior to writing it, I wrote some short stories, but they were mostly fantasy and never really went anywhere.

Tyler: The Arthurian legend is rich with characters, and of course, after Arthur, Guinevere might arguably be the most important one, but many authors such as Persia Woolley, Nancy McKenzie, and Rosalind Miles have already devoted several books to Guinevere. What made you think you had something new or original to say?

Nicole: You’re right that several other authors have covered this territory. But my Guinevere is very different, mainly because of where I’ve placed her in history. She’s not a meek Christian wallflower like in previous legend. She’s a pagan Celt who was taught to fight by her mother, a noblewoman from the land of the Picts. Although living in Britain, Guinevere was raised in her mother’s matriarchal ways, so she’s a strong, smart woman who will stand up for what she believes in and fight for it, with her tongue or with her sword, as appropriate. But despite all of that feministic rhetoric, women were pawns during that time period and the strong ones were rare, so you’ll see the consequences of her unique outlook as well.

Also, while my story has elements of fantasy, it’s also very historically grounded. Guinevere lives in a time period (approximately 480-530 A.D.) that was in the throes of transition, both politically and religiously, so my books also deal with that upheaval. The transition from paganism to Christianity is central to the story, as is the shifting political landscape, as the Britons struggle to organize themselves after the withdrawal of Rome and fight against the encroaching influences of the Saxons and Picts.

Tyler: You must have had a lot to say since you plan to write an entire trilogy. Can you tell us a little about why you decided to write a trilogy rather than just one book, and give us a little overview of what the books will cover—is it Guinevere’s entire life story?

Nicole: Originally, I thought it was going to be just one huge book. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft of the first book that I realized it needed to be a trilogy, just for page count, if nothing else. The story begins when Guinevere is 11 and will encompass her entire life, before she meets Arthur, her time with him and her life after the fall of Camelot. That’s roughly how the books are divided.

Tyler: What do you find the most fun about rewriting the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: The fun part is how the characters come alive for me. They talk in my head and sometimes when I’m writing, they do things I didn’t expect or plan for. I love seeing the legend take on its own life through them. The most rewarding part is knowing this is a legend written in a way that will speak to people of our time—a way of preserving it as a living story that continues, rather than being a dusty, moldering tale from another time.

Tyler: I think we can break Arthurian novels down into two categories—fantasy and historical, and then there are books like my own that try to include a little of both—I would consider my novels historical fantasy. What genre would best define yours?

Nicole: Historical fantasy is probably best. I’ve tried to be very true to the time period, but I can’t imagine Arthurian legend without a little magic, so there’s an element of fantasy to it as well. But it’s not high fantasy by any means. The magic is more subtle, and is, I think, in keeping with the beliefs of the Celtic people.

Tyler: I know you’ve done extensive research in writing your novels. Will you tell us a little about your process and how you decided what to include?

Nicole: At the beginning, my process was to read anything I could get my hands on about Arthurian legend and the Celts—to really get the lay of the land, so to speak. Once the story started forming into an actual plot in my head, I was able to get more specific and research the elements that I knew would directly affect my characters. I must confess that my research still isn’t done; it probably won’t be until the last book hits the shelves because I’m always finding some new detail to verify. I do additional research as I come to the main plot elements of each book. For example, I’m getting ready to research the Holy Grail in-depth because that’s the part of the second book I’m on now. I’ll do more research into the tribes of the Gododdin and the Picts when I get ready to start book 3 because that’s where most of that book takes place. So much research, so little time!

Tyler: I know you’ve also visited England. How did that visit influence your research and your vision for the novels?

Nicole: England is such an amazing country. I was fortunate to visit about six months after I started writing the first book, so knowing the land has been extremely helpful. It’s completely different being there and feeling the energy of the places than just reading about them. I actually picked my location of Camelot based on an area I came to know very well. Oddly enough, I haven’t been to most of the places in the first book, but I’m planning to take a tour of south-western England next June that will remedy that!

Tyler: With so many Arthurian novels already published, what pitfalls do you see for writers of Arthurian literature? Did you fear being influenced too much by other writers who had already published their stories?

Nicole: There’s always the fear that you’ll be influenced by someone else. But in way, it’s a good thing because it forces you to really look at what you’re writing from a new perspective and really make things your own. One way I’ve tried to shield myself is that I haven’t read any other Arthurian fiction that deals with Guinevere since I decided I was going to write my own story. By that time I had seen enough of what was out there to know what’s unique and what is not, but there’s been enough time distance that I don’t have to worry about replicating someone else’s work.

One pitfall of writing in Arthurian tradition is that there isn’t a lot of source material out there for the Celts. If other writers have done their research (which they clearly have), you’re going to have some overlap in ideas. For example, Marion Zimmer Bradley did really great research into the beliefs and rituals of the Druids and the possibilities for Avalon. You can’t change something like that drastically without it becoming inauthentic, but you can look at it from another angle and try to add to what’s already been done.

Tyler: Thank you again, Nicole for joining me. I wish you much success with finding a publisher for Guinevere of Northgallis and its sequels. Before we go, tell us a little about how to find more information about you online. What is your blog or website, and what more can readers learn there about you, your books, and the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: My web site is http://nicoleevelina.com. From there you can read my blog, which is updated weekly, learn about my books and connect with me on social media sites like Twitter and Pinterest. My site also has an extensive research list and a playlist section where you can see what music has influenced Guinevere’s story. I blog mostly about Celtic history, Arthurian legend and writing, but as I get farther into the publishing process, I’ll keep all my readers updated on that as well.

Thank you for having me, Tyler, and for your well wishes. It has been a pleasure.

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Melusine

I’ve always been fascinated with genealogy and famous people’s descendants. The possibility that King Arthur may have had children besides Mordred and that his descendants live today led to my researching the topic and writing my book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition.

But King Arthur is not the only legendary or mythical person who may have had descendants. Here are just a few others who have always fascinated me.

Melusine: The fairy Melusine, who was supposedly half-serpent or a mermaid, is another whom royal and noble people have tried to claim descent from over the years, specifically the House of Lusignan, which would make her ancestress to the Plantagenets who became rulers of England as well as people like Guy of Lusignan, who was King of Jerusalem until Saladin removed him from his throne and he ended up instead as King of Cyprus. One branch of Melusine’s alleged descendants continues today in the Weir family, who are descended in turn from the de Vere family who were Earls of Oxford.

Vlad Tepes

Dracula: While the vampire Count Dracula is fictional, he is based on Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, commonly called Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476). Claims have frequently been made by various people that they are descendants of Dracula, although all of these claims appear to be either false publicity stunts or misuses of the term “descendant.” In Dracula, Prince of Many Faces, the authors Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally devote a chapter to discussion of Vlad Tepes’ descendants that reveals all of his children’s known lines died out by the seventeenth century. It is possible that some of Vlad Tepes’ descendants are still alive that have not been documented. However, those claims to be descendants are usually a stretch of the truth and really these people are descendants of one of his brothers. Recently, Charles, Prince of Wales, stated that genealogy proved he was a relative to Vlad Tepes. Some websites state Charles is a descendant, but the truth is that the Prince of Wales and his mother Queen Elizabeth II are descended from Vlad Tepes’ brother. Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Mary of Teck, was the granddaughter of Countess Claudine Rhédey de Kis-Rhéde, who was the 10th great-granddaughter of Vlad IV “the Monk” who also ruled Wallachia (1482-95); he was Vlad Tepes’ half-brother. (See Countess Claudine’s entry at Wikipedia). So Vlad Tepes is an ancestral uncle to the British royal family and probably many of the royal and noble families of Europe, but not a direct ancestor.

Cassandra of Troy: Another fascinating descendants theory comes from ancient Troy. When Troy fell, it’s a well-known story that Aeneas escaped and eventually founded Rome. His descendants included Brutus, who traveled to Britain and became it’s king and for whom Britain is named. But Marion Zimmer Bradley, in her novel about the Trojan War, The Firebrand (probably her best novel after The Mists of Avalon) offers an interesting possibility about the Princess Cassandra, daughter of King Priam. In the novel’s Postscript, Bradley states that while the Iliad says nothing of Cassandra’s fate, there is a statement on tablet #803 in the Archaelological Museum in Athens that says, “Agathon, son of Ekhephylos, the Zakynthian Family, consuls of the Molossians and their allies, descended for 30 Generations from Kassandra of Troy.” I wish we knew for sure whether this statement is true. Even if it were, who Agathon was and his descendants have equally been lost to history.

The Death of Roland by N.C. Wyeth

Roland the Paladin: Recently, in researching the Charlemagne legends, I came across several websites that listed Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland, as having had descendants. Roland is often regarded as mythical although it seems there was a Roland who was the military governor of the Breton march. Roland traditionally is said to have died at the Battle of Roncesvaux Pass in 778. At the time of Roland’s death, he was engaged to Alda, who died of grief having heard of his death. But there exists a tradition that by an unknown woman Roland had a son named Faralando d’Angleria. This son married a woman named Flora Valdez and they had a child named Diego Valdez. In turn, Diego’s descendants would measure in the thousands today and among them are King George I of England and all his descendants, Otto Bismarck, and Winston Churchill. Could Roland have lived through the Battle of Roncesvaux Pass and married a woman living in what today is Spain? Furthermore, while I have found this list of descendants for Roland on a few different websites, I have not seen any source for it, although at least one notes that Roland’s descendants are likely false. If any of my readers know of the source for Roland having descendants, I would really like to hear from you.

Can we prove that any of these or other famous legendary people had descendants? To do so is even more difficult than proving they were historical people since that criteria would need to be proven first. But it is great fun to think such descendants live on, mixed in among us and perhaps we might even be among them.

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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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In one word, my answer is sadly, “No.” A couple of months ago, I published a glowing review of Ravens of Avalon which I thought had redeemed the series for me, and I also liked Priestess of Avalon quite a bit, but I just could not get very attached to Sword of Avalon.

Sword of AvalonInitially, I was excited about reading this book. After all, it was going to tell me how Excalibur came to be, and I thought we would be making progress in the series. One aspect of this series I don’t understand is that there is no progression to the books. They are written to jump about in time. Priestess of Avalon takes place in the third century, then Ancestors of Avalon is centuries earlier, then Ravens of Avalon is set in the first century, and now Sword of Avalon takes place around 1,000 B.C. I just don’t get it. What’s the point of all this jumping around? Why wasn’t the sword then in Ravens or Priestess? There’s no real overarching plan to this series. I keep thinking each successive book should move chronologically forward, bringing us up to The Mists of Avalon, but there is no such plan. And I keep hoping for a sequel to The Mists of Avalon—I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay, but no satisfaction there either.

But I was excited to read this book when I saw that part of the story would take place in Greece a generation or two after the Trojan War. I thought, “Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Firebrand about the Fall of Troy, and after The Mists of Avalon, it’s my favorite of her books. Will Diana Paxson connect the stories, maybe play off the interesting twist at the end of The Firebrand that Cassandra lived and had children—so that maybe she is also an Ancestor of Avalon? But no—no such connection.

Instead, there’s a boy named Mikantor who is saved by the Lady of Avalon during the burning of a village in Britain. She must hide Mikantor because he’s heir to the sacred kings descended from Atlantis, placing this books timeline after Ancestors. That’s basically the story. There’s also a bad guy named Galid, a chieftain who suspects Mikantor is alive and wants him dead. When Mikantor is a young man, he is kidnapped by pirates and ends up in Greece where he befriends the man who will one day make Excalibur. Together they will return to Britain. You can guess what happens when they do.

Galid is one of the least inspired villains I have ever experienced. Other than one or two successful dramatic scenes, there was nothing about this book that interested me. I found myself struggling to get through it. Every time I sat down, I tried to get back into it but after five or ten pages I was bored. The last couple of hundred pages, I could do nothing more than skim through and just read the dialogue, to see how it would all turn out, which was quite predictable.

I hate to say it, but Marion Zimmer Bradley is dead. So is this series. I hope this book has put it to rest so Marion can rest in peace. The Mists of Avalon was a tremendous achievement that changed modern Arthurian fiction—in fact, it is my all time favorite novel, which is saying a lot since I love Dickens, Trollope, Galsworthy and so many other great authors—but even though a couple of the other books in this series have been enjoyable, none of them are really very relevant to Arthurian fiction. I respect Paxson as a writer because I know she has skill from what she showed in a couple of the books, but I can only thinks she is just as bored with this series as her readers. No one will ever write another The Mists of Avalon, so it’s time to accept that and move on. Since it’s been three years since this book was published, I’m hoping Paxson and her publishers have realized that too.

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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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Marion Zimmer Bradley’s vision of Avalon continues through Diana Paxson’s pen in another prequel to The Mists of Avalon.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Ravens of Avalon by Diana L. PaxsonI have had mixed feelings about this series, as have many readers. The Mists of Avalon is my favorite Arthurian novel of all time, perhaps my favorite novel of all time, and after thirty years since its publication, it is doubtless a classic that has heavily influenced the numerous writers of Arthuriana who have followed. That said, the rest of the series really adds nothing to Arthurian literature because the novels are all prequels about Avalon. I found both The Forest House and Lady of Avalon to be boring and disappointing, but Priestess of Avalon, about the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, was fairly enjoyable and even moving in places. Then Ancestors of Avalon had a plot that seemed to be going nowhere despite an intriguing opening as it traced the flight from Atlantis to the new Avalon. I ended up skimming a good part of it, and it paled in comparison to Stephen Lawhead’s Atlantis depiction in Taliesin. Therefore, it took me nearly two years to get around to reading the next book in the Avalon series, Ravens of Avalon.

Before I read this book, I made the mistake of reading the reviews at Amazon, including complaints that the characters were dull and flat, and that may be why I had difficulty getting through the first hundred pages. I don’t think the characters are dull or flat, but I think some people probably had a hard time getting into the book because the cast of characters is a bit overwhelming—there are pages of them in the listing at the front of the book, and most of them have names with strange spellings that make it difficult to keep track of them. However, really there are only a few characters you need to keep track of—Lhiannon the priestess, Ardanos, the priest she loves, Boudica, and Boudica’s later husband Prasutagos.

Once I sat down and focused on the book, I found myself unable to put it down. Ravens of Avalon has redeemed the series for me and now makes me anxious to read Sword of Avalon. Also, it should be noted that if anyone else wants to read this series, there is no order in which to read it. Priestess of Avalon takes place around 300 A.D. while Ravens of Avalon takes place around 40-60 A.D. and Sword of Avalon, although I have not read it, takes place at the end of the Iron Age and deals with descendants of ancient Troy apparently. All the novels are prequels to The Mists of Avalon—I wish Paxson would consider a sequel because I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay after the book ended.

Ravens of Avalon retells the story of the iconic and historic Queen Boudica of Britain. The basics of her story are well known. The Romans raped her and her daughters, causing her to seek revenge by raising an army against the Romans, an army eventually defeated. A difficulty many historical novelists have is that the reader already knows how the story is going to turn out; even though I knew Boudica would die in the end, I kept reading, wanting to know how Paxson would twist the ending. The end is tragic; Paxson does not change it in any surprising way, but she makes Boudica come alive and for the reader to understand and follow her motivations.

The details of Boudica’s life and what led to her battling the Romans is largely lost to history, but Paxson does an admirable job of depicting what could have been Boudica’s life as she is schooled on Avalon, and she eventually settles for life being a queen, through a dynastic marriage, rather than being a priestess. Her marriage is especially well-depicted as she gets to know a husband who seems standoffish at first until their story becomes a great love story.

Of course, Avalon is sort of the spectacle of the novel, and the powers of the priests and priestesses are impressive and fascinating as they engage in magic, including raising mists to hide themselves from the Romans, or have visions of the future, or feel the spirit of a goddess enter them to aid them in battle. I am usually a sucker for this kind of magical realism, the possibility that the Druids knew how to use their minds in ways we have since forgotten.

I was very moved especially by Boudica’s dialogues with herself or with the Raven or the goddess who enters her as she tries to understand her need to battle the Romans and what it will all mean and that in the end it is for the greater good. One passage in particular struck me:

*

“Men are no different from any other creature,” said the Raven. “When one group is stronger they conquer, and when they weaken, another comes and feeds on them in turn. Conflict and competition are necessary. The fury passes through like a great fire, burning weakness away, and in its light the essence is revealed. The strongest in both groups survive. Blood and spirit are blended and what grows from them is stronger still.”

“Is this the only way?” Boudica cried.

“This is the way you must follow now,” came the reply. “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods already, from peoples that strove against each other as they came to these shores. In time more will come and today’s victor will fail, leaving his own strength in the land.”

“That is a hard teaching,” Boudica said.

“It is my truth—the Raven’s Way. One way or another the cycle must continue. The balance must be maintained. And there is more than one kind of victory…”

*

I’m a sucker for a passage like this as well, and it points to the most significant thing I have learned from my fascination with genealogy. The Raven states that “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods,” and nothing could be more true. I have traced my British ancestors more closely than any others back throughout the Middle Ages, and in one ancestor, Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), the second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a descendant of the Barons Dudley and King Edward III of England, I can trace my family tree back to ancestors from every country in Europe, as well as back to ancient Egypt, China, India, Persia, etc. The truth then is that race does not matter. As the Raven above says, the blood is mixed from those who strove against each other. I am descended from both William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson who fought each other at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and from both Celtic Britons and Saxons who settled in Britain—in fact, I can claim descent from King Caratacus of Britain, whose rebellion against Rome precedes Boudica’s and is depicted in Ravens of Avalon. I may upset some by taking this a step farther, but in a thousand years, people who died on September 11th will have descendants also descended from some of the terrorists who led the attacks. It is the way of the world, we intermarry until race and anger are forgotten. In fact, race does not really exist.

Whether you agree with my reasons for enjoying Ravens of Avalon, or you simply like stories of Avalon or druids or Roman and British history, I think Ravens of Avalon is well worth taking the time to read. After The Mists of Avalon, it is the best in the series. I have no doubt that Queen Boudica will live in my thoughts for a long time to come.

My review of Sword of Avalon will be forthcoming.

For more on Arthurian genealogy, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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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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I have probably forgotten more Arthurian novels than I can count, so while I know there are dozens if not hundreds out there, and I’ve read a fair number of them, I’ve tried to pick the novels that have remained in my head for years, and those I see as extremely significant in shaping the legend in new ways even if I didn’t particularly enjoy them. Placing them in an appropriate order was also difficult. I’d be interested in hearing from readers whether they feel I left any significant books off the list or if they feel I should have placed them in a different order since I spent many hours debating this list and most I think could be considered classics of modern Arthurian fiction today, or at least of significant influence.

10. The Coming of the King (1988) by Nikolai Tolstoy. This book was supposed to be the first in a trilogy of books about Merlin, but Tolstoy never published the rest of the series, or wrote it perhaps. And admittedly, it was not a well-written or engaging novel, but Tolstoy did a superb job at trying to recreate the Welsh world that Merlin and Arthur would have lived within. He was obviously influenced by The Mabinogion, and is one of the few novelists who has used those most ancient of Arthurian legends as his primary source. It is worth a read for that reason alone and hopefully future novelists will come along to give us authentic feeling Welsh Arthurian worlds in the future.

9. The Once and Future King (1958) by T.H. White. I’ve always felt this novel was highly overrated and its writing style less than engaging, but it’s influence on the great musical Camelot which in turn inspired John F. Kennedy and is my all-time favorite film and musical makes it worth mentioning. Its merits lie in its humor, its fantasy, and its presentation of Arthur as a child, which also inspired Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. White is also the first novelist to suggest homosexual attraction as having a role in the legend, particularly in the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle.

8. King Arthur’s Daughter (1978) by Vera Chapman. I believe this was the first novel where a child of Arthur, and a girl at that, plays a significant role in the storyline. Many other novels of Arthur’s children, and especially daughters, would follow and other novels suggesting that Arthur’s descendants live to the present day. This young adult novel is engaging and fun for all ages.

7. The Road to Avalon (1989) by Joan Wolf. Contains a love story between Arthur and Morgan, but also, it contains an interesting twist on the Fall of Camelot. Overall, this was one I couldn’t put down and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s historical and fast-paced and has an interesting take on Mordred and Constantine.

6. Merlin Novels (1970-1983) by Mary Stewart. More than any other novelist, Mary Stewart brought Arthurian fiction into fashion. Her three Merlin novels (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment) and The Wicked Day about Camelot’s Fall were a wonderful historical rendering of Arthurian times told from Merlin’s point of view. I read these books as a teenager twenty-five years ago, and there are scenes from them that are still vivid in my head. I reread very few books, but these would definitely be books to read time and again. (But avoid Stewart’s later pseudo-Arthurian novel The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)—boring.)

5. The Pendragon Cycle (1987-1989) by Stephen Lawhead. The first three novels of this series Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur are phenomenal books—I read all three in a week. Lawhead’s other three novels are a bit disappointing but don’t miss the beginning of the series. They begin in Atlantis and then follow characters to Britain and build toward the reign of King Arthur. The story is engaging and captivating throughout. Other novelists have also linked the Arthurian legend to Avalon, but none in such an entertaining and complete way.

4. The Camulod Chronicles (1992-2000) by Jack Whyte. Whyte went farther than any other novelist in trying to recreate the Roman world in the decades before King Arthur. He depicts how Camelot was founded by Arthur’s ancestors in the time when the Romans were departing and brings the story up to Arthur’s birth. I could not put these books down and read each one—they’re all around 500 or more pages, within a few days. There are six novels altogether, but Whyte also wrote Uther, and the two Golden Eagle novels about Lancelot, which were disappointing by comparison.

3. Sword at Sunset (1963) by Rosemary Sutcliff. This book is the grandmother of modern Arthurian fiction. It is the first historical treatment of the Arthurian legend depicting King Arthur not as a fantasy figure but trying to place him in his historical context as a war leader. I found the book rather boring, actually, but many people have enjoyed it and its importance cannot be denied. Sutcliff was also the first novelist to create a child other than Mordred for Arthur (a daughter actually, even predating King Arthur’s Daughter, although the daughter dies as an infant).

2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) by Mark Twain. I’m not a huge Mark Twain fan, but this book is brilliantly written. In my opinion it leaves Huckleberry Finn in the dust. It is one of the first “time travel” novels in literature while also serving as a social commentary on nineteenth century America. More than any other Arthurian work, it has been retold in plays and films and spinoffs. But while many of the versions of it, ranging from Spacemen to baseball playing boys in King Arthur’s court are silly, the book itself is fascinating. Hank Morgan is truly one of the great characters of literature.

1. The Mists of Avalon (1982) by Marion Zimmer Bradley. No doubt, The Mists of Avalon is the best known modern Arthurian novel but it is fully deserving of that designation. Bradley took the legend to new lengths by retelling the story from the woman’s point of view and introducing the Celtic religion and its aspects into the novel to an extent not previously done in Arthurian fiction. As a novelist myself, this book had a huge impact on me, both in my writing and my spiritual beliefs. It’s one of those books that stays with you for life, and it may well be my all-time favorite novel.

Remember, I would love to hear about your favorite Arthurian novels!

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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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Camelot has gotten a lot of attention, not all of it good. I find in the end I’m quite disappointed with the show, although the final episode was intriguing for a few twists and what it left open for the next season, which since the show has been cancelled, is not likely to happen unless the series is picked up by another network – highly doubtful.

This final episode drags through its first half. Arthur shows himself to be fairly stupid in remaining behind at Bardon Pass to fight Morgan’s soldiers by himself just to prove himself to the men, after they are upset with him for sleeping with Leontes’ wife Guinevere. Arthur doesn’t really prove anything except his stupidity. He does make some entertaining traps to stop the enemy, but in the end, he needs the other men to come back and help him anyway. The best part of this whole scene was when one of the opposing soldiers tells Arthur they fight for Morgan and adds, “You’re a fucked up family all right.”

Leontes gets mortally wounded in the battle. As he’s dying he tells Arthur to “treasure her.” Of course, Leontes knows Arthur and Guinevere will get together–this isn’t permission so much as his accepting reality and Leontes is a gentleman to the end. Too bad he has to die; to bad he wasn’t king and Arthur couldn’t die instead. What a waste to create a fake Arthurian character only to kill him off. Why not start out with Lancelot in the first place since Lancelot is apparently going to show up in season 2? Later in the show, the Round Table is built and a special seat is created in Leontes’ memory until someone as good as him can take it. Gawain says it will remain empty, but I suspect it’s the Siege Perilous which normally in the legend only Galahad is pure enough to take, but the writers probably planned to have Lancelot take instead–thus beginning the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle.

Merlin also decides to leave after Morgan’s plot is foiled. He should have left a long time ago. While Arthur has been away fighting, Morgan almost ends up being crowned queen, under the belief that Arthur has died. Merlin is tied up and helpless and completely useless to stop the crowning. As I’ve said previously, he’s the most pathetic version of the great wizard in any film or written version of the Arthurian legend to date.

I’d like to mention here that a lot of people have posted about Camelot online besides me, and I’ve read several of the other posts. One I think particularly worth reading is at: http://www.denofgeek.com/television/938298/camelot_episode_10_review_reckoning_season_finale.html because the reviewer thinks the show as ridiculous as I do.

That said, I disagree with this reviewer, as well as most of the others, that Merlin was the best part of Camelot. In fact, as I’ve pointed out in every post I’ve written about Merlin so far, he’s the worst depiction of the famous sorcerer I have ever seen, and totally incompetent when he’s not doddering. Other than getting Arthur a sword and getting him elected king, what has he done of any real value? Did all his stupidity in going with Igraine to Morgan’s castle reflect a deeply thought out plot to get Morgan to Camelot to seize the crown so she can be exposed? If so, he didn’t foresee that Igraine would get killed in the process; and his being tied up and unable to escape during the crowning ceremony just makes him look all the more unimpressive.

Then, after Arthur accuses Morgan of treason and Sybil takes the blame for it, Merlin has to be a total prick by going to watch Gawain behead Sybil and tell her, “There is no God.” Perhaps he’s just that small that he needs to taunt her, to kick his enemy when she’s down, but seriously, how stupid is he to think there’s no God? How else do you explain the other supernatural elements in the show like magic and witchcraft. It’s possible the god in this show isn’t a Christian god, but there’s got to be some godlike force in this program, and God isn’t going to be nice to Sybil after all the bad things she’s done anyway. Saying there’s no God implies there’s no afterlife. But the show obviously makes it clear that’s untrue when Morgan prays at Sybil’s grave and then hears a voice telling her what to do. Sybil is able to influence Morgan from beyond the grave, and since Merlin is now going off to “find himself” as one reviewer put it, I imagine Sybil will have more power than ever, even if it’s filtered through Morgan. At the end of the day, if you had Sybil and Merlin match wits, odds are Sybil would come out ahead. Too bad we can’t give Sybil and Merlin I.Q. tests. I’d rather have a clever villain than a stupid good wizard any day.

I admit I was impressed by the final twist. When Guinevere showed up in Arthur’s bedroom I thought she must be a total slut–Leontes is barely dead and she’s throwing herself at Arthur already–wait at least 30 days, I thought. But we then find out Guinevere was really Morgan in disguise–something I should have guessed from Sybil’s voice telling Morgan to sire a king. This plot twist completely worked for me and solved the problem of Morgan getting pregnant with Arthur’s child–Mordred. In fact, other than Marion Zimmer Bradley’s depiction in The Mists of Avalon of how Arthur and Morgan come together to have a child, I thought it the best explanation for the incest twist in the legend that I have seen. I admit, it made me anxious to see the next season–the season that will not be.

My personal opinion, in the end, is that Camelot had great potential but just about fell flat on its face. Ultimately, only Sybil was able to capture my imagination and retain it through the 10 episodes, although Morgan came close. And if the show is cancelled, we’ll never know just exactly what that wolf was that Morgan slept with. 😦 Oh well, there’s always season 4 of Merlin to look forward to.

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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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