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The Sons of Constance is the second book in the new Swithen series by Scott Telek. The first book Our Man on Earth, tells the story of Merlin’s conception, birth, and amazing ability to speak as a young child and defend his mother against the charge of sexual immorality when she claims he is the son of the devil. In this second novel, we see Merlin at age ten, at the time when traditionally in the legends, King Vortigern seeks to have him killed to offset the continual falling down of his tower. Telek’s purpose is to write a series of Arthurian novels that remain faithful to their originals “by retaining the plot, story, and weirdness of the original legends from nearly a thousand years ago, but filling in the character and psychology in ways that are compelling to modern readers.” So far, I believe he’s been successful in this endeavor.

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

If you weren’t fascinated by how Telek depicted Merlin in the first novel, I guarantee you will be here. At age ten, Merlin is wiser than any other man. His great wisdom is the result of his being the son of the devil, as explained in the first novel. The devil granted him the power to know all things from the past. However, God stepped in and redeemed him, and in the process, gave him the power also to know all things in the future, which means he has a great gift for prophecy.

The novel opens in the time of King Constance, who has three sons: Maine, Pendragon, and Uther. When Constance dies, Maine becomes king. He is welcomed as king by the people, being handsome and charming, but it soon becomes apparent that he is more a pretty boy than an able administrator of a kingdom. His primary advisor is Vortiger (Telek drops the “n” because he is following the spellings used in the Post-Vulgate version of the Arthurian legends), and soon the people realize that if they want to get something done, they need to go to Vortiger. Then people start suggesting Vortiger should be king. He responds by saying he can’t be king while Maine is alive, a remark that people interpret as his wanting them to kill Maine. Of course, they do and Vortiger becomes king, while Maine’s brothers flee to the continent to safety.

Merlin enters the story when Vortiger is trying to build his tower and it continues to fall down. His counselors tell him he must sacrifice a boy who has no father in order to appease the gods so the tower will stand. Of course, Merlin is that boy, and he knows of this plot against his life before the counselors even arrive. Anyone who is a fan of the Arthurian legend will know what happens next, and there’s really nothing to Telek’s basic plot that will surprise anyone in that regard, so I apologize for any spoiler alerts that follow.

Merlin reveals to Vortiger that the real problem is that two dragons are lying under the tower, one red and one white, who occasionally move or roll over and cause the tower to fall. Vortiger is finally convinced that Merlin might be telling the truth, so he has his men dig under the tower, and indeed, they do find the two dragons. As Merlin predicts, the dragons wake and fight and the white dragon wins. Vortiger realizes the red dragon is symbolic of who he is since he always wears red, and that his death is approaching.

Arthurian fans will know what happens next. Vortiger dies and Pendragon (or Aurelius Ambrosius as he is often called, although Telek avoids the name) becomes king. In time, Pendragon also dies and Uther becomes king. What is fascinating about the novel is not the plot—truthfully, I thought the pacing of it a bit slow at times—but the psychology of the characters as the chain of events unfolds.

For me, Vortiger may have been the most interesting character in the novel. Telek gets into his mind, showing his guilt and fear over Maine’s death. It’s clear that he did not intend for Maine to be killed, but his words that led to Maine’s death were misinterpreted, and yet, perhaps on some subconscious level he did mean them as they were spoken. In his conversations with Merlin, he comes to realize Merlin’s great knowledge and also to feel guilt over his past. The battle of the dragons he also sees as a prophecy of his death, which leads him to make a rash act that ends in his destruction. I don’t want to give away the details of Vortiger’s death, but I will say that I think Telek has created the most real and sympathetic version of Vortigern to date. Vortigern has always been a rather undeveloped figure in Arthurian legend (except in Helen Hollick’s The Pendragon Banner Trilogy), but here he comes to life as a fully-rounded individual.

Both Pendragon and Uther are also well-rounded characters. Merlin immediately befriends them and helps to establish Pendragon as king, but Pendragon has a counselor, Brantius, who is skeptical of Merlin’s powers, primarily because he doesn’t like that Pendragon listens to Merlin over him. He sets up an elaborate ruse to prove that Merlin is a liar and cannot predict the future, but of course, it backfires on him. Merlin is then angry that Pendragon does not trust him and foretells that one day Uther will be king. This prophecy sets off a chain of events that are more emotional and psychological than action-packed. Telek delves into the feelings of Pendragon in knowing he must die so Uther can have the throne and into Uther’s feelings of guilt over his brother’s approaching death and his unreadiness to be king. Both brothers also are presented as realistic and ultimately noble as a result of the prophecy.

Of course, Merlin is the star of the novel, although the depiction of the three kings who precede Arthur are, in my opinion, Telek’s triumph simply because they have been sketchy and not fully detailed in most Arthurian works to date. But Merlin remains fascinating. At age ten, we see him able to change his appearance to that of an adult. We also see him able to open doors in the air so he can pass from one place to another (a type of portal apparently). And he is already predicting that an even greater king will come after Uther and setting events in motion for Arthur’s reign, including creating the Round Table and being concerned with the sangreal. And yet, despite all Merlin’s wisdom, his mother Meylinde still proves herself wiser in teaching him the secrets of the human heart and the true will of God.

The Sons of Constance ends with Uther as king and the realization that he will be a good king, but also a short glimpse at what will come in the third book The Void Place, yet to be published, in which will occur the events that lead to Arthur’s birth. I am looking forward to the next installment in this series.

For more information about the Swithen series, visit https://theswithen.wordpress.com/. The Sons of Constance is available at Amazon in ebook and paperback editions.

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

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Our Man on Earth: The Original Tale of Merlin, Arthur’s Legendary Wizard is the first book in the new Swithen series by Scott Telek. The premise of this series, as Telek states, is that he will write a series of Arthurian novels that remain faithful to their originals “by retaining the plot, story, and weirdness of the original legends from nearly a thousand years ago, but filling in the character and psychology in ways that are compelling to modern readers.”

Based on the Prose Merlin, Our Man on Earth is an insightful and psychological look into Merlin’s origins and childhood.

Our Man on Earth proves that Telek is certainly off to a good start. The novel tells the story of Merlin’s conception and birth, and is based upon the 442 lines of the Prose Merlin (written circa 1230-1240), to which Telek provides a link for those who wish to compare his novel to the original. I will say that Telek’s novel follows the Prose Merlin’s description of Merlin’s birth and what follows very closely without deviation but with plenty of additional information.

Those familiar with Merlin’s origins will know that a common version of the story is that he was conceived by the devil. Many other authors have had his mother claim she got pregnant by a demon, only for the reader to be informed it was really a man, as in Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy. Telek, however, stays true to the original. He expands the story to provide details about Merlin’s mother Meylinde’s family and how a real demon chooses the family to torment. The demon’s goal is to create an Antichrist by getting a human woman pregnant and having her give birth to his child.

Is Merlin then the Antichrist? Well, he would have been had his mother not been a good Christian woman who prayed and turned to God for help, and immediately upon his birth, had Merlin baptized. Telek explores the religious implications of Merlin’s conception, the doubt expressed by Meylinde’s community over her statement that she begot him through a demon, and the evil thoughts of many that she probably got pregnant by Blaise, the priest she is consulting in her distress. Telek doesn’t shy away from the supernatural but makes it feel real as the child grows quickly in Meylinde’s womb so that he comes to term after only five weeks.

Meylinde is soon imprisoned for her crime of premarital sex. Merlin’s birth and how Meylinde and her midwives respond to his strangeness are all described with great detail and provide both entertainment and mystery. Like T. H. White does for the boy Arthur, Telek allows Merlin to shapeshift into various creatures, but most marvelous of all is when Merlin begins speaking—and his first words aren’t just “mama” or “goo-goo.” He speaks in full sentences like an attorney-at-law, and lucky for Meylinde that he does because he becomes her defender when she is brought before the judge who will likely sentence her to death for her sin of sex outside of wedlock.

I don’t want to say much more because it will spoil the plot. But what I do want to say is how very powerful the end of the novel is. We are told that because Merlin is the devil’s child, he has the gift of knowing everything that is past. Then when he was baptized, God gifted Merlin with knowledge of the future. Consequently, one would think Merlin perfect in his being all-knowing, but this is not the case. He is logical, but he is not quite human—he lacks emotional intelligence and human compassion. The conversations between him and his mother on this topic are the culmination of the book and bring the story to a powerful close. For me, this was the best part of the story because it showed true human emotion, character development, and the humanity of the characters. Too often, the Arthurian characters become stick figures in modern retellings but that is far from the case here.

I thoroughly enjoyed Our Man on Earth. I only wished it was longer, but fortunately, Telek has already published the second book in the series The Sons of Constance. Anyone familiar with the Arthurian legend knows this refers to Arthur’s father and uncle. At the end of Our Man on Earth, Merlin realizes his destiny is to assist Arthur to become king. Arthur’s family will then be the focus of the next book. A third and fourth book, The Void Place and The Flower of Chivalry, are also in the works.

Finally, in case you’re curious about the series title, I’d add that I had the chance to talk to Telek and ask him about it, and he explained, “‘Swithen’ is a Middle English term from slash and burn agriculture that means the burning of a field to make it fertile for the next generation…. It refers to the grail quest, in which Arthur and his men are told that their way of life is ending and to make way for the new.” Telek is also ambitious about the series. While the titles of four books are currently listed at his WordPress site, he told me, “I am planning to just go forward with the series as far as I can, so at the pace I am going, I expect it would take fifty novels to reach Arthur’s death. I know it’s insanely ambitious, but…it will be amazing if it can be done! My goal is to slow it down enough to give all of the stories the heft they deserve (you know how momentous events go by in a flash in the sources) and to unify the story even further, which is why I’m beginning it all with the birth of Merlin. Kind of amazing to think of all of the Arthurian legend stemming from a failed effort by the devil, right?”

Ambitious indeed, but Our Man on Earth shows that this getting at the meat of the individual stories brings them to life in new and rewarding ways. Consequently, I welcome the Swithen series as an exciting new addition to modern Arthurian fiction, and I especially appreciate how closely tied the series promises to be in relation to its source material. Too many modern novels go too far afield from the sources until they become almost unrecognizable as Arthuriana so an author determined to be faithful to his sources is refreshing. I definitely look forward to reading the next book in the series.

For more information about the Swithen series, visit https://theswithen.wordpress.com/. Our Man on Earth is available at Amazon in ebook and paperback editions.

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

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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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For Immediate Release

New Novel Merges King Arthur, Lilith, and Dracula Legends

Marquette, MI, November 18, 2016—Since the dawn of time, Lilith, Adam’s first wife whom he spurned in Eden, has held a grudge against Adam and Eve’s descendants, and since the time of King Arthur, the descendants of Britain’s greatest king have sought to stop her from wreaking havoc upon the human race. But never could they have envisioned Dracula joining Lilith’s forces.

Lilith's Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible to create a stunning new look at human history.

Lilith’s Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible to create a stunning new look at human history.

Lilith’s Love is the fourth of five volumes in Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. The series began with Arthur’s Legacy in which Lilith, in her incarnation as Gwenhwyvach, Guinevere’s half-sister, sought to destroy Camelot. The series continued through Melusine’s Gift and Ogier’s Prayer as Arthur’s modern day descendants, Adam and Anne Delaney, discovered the truth about their heritage and, with the aid of Merlin, tried to stop Lilith from destroying all that is good in the world.

Now things come to a head when Adam and Anne meet Quincey Harker, the child born to Jonathan and Mina Harker at the conclusion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Quincey’s mother, Mina, had been forced by Dracula to drink his blood, and as a result, Quincey was born with superhuman powers and a tendency toward evil. Ultimately, Quincey is forced to choose between good and evil, and what he learns on his journey could ultimately make the difference in finally defeating Lilith, but nothing, everyone quickly realizes, is quite what it seems.

Lilith’s Love, like its predecessors, blends together myth and history to create a new imagining of mankind’s past and the possibilities for its future. Part Arthurian legend, part sequel to Dracula, the novel stars a legendary cast of characters, including Merlin, Emperor Constantine XI, the Wandering Jew, Dracula, Captain Vanderdecker of the Flying Dutchman, and Lilith herself. Readers will take a magic carpet ride from the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the beginnings of a New World Order in the twenty-first century, rewriting a past we all thought we knew to create a future far more fabulous than we ever dreamed.

Arthurian authors and fans have been delighted with each volume of Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. Sophie Masson, editor of The Road to Camelot, praises the first book, Arthur’s Legacy, as “an intriguing blend of action-packed time-slip fantasy adventure, moving love story, multi-layered mystery, and unusual spiritual exploration.” Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, states of Lilith’s Love, “Tichelaar deftly weaves together history, myth, and legend into a tale that takes the reader on an epic journey through time, connecting characters and events you’d never expect….” And Rowena Portch, award-winning author of the Spirian Saga series, proclaims that the Children of Arthur is for those who “love the mystical magic of Camelot but thrive on the excitement and tribulations of Game of Thrones.”

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of numerous historical fiction novels, including The Marquette Trilogy, The Best Place, and the award-winning Narrow Lives, as well as the scholarly books The Gothic Wanderer and King Arthur’s Children, the latter of which served as research and inspiration for The Devon Players’ upcoming independent film Mordred. Tichelaar is currently writing the final book of the Children of Arthur series, Arthur’s Bosom, to be released in late 2017.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four (ISBN 9780996240024, Marquette Fiction, 2017) 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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Camelot’s Queen is Nicole Evelina’s new novel and the second in the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy. Evelina’s first novel, Daughter of Destiny, introduced readers to a new version of Guinevere, focusing on a part of the story often ignored—her childhood and youth in the years prior to her meeting and marrying King Arthur. Evelina gave us many surprises in that novel, from a childhood spent in Avalon to a lover no one would have expected. Consequently, when Guinevere’s marriage to Arthur is arranged, she is not happy to be parted from the man she truly loves.

Camelot's Queen, the second book in Nicole Evelina's trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere's marriage to King Arthur.

Camelot’s Queen, the second book in Nicole Evelina’s trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere’s marriage to King Arthur.

Camelot’s Queen picks up with Guinevere’s wedding to King Arthur and covers most of her adult life. Never fear, she still has her love affair with Lancelot, is accused of treason, nearly burnt at the stake, and at the end of the novel, is rescued by Lancelot, leaving the door open for what will happen in the upcoming third novel. However, while Camelot’s Queen focuses on the more mainstream events of Guinevere’s life, Evelina clearly makes it her own, not only in her depiction of a feisty, sometimes hot-headed and selfish, sometimes wise, Queen Guinevere, but also in how she rewrites traditional parts of the legend such as Guinevere’s abduction by Malegant and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Evelina also creates new characters such as Guinevere’s new and unwanted female bodyguard, and she realigns other characters’ roles, especially that of Morgan, who is Guinevere’s rival.

For the most part, this is a realistic novel, although Evelina uses Celtic cultural influences in the story with just a touch of magic to them; for example, Guinevere’s training in Avalon allows her to have some small control over the elements, such as being able to create clouds and make it rain.

Evelina also gives a new spin on the conflict between Christianity and Paganism that has become mainstream to the legend in recent years, but no one would have suspected that Morgan, of all people, would convert to Christianity while Guinevere holds out against it—how that situation develops is quite stunning and to explain it here would be to take away pleasure from the reader. I will say, however, that I found this element the most interesting theme in the novel, and I was especially impressed by how Evelina treats the Holy Grail in relation to it.

An Author’s Note at the end gives some of Evelina’s reasons for the changes she made to the traditional storyline as well as insight into her extensive research into the Arthurian period, including visits to Arthurian places and consulting with Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe.

As an Arthurian novelist myself, I found Evelina’s interpretations sometimes surprising, but usually dramatically effective. Her choices were certainly interesting, and not being a purist—why read Arthurian modern fiction if you are?—I was often delighted with her choices and her imaginative realigning of many Arthurian characters and themes. I especially found the family lineages and characters’ relationships interesting because Evelina uses them to explain some often confusing aspects of the legend, including the connections between the different nobles and royals of Cornwall, as well as Arthur’s own family tree and his relationship to Morgan. The book also moves at a quick pace—in a few places a little too quick I thought where I would have liked more details—but Evelina provides plenty of details in the key scenes, and in some of the places where I wanted more, I suspect Evelina intentionally held back to build up suspense for the third book in the series, Mistress of Legend, which will be published in 2017.

Anyone who loves strong female protagonists—or let’s face it, the Arthurian legend—will find plenty to enjoy, ponder, and discuss in Camelot’s Queen.

For more information about Nicole Evelina and Camelot’s Queen, visit her website at www.NicoleEvelina.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, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly work King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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I have been slowly working my way through reading the entire Prince Valiant comic strip as Fantagraphics brings out each volume in the series. My reviews of Volumes 1-6 can all be found on this blog and reviewers for Volumes 7 & 8 will be forthcoming. One commenter to one of these blogs was kind enough to inform me that there had been a Prince Valiant television series in the 1990s, shown on the Family Channel. Somehow I missed The Legend of Prince Valiant when it aired from 1991-1994, but I was curious to watch it, and now having done so, I can say that it is extremely well-done and its being a cartoon in no way detracts from its value or quality. In fact, after the BBC’s Merlin, I would say it is the best King Arthur television series, far surpassing the 1950s The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, the 1970s Arthur of the Britons, and the 2011 flop Starz’s Camelot (all of which have been reviewed here in blogs). For its character development, story arc, episode plots, and overall entertainment value, The Legend of Prince Valiant deserves high praise.

PrinceValiantOneThe series is available on DVD, complete with 65 episodes, plus interviews with some of the writers, creators, Noelle North (the voice of Rowanne), and many other bonus features. Each episode runs 23-24 minutes. The episodes need to be watched in order because of the story arc running through the two seasons, which really makes the series standout from most cartoons and many television series in general.

To describe all the plots and characters in The Legend of Prince Valiant and how the series differs from the Prince Valiant comic strip would take many blogs, and in general, I don’t feel comparisons are always that helpful to make. Television is a different medium than a comic strip so it naturally requires some different adjustments be made. But I think Hal Foster would have been pleased with this show. It is faithful to the spirit of his work while updating the story a bit to the 1990s in terms of themes and content—but all the fun and adventure is there with the themes being a bit more serious in message than in the comic strips. In fact, the Prince Valiant of this series is a bit wiser and gentler and what is required of him on his path to knighthood is more developed than what I remember in Foster’s strip. I also appreciated that Prince Valiant’s haircut was made a bit more modern because sometimes I just shake my head over his girlish looking medieval haircut in the comic strip (and Robert Wagner’s in the 1954 film Prince Valiant).

The storyline mainly follows the beginning episodes of the strip, beginning with Valiant’s father losing his kingdom of Thule and fleeing to the fens of England where Valiant grows up and then begins his journey to Camelot to seek knighthood. Along the way he meets Arn and then Rowanne (a female main character was invented for the series, and she is a welcome addition), and after several episodes, they reach Camelot. From that point, the show deviates from the strip but retains its energy and appeal. Valiant and his two friends seek to become knights, something Valiant achieves first. Most of the episodes are individual adventures, but the characters develop over time and characters from previous episodes keep reappearing. Major moments in the series include Valiant fighting to win back his father’s kingdom, his meeting Aleta and falling in love with her, Mordred plotting against Camelot, and ultimately, King Arthur’s death.

The end of the series left a few things hanging—notably that Valiant and Aleta are engaged but not yet married, and Rowanne’s relationship with Prince Michael and Arn’s feelings for her also. Valiant is named Arthur’s heir—in the strip, his granddaughter is Arthur’s heir. How this series treats King Arthur’s death was a surprise to me, and I won’t give away the details, but I will say that the outcry against Arthur’s death in the BBC series Merlin would not be heard by viewers of this program. While a gentler ending to the legend makes it less effective in my opinion, The Legend of Prince Valiant was a “family” show geared toward younger viewers than was Merlin, so I will forgive it in this respect.

That said, as a family show, The Legend of Prince Valiant has definite appeal to adults, and some of its storylines and themes are quite daring for the program. In fact, in the interviews on the DVD, it’s pointed out that the themes of tolerance, liberty, and others often opposed the morals of Pat Robertson and the 700 Club that owned the Family Channel. The program won awards for its high concept, values, and television writing that “advances the human spirit,” and it deserved them. I wish it had been more of a model for family and cartoon entertainment, had not ended so soon, and had many more followers both in terms of viewers and other shows following its example.PrinceValiant2

I was also thrilled by the talent employed in the show. Noelle North, who did the voice of Rowanne, also was Slouchy Smurfling on The Smurfs (my favorite cartoon of all-time). Aleta and Valiant’s voices were by the same actors who did the voices of Disney’s title characters in Beauty and the Beast, Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson. Benson especially did a fantastic job, showing all Valiant’s character traits, his voice ranging from soothing and thoughtful to strong-willed and angry. Tim Curry (Sir Gawaine) was the only person doing a voice whose name I knew before watching the series, but all the actors were quite fabulous in their voice work. I also liked that two of the show’s writers, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who are interviewed on the DVD, also worked on the television series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (one of my all-time favorite television shows, largely because it also has an Arthurian twist to it).

Watching The Legend of Prince Valiant is time and money well-spent and should give any fan of the comic strip or the Arthurian legend weeks or months of satisfying entertainment. I am sure it will not be long before I re-watch the entire series. I only wish there had been more of it.

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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 novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One, to be released in June 2014. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Merlin has ended, and unlike King Arthur, it doesn’t seem likely that it will be the once and future TV show, despite countless fans on Facebook and across the Internet trying to convince the producers to continue it.

And as much as I love this show, I’m glad it has ended gracefully, before it “jumped the shark,” before it was cancelled without an ending.

Merlin310_2289The series finale offered few surprises in my opinion, but that is because we have heard the tale of King Arthur so many times before, and despite the original elements of the series, which often seriously diverged from the legend, I doubt any viewer who knows the Arthurian legend would have been content with any other ending than Arthur sailing off to Avalon.

It’s unlikely anyone will read this blog who didn’t see the episode, so I won’t summarize the plot here, but go watch the last two episodes of the series if you haven’t already.

For me, this series had a serious amount of content that needed resolving in this final episode. The strength of this storyline throughout has been the prohibition of magic in Albion, imposed by Uther and then by Arthur, and how Merlin has successfully kept secret his identity as a sorcerer from everyone, while trying to aid others with magic and often fighting those with magic who sought to harm Arthur, most notably Morgana. The series has done a tremendous job of highlighting this tension throughout, and in the last two seasons especially, we have seen Merlin come into his own, slowly using his powers and even revealing himself to his enemies before destroying them. And despite my earlier blog about the Old Religion and magic and the inconsistencies that exist in its treatment in the series, what has mattered most to the storyline has been how Merlin reconciles his magic with his relationship with Arthur, as Arthur’s servant in greater ways than Arthur knows.

And the series reconciles this issue with great ease and class. In the final episode, Merlin appears as a sorcerer, identity unknown to all except Gaius, at the Battle of Camlann, using his power to defeat the enemy, and having everyone realize a sorcerer has saved the day for Camelot, even Arthur admitting that the sorcerer won the battle. But Merlin cannot save Arthur from being slain by Mordred. Surprisingly, Arthur lingers for a couple of days after Mordred runs him through with a sword, while when Arthur stabs Mordred, he dies immediately.

Now Merlin must figure out how to save Arthur before Morgana can find him, and because he was slain with a sword forged in the dragon’s breath, he can only be saved if brought to Avalon, a journey that requires secrecy and a couple of days’ journey, allowing Arthur and Merlin to have the discussion they have put off all these years.

Merlin, in despair, tells Arthur how upset he is that he could not save him which leads to his revelation that he has magic and is a sorcerer. The result is Arthur’s initial disbelief, then anger that he has been lied to, even wanting Merlin to leave him, and finally, Arthur’s understanding of why Merlin kept his powers a secret, and of the great help Merlin has always been to him.

I admit, at this point, when Arthur tells Merlin he has something to tell him that he never told him before, I thought the show was going to give into the “Merthur” fans and have Arthur tell Merlin he loves him. It was for me a bit of an uncomfortable moment, for the Merthur fans (those who want to see a gay relationship between Arthur and Merlin) have not been too far off—Merlin’s closeted magic can easily serve as a commentary on closeted gay people within our own society who are unappreciated and unjustly considered to be deviant—but the show gracefully skirts these undertones (which may or may not be intentional—I’ll leave it up to each viewer to decide) by having Arthur simply say, “Thank you.” And thank you is enough for Merlin, and that moment is enough to resolve the show’s greatest tension. It is a powerful moment. Perhaps one of the very best in television history.

What happens next is not so surprising. Morgana makes one last attempt to kill Arthur, but Merlin successfully kills her, slaying her with Excalibur, a dragon breath forged sword just like the one she created to kill Arthur. To some extent, I found Morgana’s death scene anti-climactic, and more disappointing for me is that Morgana and Arthur did not reconcile in the end, for in the traditional legend, it is Morgana who comes to Arthur when he is dying to take him to Avalon. Morgana truly got the short end of the stick in this show—I almost wanted her to win in the end—she’s a great character who deserved redemption of some sort and the reconciliation of the Old Religion with Camelot—but perhaps that was too much to expect, too much happiness for what is basically a tale of tragedy.

Not only does Morgana not take Arthur to Avalon, but nor are there the traditional three other queens who accompany her, and there is no Sir Bedivere to tell Arthur to throw the sword into the lake. Merlin takes on all these roles. Merlin tosses the sword back in the lake and the hand reaches up to grab it. The dragon arrives and tells Merlin not to despair for all has happened as it should and Arthur is the once and future king who will return in Albion’s hour of greatest need, and then Arthur is placed in a boat and floats off to Avalon.

As for Albion, the throne passes to Guinevere. I don’t really want to know what happens next because it will be inferior to whatever came before. I had hoped we’d learn that Guinevere was at least pregnant with Arthur’s child, but no such hint. I imagine she’ll end up marrying Sir Leon since he’s at her side proclaiming her queen.

And then we see Merlin as an old man walking along the shore by the lake, and suddenly, a bus passes, a jarring moment letting us know that Merlin still waits for Arthur’s return, but also one that makes Albion appear to be part of our real world and not a fantasy kingdom. I’ve always believed the show intentionally created a fictional world, including fictional neighboring kingdoms, so it would not be caught up in the issues of depicting a sixth century, historical Britain. So I found this modern moment jarring, as well as the references in the last few episodes to Saxons, without any explanation of who they were. Albion is not England nor Britain, yet the show ends on this odd note trying to connect the two. I’d have been fine without that final scene.

My qualms with the series overall are few, however. Long ago I stated it was the best Arthurian TV series ever made, far surpassing the short-lived 2011 Starz Camelot series that was a complete disaster, or even the fun 1950s British The Adventures of Sir Lancelot series. Is it perfect? No. There has yet to be a perfect Arthurian film or television program, but Merlin gets an A- for effort. Finally, I think Colin Morgan has proven himself to be a great actor in this series and I hope it leads to big things for him—just not another Merlin series. Please, I understand the fans’ demands, but don’t destroy Merlin with a spin-off or sequel series. Like with Gone with the Wind, we need to leave well enough alone. Let there be many other Arthurian TV shows and films and books—I hope there shall never be an end to them. Just let Merlin be the great TV show it was without degrading it. Congratulations to the writers, producers, and cast for ending it well.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about Arthur’s descendants. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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