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Posts Tagged ‘Merlin’

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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In the third episode of Season 5 of Merlin – “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon” – the series takes a real shift, and although I didn’t feel the episode as complexly well-plotted as some, it did provide plenty of dramatic atmosphere and interest.

Arthur Arthur and Merlin both have key life-changing moments in this episode. The two are traveling when they come upon a group of villagers about to burn a witch. Arthur decides to order them to release the witch – something they point out would not have been done by his father, but Arthur replies that he is not his father. Despite his being in agreement with his father about forbidding magic in Albion, he is not as stringent about it.

The witch thanks him for his saving her, although it is too late for her. Before she dies, she gives him a horn that can allow him to speak with the dead. Soon after, the three year anniversary of Uther’s death approaches, causing Arthur to want to see his father again. He and Merlin then travel to the Stones of Nemeton (which look a lot like Stonehenge). Arthur blows the horn and enters through a light that appears where he speaks to his father, but the meeting is not cordial. Uther upbraids him for making commoners into knights and marrying Guinevere and destroying tradition. Then he orders Arthur to go before he his trapped in the spirit world. Unfortunately, as Arthur leaves, he looks back in his father, resulting in Uther having the ability to leave the spirit world and visit Camelot.

Uther’s ghost is a far cry from King Uther, a troublesome spirit intent on having Camelot ruled the way he used to. After doors fly open, a chandelier falls, and other strange events happen, Merlin realizes Uther is haunting the castle. Arthur is not convinced until Uther’s spirit goes after Guinevere, trapping her, throwing things at her, and trying to burn her. Fortunately, Gaius has a potion Merlin and Arthur can drink to help them defeat Uther.

In the final battle, two key things happen. First, and only after Arthur is knocked unconscious, Merlin stands up to Uther, who laughs at him as a servant boy until Merlin reveals he has magic and tells him he was always wrong about magic. I loved this scene where Colin Morgan’s eyes flare and he steps into his power (just as happened when he revealed his magic to Agrivaine last season). Arthur rejoins the battle and blows the horn to send Uther back to the spirit world. Uther tries to warn him that Merlin has magic, but the horn’s sound drowns out his words. Merlin’s secret is safe still. But, secondly, it is key that Arthur has confirmed he will not live in his father’s shadow. He tells Uther he had his chance to rule, and now it is Arthur’s turn.

Although this episode is not tied to the bigger overarching plot of the Arthur-Morgana conflict, I think it is a key scene because it shows Arthur thinking for himself and I suspect it is hinting toward the time when Merlin will be able to reveal to Arthur that he does have magic.

SyFy, in advertising this episode, made a point of talking about the bromance between Arthur and Merlin in this episode. Many fans want to believe there is some gay erotica going on here, but I think it is clearly Merlin’s loyalty to Arthur that makes him affectionate toward him. If they were not master and servant, wizard and king opposed to magic, they would be able to express themselves more clearly to one another, but all the tension and magic would be lost. It’s so much more fun watching Arthur hit Merlin and then claim it’s horseplay.

Bring on the last 10 episodes of the series. I will be watching. Who knows? Maybe this time the story of Camelot will have a happy ending.

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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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This post is a follow-up to my previous post on the first episode of the new season 5 of Merlin. The first and second episodes together make up the “Arthur’s Bane” story.

MerlinTVshowThis second episode was far more effective and action-packed than the first. Guinevere proves herself less hard-hearted than we expected, admitting to Gaius that she will not kill Sefa but use her to lure her father to Camelot since he is the real threat. In this strategy, Guinevere is successful. The father manages to free Sefa but is wounded in the process and although they escape from Camelot, he dies immediately after while Sefa flees. I suspect Sefa will show up in a later episode this season.

I did not mention in my last post anything about the strange luminous looking being that cares for Gawain and which many bloggers and commenters have mocked as being an E.T. creature – the creature does look extra-terrestrial, but no real resemblance to E.T. itself. It turns out this creature is the Key to all Knowledge that Morgana seeks. It is the last of its kind and it tells Merlin that he can ask any questions he wants, but after it informs Merlin that knowledge is both a blessing and a curse, he decides it best not to ask any questions, then changes his mind and asks if Mordred is not Arthur’s Bane then who is, for earlier Arthur’s Bane had been prophesied as his downfall. The creature replies that it is Arthur himself.

I love this detail, and it is the kind of detail that Merlin pulls off so successfully, not always giving us what is expected but rising above into metaphor and mystery. Of course, the psychological outdoes the dramatic in the series – Arthur will be his own downfall, just as anyone can choose whether or not to let circumstances or his own flaws defeat him. We will have to wait to see how Arthur is his own bane – will Merlin’s vision of Mordred slaying Arthur turn out to be true, or can it be changed and Arthur’s fall will come about another way – will the series choose to change the tragic ending of the legend or be traditional instead?

The biggest shock in this episode suggests a leaning toward the traditional storyline. Morgana, about to destroy Arthur when she finds him in the caverns beneath Ismere, is stabbed in the back by Mordred in a shocking twist of events. The result is that Merlin is surprised that Mordred saves Arthur – leading to his question of who is really Arthur’s bane – and Arthur has Mordred accompany him back to Camelot where Mordred is rewarded by being made a knight. First, let me point out here that Merlin has saved Arthur plenty of times but no knighthood has ever been installed upon him. Secondly, Mordred is a member of Arthur’s court now, as is typical in the legend (although not Arthur’s son or nephew in this series) and consequently, we can assume that perhaps Mordred will now try to bring about the fall of Camelot from within.

In the final scene, we see Morgana and her dragon making their way through the snow near Ismere. She has apparently survived Mordred’s attack – a strange moment because she clearly seemed to be dead when Mordred stabbed her, and one would think Arthur would have made certain she was dead and seen her body burnt or buried, or have sought to help her if she were still alive (after all, she is his sister). The series’ need to keep Morgana alive is understandable, but no explanation given of how she survived or why her body was not disposed of is a bit of a stretch.

As for the dragon, questions are left open. Merlin earlier tried to stop the dragon from attacking and is surprised when the young dragon cannot speak, finally asking the dragon who has done this to him since the older dragon in the series always speaks. Did Morgana cut out the dragon’s tongue or make him unable to speak, and if so, why would she do so? While she and the dragon are both part of the Old Religion, Morgana leads the dragon on a leash, clearly not respecting him but treating him like a pet for her own purposes. We shall just have to wait to see how these two characters will resurface and whether they will ally themselves with Mordred in a future episode. I’ve learned to expect anything from this series.

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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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Season 5 of the hit series Merlin premiered on Sy Fy last night (BBC viewers have already seen the entire season). Fortunately, I’ve avoided all the spoiler sites before viewing this season. I haven’t been so excited about a season premiere in years since this will be the last season of Merlin and it’s been my favorite television show since the cancellation of The Lost World (that’s another Arthurian blog for the future). All that said, I was a bit disappointed in this season premiere, although I did a good job of setting up the rest of the season, which I trust will just continue to build.

MerlinTVshowAs usual, there was plenty of repartee between Merlin and Arthur. The series is worth watching if only to watch the interaction between these two characters. Colin Morgan is a fabulous actor and his character really came into his own at the end of last season when he openly demonstrated his magic to Agravaine. Bradley James also plays his somewhat stuck-up Arthur quite well. These two characters did not disappoint at all.

The season opens after three years of peace in Camelot, followed by the disappearance of Gwain (why isn’t his name spelled Gawain in the series?), Percival, and several other knights on a mission. Arthur sets out to find the knights. Gawain and Percival are revealed to the viewer as imprisoned in a dark cave with the others, apparently being forced to pound rocks and do hard labor – although I noticed it couldn’t be too hard since their hair was still combed perfectly and they were devoid of sweat. I won’t give away much more of the plot. Arthur and Merlin have yet to find Gwain and company when the episode ends.

Then there was a young serving girl at Camelot named Sefa who seemed to have eyes for Merlin. She and Gwen become friends, but she is also the daughter of a sorcerer so she ultimately betrays Guinevere and Camelot’s trust. When Guinevere discovers this, since Arthur is away seeking Gwain, she sentences Sefa to death. Clearly, the viewer is to be stunned by Guinevere’s harshness, and Gaius appears surprised from the expression on his face. What is up with Guinevere’s lack of humanity? She is following the rules of Camelot, but considering her own father was burnt at the stake by Arthur’s father, you would think she’d be a bit more sympathetic (I never have figured out why she stuck around Camelot after that happened; I’d have left rather than marry the son of my father’s murderer – I’ve never been a fan of Uther in the series) – that said, Guinevere assumes Sefa’s father is siding with Morgana, who is a threat to everyone at Camelot. This scene suggests something major is going to happen with Guinevere this season – we will have to wait and see. Throughout the series (no offense to Angel Coulby’s acting skills; it’s the weakness of the script at fault), Guinevere has been the least appealing character, having no real chemistry with Arthur and being somewhat unbelievable as his love interest considering she is a serving maid. And while I’m all for multiculturalism, we never have had an explanation for why Guinevere and her family are the only black people in Camelot – where did they come from? I am hoping there is some mystery about Guinevere’s past, perhaps one even she does not know, that will be revealed before the season is over.

Finally, for me the highlight of this entire episode was the appearance of Mordred at the end, no longer a boy, but a young man, and still in alliance with Morgana. When Merlin and Arthur are captured and their death appears imminent, Mordred appears, making certain their lives are spared, at least temporarily, so he can bring them to Morgana.

As for what happens next, we must wait but the previews for the future episodes look fabulous. Will magic and the old religion ultimately prevail – a part of me seriously hopes so, but regardless, I’m sure Morgana will be defeated (poor Morgana, most interesting character in the show, most misunderstood – but someone has to be the villain). For magic and the old religion to be restored, it will take Merlin revealing his secret of having magic to Arthur. And since Merlin in this episode had a dream that Mordred would slay Arthur, I don’t foresee a happy ending. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see how the rest of this season plays out. Will the legend’s ending be changed? Even if a happy ending is created for the series, the end of the best Arthurian television series ever will be a sad one.

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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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Recently, Sarah Luddington published a novel Lancelot and the Wolf, with explicit gay sexual content depicting Lancelot and Arthur as lovers. The book has created a controversy and even hate mail to Luddington and her publishers. In response, she has created a special Kindle edition at Amazon, for sale for $3.00, to raise funds to help the LGBT charity Stonewall in Britain.

But what is all the fuss about? The Arthurian love triangle of Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot has always had a hint of homoerotism in it—and romantic feelings between Lancelot and Arthur seem a reasonable reason to many for why Arthur would not do anything about his best friend sleeping with his wife. Luddington may be the first one overtly to depict a homosexual relationship between Arthur and Lancelot, but the possibilities have been implied or suggested in numerous Arthurian works, especially in the twentieth century.

Even as far back as Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, there are homoerotic hints in cross-dressing scenes and a scene where two knights accidentally end up in bed together. Dorsey Armstrong’s Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur has explored this topic and how the knights of Camelot themselves are aware of the possibility of homosexual rumors surrounding a group of men in an organization like the Round Table.

Aubrey Beardsley’s image of Sir Bedivere returning the sword to the lake. Beardsley, who may have been homosexual or asexual, was known for his androgynous looking characters in his Arthurian illustrations, and for very erotic works, complete with enlarged genitalia, in other works not geared toward children.

More recently, in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958 but published in smaller pieces 1938-1941), the scenes of Lancelot’s youth where he dreams of coming to Camelot express a sort of boy crush upon King Arthur. Later, the story takes normal turns of Lancelot loving Guinevere, but is that not a more acceptable outlet for his love for Arthur? T.H. White was himself later treated at the end of his life for his own homosexuality.

In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982), Arthur endorses the romance between Guinevere and Lancelot. He cannot provide an heir so he hopes Lancelot will do it for him, leading Lancelot to his bed to sleep with Guinevere. Arthur joins them in bed, and later, Guinevere comments to Arthur that she saw how he touched Lancelot.

But White and Bradley only hint at homosexuality. Other authors introduced it into the legend, but perhaps felt creating a gay King Arthur was going too far. Furthermore, homosexuality is a negative behavior in these works that can bring about Camelot’s downfall, so other characters than Arthur are the ones afflicted with homosexuality—notably, the villains.

In Joan Wolf’s The Road to Avalon (1988), Agrivaine is homosexual and the downfall of Camelot comes largely due to his jealousy because of his crush on Bedwyr, the Lancelot character in this novel. Because he can’t have Bedwyr, he doesn’t want Guinevere to have him so he reveals their love and brings about Camelot’s downfall.

Douglas Clegg goes even further in Mordred, Bastard Son by depicting Mordred as homosexual—and while Mordred is not a villain in this book (it’s only the first of a planned trilogy), homosexuality being associated with him seems to imply a negativity to it. Mordred is hopelessly in love with Lancelot, and while he is well-meaning in this first novel, we know from the story’s frame that he will bring about Camelot’s fall nevertheless. (Clegg has not yet published the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.)

And that brings us to “Merthur.” If you don’t know what Merthur is, where have you been? I’m talking about the legions of fans for the successful BBC television series Merlin who insist and badly want Arthur and Merlin to be in love in the show. These fans are convinced there is a secret love between Arthur and Merlin and they are even making YouTube videos with clips from the TV show either to promote their argument that there is a Merthur bromance going on, or even splicing to make there be actual love glances and scenes between the two characters. Just go to YouTube and search for “Merthur” and you’ll find dozens of these videos.

So why has Lancelot and the Wolf created such a fuss? I think it’s because while these other works depict homosexual desires not acted upon, Susan Luddington is the first author to depict actual sex between Arthur and Lancelot—in fact, her reviewers are calling the book an adult version of the Merlin TV series.

And while Luddington might be getting hate mail, she’s also found a gay readership longing for such stories, and her Kindle sales are reportedly skyrocketing. With Luddington, perhaps the Arthurian legend has taken a new turn and will never be the same again, and it is always an author ready to push the story, push the boundaries, and thereby renew the legend for the next generation.

I haven’t yet read Lancelot and the Wolf, but I plan to and will review it in the near future.

Meanwhile, for more information about Lancelot and the Wolf and the special edition to raise funds to support the LGBT British charity Stonewall, visit: http://www.xtra.ca/blog/ottawa/post/2012/08/14/King-Arthur-and-Lancelot.aspx

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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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Knights of the Round Table – movie poster

I remember seeing advertisements for Knights of the Round Table being shown on TV when I was a kid, but I never got the chance to watch it. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get the chance because it’s surprisingly a rather distorted version of the Arthurian legend in many ways. Still, when I stumbled across it the other day, I watched it with interest.

First, let me say I’m a sucker for these old movies. Just that it is shot in Technicolor makes it beautiful in many places. There is a lot of color and pageantry, and I give it credit for being, to the best of my knowledge, the first film to try to tell the entire Arthurian story. Previously, King Arthur in Hollywood had been mostly limited to remakes of A Connecticut Yankee.

But in telling the full story, the studio must have felt they had to clean up the story. I mean, even if 1950s audiences, not to mention the movie censors, could get past Guinevere and Lancelot’s adultery, they certainly couldn’t accept Mordred being a child of incest and killing his father.

So some rather big changes had to be made. First of all, Mordred replaces King Lot of Orkney as Morgan le Fay’s ally. I was never quite clear in the film if he is her husband or just her lover, but they are obviously a couple and King Arthur’s primary enemies. The film begins with Morgan, Mordred, Arthur, and Merlin meeting to determine who will rule Britain upon Uther Pendragon’s death. Morgan believes she deserves the throne as Uther’s only legitimate child, but Merlin has Arthur draw the sword from the stone, thus leading to his being proclaimed king. Mordred and Morgan aren’t too happy about this decision and cause plenty of trouble before they finally agree to Arthur’s rule, which he achieves largely through battle and the help of Sir Lancelot, making Lancelot and Mordred enemies.

Arthur is soon pushed to the side of the story in favor of Lancelot. Although the movie is called Knights of the Round Table, the other knights get very little attention, except for Percival, who is on a quest for the Holy Grail. He meets Lancelot early in the film and tells Lancelot of his quest. In the same scene, Percival’s sister, Elaine, meets Lancelot and falls in love with him, and eventually, she is married to Lancelot, after Merlin realizes Lancelot and Guinevere have begun to have feelings for one another so it would be best to have him away from court.

I won’t give away all of the plot, and there’s not much to give away if you know the Arthurian legend, but I do need to discuss the end a bit. I do give the film some points for a stab at historical accuracy since it sets the film at the time soon after the Romans have left. That said, I think John Wayne had a stab in writing the script since upon first meeting, Lancelot says to Percival, “Declare thyself, Cowboy.” I think he should have changed “Cowboy” to “Pilgrim”—it would have been funnier.

The Holy Grail legend has always been an oddball part of the Arthurian story in my opinion, and it definitely is here. At one point, Percival comes to Lancelot’s castle to tell him the Holy Grail appeared at court, which I thought a shame, since the filmgoers never get to see the Holy Grail’s appearance in that scene, but it does lead to the knights going off to seek the Grail. At about this time, Elaine also has a dream about their son. Elaine dies soon after Galahad is born. Later the child Galahad is sent to be raised at Camelot.

And then Camelot begins to fall. After Elaine’s death, Lancelot becomes interested in Lady Vivian. Guinevere accuses him of trying to humiliate her in front of the court by making eyes at Vivian. While they are arguing alone, their enemies find them and accuse them of adultery. They manage to escape without any dramatic attempts at burning at the stake (a disappointment)—no dramatic “Guinevere” song for this movie like in “Camelot.” Things go as expected, leading to Arthur being slain by Mordred. Then Lancelot fights and kills Mordred.

The magic at the end of throwing the sword into the lake is missing because no hand rises up to catch it, but we are left with Lancelot and Percival going together to Camelot to see the Round Table in ruins. The film ends with a vision of the Grail, and Lancelot finding comfort in hearing that someday Galahad will achieve it. (A strange twist since Galahad usually achieves the Grail before Camelot falls.)

I certainly don’t think this film as entertaining as Prince Valiant or Lancelot and Guinevere (Sword of Lancelot) which followed in the next decade, although it does have its moments. People familiar with the legend will perhaps find it mostly entertaining for the fun of picking apart the changes made in the film from the usual legend and try to guess why such changes were made. (The opening credits claim the film is based on Malory, but it’s very loosely based.)

The cast has some big names—Robert Taylor as Lancelot and Ava Gardner as Guinevere, among others, but I have never felt very impressed by Robert Taylor. For me, Franco Nero is the best Lancelot. Ava Gardner is beautiful as always, but she just doesn’t have the role to make her acting skills stand out in this film.

If you’re an Arthurian enthusiast, you’ll want to watch the film, although on a scale of 1-5, I probably wouldn’t give it more than a 3. You can still catch it in reruns on TV or buy the video, or watch online at Amazon Instant Video. For more information on the film, check out IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045966/ or Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Round_Table_%28film%29

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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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Arthurian literature fell out of favor in the eighteenth century and it would not be until Victorian poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Morris and Pre-Raphaelite artists would again make the legend popular, but one work from this time when Arthur was rarely featured in literature was Sir Walter Scott’s “The Bridal of Triermain.” The poem was first published in 1813 and its use of the names of Triermain and Sir Roland De Vaux bear resemblance to Coleridge’s equally famous poem “Christabel” which was written in 1797-1800 but not published until 1816, yet it seems that Scott, who was friends with Coleridge, may have seen the manuscript and been influenced by it. Nevertheless, the two works bear little resemble in plot or character.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

For Arthurian scholars and enthusiasts, “The Bridal of Triermain” holds interest because it creates an illegitimate daughter for King Arthur. Unlike other works where Arthur has illegitimate children before his marriage to Guinevere, Arthur is married to Guinevere already at the time of this poem, and she is already involved with Sir Lancelot.

The poem is told in the present day (early 1800s) by a narrator named Arthur who is trying to court a female named Lucy. Arthur tells Lucy the tale of Roland De Vaux, who sought to wed King Arthur’s daughter Gyneth. Within this story is Lyulph’s Tale, in which Roland’s bard Lyulph tells Roland the story of Gyneth, who has been asleep for five hundred years, and whom Roland wishes to win as his bride.

Gyneth became King Arthur’s daughter after he met and fell in love with a maiden named Guendolen. Scott describes this woman who seduces Arthur as follows:

But Guendolen’s might far outshine
Each maid of merely mortal line.
Her mother was of human birth,
Her sire a Genie of the earth,
In days of old deem’d to preside
O’er lovers’ wiles and beauty’s pride,
By youths and virgins worshipp’d long
With festive dance and choral song,
Till, when the cross to Britain came,
On heathen alters died the flame.
Now, deep in Wastdale solitude,
The downfall of his rights he rued,
And, born of his resentment heir,
He train’d to guile that lady fair,
To sink in slothful sin and shame
The champions of the Christian name.

In other words, Guendolen is the weapon of her father, the genie, against good Christian knights. She seduces Arthur, and while it is unclear whether she loves Arthur or not, she clearly wants him to stay with her and wastes his time in making love to her so he forgets his kingly duties for three months. Finally, Arthur comes to his senses and decides to leave her. When she begs him not to go, he tells her if she’s worried he has gotten her pregnant, he will do right by their child:

I swear by sceptre and by sword,
As belted knight and Britain’s lord,
That if a boy shall claim my care,
That boy is born a kingdom’s heir;
But if a maiden Fate allows,
To choose that maid a fitting spouse,
A summer-day in lists shall strive
My knights, the bravest knights alive,
And he, the best and bravest tried,
Shall Arthur’s daughter claim for bride.

Nevertheless, Guendolen does not want Arthur to leave, and in her anger, she tries to poison him by giving him a cup to drink from, but Arthur spills a drop on his horse and it burns the horse so Arthur flings the cup from him and rides away.

Years later, Arthur’s daughter Gyneth shows up at court on Pentecost, saying her mother has died and asking her father to keep his promise. Guinevere is notably not upset to learn of Arthur’s human weakness that led to an illegitimate child, bur rather, she just smiles on Lancelot, acknowledging her own weakness.

Arthur keeps his promise by holding a tournament for all the knights to compete for Gyneth’s hand, but before long, he realizes what a bad idea it was because all his knights are being slain. He tries to talk Gyneth out of the tournament, telling her he’ll pick the best knight for her, but she refuses and the tournament continues. The narrator then comments:

‘Seem’d in this dismal hour, that Fate
Would Camlan’s ruin antedate,
And spare dark Mordred’s crime;
Already gasping on the ground
Lie twenty of the Table Round,
Of chivalry the prime.

However, when Merlin’s own son Vanoc dies, Merlin suddenly appears, ending the tournament and punishing Gyneth to sleep for centuries:

Sleep, until a knight shall awake thee,
For feats of arms as far renown’d
As warrior of the Table Round.

Lyulph now completes his tale of how Gyneth sleeps by stating:

‘Still she bears her weird alone,
In the Valley of Saint John;
And her semblance oft will seem,
Mingling in a champion’s dream,
Of her weary lot to ’plain,
And crave his aid to burst her chain.

 

Few have braved the yawning door,
And those few return’d no more.

Despite the unlikeliness of solving the quest and winning Arthur’s daughter for his bride, Sir Roland de Vaux, who is lord of Triermain, is determined to succeed. He rides in quest of the sleeping princess and eventually comes to a castle in the Valley of St. John where he must pass through the Hall of Fear and overcome its snares to succeed:

‘It is his, the first who e’er
Dared the dimal Hall of Fear;
His, who hath the snares defied
Spread by pleasure, wealth and pride.

Of course, he succeeds and manages to kiss and wake Gyneth. And the two live happily ever after, having many descendants for King Arthur:

Our lovers, briefly be it said,
Wedded as lovers wont to wed,
When tale or play is o’er;
Lived long and blest, loved fond and true,
And saw a numerous race renew
The honours that they bore.

I admit that while I admire the music of Scott’s meter and rhyme, I’m not overly impressed with the poem. I don’t understand why Roland would want to wed Gyneth when she’s a type of female Mordred who was intent on destroying Camelot, but I guess the quest itself and that she is King Arthur’s daughter makes her attractive enough to him.

Scott’s poem was well known throughout the nineteenth century, so doubtless many writers of Arthurian poems and novels in the Victorian period were influenced by his work. It should be noted that the narrator named Arthur equally is successful in winning the love of his Lucy.

______________________________________________________________________

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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Masoud: Book III of the Merlin FactorSteven Maines has written a very interesting series, The Merlin Factor, about the man who was reincarnated from Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Christ with his spear during the Crucifixion, to Myrriddin (Merlin of King Arthur’s Court) and finally as Liam Arthur Mason, whose name is mispronounced as Masoud by the Muslims during the Third Crusade.

I was anxious to read this third book in the series after having read the first two. (You can read my previous review of Myrriddin: Book II of the Merlin Factor at Reader Views: http://www.readerviews.com/ReviewMainesMyrridinBookII.html which also mentions the first book in the series, Longinus, which is my favorite of the three.)

In general, modern Arthurian novels can be divided into two categories:

  1. Historical—where the author tries to depict Arthur in his historical time period and be realistic—no magic.
  2. Fantasy—where magic is prevalent and history is of little importance and rarely depicted accurately.

Some authors try to blend these categories, offering a fantasy element to the historical time period—The Mists of Avalon might be termed historical fantasy for this reason, and the same is true of The Merlin Factor series.

I would propose a third category, which could be called perhaps the New Age, spiritual, or even anti-Christian at times, genre, and The Merlin Factor belongs to this category as well.

Unlike most series that focus on King Arthur and his court, The Merlin Factor stands out for depicting the time just after Christ in Longinus’ story, and then also depicting the Third Crusade. The reincarnation of the main character is what ties the three books together. Also tying them together is the Spear of Longinus, which has great power and always manages to get back into the main character’s hands.

Because Myrriddin is a Druid, many of the passages in Masoud refer to religion and spirituality that is not orthodox with Christian themes, and it is apparent that Christianity itself is rejected by the main character as being untrue by comparison to reincarnation and more Celtic religious and spiritual beliefs. This stance is very powerful and moving in places, and the arguments, common in many New Age (a term that is somewhat derogatory and that I do not particularly like but will use for lack of a better word) books. While these types of statements have been made in other Arthurian novels, they are more prevalent here than usual, and I believe they make the novel and the characters stronger for it. The general theme throughout the trilogy is that the character of Myrriddin is evolving and moving to a higher spiritual state as he undergoes his experiences.

Yes, there is action, although the action adventure feel of this novel moves a bit slower than most, and the author is clearly more interested in the metaphysical and spiritual/magical aspects of the theme than the plot itself. In brief, the main character Mason travels to the Holy Land to fight in the Third Crusade; he is captured by the Muslims and even meets Salah al-Din, the great Arab leader. In the process, Mason begins to remember his past lives, and he gains the name Masoud from the Muslims who come to respect him for his ability to control the Spear. Mason/Masoud learns secrets of the Knights Templar and reveals a plot that will hurt the Crusaders’ cause. A battle is also fought to possess Jerusalem.

I found the metaphysical/religious discussion engaging, the plot less so. My suspension of disbelief was sustained throughout, although I felt the way the Spear is used, as well as pieces of the True Cross, to create weapons of power to hurt the enemy was a bit too unorthodox for my taste—I hate to think Holy Relics would be used for war, although I know they have been believed to have that power in the past, including by Adolf Hitler. A few more typos than there should have been were also in the book, but that is a small complaint.

I believe Masoud is the last book Steven Maines plans to write in the series, but honestly, I wish there were one or two more to bring the story up to the twenty-first century.

I encourage readers who enjoy this sort of New Age Arthurian genre to read The Merlin Factor series. More information can be found at the website of the publisher, Purple Haze: http://purplev.com/live_purple/steven_maines_books

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

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The Adventures of Sir Lancelot

The Title Card for the colored episodes of "The Adventures of Sir Lancelot"

Back in January, I posted on the 1950s British TV series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot. I’ve now finished watching the series and I enjoyed it a great deal. It has a bit of humor and some wonderful sets and costumes. Furthermore, I think William Russell made a very good Sir Lancelot, and he actually is quite handsome and debonair, or at least, he grows on you and grew into the role as the series continued. In the first episode, the swordplay was laughable, but it improved throughout. Also, King Arthur was originally played by Bruce Seton in the first episode, but he looked old and doddering and was quickly replaced by Ronald Leigh-Hunt, who is a tall and fairly commanding yet likable Arthur. I was disappointed there was no love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere, but it was a 1950s TV show, so innocence was important for television, I guess. I also was disappointed that there was nothing that suggested a connection from one episode to another, no overarching storyline or character motivations or desires to keep the story progressing. You could have watched any episode after the first one in any order and it would make no difference.

About halfway through the series, it became colorized, and the color really was splendid because it made the costumes stand out. Some of the costumes look a bit too effeminate for Lancelot to wear, but there’s no accounting for medieval—or 1950s TV versions of medieval—fashion.

Overall, I would give the series a B, or 4 out of 5 stars. I would rank it below the Merlin TV series, but it is far above the Starz’ Camelot series. (See previous posts to my blog for discussions of both series.)

It would be tedious to discuss all thirty episodes, but here are comments on a few of the episodes that are most notable, particularly those that borrow from Arthurian tradition:

Knight’s Choice: This episode is interesting because Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s traitor sister, is included. She was apparently previously banished from Camelot for trying to murder her brother Arthur. Now she hopes to return if she can get her son to be chosen as knight for an opening among the Round Table’s fellowship. Interestingly, Morgan’s son is named Rupert, not Mordred. Arthur agrees to let him compete with the other potential knights. Another contender is Sir Balin, whose father was squire to King Pel. (King Pel is most likely King Pellinore, and Sir Balin is found in Malory, although this episode has no other links to Malory, and I have no idea why Morgan’s son is named Rupert, unless it was to distance the show from Mordred and the incestuous twist—after all if Guinevere and Lancelot’s love is forbidden on 1950 television, incest surely won’t be approved. That said, it isn’t stated who Rupert’s father is). This episode also has a sort of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court twist when Merlin finds a way to delay the battle enough for an eclipse to take place, which will thwart Morgan’s plan to have her son win in battle over Balin by flashing light in his eye with a mirror. In the end, Rupert doesn’t get to join the Round Table—I guess that means he can’t stir up trouble—perhaps although eventually the series ended, this Camelot, then, did not fall.

The Thieves: Another episode drawing on Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee is X in which Arthur and Lancelot disguise themselves as ex-convicts to learn what chances these men have of earning a living.

The Shepherd’s War: This episode stands out because Sir Lancelot has been held a prisoner and grown a beard—the only time Russell sports a beard in the series. Although, throughout the series, Sir Kay, who comes off as a buffoon, sports a ridiculously fake mustache.

Sir Crustabread: This episode plays off the tale of Sir Gareth who plays a kitchen boy and goes off to rescue a maiden; the same concept was used in the first episode when Sir Lancelot found Brian, his squire, who was a kitchen boy. In this episode, Lancelot is mistaken by Lynette of Accolon, as a baker. He ends up being belittled by her as he rides with her to rescue her sister. When all is said and done, Lancelot saves the day and reveals his true identity, then kisses Lynette on the cheek—she says she’ll never wash it again.

Finally, the colored episodes trimmed down the theme song, which could be compared to songs like the theme to “Davy, Davy Crocket, King of the Wild Frontier.” The theme song actually grew on me after watching all these episodes and I found myself singing it around the house:

Now listen to my story, oh listen while I sing.

Of days of old in England when Arthur was the king.

Of Merlin the Magician, and Guinevere the Queen.

And Lancelot, the bravest knight the world has ever seen.

In days of old, when knights were bold,

This story’s told of Lancelot.

In days of old, when knights were bold,

This story’s told of Lancelot.

If you want the second verse, you’ll have to watch the series for yourself.

A complete episode guide to the series can be found at: http://ctva.biz/UK/ITC/SirLancelot.htm

I will post on last blog about this series in the weeks to come.

________________________

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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Prince Valiant Vol. 1 hal Foster

Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938 by Hal Foster

Because it’s the 75th anniversary of the Prince Valiant comic strip this month, I thought I would summarize and review the first volume of the series, now reprinted by Fantagraphics Book, which covers the first two years of the series in print. Fantagraphics is planning to reprint hopefully the entire series, but so far the first five have been released (the 5th is coming in March actually).

The Prince Valiant strip is subtitled “In the Days of King Arthur” and consequently some people have been skeptical about whether it really belongs in the Arthurian canon. In truth, it is often marginal as Valiant goes off on adventures on the Continent, far from King Arthur’s court, but Camelot remains home base throughout the series. Following is a summary of what occurs in this first volume. I usually don’t like to give away full plots, but since this volume is the beginning of the story, it’s important to clarify just how much of the strip is relevant to King Arthur.

The story begins with the King of Thule and his family being forced to flee from their country. They go to Britain, fighting the locals to land on the shore. At this time, Prince Valiant is just a boy. He looks to be between about ages six and eight in the strip. King Arthur, to keep the peace, allows the King and his faithful followers to settle in the Fens, a marshy area where the people live on islands in a swamp and make their way through the swamps on boats and rafts. Lizard type monsters are also hiding in the Fens.

Valiant grows up in this environment until he approaches manhood. One day, after fighting one of the monster lizards, Valiant sees a mysterious light far off in the Fens and is determined to find its source. In the process Valiant is attacked by a monster who turns out to be a “huge misshapen man, horrible in his deformities.” Valiant wounds the man but then cares for him and takes him home to his mother, who turns out to be the witch Horrit (the first time she is mentioned her name is Horrid, but Hal Foster must have decided to change the spelling in subsequent strips). This meeting is significant because Horrit makes a prophecy that will haunt Valiant for the rest of his life.

As the witch makes her prophecy, Val gazes into the fire and becomes dreamy until he has visions of castles and armies, knights in armor, and then a king and queen, whom the witch says is “Stupid Arthur and his flighty wench, Guinevere.” She goes on to prophesy, “And you will confront the unicorn, the dragon and the griffon, black men and yellow. You will have high adventure, but nowhere do I see happiness and contentment,” and she tells him already his greatest sorrow awaits him.

Valiant leaves the witch to discover his greatest sorrow—that his mother has died. After grieving, Valiant decides it’s time to set off to seek his fortune. Soon after, he meets Sir Lancelot and his squire, and when the squire is rude to him, Valiant pulls him off his horse and beats him to give him a lesson. Lancelot is good natured but stops the fight and then rides off with his squire. The incident makes Valiant determined to become a knight. Eventually, Valiant finds a horse, learns to ride, and then saves Sir Gawain from another knight who attacks Gawain. Soon Valiant and Gawain have formed a lasting friendship.

Gawain takes Valiant to Camelot where two conspirators soon after decide to kidnap Gawain and hold him for ransom. They trick Valiant and Gawain to visiting the Castle of Ereiwold where Gawain is captured and becomes a prisoner. Of course, Valiant eventually rescues him. After the rescue, however, Gawain gets wounded in a fight with another knight, and Val has to take his place to go on his first quest to rescue the fair maid Ilene’s parents, who are being held prisoner in their castle by an ogre.

Once he sneaks into the castle, Val soon realizes the ogre is a fake with makeup to make him look frightening. Val decides to use fear, the same weapon, to conquer the ogre, disguising himself and appearing like a flying demon in the castle’s hall. In time, Val defeats the ogre and his men, and he rescues Ilene’s parents.

Val is in love with Ilene by this point, but she is already betrothed to the King of Ord. Val wants to stay and fight for Ilene, but Gawain has gotten in trouble again, kidnapped by Morgan le Fey, half-sister of King Arthur. Val goes off to rescue his friend, making the mistake of confronting Morgan le Fey, who puts him under a spell, but in time, he realizes his food is drugged and he quits eating so he’s in his right mind. Then he is able to escape from the castle. Val goes to Merlin, who works his own spell to scare Morgan le Fey into freeing Gawain.

Gawain is freed in time for Val to be invited to a tournament to celebrate the marriage of Prince Arn of Ord and Ilene. Val is determined to challenge Arn, but the challenge occurs on a bridge, resulting in Arn falling and nearly drowning and Val saving him. They plan to fight again nevertheless, but when they begin, a Viking raid occurs and instead, they become allies against their enemies. Before the battle with the Vikings, Arn gives Val the famous Singing Sword, which bears a charm and of course helps him to defeat his enemies. Despite his success, Val is captured by his enemies and he and Ilene are taken over the sea, while hoping Arn will rescue them. In time, Val and Ilene are separated and Ilene ends up on a ship that sinks, leaving Val and Arn heartbroken.

Once Val and Arn return to Camelot, Lancelot tells them they are fortunate Ilene drowned because now they are friends whereas otherwise there always would have been strife between them and Ilene would have blamed herself as the cause of it all.

To deal with his grief, Val returns home to the Fens. As this first volume ends, Val overcomes his grief and decides it’s time he lead his father’s people to return and re-conquer Thule, but before they can act on their plan, a major Saxon invasion threatens England. Val returns to Camelot to fight beside the Knights of the Round Table.

In addition to the strip itself, which is in its brightest glorious color because it’s reprinted directly from Foster’s colored plates, there is an essay in the back by Kim Thompson about the reproduction of Prince Valiant and the various plates, which is quite interesting to read, and even mentions a few of the more gruesome scenes in the story that were censored out. The book also contains a biographical essay about Hal Foster and an interesting interview with Foster.

The plot of Prince Valiant is more like a soap opera in terms of its cliffhangers at the end of most strips and its constant continuation with no end in mind. Foster reputedly was usually ahead in creating the strip by several weeks, but one wonders if he ever imagined when it began that the strip could run not only for many years but many decades and encompass all of Prince Valiant’s life basically. He had no need to plot it in a specific direction, yet there are still certain arching points to the story, including the prophecy that Valiant can never know happiness and the basics of the King Arthur story as well.

For people still uncertain whether they would enjoy Prince Valiant, I recommend getting a copy of this first volume and trying it out; then you can determine whether you want to continue to read the successive volumes, which would be quite a time commitment, but there are far worse ways to spend your time than with Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur.

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