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Posts Tagged ‘Modern Arthurian Fiction’

I absolutely love the title of Nicole Evelina’s new scholarly book The Once and Future Queen. Although there are no legends claiming Guinevere will return like there are of Arthur, she is Arthur’s counterpart and deserves equal treatment. To date, Guinevere has not received anywhere near the amount of attention, much less full-length studies of her character as Arthur has. In fact, the only full-length book on her I’m aware of, Norma Lorre Goodrich’s Guinevere, is a mish-mash of pseudo historicity that must be taken with a grain of salt. Nicole Evelina, however, doesn’t delve into trying to claim whether or not Guinevere was historical. Instead, she takes a more scholarly and practical approach by looking at how Guinevere has been treated throughout literature from the earliest Welsh Triads to present day novels, including her own.

The Once and Future Queen offers an insightful look at Guinevere from medieval times into modern fiction.

Evelina is herself the author of a trilogy about Guinevere, consisting of Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and the upcoming Mistress of Legend. Her interest in Guinevere, as she states, stems from a love for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel The Mists of Avalon and her treatment of Morgan le Fay, but also from a dislike for how Bradley portrayed Guinevere.

Evelina makes some fascinating points about how Guinevere has been depicted in literature, pointing out the significance of Guinevere from the early mention in The Welsh Triads where it is clear that one of the causes for the Battle of Camlann was the blow she struck to her sister Gwenhwyvach. Not surprisingly, as Evelina surveys the medieval works about Guinevere, she is struck by how frequently sexist they are.

One point she makes when she gets to the works of the Renaissance—or lack of Arthurian works for this period—is that the lack of work probably stems from the Protestant Reformation and the effort to rid England of all things that reeked of Catholicism. The Holy Grail legends would certainly be included there, as well as Guinevere and Lancelot ending up in a nunnery and a monastery. I have always been aware that the Renaissance didn’t know what to do with King Arthur, but I had never considered why before, so I thought this point was very illuminating.

Evelina goes on to explore Guinevere’s treatment in more recent classics like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. For me, however, being a writer of Arthurian novels myself, the most interesting chapters were those on modern Arthurian fiction. While Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982) may be considered the mother of feminism in the Arthurian legend, not surprisingly, Evelina faults Bradley for not presenting Guinevere as a strong female character. Evelina also points out that, surprisingly, some other women novelists of the late twentieth century also failed to provide a positive depiction of Guinevere, including Nancy McKenzie and Mary Stewart.

Although I try to read every Arthurian novel I can, there were some authors included whom I have not yet read, including Rosalind Miles, Gillian Bradshaw, and Lavinia Collins, so I am now looking forward to reading their works. While many of the authors Evelina treats, such as Persia Wooley, (to whom she dedicated the book) provide positive and strong portraits of Guinevere, I have to say I was surprised by Lavinia Collins’ Guinevere—her novels sound more like bodice-rippers than true Arthurian romance.

If I would fault The Once and Future Queen in any way, it would be that Evelina didn’t discuss more of the recent male authors. She does mention Parke Godwin, whose Beloved Exile (1984) was the first novel to depict Guinevere after the Fall of Camelot and give her a new story for that period of her life, but she does not discuss male authors like Stephen Lawhead, Jack Whyte, or Bernard Cornwell. Honestly, though, it would be impossible to discuss every treatment of Guinevere in modern fiction—countless Arthurian novels are now being produced every year—and I honestly can’t remember much, if anything, of the Guineveres in those authors’ novels—granted I read them all nearly two decades ago, but they were also all heavily written from the male perspective.

Overall, I think The Once and Future Queen draws a positive light upon the need for more research into how Guinevere has been depicted in the past and how the often negative image of her as just an adulteress needs not only to be reassessed but turned around to show that she can be a positive role model for women of how a woman can be strong in a man’s world. It would be wonderful if The Once and Future Queen would inspire future research, including how Guinevere has been depicted in film and on TV—Evelina even includes a little guesswork about how multiculturalism and other forces in our culture will influence Guinevere’s future depictions. I welcome this addition to Arthurian scholarship, and I think anyone who is especially interested in modern Arthurian fiction will find it engrossing.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s LegacyMelusine’s GiftOgier’s PrayerLilith’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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The Ring of Morgana by Donna Hosie is the first volume in The Children of Camelot Series. As most of my readers of this blog know, in my book King Arthur’s Children (2010) I predicted that the trend to continue to create children for King Arthur to carry the Arthurian story forward would continue and this novel is further indication I was correct. In fact, it was published in 2014, the same year I began publishing my five-volume The Children of Arthur historical fantasy series, detailing King Arthur’s descendants from the sixth to twenty-first centuries.

The Ring of Morgana is the first book in Donna Hosie’s The Children of Camelot series and a sequel to her The Return to Camelot Trilogy.

Hosie’s novel is in some ways similar but in others very different to my own series. It also begins in the twenty-first century. We are introduced to sixteen-year-old Mila Roth and her ten-year-old sister, Lilly. They live in Wales in a house called Avalon Cottage, which is rumored to be haunted. The truth, though, is that Mila and Lilly’s parents have some secrets they’ve been keeping from their daughters, including that they possess a mysterious sapphire ring. I won’t go into the full details of the plot (spoiler alert though that I will give quite a bit away), but basically, Lilly gets ahold of the ring, puts it on her finger, and it begins to make her deadly sick. This situation results in numerous secrets coming out, including that Mila and Lilly’s dad is King Arthur and their mother, although she goes by the name Sam, or Lady Samantha, is apparently really Morgana, a Gorian priestess.

So yes, we have another novel with King Arthur having daughters. What is interesting from here on is that Morgana is the mother of two girls. As the novel progresses, there is no indication that Morgana is the mother of Mordred, as is more typical in Arthurian fiction. Mordred is referenced in the novel (he’s already dead), but it is never stated that he is in any way related to Arthur or Morgana. (Here I should point out that this novel was written after Hosie wrote her The Return to Camelot Trilogy, which I have not read, but which seems to be a prelude to this novel. Consequently, certain details of this book’s plot I may have not understood as thoroughly as if I had read that series first—I was unaware at the time I bought this book that it was linked to Hosie’s earlier series.)

In order to save Lilly, it is necessary for the Roth family (why did Hosie choose that name? It’s not Welsh) to travel back in time to Camelot. Here I think is the only real fault of the novel. Hosie has her characters travel back in time one thousand years—this date is preposterous to me because it would suggest they go back to the year 1014 A.D., give or take a few years. They arrive in the kingdom of Logres at Glastonbury and then travel to Camelot. This year is about 500 years too late. In 1014, Ethelred the Unready was King of all of England and a Saxon king. The novel states that Mila was born during the Battle of Mount Badon, the traditional date of which is 516 and when King Arthur and his Welsh/Celtic contemporaries would have likely lived. A few other historical oddities exist in the novel in terms of some of the name choices—Mila’s aunt is named Natasha and she’s married to Bedivere—Natasha is a Russian name. No one in medieval Britain would have had that name. (Plus, Bedivere is an English version of the Welsh Bedwyr, which I used in my own novels.) Some of the other name choices are equally odd.

In any case, the family arrives back in medieval Logres. Along with them comes Mila’s best friend, Rustin. I mention him, although he’s not related to Arthur, because he plays a significant role in the plot and the sequel book Quest of the Artisan will apparently focus on Rustin, who enjoys woodworking and becomes known as the Artisan in this novel.

The plot now revolves around Merlin trying to heal Lilly while the family reside at Camelot—ruled by Guinevere, who is in love with Lancelot. (The romance dynamics of the novel seem to assume the reader read the earlier series since I never figured out how Arthur and Guinevere must be married, yet he lives in the twenty-first century with Sam/Morgana). Guinevere is childless as usual, but she is very gracious to Arthur and his daughters, who until now have lived in the twenty-first century since it’s apparently safer for them there.

It turns out that Mila must do battle with Nimue in order to save Lilly—this also relates back to themes in the earlier novels—apparently Nimue had some sort of romantic crush on Arthur that caused trouble.

In the end, Mila succeeds and Lilly is healed, and then everyone returns to the twenty-first century, but Rustin is unhappy and decides to figure out how to return to Camelot.

One final point of interest in terms of treatments of King Arthur and his children should be mentioned here. Mordred is dead at the time of the novel. However, he has a son, Melehan, who is about Rustin and Mila’s age and is under the care of Sir Gareth (presumably his uncle). Melehan is traditionally the name of Mordred’s son, which usually would make him King Arthur’s grandson (in my own Children of Arthur series, I used the alternative spelling Meleon; there he is the son of Mordred and grandson of Arthur and Morgana). Mordred does not seem to be related to Arthur in this novel so that means Melehan is not one of Arthur’s descendants.

The novel closes with Melehan traveling to the twenty-first century to meet Mila and tell her he has much to tell her about Rustin and the others back in Camelot, leaving the ending open for a sequel.

I’ll conclude by saying that I thought The Ring of Morgana a very readable and interesting novel. I especially enjoyed the realistic depiction of Mila and her teenage friends in Wales. The build-up of Mila learning the truth about her family and background were all well-done. I admit I was less interested in Mila’s battle with Nimue to save her sister than in the other parts of the novel, but overall, it is one of the better Arthurian novels I have read in recent years and should appeal to young adults as well as anyone who enjoys a more science fiction/time-travel type of Arthurian novel. Those who are diehard fans of historical fiction and a more traditional Arthurian storyline will find it less appealing.

Stay tuned for a future blog about the novel’s sequel, Quest of the Artisan, and perhaps more blogs about The Return to Camelot trilogy.

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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 the upcoming 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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