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If one were in search of the worst King Arthur movie ever, while I hesitate to say this one is the worst—I really think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) takes the cake there—King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (2017) would likely make the top ten list. That said, this poorly made and poorly conceived film does have a few—though very few—good points.

Knights of the Round Table’s descendants use machine guns – what’s not to like?

My title for this article is a tad misleading. King Arthur doesn’t end up in Thailand, but most of the film is set there. The gist of it is that King Arthur and his knights have been fighting Morgana and Mordred to the point where the king and the knights have had to go underground. In a last battle, Arthur overcomes his enemies and sends them shooting off into space in a giant rock. Fifteen hundred years later, we are introduced to the present-day descendants of King Arthur and his knights who for whatever reason are hanging out in Thailand. (I suspect it’s because Thailand was the cheapest place to make the film, which apparently had a $300,000 budget. One would think that was reason enough to make this the worst King Arthur film, but since King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s $175 million budget couldn’t save it, it’s definitely a bigger flop.)

Anyway, Morgana and Merlin now return and fight the Arthurian descendants (How they know to go to Thailand, when it would make more sense to go to Stonehenge or Cadbury Castle or even Winchester where the fake Round Table is, is unexplained). Some of the descendants are descended from Kay, Tristram, and Lancelot, but at least one, possibly two, is descended from King Arthur. During the scuffles that follow—with some martial arts tossed in since they’re in Thailand—the Holy Grail that they have in their keeping is revealed to be Excalibur melted down. Only the rightful heir to Arthur can wield it, and he turns out to be the descendant least proud to be a descendant: Penn, who thinks he’s only Sir Kay’s descendant. (Come on, Penn. Didn’t being named Penn, short for Pendragon, give it away?) Penn has just proposed to his girlfriend Jenna (think Jenny from Camelot aka Guinevere), and we later learn Jenna is pregnant with twins, so King Arthur’s line will obviously continue.

Sara Malakul Lane as Morgana and Russell Geoffrey Banks as Mordred. Banks’ performance is the only one of any note in the film.

Mordred is forced to do most of Morgan le Fay’s dirty work during the battles, and he’s heartily sick of it, so he eventually changes sides. Of course, he gets killed during the fighting but not before he redeems himself, and so on his deathbed, Penn tells him he truly thinks of him as his friend. He also dubs him Sir Mordred, which makes no sense since Mordred is always Sir Mordred already in the legends.

But before Mordred dies, we are subjected to Morgana turning into a robotic/china doll-looking giant who destroys most of Bangkok. Think the Ghostbusters ghost/Godzilla destroying New York/Tokyo. (Yes, this film is that original.) The only good thing here was that we weren’t subjected to New York getting blown up yet again. I had enough of that with The Avengers films, and oh, maybe a dozen other films as well).

The film ends with the Arthurian and knightly descendants triumphant and calling themselves the “Knights of New Camelot.” At least one website suggests this film was intended to be the lead-in to a television series, which the final scene also suggests. Thankfully, that never happened, though the ending does feel like it stole something from The Librarians films that led to that TV series.

Penn (left), King Arthur’s descendant and Lucas, Lancelot’s descendant, face off here in their rivalry for Jenna, in a modern Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere triangle. Only this Guinevere stays with Arthur and turns out to be fertile. (Apparently the historical one was too in this series or Penn wouldn’t exist.)

As always, I like the idea that King Arthur’s descendants live on, so that descendants of the other knights also live on and they have a fellowship is a rather cool idea. I also thought Mordred’s angst was quite well done. In fact, Mordred was the only really dynamic character in the film. Most of the other characters were fairly indescript and just remembering their names was difficult. That said, the film did do a good job of having some of the knights be female.

Thankfully, I don’t think Thailand will be on any Arthurian sites tours anytime soon just because of this film. But if you want to visit the sites traditionally associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, check out Scholarly Sojourn’s Arthurian tour.

Unless you’re a real diehard King Arthur movie buff, you can skip seeing this film. However, I’d love to hear what other movies you think might be contenders for the worst King Arthur movie ever.

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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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After seeing King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in 2017 and being disgusted, I had high hopes that The Boy Who Would Be King could redeem Arthurian films, but while it was leaps and bounds better than King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it falls short of the magic one wants from a movie about King Arthur.

The kids in The Boy Who Would Be King, left to right:Lance, Bedders, Alex, Merlin, and Kay

The premise is good enough and the film appears to be well-intended, but its delivery is lackluster at best. The film begins with a cartoon prologue, in which we are given the story of Arthur drawing the sword from the stone. Then we are told his evil sister Morgana fought against him. She was defeated and eventually buried in the earth, but she vowed she would one day return. Arthur replied that when she did the sword would return to. This opening sequence moved rapidly and was a bit hard to follow, plus the drawing was mediocre, setting the tone for the mediocrity to come.

The main storyline, however, opens well enough. We are introduced to a modern-day young boy, Alexander, who along with his friend Bedders, is bullied by two older children, Lance and a girl named Kay. It is notable here that Alexander and Lance are white while Bedders looks to be of Indian and Kay of African descent. I applaud the film for the multicultural characters that reflect the current face of Britain. This sets the tone for a more egalitarian version of the Arthurian legend and is one of the film’s few strong points, which the film makes apparent in more detail later.

Anyway, Alex finds the sword in a piece of concrete in a construction site that he stumbles upon while trying to escape his bullies. Eventually, the bullies find him and want the sword, but when a group of skeleton-like knights appear and attack the kids, the bullies soon join forces with Alex and Bedders. Alex, of course, recognizes the sword as Excalibur because he has a book about the Knights of the Round Table that his father gave him. His father has disappeared from his life, apparently because, as his mother says, he had “his demons” but he inscribed the book as “To Alex, my once and future king.” Alex realizes that now he is King Arthur, or at least meant to play the role of King Arthur—he’s not a reincarnation—and that his friends are Sir Bedivere (only everyone in the film keeps saying Sir Bedsivere, which is very irritating) and Sir Lancelot and “Lady” Kay.

Alex begins to believe he must be from Arthur’s bloodline through his father and that his father’s demons were the real-life demons that Morgana is sending to attack them, but in time, he will learn from Merlin that this is not true. Merlin shows up as a young boy who enrolls at the kids’ school, Dungate Academy. (That Merlin is naked in his first appearance, although we only see an unrevealing side view of him, is a weird decision in a children’s film.) Merlin is a nerdy kid so Alex and Bedders at first try to avoid him since they’re already being bullied and don’t want to be bullied more, but eventually Merlin convinces the kids he really is Merlin and explains their mission to them. They must defeat Morgana before she can ascend from out of the earth and make everyone in Britain into slaves. The kids agree to the mission and despite the bullies occasionally causing trouble, eventually they band together to fight Morgana and her minions.

The film makes use of Arthurian locations by having the children travel to Stonehenge, Tintagel, and Glastonbury Tor. Unfortunately, none of these locations are used well in the film—we get no really good cinematography of them that makes them feel magical or inspiring. The most powerful moment in the film comes when Alex learns his father was just a drunk and not at all a descendant of Arthur. Merlin, who usually appears as a goofy young wizard, now appears as an adult. (Patrick Stewart plays the role, and he’s one of the few redeeming features of the film.) Merlin tells Alex that greatness has nothing to do with birth or who your parents are, and if their stories and legends say it does, then it’s time to rewrite the story—this is the egalitarianism the film promotes that I was talking about early.

The kids now get to Glastonbury Tor where they discover a secret passage into the cave where Morgana dwells. This was the worst part of the film in my opinion—Morgana is twisted up in a bunch of tree roots in the cave and she has power over trees, causing roots to come up from the ground and grab the children at times. These rootlike connections also flow over into her serpent depictions—she flies about like a flying snake or gargoyle and later as a dragon. Overall, her depiction is insulting to the character and also misogynistic. There is a long history of women being associated with serpents as a symbol of them being evil which goes back to the Eve and the Serpent and depictions of Lilith and the medieval fairy Melusine. More recently the villainess in Bram Stoker’s novel The Lair of the White Worm is a snakelike creature, as is Geraldine in Coleridge’s poem “Christabel.” No one can forget the sea witch in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and so it’s not surprising that Morgan is like a winged serpent and later she turns into a dragon—it’s just tiresome. I hate when Morgana is simply depicted as a villain—her character is more complicated in the legends, yet the film makes no effort to develop her and she barely even gets any lines. We don’t know why she was evil or hated Arthur.

Morgana’s Skeleton Army – really, yet another film with a skeleton army!

Alex quickly stabs Morgan in the cave, she’s dead, and the adventure is over. It was anticlimactic and I was ready to go home and forget the movie, but then Merlin shows up once the kids return home to say Morgana was only wounded and will attack during the eclipse. Alex then manages with Merlin’s help to rally his school to prepare for battle. The kids even end up wearing armor (which looks ridiculous since they have shoulder pads but their chests and stomachs are exposed). Soon Morgana’s skeleton army attacks, and she leads the charge in the shape of a flying dragon. Of course, good triumphs over evil, and ho hum, after a big battle scene that fails to be inspiring or creative, life goes back to normal.

The film does end with a positive message. Alex says that the world with Morgan defeated is no better than it was before, but Merlin (as Patrick Stewart, probably the film’s only real asset) explains that the kids have it in them to make the world a better place in the future. He then gives Alex a copy of the book his father gave him, only now the cover has changed to show Alex and his friends depicted on it. It will be up to them to rewrite the future and King Arthur’s story as well. (And, after all, isn’t that what every generation has done—adapted the legend for its own needs in its own time?)

Patrick Stewart as Merlin – this tender moment at the end of the film felt unwarranted – I guess Alex sees Merlin as a replacement for his lost father.

As I said, the film is well-intentioned, but it lacks true creativity or inspiration. How many films with skeleton armies do we need? If Morgana wanted to conquer the world, why would she go after a boy with a sword and attack a school? Any villain with half a brain would have headed for Parliament instead. None of the Arthurian landmarks are used to any real purpose. It isn’t even clear why the kids have to go to Tintagel or Stonehenge. Even the soundtrack is dull—music is essential for a film to make us feel emotion, but I was left not feeling anything. Granted, I am not the film’s ten-year-old target audience, but I have watched other children’s Arthurian films—The Sword in the Stone (1963) and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995) come to mind—and felt the magic. The most magical moment in the whole film might be when Alex explains to his mom that the Arthurian legend is real and to prove it, he fills the bathtub with water, then asks the Lady of the Lake to bring him the sword and her hand pops up with it. This was a bit different, and manages not to be cheesy. I do give the film points for its sincerity—it never tries to make a mockery of the legend but tries to repurpose it for a new generation.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, this is one where you will want to wait for the video. Overall, I would give the film a C-. It’s two hours long—about thirty minutes longer than it needs to be, the violence is likely scary for younger children, but boring for adults who will have seen it all before, and the sense of wonder just isn’t there. There are a few worse Arthurian films like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) and Merlin and the War of the Dragons (2008), but there are also many that are better, Knights of the Round Table (1953), Camelot (1967), and Excalibur (1981) lead the list; heck, even Quest for Camelot (1998) and Prince Valiant (1954) with Robert Wagner in a ridiculous wig are more fun to watch.

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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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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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Here’s a sneak peek at the beginning of my new novel, Arthur’s Legacy, which retells the tale of Camelot from a perspective that alleges not only that Mordred was not a traitor, but that King Arthur’s descendants live among us today. Enjoy!

 

PROLOGUE

 “For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground

And tell sad stories of the death of kings.”

— William Shakespeare, Richard II

Meleon had never thought it would come to this. He knew he and his brother, Prince Morgant, were far from the great knights that their grandfather, King Arthur, or even their father, Prince Mordred, had been, so if those two great men had not succeeded in defeating the usurper Constantine, how could he and Morgant? Yet, Meleon had hoped the good Lord above would aid them in their battle.

But it had been a slaughter, a hopeless slaughter. The brave and loyal men of Britain, those left who had not been slain at Camlann and many more—farmers, millers, merchants, all able bodied men who remained loyal to Arthur’s blood—had done their best. But what could they do against a tyrant who was aided by a witch?

Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One – the first in a five book Arthurian historical fantasy series

Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One – the first in a five book Arthurian historical fantasy series

The men had fought valiantly all that afternoon, but when the ravens began to flock above the battlefield with the decline of day and Meleon looked about him, having just run his blade through one of Constantine’s men, he saw that few of his own army remained on the field, and if they did not retreat now, those few would also fall by the sword.

“Meleon!” cried Morgant. “It’s hopeless! Hurry! We must get away!”

Meleon hated to turn and run, but he knew his brother was right. His father and grandfather would not have thought it cowardly if he sought to save his own life. Then perhaps he could make it safely to Lesser Britain, to their distant cousins there, to raise a new army, to seek out Merlin, the great wizard who had disappeared from Britain years before, but who might be the only one alive now who could fight against the witch. Meleon, however, had never even met Merlin, only heard tales of him, so how could he know whether the wizard were still alive? But sightings of him had been rumored over the years, and what other hope was there?

No time to think of Merlin now. Meleon turned and rushed after his brother, joined by a couple of dozen fellow soldiers as the enemy’s army tried to pursue them. They ran over the nearby hill and into the forest, the enemy cutting down half of them along the way, the blood of his comrades spraying onto Meleon’s face as he fought to try to save them. But once his men reached the forest, the enemy failed to pursue them farther, and Meleon and Morgant led their loyal handful of followers into the woods.

They were hardly worth pursuing now. Doubtless, Constantine and his men would find them if he wanted their lives, and they were bleeding so profusely from their many wounds that they could not run far.

Still, they managed to make their way through the forest as the sky darkened, and after a couple of miles, as night finally fell, they emerged into a clearing where stood a small monastery, one Meleon knew well—it was where the great Sir Bedwyr had retreated after the fatal Battle of Camlann where Arthur and Mordred had been slain.

Just that morning, Meleon’s men had camped at the monastery before going to face Constantine, and Meleon had then begged Sir Bedwyr to join them in battle, even declaring that as Arthur’s heir, he, Meleon, was now Bedwyr’s king, so it was his duty to obey him.

But Bedwyr had calmly said, “No. All the trouble that has come upon Britain is my fault. It is God’s punishment for my and Queen Guinevere’s sins. I am not wise, nor good, but I can hold off causing more pain and bloodshed.”

Meleon could not believe the knight’s words. Never had there ever been a braver man in all the history of Britain than Sir Bedwyr, so how could he desert them now?

“It is desertion, you know,” Meleon had said, trying to incite the knight to anger so he would join them. “You are being disloyal to Arthur. If you wish to make penance for your sins, the best way is to take up arms against he who has usurped Arthur’s throne.”

But Bedwyr would have none of it. “My king is in heaven now,” he said. Meleon did not know whether by “my king” Bedwyr meant his deceased grandfather or God himself, but either way, it would not help Britain.

“God does not want an evil witch to sit on the throne of Britain,” Meleon had argued.

“God takes no interest in the wars of humans,” Bedwyr had replied. “He cares only for their salvation, and war, in any form and for any reason, works against that salvation.”

Now as Meleon struggled across the meadow to the monastery’s door, he wondered whether Bedwyr would even give him and his men sanctuary.

He need not have wondered, however, for the monks had been watching for their return, and without surprise at their greatly reduced numbers, the holy brothers quickly rushed outdoors to help them inside to treat their wounds.

Bedwyr greeted the princes, separating them from their men and telling them to come with him into the chapel.

“We will pray,” said Bedwyr, “for those whose lives were lost this day, both those of your own men and those of Constantine’s.”

“Pray for the souls of traitors!” spat out Morgant.

“Before your grandfather Arthur went to Avalon to be healed, he told me to pray for him and the souls of all men,” said Bedwyr calmly. And then he turned and walked to the chapel, and the princes, too exhausted to argue, decided it was best to follow and get the praying over with so Bedwyr might find them a meal and aid them in further escape.

“We cannot stay long,” said Meleon. “My wife Rachel will be grief-stricken with worry. We must find a boat and sail to Rheged so I can warn her of what has happened.”

“There is no need,” said Bedwyr, “this morning after your army left, a messenger arrived to bring news of your wife. He journeyed all night and was exhausted; he is resting inside the monastery, waiting to give you the news, but for now, it is enough to tell you that Princess Rachel gave birth two days ago to your son, whom she named Arthur after your grandfather, and this morning, she embarked with the child and several knights of her father, King Accolon, for Lesser Britain to find safety there, for Constantine has sent another army against Rheged. The messenger barely escaped them as they marched toward the castle just an hour after Princess Rachel and the child made their escape.”

“Thank God for her safety,” said Meleon as they entered the chapel. “I will pray then that God be with her, as well as with my father-in-law, King Accolon, and his people.”

Bedwyr bid the princes follow him to the altar in the small chapel, and there the three knelt and spoke silently to God of what troubled their hearts.

But their prayers were not to be finished. Not three minutes after they knelt, the chapel door was flung open and in strode Constantine with half-a-dozen of his armed men and the Witch Queen following him.

Bedwyr jumped up, instinctively reaching for his sword, but there was none by his side.

Morgant only had time to half-draw his sword before Constantine’s own sword swung through the air, severing the prince’s head.

“No!” cried Meleon, his sword drawn to engage his enemy in combat.

Constantine’s men, however, quickly surrounded the prince. One of them, having not a shred of honor, struck Meleon a blow in the back, which did not pierce his armor but sent the prince to the floor. A second later, Constantine’s sword rested against Meleon’s throat.

“Sacrilege!” shouted Bedwyr, who had been grabbed by three burly knights, now struggling to hold him, his old fighting spirit having been raised by the attack. “Would you shed blood in the House of God?”

“Silence!” screamed the Witch Queen, she who was named Gwenhwyvach and who claimed to be sister to Guinevere and the true Queen of Britain. Stepping up to Bedwyr, she laughed in his face. “Fool knight, you who thought yourself invincible—look at you now, a beggar monk. To such humility I have driven the strongest man in Britain. You are just like every other man since the time of Adam himself. Weak, foolish, a coward, afraid of women, afraid of my power, afraid of your very self.”

“My lady,” said Constantine, drawing her attention, “with this sword blow, I now do claim all Britain as wholly ours.”

And with those words and before Gwenhwyvach even could speak, he plunged his sword through Meleon’s throat.

Meleon could not believe the agonizing sting of the metal as it severed his flesh. He struggled for breath, his body going into panic mode.

“Fool!” screeched Gwenhwyvach at her consort. “Did I tell you to slay him? First I must know where the rings are!”

“What rings?” asked Constantine.

“Where are the rings?” Gwenhwyvach demanded, staring down at Meleon with piercing eyes.

But Meleon closed his eyes, for he had heard that the Witch Queen could read the very secrets of a man’s soul in his eyes. He knew which rings she meant—the royal rings of Avalon, the rings his grandfather and grandmother had always worn. Once, when he had been a small boy, he had sat on his grandfather’s lap and played with his ring and his grandfather had said, “This ring holds incredible power such that even I don’t know how fully to use it or all its secrets. But one day it shall be yours, and you shall pass it to all the Kings of Britain who shall come after you.” Meleon had always wondered what power it held, but he had never dared to ask his grandfather more. Neither his grandfather nor grandmother ever would have taken those rings from their fingers, so if…as Sir Bedwyr had told him…Morgana had…had taken…. Meleon could barely think…hated that he was dying…would never again…see Rachel or his son…. But if Morgana had taken…King Arthur to Avalon…the rings were there…and safe until his son….

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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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With the SyFy channel’s hiatus in showing the last episodes of Season 5 of Merlin, I’ve been going through serious withdrawal, and I’m still trying to piece together just what are the details in the series about The Old Religion, magic, and the history of Albion. For that reason, I was thrilled when I discovered there were a series of novels written as tie-ins to several of the Merlin episodes. For those interested, the website for the book series is: http://www.merlin-books.co.uk/

Unfortunately, the books are very difficult to find in the United States, and many of them at Amazon are being sold for hundreds of dollars. I was able to locate a copy of Merlin: The Nightmare Begins at Amazon for a reasonable price, and I was delighted when it came in the mail to see it was a hardback which I hadn’t expected. Unfortunately, my delight ended there.

Merlin: The Nightmare Begins

Merlin: The Nightmare Begins

I am sure many fans of the series will enjoy these books, especially younger readers, but I was very disappointed. I have read movie and book tie-ins before and I know they are usually written as an afterthought and they usually don’t give more information or plot or characterization than the movie or TV show itself, but some of the reviews I read of the books in the series, not Merlin: The Nightmare Begins specifically, did say that some additional information is in the books. I admit that I didn’t re-watch the episode that ties in with this book (“The Nightmare Begins, season 2, episode 3), but nor did I find anything additional in the book that was worth mentioning. I was happy to order this volume specifically because of my interest in the series’ depiction of magic and the Old Religion, and this book details how Morgana has nightmares and leaves Camelot to seek the druids, who make her realize she is not crazy but has magic herself.

Unfortunately, the writing in the book was very dull, pedestrian, and did nothing to make the story more interesting or intriguing. In fact, halfway through reading, I took a nap. Then I woke up, thinking maybe I was just too tired to read, but the book didn’t get any better when I returned to it. It took me about three times as long to read this book as it would have to watch the episode. I’d have been better off to watch and enjoy three episodes of Merlin than to read it. Moments in the storyline that were caught in the film that contained humor, charm, action are all lacking in the retelling of this story.

Perhaps some of the other books are better. I would go so far as to read another one if I could find it at a reasonable price, but it is unlikely, as I first intended, that I will want to collect the entire series.

It’s too bad because I really love the series Merlin. I think it’s the best Arthurian TV series ever made, and it probably surpasses most if not all of the Arthurian movies, despite criticism it has received that it has little to do with the actual Arthurian legend, but its production qualities are very high in my opinion. Sadly, the book series’ production value is not up to the TV series’ standards.

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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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