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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new book The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction study of Guinevere as she’s been depicted in literature for the last fifteen centuries.

Nicole Evelina, author of “The Once and Future Queen,” is also the author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy.

Nicole has previously been my guest when I’ve interviewed her about the first two books in her Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen.

Nicole has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skills, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide. Her goal in writing Arthurian fiction is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series. And it looks like she’s succeeded because Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen have already won several awards. But now she has come out with The Once and Future Queen, a nonfiction book about Guinevere.

 

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m so pleased to be able to talk with you today. To begin, will you tell us what made you decide to write a nonfiction book about Guinevere?

Nicole: I was asked to give a presentation on Guinevere for Women’s History Month in March 2017 at a local library. I was thinking, “Ah, she’s not real. What am I going to talk about?” So I decided to look into how she has changed over time. The result was 30,000 words worth of notes—and a thesis that I thought was very interesting: the idea that Guinevere changes over time along with society’s views on women.

At a presentation the previous November, one of the audience members suggested I write non-fiction, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to take his advice. Besides, I was an English major in college so this was fun for me—like writing a really long research paper!

 

Tyler: Your book focuses on the literary record of Guinevere, but have you read any of the nonfiction works that try to pinpoint who the historical Arthur is, and even sometimes the historical Guinevere? How important do you think it is that we search for the historical counterparts of these characters?

Nicole: I’ve read a lot of books on the possibly historical nature of King Arthur as research for my fictional Guinevere trilogy. I particularly enjoyed Christopher Gidlow’s The Reign of Arthur, David Day’s The Search for King Arthur, and King Arthur: The True Story by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, although I know that one is controversial. And of course, all of Geoffrey Ashe’s books. The ones on Guinevere are few and far between, mostly because it’s hard to prove she existed until we can prove Arthur did, as he was the doer of big deeds. I’m assuming you’re referring to Norma Lorre Goodrich’s book on Guinevere? I own it and I’ve read it (twice, actually) and I’ll just say it is best used to inspire fiction.

I do believe the historical research is very important. If nothing else, it sheds light upon a very mysterious and often misunderstood time period (the Dark Ages or early Middle Ages). It would be great if we can someday prove or disprove the existence of Arthur because that will give us clarity and, no matter what the answer is, will provoke additional research. Even if Arthur is historically disproven, I don’t think that will dampen the power of his myth. Look at Robin Hood; the best anyone can do is call him an amalgamation of historical people, but yet the lessons in his myth continue to inspire us. The same would be true for Arthur and Guinevere.

 

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

Tyler: Who are some of the major and more traditional (pre-twentieth century) authors you discuss in the book and how are they different in their portrayals of Guinevere?

Nicole: Knowing that my target audience was non-academics who are interested in the Arthurian legend, I tried to pick works most people would have at least heard of and maybe studied in school. I touch on some of the key Celtic documents, like The Mabinogion and the Welsh Triads, and then cover the major medieval writers—Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, Layamon, Chretien de Troyes, the Vulgate Cycle, and Thomas Malory, among others. Then I moved into the Victorian Era with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Morris. T. H. White is really the one who straddles the traditional and modern for me, although he’s probably considered modern.

 

Tyler: Was there anything that surprised you about how Guinevere was portrayed in these earlier works?

Nicole: I think the inconsistency was the biggest surprise for me. While Guinevere is pretty much universally depicted as negative in the traditional texts, exactly how—her personality and motivations—and why—the author’s message and motives—often differ wildly, even among a single author’s oeuvre. Chretien de Troyes and Thomas Malory are examples of authors who depict Guinevere one way in one story or even a part of a story, and totally differently in the next or later in the same work.

 

Tyler: Who do you consider to be the first author to treat Guinevere in a truly revolutionary way and how does that author do so?

Nicole: There is more than one, and I think it depends on what aspect of the story and character you’re thinking about. I think Chretien was revolutionary in that he gave Guinevere and Lancelot a bit of a happy ending because Arthur never finds out about their affair in his version of the story. William Morris certainly was because he gave Guinevere a chance to speak for herself—although her “defence” really isn’t so much a defense as audience manipulation. Parke Godwin gave us the first truly intelligent and independent Guinevere in the 1980s. Sharan Newman was the first to depict Guinevere’s childhood and give her a fully-formed backstory. Of course, I like to think that my own novels have revolutionary elements as well—i.e., Guinevere being a priestess, Arthur’s marital situation in Camelot’s Queen, but I’m certainly not impartial. I’ll let time and reader opinion decide that one.

 

Tyler: You talk about Marion Zimmer Bradley in the book, although you don’t like her depiction of Guinevere, but would you agree with me that she is probably the biggest influence upon Arthurian fiction in the last forty years? How would you define that influence and do you think she influenced depictions of Guinevere also?

Nicole: Oh, most definitely. Even though others have done more for the character of Guinevere, Bradley turned Arthurian legend on its head by marrying it with feminism and focusing on the female stories. She also shifted the story from being solidly built on Christianity to being built on paganism with Christianity being a disruptive influence.

My books certainly would not exist without hers, and I’m sure she influenced at least two generations of writers who came after her. But I don’t know that that is true for most of the Guinevere novels that came out either in the 1980s or 1990s, at least the ones I examine in The Once and Future Queen. Looking at the timeline and the motivations of the authors, I think they would have written theirs anyway. Parke Godwin’s books came out either before or nearly at the same time as Bradley’s so unless the two were in correspondence (which I doubt), they wouldn’t have influenced one another. Likewise, Gillian Bradshaw’s novels and Sharan Newman’s first Guinevere book were published before Mists. The only authors who could have been reacting to Bradley would have been Woolley, McKenzie, and Miles. I haven’t read anything about McKenzie’s motivations, but I’m pretty sure Woolley and Miles both said their books were at least started before Mists. I think the trends that we see in the 1980s and 1990s to focus more on Guinevere and make her a strong female character were more motivated by the cultural shifts taking place and the influence of feminism than on Bradely’s work.

 

Tyler: I feel in the light of all the shocking revelations of sexual harassment and abuse coming out of Hollywood today that I should mention a similar charge was made about Marion Zimmer Bradley a few years ago—her daughter accuses her of sexually abusing her as a child. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/27/sff-community-marion-zimmer-bradley-daughter-accuses-abuse) Given that knowledge, do you think it will or should make a difference in how we view her work and her influence? Do you think it will hurt her place in the Arthurian canon?

Nicole: I think it will affect how some people view her work, especially those who have been victimized themselves, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But I don’t personally think it should affect our views in the long term. Regardless of what Bradley may or may not have done, the work stands on its own. Its impact shouldn’t be lessened because of her personal life. The charge against her is disgusting, and I will admit it makes me wrinkle my nose at her name, but it doesn’t change how I view the story. If there was anything that smacked of child abuse in the story itself, I’d be giving you a different answer. Mists can be considered strange on many levels that don’t have anything to do with abuse but are related to sexuality, i.e. the Beltane ritual, the threesome between Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur, Morgan’s lesbian encounter with the faerie, etc., but I don’t know that a logical correlation can be made between those plot points and the charge against the author. For example, you could argue that her depictions of sexuality were an attempt to modernize the Arthurian story and make it appealing to an audience in tune with the changing values of the time.

There are many other authors you could ask the same questions about, such as Orson Scott Card, but their personal views still don’t lessen their contribution to literature, except of course, if their storylines were to promote hate, abuse, or whatever they are charged with believing. If we took away all the art and inventions that were created by people who did terrible, sometimes unforgivable things, we’d be in a world of hurt. This is a case where separating the creator from the creation is necessary. I know not everyone will agree with that, and that is fine.

 

Tyler: You mention several other modern female novelists in the book, some of whom you think did nothing to help develop Guinevere’s character but others you find favorable. Can you give us some examples?

Nicole: I’ll give you one example on each side of the question. (You have to read the book for the others! J) I think Persia Wooley did much to advance the character of Guinevere. Her queen is equal to Arthur and very much knows her own mind. She’s even a sex-positive character without being portrayed as a whore.

On the other hand, Nancy McKenzie’s Guinevere is a throwback to the weak, indecisive character that we saw in Malory. Rather than acting from her own will and agency, this Guinevere is constantly reacting to the stronger characters around her, especially Elaine and Arthur. This dependence on the thoughts and deeds of others lessens Guinevere in the eyes of the reader, especially in light of the stronger Guineveres produced by other authors.

 

Tyler: As a male novelist of Arthuriana myself, I couldn’t help noticing the lack of reference to novels by male authors, especially the ones that are modern classics, such Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen Lawhead? Why did you choose to ignore many male authors?

Nicole: If I was doing an overall survey of Arthurian legend I would have included them—and I mean no disrespect by not focusing on their works—but this is specifically a book on Guinevere. My reason for not including them is that none of them really focus on Guinevere. She’s there, of course, but it’s easier—and I would argue more effective—to analyze changes in the character when she’s a main character as opposed to secondary or tertiary.

I do discuss T. H. White at length, as well as Parke Godwin, so it’s not that I abandoned male novelists when talking about modern books. But I believe the shift from male authors having total control over Guinevere’s story historically to female authors telling her story from a female point of view for the first time in the 1980s and 1990s cannot and should not be underemphasized. We know that men portray female characters differently than female authors do (just as female authors write their male characters differently than male authors do), so analyzing how she changed at their hands tells us a lot about society and the views of readers.

 

Tyler: You talk about how it’s too early to say what place your own novels will have in the Arthurian canon and whether they’ll have any influence, but how do you think your Guinevere is different from all the others?

Nicole: I feel like she’s built on the shoulders of those who came before me. There is no way my Guinevere could exist without those who broke the ground in the ’80s and ’90s and seeded reader acceptance of a strong Guinevere. And because I was raised in a family and society that taught me to the value of “girl power” (we can thank the all-girls high school I went to for a lot of that), I think my Guinevere is more aggressive than many others, much more empowered, and determined to have her own way. That is both a plus and a negative for her, as it also means she’s very self-centered. I also think the relationships she has with other characters in my books—especially Aggrivane and Morgan—help set her apart from previous versions because they put her in unusual situations and present her with challenges no other Guinevere has had to react to.

 

Tyler: When can we expect the final volume of your trilogy to be published? Any hint at how Guinevere will fare in it? Will readers be surprised by the end?

Nicole: I am determined that it will be published in 2018. I’ve had a partial draft written since 2013, but with my change from the traditional publishing path to independent publishing and all the work that has entailed, I haven’t had as much time to focus on it as I would like. Within the last year, I finally figured out what it was missing (oh you know, most of the middle of the book). Now I just have to make that happen, which is easier said than done, especially now that I know how much people like the first two books.

I will tell you that after the battle of Camlann and the fall of Camelot, Guinevere heads north into her mother’s native Votadini homelands to try to figure out who she is now that Camelot is gone. With her husband and many of her friends now dead, being a Votadini is the only bit of identity she has left, and it ends up propelling her into a new stage in life, where her skills both in the political arena and on the battlefield have the potential to change history. Obviously, Lancelot is a huge part of the story, as is Morgan, but you’ll also see a lot of characters reemerge that might not expect—Mayda, Elga, Accolon, and others who were bit players in previous novels now come to the fore. And there is one that I’m not going to tell you about, but I’ve been waiting years to write his comeback!

I’ve known all along how the series would end. I think some people will be surprised and possibly irritated by what happens, but I think others will find it very satisfying. Hopefully, more of the latter! I will say that despite all Guinevere has gone through and will go through in this book, Mistress of Legend has a happy ending…at least as happy as any Arthurian story can be.

 

Tyler: What do you think Guinevere will look like in future books and films?

Nicole: I think there is no telling, but that is a good thing. That means she can be anyone or anything society needs her to be. Personally, I hope she continues to be a strong woman who fights for herself and for what is right. I’d love to see more historical fiction/historical fantasy authors delve into what life was like for Celtic women in post-Roman Britain using her story as a basis, especially if archeology continues to point to that historical period being the most likely for Arthur to have lived. I’ve done that somewhat, but my skills and education have their limitations. I’d love to see what a true expert can do.

I do speculate a little on how Guinevere might change in the future in the conclusion to The Once and Future Queen. I can imagine her becoming a person of color (yes, I know, the TV show Merlin did that already, but I mean more regularly), perhaps even gay or transgender. For those of us used to traditional portrayals of her, that might seem like a leap, but for a long time so did a strong Guinevere. A friend of mine just posted on Twitter the other day that she’s reading a comic book called, oddly enough, The Once and Future Queen, in which Arthur is a gay woman. That means her relationship with Guinevere will be non-traditional. So in many ways, the evolution is happening right before our eyes.

 

Tyler: Thanks for all that information, Nicole. Since it’s so much fun to speculate, if the historical Guinevere could be here with us today and you could only ask her one question, what would it be?

 

Nicole: The first thing that popped into my head was “Was Arthur worth it?” but upon serious reflection, I think I’d ask her where it all went wrong. By that I mean the dream of Camelot and a united Britain, but she could take it however she likes.

 

Tyler: Thank you again for joining me today, Nicole. It was a very informative discussion. Before we go, will you let our readers know where they can get copies of The Once and Future Queen?

Nicole: Thanks again for having me. You are too generous with your time.

Here are the links to the major online retailers:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Once-Future-Queen-Guinevere-Arthurian/dp/0996763244

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-once-and-future-queen-nicole-evelina/1127289906

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-once-and-future-queen-4

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-once-and-future-queen-guinevere-in-arthurian-legend/id1314772771?mt=11

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Nicole_Evelina_The_Once_and_Future_Queen?id=nEM_DwAAQBAJ&hl=en

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/755384

 

Tyler: It’s been a pleasure, Nicole. Good luck with The Once and Future Queen, and I’ll look forward to talking to you again when Mistress of Legend is published.

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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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