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Posts Tagged ‘Pendragon’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barnard Faraday’s novel Pendragon (1930) is one of the earliest novels to treat King Arthur as a historical person living in the sixth century and fighting the Saxons. It’s a departure from the Arthur of Malory and Tennyson and helped mark a trend toward realistic historical Arthurian fiction as opposed to fantasy.

The novel is not without its faults. The few reviews at Amazon on the novel complain about its verbosity, stale characters, and lack of action—these are all fair criticisms. It’s really not a long novel—only 272 pages in its first edition, and it is a small sized book, about 4 x 5, so there should not be a lot of room for verbosity, but there is.

However, Pendragon has many good points. While we have to acknowledge that it is not always historically accurate and that Faraday did not have access to all the historical research that has been done in the nearly a century since he wrote it, he does try to give us a good feel for a Britain abandoned by the Romans, in which the tribes are squabbling among themselves while trying to fight off their enemies—in this case the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts, and Irish are all amassing against the Britons.

When the novel opens, Aurelian claims to be ruler of all Britain because he is a scion of the Proconsular family of Imperial descent. Aurelian’s father, Ambrosius, was the first to call himself king of Britain, realizing Rome had fallen. The novel takes place in 502/3, a generation after Rome fell in 476. Aurelian claims to be king of all Britain, but there are many other petty kings who claim their own territories. Most significantly, Guitolin was the ruler of Cornwall, but when the novel opens, he has been abducted by the Saxons and it’s not known whether he is dead or alive.

Artorius (King Arthur) is the general of Aurelian’s armies and the novel’s narrator. Early in the novel, he comes upon Princess Gwendaello of Cornwall, a niece to Guitolin. She has survived the attack that Guitolin was taken in and gets protection from Artorius as he escorts her home. She is quite uppity and sure of herself, and eventually, she makes it clear she is “Pendragon,” the rightful ruler of all Britain because that title belonged to her ancestors before the Romans came to Britain.

Artorius also meets Gildas and Mereddin (Merlin). Mereddin has apparently been plotting against Gwendaello, but Artorius decides to protect her. Meanwhile, Gildas is condemning the rulers of Britain as sinners, but before the novel’s end, he will show he is not just a crazed religious fanatic but capable of acting when needed and doing what is best for Britain.

There are some treasonous plots Artorius gets involved in that need stopping, and in time, he manages to convince the Britons that they must all band together to protect themselves from their enemies. Eventually, it’s learned that Guitolin did survive his abduction, and he is seeking to betray his people into the hands of the Saxons, letting them have portions of Britain in exchange for recognizing him as overlord. Fortunately, he fails in his mission and ends up being killed when he tries to attack Artorius.

A great conference is now held in which the kings argue among themselves. By this point, Artorius has fallen for Gwendaello and supports her claim to be Pendragon and rightful ruler of Britain. The novel culminates in the Battle of Mt. Badon, in which the Saxons and their allies are driven from Britain’s shores. Artorius is wounded in battle and wakes when it’s over to find himself lying in Gwendaello’s arms, and she telling him they have won the day, and then she kisses him.

The ending doesn’t make it clear whether Artorius is dying or whether he will live and presumably marry Gwendaello and become Pendragon himself through right of his eventual marriage to her. I suspect the latter, but Gwendaello cradling Artorius in her arms just resembles Morgan le Fay coming to take King Arthur to Avalon too much to make the reader not wonder whether Artorius is dying.

The novel does suffer from digressions and a lack of dramatic action. At one point, a major battle is described in a letter from Gwendaello to Artorius, which weakens the dramatic effect. There is a lot of arguing among the Britons, which slows down the plot. There are also a lot of characters to keep track of, although most of them are relatively insignificant.

The most fascinating character in the novel is Gwendaello because she is a strong woman, determined in a man’s world to assert her right to rule. Ultimately, she is able to convince Artorius, the strongest and most righteous of the men, to support her claim. I don’t believe another depiction of such a strong Guinevere would appear for decades, and that a man wrote this novel makes her depiction all the more remarkable.

Gildas is a complete anachronism in the novel. He’s described as being about eighty years old, and yet he wasn’t actually born until about 516 AD, some thirteen years after the novel ends.

But altogether, the novel is readable, and it is not as wordy and slow as it might have been had it been written in the Victorian period, even if it’s not fast-paced enough for the twenty-first century reader.

The biggest question is what is to be gained by such a novel that does not depict Arthur as a king but just a warrior, a general? Obviously, we gain a better understanding of who the original King Arthur may have been and what conditions he had to deal with, but we lose the magic of Camelot, of the knights and quests and mysteries. Personally, I prefer the historical fantasy approach where magic is still allowed in the Arthurian world while trying to be historically accurate. That said, Faraday’s novel is significant for how it blends not only history but also Welsh myth and British legend into the story—for example, a crown is found and worn by Gwendaello that belonged to Dynwal Moelmud, a legendary British king mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Faraday is trying to recreate the mindset of sixth century Britons who still believed in their ancient history and legends. Such beliefs are at times brought into question, but eventually Mereddin convinces Artorius to let the people believe what they want because when their beliefs die, it leads to sorrow and loss, which is why Artorius eventually agrees to support Gwendaello as Pendragon.

It seems then that Faraday wants to have it both ways—to create a more historical version of Arthur, and at the same time, let his readers continue to believe in their legendary Arthur, and perhaps make them into one and the same. This debate over how to depict Arthur—historical or legendary—continues on today as two schools—historical fiction and fantasy—have arisen among Arthurian fiction. But this literary division is wonderful because it provides diversity and room for creativity, and it will likely continue on as two schools of Arthurian fiction until the day the truth about King Arthur is known, and even then, it is questionable whether the fantasy versions of the Arthurian legend will cease to be read, and loved, and even rewritten again.

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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 historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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