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Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

Prince Valiant Vol. 5 continues the long-drawn out tale of Prince Valiant’s love for and frustration over Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. At the end of Volume 4, Aleta and Val had fled the Misty Isles and they were wandering through the desert, with Aleta as Val’s prisoner, since he is convinced she is a sorceress who has enchanted him, and he is angry at her for the death of his servant.

Aleta dances on the cover of “Prince Valiant, Vol. 5”

Aleta, however, is not the slave or prisoner type; nor is she vindictive, for through various ruses, she manages to save Prince Valiant’s life, trick his enemies, and even rescue herself when needed. In fact, Aleta proves herself worthy of her queen status and to be the love of Valiant, who really is quite foolish and irrational as a youth of only about twenty in this volume. After Val manages to rescue Aleta from a sultan who ends up capturing her and taking her to his harem—although Aleta was capable of taking care of herself all along as she proves—Val tells Aleta he will marry her, but she doesn’t want to be told; she wants him to woo her properly. It takes some doing and consternation for Val before he figures out how to convince her to marry him, culminating in his tossing her into a fountain and kissing her passionately—and then comes Aleta’s long awaited “YES!”

Valiant wants to go to Rome for the wedding and be married by the pope—after all, he’s a prince and Aleta a queen, but Genseric of the Vandals is planning to sack the city. When Valiant tells Genseric he wishes to be married in Rome, Genseric invites Valiant and Aleta to accompany him, and he’ll let them be married before he sacks the city. Things don’t quite work out as planned, and instead a former cardinal turned woodland hermit marries them in one of Foster’s most beautiful drawings.

But married life does not mean “happily ever after”—Valiant’s story is just beginning and the comic strip will continue another seventy-six and counting years. The Medieval Castle is not so lucky. This smaller strip Foster appended to the bottom of the Valiant strip ends in 1945, soon after World War II is over (see my earlier blog on Vol. 4 about The Medieval Castle) and the removal (no loss, it was boring like a medieval documentary) of this lesser strip allows for more space for Prince Valiant—more space for intrigue and obstacles for Valiant to deal with, including Aleta’s handmaid falling in love with him, resulting in tragic results.

Eventually, however, Valiant and Aleta make it back to England, in time for Mordred (here, I believe for the first time, named as Arthur’s half-brother) to catch Lancelot and Guinevere together and accuse them of adultery. Aleta, however, to save Camelot, claims it was she and not Guinevere, whom Lancelot was kissing. Of course, Valiant is enraged and more marriage troubles ensue, but not at the Round Table’s expense.

If readers want to know more of Valiant and Aleta’s adventures in this volume, they will just have to read them for themselves. I have to admit that for me, this volume dragged a little bit for reasons I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it dragged for Foster a little too because Volume 6 will take a dramatic turn in bringing Valiant and Aleta to North America—long before Columbus or even the Vikings! Unfortunately, Vol. 6 won’t be released until January 2013 so we’ll just have to wait.

One final benefit of this volume is a discussion of Foster’s drawing sizes, which were actually a full page for each frame and then shrunk down to fit the strip. Some additional illustrations are included that Foster did as magazine covers.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Marion Zimmer Bradley’s vision of Avalon continues through Diana Paxson’s pen in another prequel to The Mists of Avalon.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Ravens of Avalon by Diana L. PaxsonI have had mixed feelings about this series, as have many readers. The Mists of Avalon is my favorite Arthurian novel of all time, perhaps my favorite novel of all time, and after thirty years since its publication, it is doubtless a classic that has heavily influenced the numerous writers of Arthuriana who have followed. That said, the rest of the series really adds nothing to Arthurian literature because the novels are all prequels about Avalon. I found both The Forest House and Lady of Avalon to be boring and disappointing, but Priestess of Avalon, about the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, was fairly enjoyable and even moving in places. Then Ancestors of Avalon had a plot that seemed to be going nowhere despite an intriguing opening as it traced the flight from Atlantis to the new Avalon. I ended up skimming a good part of it, and it paled in comparison to Stephen Lawhead’s Atlantis depiction in Taliesin. Therefore, it took me nearly two years to get around to reading the next book in the Avalon series, Ravens of Avalon.

Before I read this book, I made the mistake of reading the reviews at Amazon, including complaints that the characters were dull and flat, and that may be why I had difficulty getting through the first hundred pages. I don’t think the characters are dull or flat, but I think some people probably had a hard time getting into the book because the cast of characters is a bit overwhelming—there are pages of them in the listing at the front of the book, and most of them have names with strange spellings that make it difficult to keep track of them. However, really there are only a few characters you need to keep track of—Lhiannon the priestess, Ardanos, the priest she loves, Boudica, and Boudica’s later husband Prasutagos.

Once I sat down and focused on the book, I found myself unable to put it down. Ravens of Avalon has redeemed the series for me and now makes me anxious to read Sword of Avalon. Also, it should be noted that if anyone else wants to read this series, there is no order in which to read it. Priestess of Avalon takes place around 300 A.D. while Ravens of Avalon takes place around 40-60 A.D. and Sword of Avalon, although I have not read it, takes place at the end of the Iron Age and deals with descendants of ancient Troy apparently. All the novels are prequels to The Mists of Avalon—I wish Paxson would consider a sequel because I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay after the book ended.

Ravens of Avalon retells the story of the iconic and historic Queen Boudica of Britain. The basics of her story are well known. The Romans raped her and her daughters, causing her to seek revenge by raising an army against the Romans, an army eventually defeated. A difficulty many historical novelists have is that the reader already knows how the story is going to turn out; even though I knew Boudica would die in the end, I kept reading, wanting to know how Paxson would twist the ending. The end is tragic; Paxson does not change it in any surprising way, but she makes Boudica come alive and for the reader to understand and follow her motivations.

The details of Boudica’s life and what led to her battling the Romans is largely lost to history, but Paxson does an admirable job of depicting what could have been Boudica’s life as she is schooled on Avalon, and she eventually settles for life being a queen, through a dynastic marriage, rather than being a priestess. Her marriage is especially well-depicted as she gets to know a husband who seems standoffish at first until their story becomes a great love story.

Of course, Avalon is sort of the spectacle of the novel, and the powers of the priests and priestesses are impressive and fascinating as they engage in magic, including raising mists to hide themselves from the Romans, or have visions of the future, or feel the spirit of a goddess enter them to aid them in battle. I am usually a sucker for this kind of magical realism, the possibility that the Druids knew how to use their minds in ways we have since forgotten.

I was very moved especially by Boudica’s dialogues with herself or with the Raven or the goddess who enters her as she tries to understand her need to battle the Romans and what it will all mean and that in the end it is for the greater good. One passage in particular struck me:

*

“Men are no different from any other creature,” said the Raven. “When one group is stronger they conquer, and when they weaken, another comes and feeds on them in turn. Conflict and competition are necessary. The fury passes through like a great fire, burning weakness away, and in its light the essence is revealed. The strongest in both groups survive. Blood and spirit are blended and what grows from them is stronger still.”

“Is this the only way?” Boudica cried.

“This is the way you must follow now,” came the reply. “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods already, from peoples that strove against each other as they came to these shores. In time more will come and today’s victor will fail, leaving his own strength in the land.”

“That is a hard teaching,” Boudica said.

“It is my truth—the Raven’s Way. One way or another the cycle must continue. The balance must be maintained. And there is more than one kind of victory…”

*

I’m a sucker for a passage like this as well, and it points to the most significant thing I have learned from my fascination with genealogy. The Raven states that “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods,” and nothing could be more true. I have traced my British ancestors more closely than any others back throughout the Middle Ages, and in one ancestor, Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), the second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a descendant of the Barons Dudley and King Edward III of England, I can trace my family tree back to ancestors from every country in Europe, as well as back to ancient Egypt, China, India, Persia, etc. The truth then is that race does not matter. As the Raven above says, the blood is mixed from those who strove against each other. I am descended from both William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson who fought each other at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and from both Celtic Britons and Saxons who settled in Britain—in fact, I can claim descent from King Caratacus of Britain, whose rebellion against Rome precedes Boudica’s and is depicted in Ravens of Avalon. I may upset some by taking this a step farther, but in a thousand years, people who died on September 11th will have descendants also descended from some of the terrorists who led the attacks. It is the way of the world, we intermarry until race and anger are forgotten. In fact, race does not really exist.

Whether you agree with my reasons for enjoying Ravens of Avalon, or you simply like stories of Avalon or druids or Roman and British history, I think Ravens of Avalon is well worth taking the time to read. After The Mists of Avalon, it is the best in the series. I have no doubt that Queen Boudica will live in my thoughts for a long time to come.

My review of Sword of Avalon will be forthcoming.

For more on Arthurian genealogy, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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

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Of the three recent films about the Ninth Legion in Britain that mysteriously disappeared in the second century, The Last Legion (2007) was the film I was most interested in watching because it took place just prior to the time of King Arthur and was said to provide a link to the Arthurian legend. In that respect, it did not disappoint, and while I think The Eagle was a more intelligent film that raised questions about Rome and its right to occupy Britain, I enjoyed The Last Legion the most. One of my friends said it was more “predictable” than the other films, notably The Centurion, but I feel the film set out to tie the legend to the Roman emperors and successfully did so.

The cast of The Last Legion is more impressive than the other two films. Colin Firth plays the lead role, the soldier who must protect the child emperor after Odaecer of the Goths invades and conquerors Rome. Ben Kingsley plays the wise old man Ambrosinus who has come from Britain seeking Julius Caesar’s lost sword, and the child emperor, Romulus Augustus, is played by Thomas Sangster, who will be known to Arthurian film fans as playing the boy Tristan in Tristan and Isolde with James Franco playing the adult Tristan.

The story begins with mention of the sword of Julius Caesar which is fated to become the sword Excalibur. The boy Romulus Augustus has just been made emperor of Rome. The film is a bit in error timewise by saying it begins in the year 460 when Romulus Augustus reigned from 475-6 (the book the film is based on gets this fact correct–why the change?). The Goths invaded Rome and Romulus was deposed as Caesar after ten short months, although in the film it is the day after Romulus is crowned. The Roman empire then fell with a Goth taking the crown and ruling the empire, while the Eastern (Byzantine empire) would remain in power another ten centuries. History does not state what became of Romulus other than he was sent to live in Campania and then disappears from the historical record. The film takes advantage of this lost information to tie the boy to Britain. But first, he is taken as a prisoner to the Isle of Capri.

General Aurelius is determined to rescue the young emperor, and meanwhile Ambrosinus has come from Britain to Rome to seek the sword of Julius Caesar. It is predictable that the sword will be found on Capri, formerly home to Roman emperors, and then Aurelius, Ambrosianus, Romulus, and a few other companions, including a woman disguised as a male soldier (Colin Firth’s required love interest in the film), manage to escape Capri, make it over the Alps, and eventually reach Britain, where they also discover the remainder of the Ninth Legion (although it would have disappeared three hundred years earlier – the film’s largest historical inaccuracy, while in the book a fictional Twelfth Legion was actually used). Together they join in fighting Vortigyn (the film’s version of Vortigern) and his Saxon mercenaries (in the novel, but not the film, it states that it’s the legendary Battle of Badon Hill where Arthur defeated the Saxons, typically dated to about the year 516).

If you read this article farther, there will be a bit of a spoiler, although any discerning filmgoer will foresee what happens next. Aurelius is typically in legend King Arthur’s uncle, the brother to Uther Pendragon. He is often known as Aurelius Ambrosius, so the film is obviously using a version of Ambrosius for Ben Kingsley’s character. No blood relationship exists between Aurelius, Ambrosinus, or Romulus in the film, but the suggestions behind the familiar legendary names are there. In the film, in Britain there is also a young girl named Igraine who ends up later marrying Romulus, who decides to change his name to Pendragon. Guess who there child is. In the final scene, Merlin (another of Ambrosinus’ names – another big surprise) tells a young Arthur the story of his parents.

The film plays fast and loose with history, but Arthurian works always do, trying to create a historical atmosphere against which the legend could have taken place. I find the way the film links Arthur to Rome to be interesting since Arthur typically claims to be descended from a Roman emperor, although it is usually Magnus Maximus, and in Malory, it is Constantine. Arthur’s lineage also traces back to Rome through, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), Brutus from whose name Britain comes. Brutus was a descendant of Aeneas, the founder of the Roman empire and one of the survivors who fled when Troy was destroyed (both the costume designer and swordmaster of the film, interestingly, had worked on the film Troy). Romulus, besides being the historical last emperor of Rome, also has a counterpart who is the founder of Rome in ancient legend.

The film has its moments of corniness and exaggerated action, but most films do, and this film at least is trying to be corny in its romantic and adventurous storylines. It is not a great film. I would not even say it is one of the better Arthurian films (it’s questionable whether there has ever been a great Arthurian film), but it succeeds in what it sets out to accomplish, creating an intriguing storyline that ties Rome and Arthurian Britain together, provides some light moments of comedy, and a lot of magic in creating a sense of wonder about how the legend of King Arthur may have happened. If you like a little myth and wonder woven into depictions of Roman Britain, this may be the film you will most enjoy, while if you like gritty realism, The Centurion or The Eagle may be more your style. I’m not sure that one of these films is better than the other–they are just different. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be The Last Legion. If I had to pick one as the best, I would say The Eagle. Interestingly, The Last Legion may be the film least about the Ninth Legion, yet the only one named for it.

For those interested in Arthurian literature, the film is based on an Italian novel of the same name written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi in 2003. It was translated into English in 2005.

In future posts, I will write about more films that tie Arthurian Britain to Rome, but more specifically in the time of Arthur. I’ll note here that Rosemary Sutcliff, author of The Eagle of the Ninth (upon which The Eagle was based) was the first author to create a novel, Sword at Sunset (1959), based upon trying to place King Arthur within his historical post-Roman world, and that effort along with continued archeological efforts, has contributed to this trend to create a more historical depiction in fiction of King Arthur and his world.

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

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The first two charts on the Arthurian Genealogy page of www.ChildrenofArthur.com have been posted with more soon to come. Both of these charts are reprinted with detailed commentary in my book King Arthur’s Children.

These first two charts show possible claims by families to be descendants of King Arthur. The first is scholar Geoffrey Ashe’s theory for how the English royal family might be descended from King Arthur. The other is an obscure claim by the Scottish Clan Campbell for descent from King Arthur. These are two of a few claims by living people to be of Arthurian descent. Both are questionable of course. Other claims have been made by numerous people. While Ashe’s claim for English royalty’s descent goes back through the House of Wessex, later claims for the English royal family go back to the Tudors, who claimed descent not through their own royal blood that could be traced back to King Edward III, but to Owen Tudor, himself a Welshman, just as King Arthur was himself Welsh.

Most Arthurian genealogies, if not all, are fabricated for political reasons–royal houses trying to make legitimate their claims to rule over Britain–or simply the creative fancy of authors. Numerous authors have tried to trace ancestors and descendants for King Arthur, perhaps most notably the late Laurence Gardner, in books like Bloodline of the Holy Grail. Gardner’s books are great entertaining reading as he traces royal lineages from ancient times through the Middle Ages, although he rarely cites his sources in detail so that they can be verified–or believed. Whatever legitimacy his sources may have had are unlikely to be known now since he died in 2010. They make a great source of ideas for novelists, however–including Dan Brown apparently having been influenced by Gardner’s theories when he wrote The Da Vinci Code.

Gardner’s own theories were probably inspired more by imagination than research, but they spring from medieval traditions concerning King Arthur and his ancestors. Medieval writers were obsessed with Christianity, and they created traditions about many of the saints and apostles. One notable such legend is that Joseph of Arimathea was a relative (possibly uncle to Jesus Christ) and settled in Glastonbury, England. Medieval Arthurian writers depicted Joseph of Arimathea as an ancestor of the Grail Kings (see Gardner’s Genesis of the Grail Kings and Realm of the Ring Lords for more elaborate discussion); the Holy Grail being a significant part of the Arthurian legend, King Arthur was of course then a relative to the Grail family. In Gardner’s Bloodline of the Holy Grail elaborate charts show Arthur’s descent on both his maternal and paternal sides from St. Joseph of Arimathea.

Medieval traditions also cited Magnus Maximus, a Roman Emperor, among Arthur’s ancestors, and Roman blood ultimately allowed them to trace him back to Aeneas, founder of Rome. Arthur often makes a bid for being Roman Emperor in versions of the legend, a title he feels is his by right, based on Magnus Maximus being among his ancestors, and Welsh tradition often claims Magnus Maximus as the founder of several Welsh houses. Geoffrey of Monmouth drew on these Welsh legends in writing History of the Kings of Britain, a work that chronicled the various kings of Britain–some legendary, others possibly historical. The work highly influenced later romancers and chroniclers who expanded upon and kept creating more relatives, descendants, and ancestors for Arthur.

Who really were King Arthur’s ancestors and descendants? Since no amount of scholarship has yet been able to pinpoint whether King Arthur was a historical person, probably we will never know, but the more theories we spin, the more fascinating versions of the Arthurian legend are created–a story that we never seem to tire of hearing and recreating.

Check out the two genealogy charts at www.ChildrenofArthur.com. More are to come, including Arthur’s ancestors, as well as my own possible descent from King Arthur, and Arthurian family trees as represented in various modern novels.

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

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