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And yet another novel has been written featuring King Arthur’s children. This one focuses on the child from Welsh tradition, Amir or Amr, here named Amhar. He is one of the main characters in Aenghus Chisholme’s 2014 novel AD 517: Arthur the King.

AD 517: Arthur the King makes King Arthur’s son Amhar its hero.

Actually, two of Arthur’s children are in this novel. Amhar is the legitimate son of Arthur and Gwenhwyvar, and heir to the kingdom. Mordred is the illegitimate son of Arthur and Morgan. For most of the novel, Mordred is a bit in Amhar’s shadow, and the two act together, which is not surprising given that Amr’s story is one in which he is slain while fighting his father, and he may likely have inspired the development of Mordred’s role as the son who slays his father. (In the original Welsh legends, there’s no indication Mordred and Arthur are even related to one another. For more on the development of both of these children in early Welsh sources, see my book King Arthur’s Children.)

Aenghus Chisholme has previously written three other Arthurian novels, the stories of which are occasionally referenced in the novel, although AD 517: Arthur the King can be read as a stand-alone novel. Amhar appears in all of the earlier novels, but he is just an infant and small child in them and not a major character.

Before I describe the plot of AD 517: Arthur the King, I will give a spoiler alert here since it’s impossible to discuss this novel without giving away the ending.

The story begins with Arthur defeating the Saxons at Badon. He now rules more of Britain than any previous king. That said, he has not driven away all the invaders of Britain. The Saxons, Jutes, and Angles still exist on his shores. Arthur wants to rid the island of all these invaders, but his son Amhar is against this, trying to convince his father that many of them were born in Britain and are as much Britons as the Britons themselves. Arthur does not want to hear this and begins a program of ethnic cleansing that enrages Amhar. Arthur is upset by his son’s attitude, even though Gallahalt tries to explain to him that Amhar, who is twenty-five, is too young to remember the earlier years when war was necessary.

Meanwhile, a sorcerer named Ivorwulf has been spying on Arthur’s castle at Caerleon. Morgan eventually realizes this and warns Merlin. They decide they will kidnap Ivorwulf to prevent him from aiding their enemies. Ivorwulf is working for the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles, who are forming an alliance against Arthur. However, before Morgan and Merlin can get Ivorwulf back to Caerleon, they are themselves abducted by Nimue and other fairies. Ivorwulf manages to free them and tells Merlin and Morgan he realizes they must be allies against the fairies who are the true enemies of Briton. (There’s a lot of stuff about fairies in the book and how they can no longer reproduce because Christianity is weakening them. The fairy stuff was a bit much for me. I like a little magic in Arthurian novel, but these fairies were over the top, especially in their sexual appetites. A couple of sex scenes with fairies were nothing but erotica and too gratuitous in my opinion since they added hardly anything to the plot.)

Arthur continues his ethnic cleansing program. Amhar and Mordred decide to go to Camlann to rally the people to pledge their loyalty to Arthur and show they are true Britons, even though many of them are Saxons, Jutes, or Angles. Arthur accidentally learns of their plans and takes a troop to Camlann to punish them or at least quell their rebellion, as he sees it. Ivorwulf, Merlin, and Morgan accompany him. Ivorwulf is pretending to be on their side, but upon arrival at Camlann, he shows his true colors. Through various spells, Arthur and Mordred end up fighting each other, each thinking the other a Saxon. Of course, they kill each other and regret it when they realize what they have done.

As he is dying, Arthur then gives Excalibur to Amhar, making him king. Meanwhile, Ivorwulf reveals to Merlin and Morgan his plan not to betray the invader kings so he can become Caesar of Britain himself. Merlin and Morgan become prisoner to his spells, but in a last act of strength, they help Amhar defeat Ivorwulf.

Here is the most interesting part of the novel. Amhar is now King of Britain, but rather than stay king, he wants all people to live in freedom in Britain, so he abdicates and goes to live in Galloway. He gives Excalibur to Sir Pellus to return to Matrona, the Lady of the Lake.

The novel’s ending is idealistic, and while I sympathize with its message, I’m afraid it’s not very realistic. I’m left thinking Amhar a bit of a fool. After all, who ever heard of him? By abdicating, he leaves Britain ripe for chaos and the resulting Dark Ages.

I also find the date of the novel strange. Only probably a few months at most pass during the time of this novel. Camlann was fought in 537 or 539 traditionally, certainly not 517, which is a year after the traditional date of 516 for the Battle of Mount Badon.

Overall, AD 517: Arthur the King was a bit over the top for my tastes, but I did like the treatment of Amhar and Mordred and the twist on how Camlann happened. The book is a fast-paced read and never dull, although it has more typos than it should. Arthur is a bit too much of a hot-head, but that’s to be expected in a novel that tries to explain how his sons were not the villains history has made them out to be. Some of the scenes felt a bit pointless, especially Arthur’s showdown with a witch, which did nothing to advance the plot. Even so, it’s a fun read and does make you wonder yet again what really might have happened at Camlann.

Those interested in reading Aenghus Chisholme’s other Arthurian novels can visit his website at www.AenghusChisholme.com.

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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 Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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The Prince Valiant strip’s subtitle is “In the Days of King Arthur,” but I have to admit the scenes that take place at Camelot are often less inspired than those that take place elsewhere in Foster’s strip, and I felt that was the case with this volume, though there are still notable moments.

This volume opens with Val, Aleta, and their family on their way back to Camelot, and other than a little subplot in which Arn gets kidnapped and is rescued, they arrive there safely.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 14 includes King Arthur’s famous Battle of Mount Badon.

In the two years of work presented in this volume, Foster seems to be wanting to push his storyline closer to the catastrophe that brings about the end of Arthur’s reign, but at the same time, he holds back, making it happen very gradually. Once Valiant is back in Camelot, there are two key Arthurian moments in the book. The first concerns Modred (Foster’s spelling). Modred is complaining about how he and the other knights do all the work but Arthur gets all the glory and money. He has enlisted his four brothers of the Orkney clan, along with several younger knights, in his cause. When Gawain brings Valiant to one of Modred’s meetings, Valiant quickly makes the other knights see the treachery and lack of validity in Modred’s words so that soon all of the knights abandon him other than the Orkney clan. Valiant notes also that none of the established Knights of the Round Table are at the meeting other than those of Orkney.

The Orkney clan still wishes to plot with Modred. Modred wants to catch Lancelot and Guinevere in a trap and include Aleta in it. At this point, Gawain is torn between his friendship for Valiant and Aleta and his loyalty to his brothers. He warns Aleta to be careful, but she doesn’t understand the warning. The plot Modred ends up hatching is to distract and lead Valiant’s twin daughters away from the court just long enough so everyone will go looking for them. Both Aleta and Lancelot go looking in Guinevere’s private garden. The Orkneys lock them in the private garden for the night, thinking in the morning they will be found and it will look like they’ve committed adultery. (This plot doesn’t hurt Guinevere directly, but, of course, she’ll be heartbroken if Lancelot has to leave Camelot, and it will hurt Valiant also. If two of Arthur’s chief knights leave Camelot, Modred will have better opportunity for overthrowing the king.)

Of course, Modred’s plans come to naught. Valiant and Arn realize where Aleta is and climb over the garden wall. When the garden is later unlocked, Modred sees Lancelot and Aleta together and starts to accuse them, only to have Valiant and Arn then step out to show there is no dishonor because the four of them have all been together. Valiant then tells Modred he does not appreciate his insinuations. Modred, fearing Valiant will challenge him to a duel, flees Camelot, planning to continue to plot against King Arthur from a distance.

The other major Arthurian moment in this volume is the Battle of Mount Badon. I admit I found the battle a bit dull, but what is wonderful is the lead-up to it, involving Valiant’s son Arn. We have watched Arn grow up throughout the strip, and now he is old enough to go out as a scout, only to be captured by the Saxons. He gives them information about Arthur’s plans, then fakes his death when he escapes from them so they cannot know that he lives and has returned to Camelot to warn Arthur. The result is that Arthur knows exactly what to expect from the Saxons, so he takes them by surprise and soundly defeats them.

I’m not a fan of battle scenes, though Foster draws them well. What I love is the cleverness that Valiant and Aleta always display in getting out of sticky situations, and now it’s clear they’ve passed that cleverness on to their son.

It’s important to note that, according to most versions of the legend, Mount Badon was Arthur’s last great victory against the Saxons, followed by twenty or so years of peace before Camelot’s fall. One wonders whether Foster was starting to consider moving toward the fall of Camelot in the strip. By this point, Foster was in his early seventies, so he must have realized he could not draw the strip many more years, although it wouldn’t be until 1970 that he started looking for a successor and 1975 before he retired completely from the strip. In the end, I assume he couldn’t bear to see the strip end with his retirement, and so the fall of Camelot was put off indefinitely.

Valiant and Aleta’s twin girls are also growing up in this volume—they end up having their first crush on the same boy, and they employ a bit of trickery themselves to try to get him interested in them; however, they’re still too young to succeed, as is their victim, a twelve-year-old king. Nevertheless, I imagine they will be quite able to manipulate men with their feminine wiles just like their mother before too many more volumes have passed.

Two other passages worth noting in this volume are examples of Foster’s postmodern intrusion into the strip. I believe these are the first times he breaks the spell, reminding readers they are reading a story. The first is when he mentions that two characters ride out of the story. The second is when he claims the manuscripts he is basing the story on were damaged at one point, and so he can’t complete a specific episode and has to guess what happened. He then picks up the story with Valiant and Aleta traveling to Thule. The volume ends here with Valiant’s arrival in Thule where he has to trick some raiders to protect his father’s kingdom.

I wouldn’t say this is one of the stronger volumes in the series, but it still has its moments. Of added interest is the introduction by Roger Stern about other cartoon artists who engaged in “swiping” Foster’s work. “Swiping” is a term meaning copying or even plagiarizing. Numerous frames are presented as examples of Foster’s Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips beside frames of other cartoonists who have figures in similar poses—most notably a comparison between Tarzan and Batman’s poses—and also backgrounds that are so similar the artists obviously copied from Foster—one of an interior banquet hall in the Valiant strip is compared to one by Don Rosa for a Clan McDuck strip. Also interesting is the essay at the end of the book about Foster’s desire to be a fine art painter before he became a famous cartoonist. Several of Foster’s landscape paintings are presented—some are not overly impressive but some are quite exquisite. While he never saw his dream realized of being a famous painter, I’m sure Foster delighted far more people with his Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips than he ever would have with landscape paintings.

Volume 15 of the Prince Valiant reprints by Fantagraphics will be released in June. In it, there will be a return to the New World. Watch for the review later this year.

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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. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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The end of the fabulous BBC series Merlin caused a lot of ruckus among fans when Arthur died. I was very surprised by this reaction and the outcry that Arthur would die, though it mostly came from people who knew nothing about the Arthurian legend. Among those who do know the legend, there were many comments all over the Internet about how the series was not that good anyway, and several people compared it unfavorably to the British ITV series Arthur of the Britons, which aired in Britain from 1972-1973 for two seasons. When I read these comparisons, I thought “Arthur of the Britons? Why have I never heard of this television show?”

Arthur_of_the_Britons_coverI quickly looked it up and found that I could watch the entire series of twenty-four episodes for free on YouTube, so I immediately set to it, and almost as immediately, I was glad it was on YouTube where I could watch it for free because I sure wouldn’t have wanted to pay for it. I can only think that all these people singing this show’s praises and claiming it was superior to Merlin were remembering watching it as children and the impact it had on them. Unfortunately, it does not hold up well today.

Do I dare compare Arthur of the Britons to Merlin? One complaint about Merlin was how it had little to do with the legend, but Arthur of the Britons cannot claim to be any more about the legend. Here are just a few of the differences between the shows:

Merlin
* Set in a fictional kingdom of Albion
* Includes most Arthurian characters, including Arthur, Merlin, Uther, Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawain, Morgana, and Mordred. Of course, many of them are greatly reinterpreted.
* Arthur’s father is Uther
* Magic is a key part of the series.
* The show has an arc focused on the role of magic at Camelot and the Old Religion vs. Camelot’s secular order.
* A series finale after five successful seasons.
 

Arthur of the Britons

* Set in post-Roman Britain
* Includes only Arthur, Kai, and Mark of Cornwall
* Arthur was raised by Lud, who also raised Kai—we can assume Arthur’s father is Uther Pendragon, but there is no mention of Uther. That said, in the legend, Arthur does have a foster-father, though his name is Sir Ector and he is Kai’s father.
* The show is historical and realistic.
* There is no arc, other than attempts to fight or make peace with the Saxons. There is little in the way of plot from one episode that leads to the next, making each episode more like a short story while Merlin is more like a novel, and therefore, more of a complete and unified work.
* No series finale since the show was cancelled after two seasons.

The two series are very different and not really that comparable as a result. I give Arthur of the Britons credit for its historical efforts, but even these efforts are rather weak. Merlin, of course, has the advantages of advanced technology and special effects, although those are not a requirement of a good program. Character development and plot are of far greater value, and those two elements are what are most lacking in Arthur of the Britons.

The series has no real plot. We know that the Romans have left Britain, Arthur is the leader of the Celts, and he is fighting against the invading Saxons. What little plot exists concerns him trying to band the other Celts together to fight the Saxons and also to make peace with the Jutes to aid in the fight with the Saxons, and later, to make peace with the Saxons. There are some smaller storylines, such as that of Rowena, the daughter of the King of the Jutes, whom Arthur feels some attraction for, but she only appears in a few episodes in the second season. Even the individual episodes are weak on plot. Part of that flaw is the result of each episode being only about twenty-five minutes long, while Merlin episodes are closer to forty-five minutes so there is more room for plot and character development. The lack of plot in many of the Arthur of the Britons episodes is very apparent, especially in the first season where little happens in an episode. In one episode, “The Challenge,” all that happens is Kai and Arthur physically fight with each other while everyone else looks on. The episode goes on and on and is downright boring. In fact, many of the episodes are boring, although during the second season, the scripts improved and the plots became more like plots, though they remained simple.

The lack of character development in the series is another major problem. In the series’ first episode, Arthur calls together the other Celt leaders to try to form an alliance and get them to follow him. We are not told why Arthur is the leader—he is never called “king” which is probably in keeping with the series’ efforts to be historical. He is rather a chieftain. It is never clear why, however, he is the leader. Arthur has been raised by Lud, himself a warrior. His foster-brother, Kai, is not Lud’s son but simply also raised by him. Kai is actually a Saxon. No explanation is given for how or why Lud decided to raise Kai (or Arthur for that matter), although in a couple of episodes Kai’s loyalty is called into question or he is seen as a traitor by the Saxon people. Lud’s own past is not told or explained at all. Nothing is said of Arthur’s parentage. (If I missed any of these points, I plead boredom as the reason.)

None of the characters really develop as the series continues. The only character who is in any way dynamic is Mark of Cornwall, played by Brian Blessed, who at least tries to change from being the boisterous, wild, tough leader he is. The episodes he appears in are some of the best since he livens up an otherwise often quiet and dull storyline.

I do appreciate the show’s efforts for historical accuracy or at least historical atmosphere. The series was likely based in the research of the last couple of decades prior to its airing, including archeology digs at Cadbury and an effort to distance Arthur from the High Middle Ages and set him back in post-Roman Britain of the fifth and sixth centuries. Unfortunately, I think the effort to be historical ended up being demeaning to the Celts so that it seemed like they had nothing at all. Not once is a castle depicted in any episode, yet the Romans must have left behind villas, stone walls, etc. not to mention what the Britons would have built before the Romans came. We know the Britons had hill forts, but where are they? Only small villages are depicted and these only have wooden walls around them no higher than six feet tall, when they have walls at all. How could any leader protect anything in these flimsy settlements? A group of warring Celts would at least build a fort to protect themselves and their property. And the population of Britain is grossly underestimated—probably the result of the program’s low budget and small cast numbers, but even when there are battles and skirmishes, it never looks like more than twenty people are fighting one another, and not a single village shown could possibly have more than one hundred people living in it. There are no depictions of London or any other major city of the time.

One complaint I had about Merlin was that the concept of the Old Religion was never fully developed or clear, but Arthur of the Britons makes even less of an effort to consider religion or be historical about it. There are a few characters who become Christians, but it is not clear if Arthur and his people are Christian or pagan. At times, Arthur refers to “the gods” but there is a Christian cross on his shield, and when he considers marriage in the last episode he wants the “abbot” sent for. Perhaps, the television show was trying to walk a fine line when it came to religion—or was it just bad writing? I think it had to be bad writing because at least the character Rolf is shown as converting to Christianity so religion was not taboo for the series.

Some of the comments I saw online about why people liked the show had to do with how handsome Michael Gothard (Kai) was. Another compared Arthur and Kai to rock stars of the time with their haircuts. By 1970s standards, maybe these men were attractive, but rock star haircuts are hardly historical, and I was especially surprised by Rowena’s short, cropped haircut. I can’t honestly say that anyone in the program stood out as attractive looking enough to warrant a cult-following for the show.

We all have favorite television shows that when we watch them years later no longer hold their charm for us. I can only think that Arthur of the Britons is one of those and any preference for it is based in nostalgia. Despite Merlin’s faults, it survived for five seasons, long enough to have a series finale and have countless fans disappointed that it was ending. I could find no reason for why Arthur of the Britons was cancelled, but regardless, cancelled it was, so I doubt it was much of a hit when it first aired. In fact, the quality of the first season is so poor I’m surprised it had a second season, but even the improved storylines of the second season could not save it.

Those looking for a historical version of the Arthurian legend will be the most likely to enjoy this series, and it does have its moments, but despite the faults of the more recent film King Arthur, it is probably a better historical depiction of the period that also has some entertainment value. Still, we can only hope that the great historical King Arthur film or series is yet to come because we’ve had nothing but B films so far. (Even though Camelot is my favorite movie, it is not a perfect Arthurian film since it is lacking in many of the plot elements and stories, but that’s another blog.)

ITV produced several other programs in the 1950s-1970s, including The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, which I have written about on this blog previously. It is a bit more comical of a series, but far superior in its plots and its efforts. The Adventures of Sir Lancelot is a series I would watch again. I’m afraid Arthur of the Britons is not.

There is actually very little information to be found online about Arthur of the Britons. The best site appears to be at Wikipedia for those who want to learn more about the series, and all the episodes are currently available at YouTube.

Merlin remains, in my opinion, the best Arthurian television series ever made. That said, I have not seen the Prince Valiant cartoon series, which I have heard good things about and plan to watch in the near future, so stay tuned.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Today, I’ve asked author Nicole Evelina to be my guest and let me interview her about the novel for which she is currently seeking a publisher, titled Guinevere of Northgallis.

Author Nicole Evelina

Nicole Evelina is a writer from the Midwest. Guinevere of Northgallis is her first novel and is part of an anticipated trilogy. Nicole has spent the last 12 years researching 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 M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skill, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. As a writer of Arthurian novels myself (I plan to publish King Arthur’s Legacy in the fall of 2013), I’m excited for the opportunity to talk to you today. First, will you tell us a little bit about how you became interested in the Arthurian legend and what made you decide to write novels about it?

Nicole: I’ve been a fan of Arthurian legend since I was a little girl. While most other kids had Disney princesses as idols, I had the queens, kings, and knights of Arthurian legend. I was so enamored with Guinevere that I wanted to take her name as my confirmation name, but the nuns wouldn’t let me because there’s no St. Guinevere.

How I came to write about it is kind of a funny story. I’d been avoiding reading The Mists of Avalon because everyone told me “don’t read that book if you like Guinevere.” Well, my freshman year of college, a friend gave it to me as a Christmas gift. As predicted, I hated Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere, but loved the book overall, especially Avalon. Shortly thereafter, I read Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which tells what happened to Guinevere after Arthur dies. His premise didn’t really resonate with me, but it got me wondering what did happen to her. You don’t hear much about that. Inspired by the two books, I started thinking about what Guinevere’s real story was, and then one autumn morning—I can still tell you the date—she walked into my head and told me she wanted to tell her side of things. That’s how Guinevere of Northgallis was born.

Tyler: Was Guinevere of Northgallis the first novel you wrote or did you write or attempt to write other novels about it?

Nicole: It is my first novel. I’ve been writing and re-writing it on and off (more off than on) for 13 years now, so it’s gone through several iterations and really has been several different books in that time. Prior to writing it, I wrote some short stories, but they were mostly fantasy and never really went anywhere.

Tyler: The Arthurian legend is rich with characters, and of course, after Arthur, Guinevere might arguably be the most important one, but many authors such as Persia Woolley, Nancy McKenzie, and Rosalind Miles have already devoted several books to Guinevere. What made you think you had something new or original to say?

Nicole: You’re right that several other authors have covered this territory. But my Guinevere is very different, mainly because of where I’ve placed her in history. She’s not a meek Christian wallflower like in previous legend. She’s a pagan Celt who was taught to fight by her mother, a noblewoman from the land of the Picts. Although living in Britain, Guinevere was raised in her mother’s matriarchal ways, so she’s a strong, smart woman who will stand up for what she believes in and fight for it, with her tongue or with her sword, as appropriate. But despite all of that feministic rhetoric, women were pawns during that time period and the strong ones were rare, so you’ll see the consequences of her unique outlook as well.

Also, while my story has elements of fantasy, it’s also very historically grounded. Guinevere lives in a time period (approximately 480-530 A.D.) that was in the throes of transition, both politically and religiously, so my books also deal with that upheaval. The transition from paganism to Christianity is central to the story, as is the shifting political landscape, as the Britons struggle to organize themselves after the withdrawal of Rome and fight against the encroaching influences of the Saxons and Picts.

Tyler: You must have had a lot to say since you plan to write an entire trilogy. Can you tell us a little about why you decided to write a trilogy rather than just one book, and give us a little overview of what the books will cover—is it Guinevere’s entire life story?

Nicole: Originally, I thought it was going to be just one huge book. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft of the first book that I realized it needed to be a trilogy, just for page count, if nothing else. The story begins when Guinevere is 11 and will encompass her entire life, before she meets Arthur, her time with him and her life after the fall of Camelot. That’s roughly how the books are divided.

Tyler: What do you find the most fun about rewriting the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: The fun part is how the characters come alive for me. They talk in my head and sometimes when I’m writing, they do things I didn’t expect or plan for. I love seeing the legend take on its own life through them. The most rewarding part is knowing this is a legend written in a way that will speak to people of our time—a way of preserving it as a living story that continues, rather than being a dusty, moldering tale from another time.

Tyler: I think we can break Arthurian novels down into two categories—fantasy and historical, and then there are books like my own that try to include a little of both—I would consider my novels historical fantasy. What genre would best define yours?

Nicole: Historical fantasy is probably best. I’ve tried to be very true to the time period, but I can’t imagine Arthurian legend without a little magic, so there’s an element of fantasy to it as well. But it’s not high fantasy by any means. The magic is more subtle, and is, I think, in keeping with the beliefs of the Celtic people.

Tyler: I know you’ve done extensive research in writing your novels. Will you tell us a little about your process and how you decided what to include?

Nicole: At the beginning, my process was to read anything I could get my hands on about Arthurian legend and the Celts—to really get the lay of the land, so to speak. Once the story started forming into an actual plot in my head, I was able to get more specific and research the elements that I knew would directly affect my characters. I must confess that my research still isn’t done; it probably won’t be until the last book hits the shelves because I’m always finding some new detail to verify. I do additional research as I come to the main plot elements of each book. For example, I’m getting ready to research the Holy Grail in-depth because that’s the part of the second book I’m on now. I’ll do more research into the tribes of the Gododdin and the Picts when I get ready to start book 3 because that’s where most of that book takes place. So much research, so little time!

Tyler: I know you’ve also visited England. How did that visit influence your research and your vision for the novels?

Nicole: England is such an amazing country. I was fortunate to visit about six months after I started writing the first book, so knowing the land has been extremely helpful. It’s completely different being there and feeling the energy of the places than just reading about them. I actually picked my location of Camelot based on an area I came to know very well. Oddly enough, I haven’t been to most of the places in the first book, but I’m planning to take a tour of south-western England next June that will remedy that!

Tyler: With so many Arthurian novels already published, what pitfalls do you see for writers of Arthurian literature? Did you fear being influenced too much by other writers who had already published their stories?

Nicole: There’s always the fear that you’ll be influenced by someone else. But in way, it’s a good thing because it forces you to really look at what you’re writing from a new perspective and really make things your own. One way I’ve tried to shield myself is that I haven’t read any other Arthurian fiction that deals with Guinevere since I decided I was going to write my own story. By that time I had seen enough of what was out there to know what’s unique and what is not, but there’s been enough time distance that I don’t have to worry about replicating someone else’s work.

One pitfall of writing in Arthurian tradition is that there isn’t a lot of source material out there for the Celts. If other writers have done their research (which they clearly have), you’re going to have some overlap in ideas. For example, Marion Zimmer Bradley did really great research into the beliefs and rituals of the Druids and the possibilities for Avalon. You can’t change something like that drastically without it becoming inauthentic, but you can look at it from another angle and try to add to what’s already been done.

Tyler: Thank you again, Nicole for joining me. I wish you much success with finding a publisher for Guinevere of Northgallis and its sequels. Before we go, tell us a little about how to find more information about you online. What is your blog or website, and what more can readers learn there about you, your books, and the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: My web site is http://nicoleevelina.com. From there you can read my blog, which is updated weekly, learn about my books and connect with me on social media sites like Twitter and Pinterest. My site also has an extensive research list and a playlist section where you can see what music has influenced Guinevere’s story. I blog mostly about Celtic history, Arthurian legend and writing, but as I get farther into the publishing process, I’ll keep all my readers updated on that as well.

Thank you for having me, Tyler, and for your well wishes. It has been a pleasure.

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Prince Valiant Vol. 1 hal Foster

Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938 by Hal Foster

Because it’s the 75th anniversary of the Prince Valiant comic strip this month, I thought I would summarize and review the first volume of the series, now reprinted by Fantagraphics Book, which covers the first two years of the series in print. Fantagraphics is planning to reprint hopefully the entire series, but so far the first five have been released (the 5th is coming in March actually).

The Prince Valiant strip is subtitled “In the Days of King Arthur” and consequently some people have been skeptical about whether it really belongs in the Arthurian canon. In truth, it is often marginal as Valiant goes off on adventures on the Continent, far from King Arthur’s court, but Camelot remains home base throughout the series. Following is a summary of what occurs in this first volume. I usually don’t like to give away full plots, but since this volume is the beginning of the story, it’s important to clarify just how much of the strip is relevant to King Arthur.

The story begins with the King of Thule and his family being forced to flee from their country. They go to Britain, fighting the locals to land on the shore. At this time, Prince Valiant is just a boy. He looks to be between about ages six and eight in the strip. King Arthur, to keep the peace, allows the King and his faithful followers to settle in the Fens, a marshy area where the people live on islands in a swamp and make their way through the swamps on boats and rafts. Lizard type monsters are also hiding in the Fens.

Valiant grows up in this environment until he approaches manhood. One day, after fighting one of the monster lizards, Valiant sees a mysterious light far off in the Fens and is determined to find its source. In the process Valiant is attacked by a monster who turns out to be a “huge misshapen man, horrible in his deformities.” Valiant wounds the man but then cares for him and takes him home to his mother, who turns out to be the witch Horrit (the first time she is mentioned her name is Horrid, but Hal Foster must have decided to change the spelling in subsequent strips). This meeting is significant because Horrit makes a prophecy that will haunt Valiant for the rest of his life.

As the witch makes her prophecy, Val gazes into the fire and becomes dreamy until he has visions of castles and armies, knights in armor, and then a king and queen, whom the witch says is “Stupid Arthur and his flighty wench, Guinevere.” She goes on to prophesy, “And you will confront the unicorn, the dragon and the griffon, black men and yellow. You will have high adventure, but nowhere do I see happiness and contentment,” and she tells him already his greatest sorrow awaits him.

Valiant leaves the witch to discover his greatest sorrow—that his mother has died. After grieving, Valiant decides it’s time to set off to seek his fortune. Soon after, he meets Sir Lancelot and his squire, and when the squire is rude to him, Valiant pulls him off his horse and beats him to give him a lesson. Lancelot is good natured but stops the fight and then rides off with his squire. The incident makes Valiant determined to become a knight. Eventually, Valiant finds a horse, learns to ride, and then saves Sir Gawain from another knight who attacks Gawain. Soon Valiant and Gawain have formed a lasting friendship.

Gawain takes Valiant to Camelot where two conspirators soon after decide to kidnap Gawain and hold him for ransom. They trick Valiant and Gawain to visiting the Castle of Ereiwold where Gawain is captured and becomes a prisoner. Of course, Valiant eventually rescues him. After the rescue, however, Gawain gets wounded in a fight with another knight, and Val has to take his place to go on his first quest to rescue the fair maid Ilene’s parents, who are being held prisoner in their castle by an ogre.

Once he sneaks into the castle, Val soon realizes the ogre is a fake with makeup to make him look frightening. Val decides to use fear, the same weapon, to conquer the ogre, disguising himself and appearing like a flying demon in the castle’s hall. In time, Val defeats the ogre and his men, and he rescues Ilene’s parents.

Val is in love with Ilene by this point, but she is already betrothed to the King of Ord. Val wants to stay and fight for Ilene, but Gawain has gotten in trouble again, kidnapped by Morgan le Fey, half-sister of King Arthur. Val goes off to rescue his friend, making the mistake of confronting Morgan le Fey, who puts him under a spell, but in time, he realizes his food is drugged and he quits eating so he’s in his right mind. Then he is able to escape from the castle. Val goes to Merlin, who works his own spell to scare Morgan le Fey into freeing Gawain.

Gawain is freed in time for Val to be invited to a tournament to celebrate the marriage of Prince Arn of Ord and Ilene. Val is determined to challenge Arn, but the challenge occurs on a bridge, resulting in Arn falling and nearly drowning and Val saving him. They plan to fight again nevertheless, but when they begin, a Viking raid occurs and instead, they become allies against their enemies. Before the battle with the Vikings, Arn gives Val the famous Singing Sword, which bears a charm and of course helps him to defeat his enemies. Despite his success, Val is captured by his enemies and he and Ilene are taken over the sea, while hoping Arn will rescue them. In time, Val and Ilene are separated and Ilene ends up on a ship that sinks, leaving Val and Arn heartbroken.

Once Val and Arn return to Camelot, Lancelot tells them they are fortunate Ilene drowned because now they are friends whereas otherwise there always would have been strife between them and Ilene would have blamed herself as the cause of it all.

To deal with his grief, Val returns home to the Fens. As this first volume ends, Val overcomes his grief and decides it’s time he lead his father’s people to return and re-conquer Thule, but before they can act on their plan, a major Saxon invasion threatens England. Val returns to Camelot to fight beside the Knights of the Round Table.

In addition to the strip itself, which is in its brightest glorious color because it’s reprinted directly from Foster’s colored plates, there is an essay in the back by Kim Thompson about the reproduction of Prince Valiant and the various plates, which is quite interesting to read, and even mentions a few of the more gruesome scenes in the story that were censored out. The book also contains a biographical essay about Hal Foster and an interesting interview with Foster.

The plot of Prince Valiant is more like a soap opera in terms of its cliffhangers at the end of most strips and its constant continuation with no end in mind. Foster reputedly was usually ahead in creating the strip by several weeks, but one wonders if he ever imagined when it began that the strip could run not only for many years but many decades and encompass all of Prince Valiant’s life basically. He had no need to plot it in a specific direction, yet there are still certain arching points to the story, including the prophecy that Valiant can never know happiness and the basics of the King Arthur story as well.

For people still uncertain whether they would enjoy Prince Valiant, I recommend getting a copy of this first volume and trying it out; then you can determine whether you want to continue to read the successive volumes, which would be quite a time commitment, but there are far worse ways to spend your time than with Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur.

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Marion Zimmer Bradley’s magnificent novel, The Mists of Avalon, although it is a retelling of the ancient Arthurian myths, is a novel that has definite connections to views from the women’s movement, particularily their beliefs toward patriarchial religions and the future downfall of Christianity.

In The Mists of Avalon, we have all the renowned characters of King Arthur’s Court, the love of Gwenhwyfar and Lancelet, Arthur’s battles against the Saxons, the quest for the Holy Grail, and all the other traditional storylines that are found in Arthurian legend.  But if this novel had only been meant as a retelling, there would have been no purpose for its being written.  Instead, the novel retells the Arthurian legends from the women’s point of view, something that has never been done before, and it is done more splendidly than anyone else could have ever imagined.

But why did Marion Zimmer Bradley decide to retell the Arthurian legend from the feminist perspective, and what purpose did she think it would serve?  I believe she wished to express her own views on religion, in contrast to how far she thought the negative reactions of the women’s movement toward patriarchal religions were practical.

When the women’s movement began, one of its major goals was to overthrow the patriarchal society in which women lived.  This patriarchal society was largely formed as a result of the Jewish and Christian religions.  These religions worship the god, Yahweh, and because He is a male god, they hold the belief that men are superior to women.  Examples of this sexist behavior can be found in the Bible and the Judaic Christian traditions.  One example is the tale of Adam’s first wife, Lilith.  Because she refused to have Adam lie on top of her, therefore allowing him to be the dominant figure in the relationship, Lilith was thrown out of the Garden of Eden.  The Jewish tradition then turned her into a witch who curses men with sterility and wet dreams.  The first woman who sought to be liberated was cursed and ridiculed by men (Goldenberg  72-3).  Other examples can be found in the epistles of St. Paul when he tells women to be submissive to their husbands.

“Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord because            the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of his body the church, as well as its savior.  As the church submits to Christ, so wives                             should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5: 22-4)

Marion Zimmer Bradley is a feminist who believes we must rewrite myth and history;   women should no longer be portrayed as evil because of things they did which were in conflict with patriarchal society;  instead, they should be credited for all the good they have accomplished for mankind.  This includes rewriting myth so that women, who were misunderstood by patriarchal societies, are not perverted in the retelling of the story as they have been in the patriarchal versions;  instead, in rewritten myth, the women should be depicted as they very probably were, rather than how patriarchal societies chose to view them.  By retelling the story through the character of King Arthur’s sister, Morgan Le Fay, known as Morgaine in The Mists of Avalon, Bradley shows how the Arthurian legends were distorted by male writers.

The front page of the novel begins with a quote from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, saying “Morgan le Fay was not married, but put to school in a nunnery, where she became a great mistress of magic” (Bradley n.p.)   Then in the prologue, Bradley allows Morgaine to speak for herself and refute Malory’s statement as being untrue:

“In my time I have been called many things:  sister, lover, priestess, wisewoman, queen.  Now in truth I have come to be wise-woman, and a time may come when these things may need to be known. But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last tale.  For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which the Christ holds sway.  I have no quarrel with the Christ, only with his priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held power in this world.  At best, they say that her power was of Satan.  Or else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth – who indeed had power in her way, too – and say that she was ever virgin.  But what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind?” (Bradley ix)

These words begin the enticing novel, which then goes on to show us who the real Morgaine was … a priestess of the Great Goddess, and a woman who fought to preserve her religion against the spread of Christianity, which claimed the Goddess was evil and that Christianity was the only true religion.   Morgaine, as a priestess of Avalon, is a devotee of a matriarchal type of religion because her religion worships a Goddess, rather than a God.  Whenever a patriarchal religion such as Judaism or Christianity came into contact with a matriarchal religion, it tried to transform the matriarchal religion’s beliefs to be in agreement with their own.  What the patriarchal religions could not convert into their own beliefs, they then perverted to makeit appear evil.  In many cases, this meant that patriarchal religions believed religions where a goddess was worshipped had to be evil simply because women are evil.

And of course, women inherited this evil from Eve when she sinned in Eden.

“…it was through a woman that mankind had fallen into original Sin, and every woman must be aware that it was her work to atone for that  Original Sin in Eden.  No woman could ever be really good except for  Mary the Mother of Christ;  all other women were evil, they had never had any chance to be anything but evil” (Bradley 268)

In The Mists of Avalon, not only are women evil, but the Christian priests whose religion is replacing the religion of the Great Goddess in King Arthur’s Britain, are imposing evil interpretations upon Morgaine’s religion.  As Christianity compares all women to Eve, thus making them evil, so “the priests say that their Goddess is that same old serpent of evil whom our Lord drove from the Garden of Eden!” (Bradley 554).  What the priests are doing to the Goddess in Celtic Britain is exactly what their forebears in the patriarchal Jewish religion did to the matriarchal societies they came into contact with.  Archeological evidence shows that the worship of a Goddess at one time was common throughout most of the Western world, and probably existed even before the patriarchal religions.  Joseph Campbell believes the Goddess, which was originally an Indo-European belief that spread throughout the ancient world, survived longer and in a closer to the original form in Ireland than in any other part of the world.    Campbell discusses how  the patriarchal religions did not always wipe out the belief in the mother goddess, but instead they rewrote the belief in the mother goddess for their own benefit.  In the Levantine, before the Jewish people came in and rewrote the story of Adam and Eve to their own advantage,  there existed a belief in a goddess whose consort was a serpent;  this serpent’s title was Ningizzida, “Lord of the Tree of Truth” (Campbell 9).  The goddess and her serpent consort also had a son who had to follow a “quest for release from the bondages of birth, disease, old age, and death” (Campbell 16).  Joseph Campbell goes on to explain how this family, which was worshipped throughout the Middle East, was transformed by a patriarchal religion into the Biblical Adam and Eve story.  The goddess was transformed into Eve, and because she listened to the serpent, she became evil.  Ningizzida, “Lord of the Tree of Truth,” is of course, the serpent who already ate of the apple, and because he is wise, therefore the patriarchal religions decided that he was also sinful.  The son of Ningizzida and the Goddess is probably the Adam of the Bible story.  In the Biblical version, Adam is then made to be the spouse, rather than the son of Eve.  Whereas his mother should be dominant over him, the patriarchal religion then did something even worse, by stating that Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, therefore again stating that men are superior to women. (Campbell 29-30)

In The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley shows how this old Mother Goddess/ Serpent religion which had been wiped out by patriarchal religions in the Middle East, was still in existence in fifth century Celtic Britain.  Along with the worship of the Goddess, the serpent was also preserved in the Celtic religions.  In The Mists of Avalon, the kingmaking involved the king taking part in the Beltane festivals.  At this festival, the king would marry the land and pledge to support the holy isle of Avalon.  As a symbol of their support, kings would be given serpent bracelets or tattoos around their wrists.   At one point in the novel, Morgaine states that the story of how St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland is really a way of saying he drove out the Druids – which are the serpents of wisdom (Bradley 769).  The druids were renowned for their wisdom, and therefore their connection to serpents is not surprising;  furthermore, the connection of serpents to wisdom can obviously be seen as stemming from the old story of Adam and Eve, where the serpent is wise from eating of the apple, no matter whether you look at the Biblical or the more ancient version.  Furthermore, the idea of the apple as providing wisdom was also preserved in the Celtic world, because the name of the holy isle, Avalon, comes from the welsh word “aval” meaning “apple” (Westwood 21), and this isle was said to be filled with apple trees, as Bradley describes it in her novel.

In the novel, King Arthur’s reign is a time when Britain and the Celtic religions are in danger of succumbing to the patriarchal religion of Christianity.  Since Britain is one of the last strongholds of the “true religion,” the religion of the Great Goddess, Morgaine cannot allow Christianity to rewrite the Goddess and her religion as evil or to reinterpet it to suit their conventions.

Throughout the early part of the novel, Morgaine does not agree with the Christian priests, but she also feels that everyone has a right to believe what they want.  However, when her brother, King Arthur, marries Gwenhwyfar, the trouble begins.  King Arthur has been sworn to protect the isle of Avalon and promote the worship of the Goddess, since Avalon helped to set him on his throne.  Yet at the same time, he allows Christianity to exist in his realm, believing that all men have the right to choose their own religions.  However, Gwenhwyfar is a very strong Christian woman, and like the Christian priests, she believes that the Goddess and all religions other than her own are evil.

After several years of marriage to Arthur, Gwenhwyfar is still unable to produce an heir to the throne.  Her strong Christian faith leads her to believe that the reason she cannot have a child is because God is angry with Britain since the pagan religions are still allowed to exist in it.  Gwenhwyfar thinks that if Arthur truly makes Britain a Christian land, then God will look with favor on Britain, provide an heir for the throne, and continue Britain’s stability.  When Arthur’s army goes out to battle against the Saxons, Gwenhwyfar convinces her husband not to carry the banner of Avalon, but only the banner of Christ into battle.  After much argument, Arthur agrees with his wife, but this makes many of his people, who are followers of Avalon, angry enough with Arthur to desert his army.  Even with reduced numbers, Arthur still succeeds in winning a major victory against the Saxons.  Gwenhwyfar convinces him that it is God who has given him this victory because he has put away the old pagan ways and carried the banner of Christ into battle against the pagans.  When the King of Britain forsakes Avalon, which he has sworn to protect, by becoming a Christian, the religion of the Goddess cannot expect to survive.

Morgaine, of course, is furious that her brother has betrayed the holy isle.  The final straw for her is when peace is made with the Saxons, and Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, which is part of the holy regalia of Avalon, is flipped upside down to form a cross, upon which the Saxons and King Arthur swear an oath of peace.  Morgaine knows that if her religion continues to be treated with such disrespect, and the sacred regalia of Avalon continues to be desecrated, her religion will disappear.  She makes an attempt to kill her brother and establish her lover and fellow worshipper of the Goddess, Accolon, upon his throne, but instead Arthur slays Accolon, and Morgaine flees to Avalon where her brother can not reach her.

After several years of hiding, Morgaine decides that she must return to Camelot one last time to remind Arthur of his vows, by force if need be, and to try and preserve the religion of Avalon and the Goddess.  With her fellow priestess, Raven, she disguises herself as a peasant woman and journeys to Camelot.  The two priestesses arrive on Pentecost, the greatest feast day in Britain, when King Arthur hears petitions from his people.  On this particular feast day,  the Church and kingdom are celebrating Christianity’s conquering of the old pagan ways in Britain.  To solemnize this event, a mass is going to be held, and the bishop intends to use the holy cup of the Druids in the Mass to symbolize that Christianity has defeated the evil pagan ways.

Already, the sword of the Druid Regalia has been used sacriligeously, and Morgaine cannot allow such an act of sacrilege to also occur against the holy cup.  As one woman, there is not much she can do to stop it, but she prays to the Goddess to use her as a means to prevent this from happening.  Suddenly, her body is literally taken over, and she is transformed into the Goddess.  She picks up the holy cup of Avalon, and holding it in her hands, she appears as the Goddess before all of the court.  Morgaine floats about the room in the form of the Goddess while she brings the cup to everyone in the court and they drink from it;  they drink the holy water of the sacred well of Avalon, drink from the cup which represents the cauldron of Ceridwen, the Goddess, which is the cup of life.

After everyone has drunk from the cup, through the power of the Goddess, Morgaine makes the cup disappear from the court and return to Avalon so it can never be under threat of desecration again.  Morgaine then resumes her regular form, but this remains unnoticed by everyone because they are too overwhelmed at the miracle.  Before anyone realizes what they have actually seen, the bishop goes around the room telling everyone they have seen Mary, the Mother of God, and that the cup which they have all drunk from is nothing less than the Holy Grail, the cup which Christ used at the last supper.  Everyone believes this, and when Gawaine notices that the vessel is gone, the knights become determined to bring it back to Camelot, thus beginning the famous quest for the “Holy Grail.”

Meanwhile, Morgaine returns home to Avalon.  Years continue to pass as she hears tales of how the knights have left Camelot on their quest and how many of them have died.  Eventually, she also hears that Mordred, Arthur and Morgaine’s son who was conceived in an act of incest before Arthur and Morgaine realized they were brother and sister, attempted to steal the kingdom from Arthur, resulting in both father and son being slain.

Morgaine goes to Arthur as he is dying; she takes the holy sword, Excalibur, from him and throws it into the lake where it will forever be safe from the Christians.  As her brother now lies dying in her arms, she is no longer angry at him for his betrayal of Avalon.  He is simply her brother, the same brother who lay in her arms as a child.  While his kingdom is torn by war, and he lies dying in his sister’s embrace, he asks:

“Morgaine, was it all for nothing then, what we did, and all that we tried to do?  Why did we fail?”

[Morgaine replies,] “You did not fail, my brother, my love, my child.  You held this land in peace for many years, so that the Saxons did not destroy it.  You held back the darkness for a whole generation, until they were civilized men, with learning and music and faith in God, who will fight to save something of the beauty of the times that are past.  If this land had fallen to the Saxons when Uther died, then would all that was beautiful or good have perished forever from Britain.  And so you did not fail, my love.  None of us knows how she will do her will – only that it will be done.” (Bradley 867-8)

In the epilogue, Morgaine goes to Glastonbury to visit the graves of her brother, Guinevere, and her aunt, Viviane, who had once been Lady of the Lake.  They are all buried at Glastonbury, a Christian abbey.  Yet, despite the spread of Christianity throughout Britain, Morgaine is not upset.  This visit is an awakening for her – particularily when she is surprised to see that among the Christian saints, St. Brigid is venerated at the abbey.

“But Brigid is not a Christian saint, she thought, even if Patricius thinks so.  That is the Goddess as she is worshippped in Ireland.  And I know it, and even if they think otherwise, these women know the power of the Immortal.  Exile her as they may, she will prevail.  The Goddess will never withdraw herself from mankind.”  (Bradley 875).

Because the church has made Brigid a saint, another example of how patriarchal religions distort other religions to fit their own needs, the Goddess will live on in Christian form.

As the novel ends, Morgaine prays to the Goddess:

“Mother,” she whispered, “forgive me.  I thought I must do what I now see you can do for yourself.  The Goddess is within us, yes, but now I know that you are in the world too, now and always, just as you are in Avalon, and in the hearts of all men and women.  Be in me too now, and guide me, and tell me when I need only let you do your will….” (Bradley 876)

Morgaine realizes that even if the Goddess is not apparent in the world, she still exists there.  The same is true with the holy chalice of the Druid Regalia.  It is no longer in the world, but in the holy isle of Avalon, yet as Morgaine knows, “It is in Avalon, but it is here.  It is everywhere.  And those who have need of a sign in this world will see it always.” (Bradley 876)

The belief in the Goddess has returned to mankind because of the women’s movement.  Women are angry at patriarchy, and part of the patriarchal religions which have kept them down.  They are tired of a male God who works the way that men want Him to, and they are equally tired of hearing that women are evil as the Bible claims they are.  Because of this dissatisfaction with Christianity and other patriarchal religions, women are rediscovering the ancient Goddess whom the patriarchal religions oppressed and destroyed, just as men oppress women.  Because the Goddess has reemerged and women are turning to her, seeing themselves as having the Goddess within them, many in the women’s movement  believe patriarchal religions will come to an end.

Christianity is trying to make peace with the women’s movement by showing verses in the Bible that praise women, or state that God is not just a God for men.  One of the most often quoted verses for this purpose is that “in Christ ‘there is neither male or female’” (Goldenberg 80).  Christianity is trying to make God appear androgynous so He can be a god for both men and women.  The women’s movement, however, doesn’t seem to be buying this idea.

Today there is a large number of women seeking to become priests, ministers, or holders of other positions in the clergy which have traditionally been held by men.   Many denominations, including the Catholic Church, are against having women enter the clergy.  Pope Paul VI made a statement in 1977 that if women were to play at being priests, then they would play at being God, and Christianity can only afford to have men in that role (Goldenberg 7).  The women’s movement interprets this as men’s fear that women will take over religion and destroy the male god.  Women intend to do this.  They firmly believe that “Every woman working to improve her own position in society or that of women in general is bringing about the end of God” (Goldenberg 10).  When women become liberated, men will realize they are no longer the supreme rulers on earth, and if they cannot rule on earth anymore, shouldn’t they also realize that they can no longer rule in Heaven (Goldenberg 9)?  But men should not fear this – by toppling Yahweh and Christ, men will finally be able to free themselves from their Oedipal prisons, their fear of a supreme male figure which keeps them from being whole, self-reliant men themselves (Goldenberg 31,36).

Will this happen?  Will Christianity and other patriarchal religions fall because of the women’s movement?  Although there are women in favor of the fall of Christianity, there are also members of the women’s movement who believe the Goddess must be brought back, but at the same time, the continual presence of male gods won’t be harmful to women.  Women may even be able to find some value in keeping old patriarchal gods and finding places for them in religion (Goldenberg 82).  There are also some women who want to keep a male god simply so they have someone to yell at and blame for things that go wrong, and then they can turn toward the nurturing, caring Goddess for comfort.  In a way, even these ideas are being stolen from Christianity or at least rewriting it;  whereas now we have God who is good, and the Devil who is evil, if these women get their way, then God will become the bad guy, and the Goddess shall be the one mankind, and womenkind, turn to in their time of need.  Even if these changes take place, to put a single deity in charge of evil is a Christian tendency (Goldenberg 82), yet it is a tendency the women’s movement may not want to give up if they want to continue blaming men.

But how does The Mists of Avalon fit in with this desire to topple God and bring back the Goddess?  Marion Zimmer Bradley certainly believes that patriarchal religions have rewritten pagan religions to be evil, rather than the beautiful things that many of them were.  Her argument with Christianity, told through Morgaine’s voice, seems to be that the Celtic religions and the Goddess are needed because Christ is not enough for a religion to be.  The Celtic religion was very similar to Hinduism in that it also believed in the concept of reincarnation.  At one point in the novel, Morgaine and Arthur’s mother, Igraine, has the thought “Christians said they were free of the superstitions of the Druids, but they had their own, and Igraine felt that these were even more distressing, being separated from nature” (Bradley 48).  In truth, Christianity does not seem very connected to Nature because mankind is not supposed to be in communion with Nature, but the master of it, and therefore, above it.  However, Morgaine feels the need to commune with Nature because “Those who live in close kinship with the earth need something more than salvation” which is all that Christianity offers (Bradley 681).  Morgaine believes Christianity does not work because fear of priests, or God’s wrath “or anything else, will ever keep mankind from committing sins,” …. “but only when they have gained enough wisdom in all their lives that they know that error is useless and evil must be paid for, sooner or later” (Bradley 783).  Morgaine believes Christianity’s beliefs are wrong, that as a religion they have forgotten the true Mysteries, the ones which her religion follows, but then she realizes:

“They have not forgotten the Mysteries,” she said, “they have found them too difficult. They want a God who will care for them, who will not demand that they struggle for enlightenment, but who will accept them just as they are, with all their sins, and take away their sins with repentance.  It is not so, it will never be so, but perhaps it is the only way the unenlightened can bear to think of their Gods.”

Lancelet smiled bitterly.  “Perhaps a religion which demands that every man must work through lifetime after lifetime for his own salvation is too much for mankind.  They want not to wait for God’s justice, but to see it now.  And that is the lure which this new breed of priests has promised them.” (Bradley 808).

Morgaine, like her modern day counterparts in the women’s movement, seeks to overthrow Christianity, and make sure the Goddess is remembered, but by the end of the novel, she is no longer advocating this.  As at the beginning of the novel, Morgaine realizes that she has “no quarrel with the Christ, only with his priests…” (Bradley ix).  It is not necessarily the God the Christians worship who has made women subordinate to men, but the men who are in charge of running that religion.  As Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “The first step in the elevation of women under all systems of religion is to convince them that the Great Spirit of the Universe is in no way responsible for any of these absurdities” (Daly 13).  Morgaine realizes that “the God they both worshipped was greater and less bigoted than any priesthood” (Bradley 118), and that “our differences make no difference at all to God” (Bradley 38). At the end of the novel, she has gone even a step further by stating,  that whatever is the will of the Goddess, it will happen, and no matter how mankind fights for or against this will, it will come to pass if it is what the Goddess wants to happen.  Perhaps this is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s view of the women’s movement and their feelings toward religion.  Patriarchal religions have repressed women and matriarchal religions.   Perhaps the women’s movement is right and we should pray to the Goddess instead of God, and perhaps God will be toppled, but Morgaine herself has no real argument with God, only with the religions that claim it is God who says women are evil and inferior.  Marion Zimmer Bradley may choose to believe in the Goddess, yet at the same time, she doesn’t seem to believe we have to get rid of God and Christ.  In one sense, she doesn’t take a definite stand on which side is right.  Instead she seems to be saying that whatever the truth is, and no matter what the women’s movement or any other groups say, what the Goddess, or Supreme Being wants to happen is what will happen.

Upon the publication of The Mists of Avalon, the reviewers did nothing but rave.  Isaac Asimov called it “The best retelling of the Arthurian saga I have ever read.  Completely compelling” (New York Times Book Review 8).  Other reviewers compared the novel to Mary Stewart’s Merlin novels written in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and also as of equal or greater value to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (Cassada 2351).  Even Christian reviewers applauded the novel.  One female Christian said that the novel raised fundamental questions about the relationship of the old Goddess religions to Christianity, and that it “Offers a feminist critique of patterns of power, sexuality, and salvation which the Christian Church and contemporary society take for granted.” (Zikmund 490)

The Mists of Avalon gives all of its readers a lot to think about, whether they are Arthurian Scholars, Christians, women seeking liberation, or simply lovers of books.  Members of the women’s movement, who are waiting for the fall of Christianity and patriarchal religions, believe that once this downfall occurs, patriarchal religious texts will no longer be useful in the new religions which are established.  Men and women will both have to find new stories and new scriptures (Goldenberg 120).  For many Christians, who may see this downfall coming, and for the women’s movement who wish it will come, The Mists of Avalon may very well become one of these texts.

Works Cited

Bradley, Marion Zimmer.  The Mists of Avalon.  New York:  Ballantine Books, 1984.

Campbell, Joseph.  The Masks of the Gods:  Occidental Mythology.  New York: Penguin Books, 1976.

Cassada, Jackie.  Rev. of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Library Journal 107 (1982):  2351.

Daly, Mary.  Beyond God the Father:  Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Boston:  Beacon Press, 1973.

Goldenberg, Naomi R.  Changing of the Gods:  Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 1979.

New York Times Book Review 11 (1983):  8.

Westwood, Jennifer.  Albion:  A Guide to Legendary Britain.  Gr. Brit:  Grafton, 1985.

Zikmund, Barbara Brown. “Favorite Books and How They Influence.”  Rev. of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Christian Century  104 (1987):  490.

Note: The above article was written in 1993, prior to Bradley’s death in 1999.

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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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What happened to the Roman Ninth Legion has inspired three films in recent years:

Of these three films, I’m afraid The Centurion is the one I find the least interesting. Like the other films, The Centurion is about what happened to the Ninth Legion that seemingly disappeared – although historians now think they were transferred and later destroyed on the continent. How they were destroyed remains lost to history, but authors like Rosemary Sutcliff, whose novel The Eagle of the Ninth, which the film The Eagle is based upon, have been writing books about it for many years, surmising what may have occurred. Usually the stories suggest the legion went north of the area where Hadrian’s Wall separated the “uncivilized” Britons from the territory the Romans had conquered.

The problem I have with The Centurion is not the suggestions of what may have happened to the Ninth (an interesting historical mystery) but the film’s lack of character development as well as my difficulty with identifying with the main characters. In this film, the Roman legion is led north with the aid of a Brigantes woman who is apparently going to lead them to where they can attack the Picts. Instead, she tricks the Romans and leads them into an ambush (big surprise). The sad thing is that while I just watched this film a few days ago, I can’t even remember any of the characters’ names and I can barely remember the actors’ faces. I know there was a main character Roman, the deceitful native Briton woman, and a bad guy who caused treachery, and a couple of other survivors. Eventually, the Romans who survive the attack and enslavement manage to escape from the Picts who have captured them, and the rest of the film shows their attempts not to be recaptured or killed and to get back to the Roman outposts. The villainy by a fellow Roman is almost a subplot and the overall plot is loose and not in any way complicated. Perhaps the best part of the film (SPOILER ALERT) is the end when the surviving Roman returns, only to have his fellow Romans try to cover up what happened to the legion so its defeat will not make Rome look bad.

What makes this film additionally difficult for me is that because none of the characters were strong enough for me to identify with one of them, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. When the film started, although I knew the Romans would be “the good guys,” I wanted the Picts to win. Why? Because I know I am descended from the Picts through Scottish royalty, while I do not know of any Roman ancestors in my family tree, though I do not doubt I have them, and also because the Picts and other Britons were conquered people whom Rome just felt it was their job and right to conquer and civilize or eliminate. While I did not agree with this philosophy in either The Eagle or The Centurion, at least in The Eagle, the main character played by Tatum Channing is well portrayed as a very loyal Roman who believes in his Roman traditions and duties. I may not agree with what makes him tick, but I understood his motives. The Eagle also raised interesting questions of right and wrong and Channing’s character has a slave who makes it clear that Rome is not in the right, leaving a world of questions for viewers to consider, even while Channing’s character is left staying staunch to what he believes in, too brainwashed into the Roman way to consider what he may have done wrong as a Roman, although I think the film’s viewers realize the film questions who he really is. The Eagle is still somewhat weak in this respect, but far superior to The Centurion.

By comparison, the native Britons are given almost no sympathy in The Centurion. The Brigantes woman who deceives the Romans is insulted by them as being a “she-wolf.” She seems merciless in her desire to destroy the Romans, but her behavior is completely understandable to me despite the Romans thinking ill of her. We are told that she watched the Romans destroy her family, then rape her and cut out her tongue. Despite this information, she is impossible to identify with because she is unable to speak her pain, and similarly, except for one of the Picts telling the Romans what the other Romans did to her, equally the film is unable to speak about who is right and who wrong in this film. In short, it is unfocused and uncertain if it has any agenda or message to share. I know life isn’t always possible to tie into a neat message but the woman becomes so focused on her mission and so unable to display any emotion or human characteristics we can identify with, that while she is the character I felt most sympathy for in the film, she is unable to make a real connection with the viewer, she is unable to speak her pain, and therefore, unable to make the viewer form a bond with her or anyone in the film. And I think the film itself, or its creators, were unsure themselves what if any point the film was supposed to make.

I don’t want to say this film is a mess, but it is a disappointment. It kept my attention due to some of the action as the Picts chased after the Romans, but I had a hard time knowing what to think at the end. Ultimately, I have to say that if the Roman Ninth was slaughtered by the people it was trying to conquer, well, who can blame the Britons for protecting their homeland? I don’t condone killing, but the Romans started the killing in Briton and they got what they deserved.

The film also raises questions for me about King Arthur himself, often depicted as heir to the Romans and of Roman descent, yet considering himself a Briton–and fighting against the Saxons who would conquer him. If he’s of Roman descent, is Arthur a good guy? If he is of Briton descent, then Arthur must see the Saxons as equal to the earlier Roman invaders. More likely, Arthur’s bloodline would have been a mix of Briton and Roman. In the end, did the two races not blend? Were they not allied at the least in their fight against the incoming Saxon invaders?

Eventually in all cultures, the conquerors and the conquered’s great-grandchildren intermingle and hatreds are put aside and forgotten as time marches on. Too bad the great-grandparents couldn’t learn to do that themselves to save a great deal of bloodshed.

I encourage lovers of Arthurian literature interested in the prehistory of the Arthurian legend to watch both The Eagle and The Centurion to understand what Briton would have been like in the Romans’ early years in Britain and how those events shaped the world a historical King Arthur would have been born into. And I’d welcome comments from other viewers.

And if you are interested in reading more about Roman Britain in novel form, I highly recommend Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel series, including The Eagle of the Ninth and Sword at Sunset (the first novel to create a historical King Arthur), and especially, I recommend for great reading pleasure Jack Whyte’s novel series The Camulod Chronicles, about Arthur’s Roman ancestors and how they established Camelot as a way to maintain peace in the years when Rome was pulling out of Britain.

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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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