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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Telek’

Today, I’m pleased to interview Scott Telek, author of The Swithen, an ambitious new fiction series that plans to depict in detail the psychology of the characters in the Arthurian legend while retelling that legend.

So far, Telek has published the first three books in the series: Our Man on Earth, The Sons of Constance, and The Void Place. Today he’ll tell us a bit about the series and his overarching plans for it.

Tyler: Welcome, Scott. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. I must say I think you are the most ambitious Arthurian novelist I have met so far. You plan to retell the entire Arthurian legend and so far have produced three books and Arthur isn’t even born until the end of the third one. How many books do you intend to write and what is your overall plan for the series?

Scott Telek, author of The Swithen series

Scott: Thanks Tyler, I’m happy to be here as well! I know the series is very ambitious, but…you’ve got to dream! I was just struck by the need to slow down while reading these stories—especially in Malory, where world-shattering events go by in a flash—and think about what these people might be feeling and thinking, and it occurred to me that you could write a really interesting series that puts the meat on the bones in a way that makes the people seem real, not just symbols and figures.

Right now I have planned out twenty-five novels to tell the entire story, and really, even that is not enough. There are ones where I’m thinking “How am I possibly going to get all of this into one book while giving the story the proper weight?” And please note that I am leaving out Tristram entirely.

The ultimate goal is to produce a really deluxe telling of the Arthurian legend, which illuminates all of its scope, weirdness, and majesty. We will also have birth-to-death life stories of all the major characters—because I plan to write childhoods for Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Mordred—and then they will all twist together into this incredible tapestry. I also want to provide a long, intimate arc to Arthur and Guinevere’s marriage and the affair with Lancelot. And then the interlocking stories of all of the minor characters and how the events ripple across generations. And then you have the inherent monumentality and shattering scope of the work, so—I can’t lose! I have the entire story laid out, so it gives me the opportunity to focus and tighten it in a way that makes its greatness clear to people who would never look into the sources.

Tyler: Can you explain why you chose the title The Swithen to describe the series. What does it have to do with the Arthurian legend?

Scott: The word itself has nothing at all to do with the Arthurian legend, but a lot of the good titles were already taken! One of the major goals of this series is to further unify the story into one cohesive narrative, and the one event that looms over everything is the Grail Quest. And I was struck—shocked, actually—that what is often portrayed as the ultimate, awesome achievement of the knights is actually them getting their asses kicked, and the ruin of the Round Table. They basically discover that their entire way of life, which was great to bring the country out of chaos and into civilization, is now no longer needed and they should just piss off. There is that devastating line when one of the holy figures they encounter says that they should “go back to their waste countries and kill each other.” Which they ultimately do!

So it struck me that this is like the burning of a field to make it fertile for the next generation, and then I found this old Norse word “Swithen,” which means exactly that. It’s about this devastating realization that everything you’ve done is great, now get out of the way and make room for the next generation. So to me it amplifies one of the major themes that is already there. Uther got the Swithen speech in The Void Place, and reacted poorly, as you saw, and poor Arthur is going to get it for sure, and have to deal with its implications. I find I like to force my characters to face the harshest possible existential realities, and poor Arthur…he’s really in for it. But he can also stand up to it, which is why he’s Arthur.

Tyler: I mostly want to discuss the newest book, The Void Place, but before we do that, will you give us a little background about the first two books?

The Void Place, book 3 in the Swithen series, delves into how King Arthur was conceived by magical means.

Scott: I decided that the story of Merlin’s conception sounded like a great book. A woman’s family is killed off one by one by a demon, then her talking baby saves her at the trial for her life—sounds like a hit! I was also fascinated by starting a retelling of the Arthurian legend from this point, which positions the entire thing as the result of a failed attempt by the devil to deceive mankind, and thought that was a fascinating way to look at it.

The second book takes Merlin from his mother’s side, through kings Vortiger and Pendragon, and right up until Uther is about to lose it over Igraine. It is a bit of a “middle” book, as it meanders and doesn’t have one solid story, but I love it and it has some great Merlin moments, like when Pendragon has let a man test him by asking when he will die, and Merlin says to Pendragon, “Do you think I don’t know how this fool will die? I see his death very well—and yours, too!”

Tyler: Merlin is at the center of the first three books. What would you say was your greatest challenge in depicting him, and what did you have the most fun with?

Scott: I know you’ve been enthusiastic about this incarnation of Merlin, which I very much appreciate. I actually didn’t intend him to be so ruthless when I started. I think I pretty much conceived of him as the standard supportive but cantankerous wizard, and basically perfect and always right, as we usually see him. But then in the first book, I had that idea that because he sees across time, he doesn’t really care about individual people. That was supposed to be just a characteristic, but as the series went on, that developed into this ruthlessness to get Arthur born no matter what the cost, which leads to him being somewhat the villain of The Void Place. But also…it opens up an arc for Merlin, and areas where he still needs to develop, and we will see in the future that he has learned from what happened with Uther, and tries a different approach with Arthur.

One thing you might find interesting that you would not necessarily get from the books is that I see this contemporary resonance between Merlin and the young tech moguls, like Mark Zuckerberg or early Steve Jobs. They created these world-changing technologies when they were young, but they didn’t have the maturity to think through the vast implications of how they might affect people and society. They also see the world only through data, just as Merlin only sees events, and there’s the question of whether there is something in people that can’t be summed up in data, just as Merlin is starting to discover that there may be more to people than simply knowing what they do, and is finding that the world, and people, are far more complicated than it seemed when he was a child—just as Mark Zuckerberg is finding, right now.

Tyler: I don’t want to overlook Meylinde, Merlin’s mother. You didn’t have much to work with from the legend as a framework with her, so why did you feel it so important to make her an integral part of the series?

Scott: Again, not planned. The first story is really a parable about faith, and the first book is about how her baby develops into the Merlin we know, so I thought that it would be cool if there was a human component—his mother—behind who Merlin becomes and his sense of morality and humanity. In the legend, she never receives a name, and is dropped entirely once Merlin leaves her. But then I couldn’t stand to just drop her, and once I found a way that she can stay in the series but still be true to the legend—which is that Merlin goes to her when he has to be away from people—I started to develop this idea that she would be Merlin’s moral advisor, and the only one that he shows true vulnerability with. And I will say that I have something planned for her in which she will leave a very influential mark on the entire series.

Another aspect I didn’t intend, but I am quite happy with, is that the simple act of giving names and complex psychologies to women who are little but symbols and passive figures in the legends is a bit of a feminist act, and makes this series much more contemporary. Now the women, and their thoughts and feelings, are given equal importance to the men, which places the genders on much more equal footing, and completely re-orients the legend, which is very man-focused. Arthur’s adoptive mother, Lady Ector, is also never given a name, and barely mentioned in the legend, but in my series, she too will be a tremendously influential character.

Tyler: In The Void Place, the novel opens with Uther as king. Merlin has already set up the Round Table. I was a bit surprised by this since I tend to think it doesn’t happen until Arthur’s reign. Did you draw on sources for it happening during Uther’s reign?

Scott: The Vulgate Cycle has Merlin create the Round Table in the first part of Uther’s reign, just as you see at the end of The Sons of Constance. Then when Uther dies it goes to King Leodegrance, and then Arthur receives it when he marries Guinevere. The other thing is that Uther creates the first generation Knights of the Round Table, and then some of them go on to serve Arthur when he takes over.

One of the things that I love about the Arthurian legend, and I think is one of its major themes, is the passing on from generation to generation. Objects are passed on, but so are conflicts and alliances, and values and ideals, and Arthur has to deal with some conflicts that began in his father’s time. So I really wanted to capture that here, with the passing on of the Round Table and the first generation of knights, and this connection between Uther’s generation and Arthur’s. And you’ll see as we go forward that Uther’s knights, like Ulfius, come from a time that is more mercenary and brutal, and we will see Arthur develop an ideal of knighthood that is more refined, honorable, and chivalrous.

Our Man on Earth, the first book in the Swithen series, tells the story of Merlin’s birth and childhood.

Tyler: There are a few characters in The Void Place I don’t remember from the Arthurian legend, such as Ulfius and Riger. Are they your own invention, and why did you feel the need to include them?

Scott: The story of the knight who tests the Siege Perilous is in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, as is the idea that Merlin was said to be dead. I didn’t think this knight had a name, but upon a little research I found that he is called Riger le Brun in another version, and Riger is a fine name, so I went with that. Everything about his character was made up by me, as a foil to Uther and someone who would play on his uncertain feelings about Merlin. I also added the loose idea that Uther’s failure with the seat in some way causes, or leaves Uther in a state to fall into obsession over Igraine.

Ulfius is in Malory, very slightly, but is a medium-sized presence in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, where he is named Ulfin. He does act as go-between with Igraine and he does arrange the marriage, as you see in The Void Place. I just…for some reason, I just adore Ulfius. There is a line in Malory that while Arthur has to keep pulling the sword again and again, he goes to live with the knights, including Ulfius, and that one line will become the entire basis of Book 5, because I am so taken with the idea of the teenage Arthur hanging with these adult knights and learning the ideals of knighthood and what knights need from their king, so that’s going to be really fun.

The other thing that Ulfius touches on is what I mentioned about aspects continuing through generations…. So Ulfius is Uther’s best friend, and he’s going to be a good friend and mentor to Arthur and he will go on to fight alongside Arthur in his wars against King Lot and the others. So he’ll be offstage for Book 4, but very present for Books 5 and 6, and…there’s one more thing about Ulfius that makes him very special, but I can’t tell you without ruining a surprise.

Tyler: Do you feel Uther is justified in his feelings toward Merlin? They seem to have a love-hate relationship?

Scott: I’m curious to see how people react to my version of Uther, since he’s usually considered fearsome and admirable, and here he’s very insecure and self-centered. And also his relationship with Merlin is quite strained. My main source, the Vulgate Cycle, tries to have it both ways, saying on the one hand that they had great love for each other, while on the other Merlin will not speak to Uther by the end. That’s all from the legend, as well as that they must do penance and that Uther’s hands and feet swell and he physically withers away.

As far as their poor relationship, this all grew out of my conception that the kings would feel that Merlin has taken away any agency they have, because they are just enacting his plans, not having ideas of their own. There is also the issue of them knowing that there is this greater king to come, which is, of course, Arthur. Between Books 2 and 3, you see that Pendragon wrestles with this, but ultimately accepts Merlin’s advice and his final act is one of generosity toward Arthur. Uther is self-centered, and resents the coming of Arthur. It’s meant to contrast their approaches toward a king’s service to the country—is it about serving others, or is it about their own glory? And both of these approaches is leading up to how Arthur will handle it, and how Arthur will feel about Merlin.

You notice by the end of this novel people are asking Merlin “What if Arthur hates you?” And Merlin’s relationship with Uther is meant to highlight the ways in which Merlin will have to adjust his approach, learn humility and learn to be more gentle with humans and their emotions if he is going to keep Arthur from turning away and rejecting him.

Tyler: We meet Viviane for just a brief moment in The Void Place. I assume she is to enchant Merlin later. I’m curious why you chose Viviane over Niniane or Nimue as the enchantress. I believe Viviane was a name Tennyson invented. In The Void Place, it seems like she already has supernatural powers from the brief encounter she has with Merlin, so can we expect some differences in the story with her since usually Merlin teaches her magic.

Scott: I also have her appear in a dream to Meylinde in Our Man on Earth. Viviane was the first Lady of the Lake, and is killed by Balin, then Nimue is brought to the court later. I believe Viviane is named in the Vulgate Cycle. My choice to include her so soon has to do with larger things I’m cooking up to go across the entire series, and one of those has to do with the coming of Christianity and the driving out of Paganism and magic.

One thing—one amazing thing—that is in the Vulgate Cycle but not in Malory, is the fact that Nimue lives in an illusory lake, where she rules a matriarchal society, and that is where she raises Lancelot after she kidnaps him. This whole history of Lancelot—and his connection with one of Arthur’s biggest life mistakes—is heavily explored in the Vulgate and you had better believe it’s going to be delved into here, because I like it as nasty and complicated as possible! One entire book of this series is planned to be Lancelot’s youth, with Lionel and Bors, in Nimue’s magical lake, so there’s a lot to come in terms of the Ladies of the Lake. Viviane’s appearances are just the tip of the iceberg, and placed there to build toward something major that is coming.

Tyler: Scott, what have you most enjoyed about writing this series so far, and what would you say has been your biggest challenge?

Scott: The biggest challenge is definitely working the chronology out to the degree that I know enough of what is coming that I can insert it into the story at the appropriate point. Sometimes when reading this stuff, it’ll say “this happened two years earlier,” and I have to figure out when it happened in relation to other things, and what else was happening then. For example, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—which I am going to work into this narrative—the Green Knight appears a year before Gawain goes off to visit him, so…is his first appearance in one book, and the resolution in another? Or do I just say “a year ago, this happened”? And what else was going on at that time? So it’s a huge challenge.

The three books so far have been largely before the main story begins, so I have had some time to lay out what’s coming. I have a huge Excel spreadsheet with a page each for each of the books, as well as character notes and suchlike, and have things like “Viviane dies here” and “Gawain comes to court,” as well as what the beginning and ending will be, the theme of each book, and I list each character and say what their age and mental state is at that time in the story so I can give them compelling arcs over the whole series. I am writing individual novels, but also one huge novel where each book is just a chapter.

Which leads us into what I have enjoyed the most, and will enjoy, which is the prospect of creating this huge, very intertwined tapestry of characters and this massive, truly epic story. I really look forward to creating a very rich life story for Arthur from his birth to his death. And ultimately we’ll have about sixty years in the lives of a great number of connected and intertwining characters, which will be an incredible thing. Books 2 and 3 were the first where a set of characters went from one book directly into another, and I really enjoyed the resonances and added meanings that the additional space can bring. By the time we get ten books in, I think that’ll be amazing, and by the time we’re twenty books in, I think—I hope!—that the accumulated weight of the story and the characters’ histories will be incredible and overwhelming.

Tyler: Spoken like a true novelist, Scott. I love how detailed and intertwined all your plans are. For me, personally, that is the great fun of writing fiction and especially a series, building all these layers and interconnections between characters and book after book. So that said, of course, I’m anxious to know when we can expect the fourth book. Will you give us a preview of what to expect in it?

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

Scott: I’ve already started writing it, and I’m really into it. The tone will be much more lovely and gentle, and it will be kind of a Young Adult novel, about Arthur’s childhood and the formation of his character. None of the sources give any information about Arthur’s childhood, and the big challenge to create something different than T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone or other versions of his boyhood.

I’ll tell you that Sir and Lady Ector will be fleshed out in depth, as will Kay and Arthur’s relationship with him. This is what I was saying is the best part of writing this series, because I am writing their boyhood relationship knowing they will be together their entire lives, and there is so much to come. Arthur will be struggling with feeling that he doesn’t belong with this family, as well as having to swallow that he will be Kay’s squire, not a knight himself. So like Our Man on Earth was with Merlin, in this we will see the formation of Arthur’s character. Books 4 through 6 will be formative experiences and adolescence for Arthur, and he will not be a mature adult king until Book 7. And there are some other things I have planned that I hope will be a very surprising, unusual way of coming at the familiar story we all know.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Scott. Can you tell us where we can go to get more information about your books or to purchase them?

Scott: I sure can! The books are available in ebook and paperback at Amazon and other retailers, and the easiest hub to get to them all would be to visit the website for the series.

Tyler: Thanks again, Scott. Best wishes for the continuation of your truly breathtaking series.

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Scott Telek’s The Void Place is the third book in his new Swithen series, following Our Man on Earth and The Sons of Constance, which have previously been reviewed here at Children of Arthur. The purpose of these novels is to explain the psychological motivations behind the characters’ sometimes-inscrutable actions, while remaining completely faithful to the Arthurian legend, and so far, I think Telek is successful in creating insightful reasons for many of his characters’ behaviors.

The Void Place, book 3 in the Swithen series, delves into how King Arthur was conceived by magical means.

This novel once again has Merlin at its center, though he is off stage for much of it. Merlin has told Uther that the greatest king is yet to come, which makes Uther feel like he is just a placeholder king, and as a result, he’s rather depressed and feeling inferior. Merlin has also set up the Round Table and even created the Siege Perilous and warned Uther not to let anyone sit there until the one destined to do so arrives. Uther, however, doesn’t like Merlin telling him what to do, and he also finds himself being pestered by Sir Riger, a knight who didn’t make the cut to sit at the Round Table. When a rumor spreads that Merlin has died, Riger convinces Uther that they need no longer listen to Merlin so he should get to sit in the Siege Perilous. I’ll let readers read for themselves what happens when Riger tries to sit there. I’ll just say I thoroughly enjoyed the situation surrounding wondering whether the Siege Perilous was truly perilous.

Eventually, Uther shakes off his doldrums when Duke Gorlois brings his wife Igraine to court. I was struck by Telek’s depiction of Gorlois as handsome, strong, and sensuous—not the old man he is often depicted as. Gorlois and Igraine are very much in love, and she has no interest in Uther when he begins expressing interest in her.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by describing what happens next—Uther convinces Merlin to help him sleep with Igraine, which Merlin does by enchanting Uther to look like Gorlois. What is more subtle is how Merlin manipulates Uther into doing exactly what he wants—it’s like trick child psychology where he tells Uther he mustn’t pursue Igraine, only to get Uther to pursue her, so that Arthur can be conceived. Ultimately, this leads to questions of whether Merlin is justified in his actions—is his manipulation wicked, or is he doing God’s work by setting in motion events to culminate in Arthur’s reign? Interestingly, his mother Meylinde, as in previous novels, steps in to serve as his moral conscience when he, in her eyes, misbehaves. Meylinde’s moral compass provides a lot of depth to the novel and restrains Merlin from doing whatever he chooses, thus providing some excellent internal conflict for him as well.

Besides the main storyline, several characters make minor appearances in the novel that will be developed more fully in future novels. These include Igraine’s daughters, Morgause and Morgan. Early in the novel we get a glimpse of Morgan’s future. She is only a child, but she has already poisoned a playmate, a situation that is quite funny, even if sinister. When the novel ends, she is engaged at age ten to marry King Uriens, and she is being sent to a nunnery until she is fourteen when the marriage can take place. I already think she will be a great villain and hope to see more of her soon.

I enjoyed the moments of humor in this novel, especially in the first half when Uther feels so frustrated by Merlin’s control over him. I admit I felt the pacing a bit slow in the middle as we waited for Uther to seduce Igraine, perhaps simply because I knew what was coming and was impatient for more twists on the traditional story. I especially enjoyed that in this version, Igraine never even learns that it was Uther who was disguised as Gorlois, although she does realize it was not Gorlois who conceived Arthur upon her that night. However, I was pleased by the shenanigans surrounding keeping Igraine’s reputation in place for having a child with a man who wasn’t her husband, including the arrangements for Sir Ector and his wife to raise the child and how they were depicted.

The novel ends with Merlin setting things in motion for Arthur’s reign, including the sword being planted in the stone. The land must now wait fourteen years without a king until Arthur is ready to claim his kingdom. The next novel in the series is intended to depict Arthur’s childhood.

This novel is also the first to provide the overall plan for the Swithen series. Telek plans twenty-five novels total, leading all the way to Arthur’s death. Previously the longest Arthurian series to my knowledge has been Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s The Keltiad, often referred to as “Celts in Space.” She planned eighteen novels in her series, although to date only eight have been published and one collection of short stories, and only three of those novels really centered on the Arthurian legends while the rest were other retellings of Celtic legends. (Jack Whyte has actually written nine novels in or connected to his Camulod Chronicles series, although he never aspired, to my knowledge, to double-digits for his books.) We’ll see if Telek will someday hold the record. As long as he keeps writing them, I’ll be eager to read them.

More information about Telek’s Swithen series can be found at https://theswithen.wordpress.com/.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Man on Earth: The Original Tale of Merlin, Arthur’s Legendary Wizard is the first book in the new Swithen series by Scott Telek. The premise of this series, as Telek states, is that he will write a series of Arthurian novels that remain faithful to their originals “by retaining the plot, story, and weirdness of the original legends from nearly a thousand years ago, but filling in the character and psychology in ways that are compelling to modern readers.”

Based on the Prose Merlin, Our Man on Earth is an insightful and psychological look into Merlin’s origins and childhood.

Our Man on Earth proves that Telek is certainly off to a good start. The novel tells the story of Merlin’s conception and birth, and is based upon the 442 lines of the Prose Merlin (written circa 1230-1240), to which Telek provides a link for those who wish to compare his novel to the original. I will say that Telek’s novel follows the Prose Merlin’s description of Merlin’s birth and what follows very closely without deviation but with plenty of additional information.

Those familiar with Merlin’s origins will know that a common version of the story is that he was conceived by the devil. Many other authors have had his mother claim she got pregnant by a demon, only for the reader to be informed it was really a man, as in Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy. Telek, however, stays true to the original. He expands the story to provide details about Merlin’s mother Meylinde’s family and how a real demon chooses the family to torment. The demon’s goal is to create an Antichrist by getting a human woman pregnant and having her give birth to his child.

Is Merlin then the Antichrist? Well, he would have been had his mother not been a good Christian woman who prayed and turned to God for help, and immediately upon his birth, had Merlin baptized. Telek explores the religious implications of Merlin’s conception, the doubt expressed by Meylinde’s community over her statement that she begot him through a demon, and the evil thoughts of many that she probably got pregnant by Blaise, the priest she is consulting in her distress. Telek doesn’t shy away from the supernatural but makes it feel real as the child grows quickly in Meylinde’s womb so that he comes to term after only five weeks.

Meylinde is soon imprisoned for her crime of premarital sex. Merlin’s birth and how Meylinde and her midwives respond to his strangeness are all described with great detail and provide both entertainment and mystery. Like T. H. White does for the boy Arthur, Telek allows Merlin to shapeshift into various creatures, but most marvelous of all is when Merlin begins speaking—and his first words aren’t just “mama” or “goo-goo.” He speaks in full sentences like an attorney-at-law, and lucky for Meylinde that he does because he becomes her defender when she is brought before the judge who will likely sentence her to death for her sin of sex outside of wedlock.

I don’t want to say much more because it will spoil the plot. But what I do want to say is how very powerful the end of the novel is. We are told that because Merlin is the devil’s child, he has the gift of knowing everything that is past. Then when he was baptized, God gifted Merlin with knowledge of the future. Consequently, one would think Merlin perfect in his being all-knowing, but this is not the case. He is logical, but he is not quite human—he lacks emotional intelligence and human compassion. The conversations between him and his mother on this topic are the culmination of the book and bring the story to a powerful close. For me, this was the best part of the story because it showed true human emotion, character development, and the humanity of the characters. Too often, the Arthurian characters become stick figures in modern retellings but that is far from the case here.

I thoroughly enjoyed Our Man on Earth. I only wished it was longer, but fortunately, Telek has already published the second book in the series The Sons of Constance. Anyone familiar with the Arthurian legend knows this refers to Arthur’s father and uncle. At the end of Our Man on Earth, Merlin realizes his destiny is to assist Arthur to become king. Arthur’s family will then be the focus of the next book. A third and fourth book, The Void Place and The Flower of Chivalry, are also in the works.

Finally, in case you’re curious about the series title, I’d add that I had the chance to talk to Telek and ask him about it, and he explained, “‘Swithen’ is a Middle English term from slash and burn agriculture that means the burning of a field to make it fertile for the next generation…. It refers to the grail quest, in which Arthur and his men are told that their way of life is ending and to make way for the new.” Telek is also ambitious about the series. While the titles of four books are currently listed at his WordPress site, he told me, “I am planning to just go forward with the series as far as I can, so at the pace I am going, I expect it would take fifty novels to reach Arthur’s death. I know it’s insanely ambitious, but…it will be amazing if it can be done! My goal is to slow it down enough to give all of the stories the heft they deserve (you know how momentous events go by in a flash in the sources) and to unify the story even further, which is why I’m beginning it all with the birth of Merlin. Kind of amazing to think of all of the Arthurian legend stemming from a failed effort by the devil, right?”

Ambitious indeed, but Our Man on Earth shows that this getting at the meat of the individual stories brings them to life in new and rewarding ways. Consequently, I welcome the Swithen series as an exciting new addition to modern Arthurian fiction, and I especially appreciate how closely tied the series promises to be in relation to its source material. Too many modern novels go too far afield from the sources until they become almost unrecognizable as Arthuriana so an author determined to be faithful to his sources is refreshing. I definitely look forward to reading the next book in the series.

For more information about the Swithen series, visit https://theswithen.wordpress.com/. Our Man on Earth is available at Amazon in ebook and paperback editions.

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

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