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Posts Tagged ‘the Mists of Avalon’

Glastonbury is my favorite place in England. It is also, in my opinion, the most magical. Perhaps that’s because I first visited it in May 1993, just a few months after I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, so I could just see Morgan le Fay there, like she is at the end of the novel. But there is far more to this historical place than its role in some fantasy novels. In fact, it is England’s holiest ground.

Ruins at Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury’s story is shrouded in mystery. There is a cross there presented by Queen Elizabeth II to honor it as a place so ancient its orgins can only be sought in legend. Consequently, many legends have arisen about it, especially concerning King Arthur.

Glastonbury’s King Arthur connections actually go back five centuries before his time. That’s because it was to Glastonbury that St. Joseph of Arimathea, allegedly an uncle or great-uncle to Jesus Christ, brought his nephew to study with the druids, an explanation for the lost years of Jesus’ childhood and early adulthood. Later, Joseph of Arimathea returned to Glastonbury after Jesus’ death; there he established the abbey and became its first abbot. He also brought with him the Holy Grail, in which he had captured Jesus’ blood after he had been pierced by the Spear of Longinus while dying on the Cross. The Holy Grail was believed to have been kept at Glastonbury for many years.

Inside Glastonbury Abbey’s ruins.

Also connected to Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury is the Holy Thorn. It is said that this thorn tree grew from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff, which he planted into the ground at Glastonbury. The thorn was remarkable because it blossomed with flowers at Christmas and may be the only thorn in the world to do so—Christmas being Jesus’ birthday and thus a time when the thorn celebrated Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, the original thorn was destroyed by the Puritans during the English Civil War. Offsprings of that thorn continued to grow at Glastonbury until just last month when, after repeated vandal attempts, the last one was removed by the landowner. (see “Glastonbury’s Famous Holy Thorn Removed.”)

The holy thorn as it appeared circa 1991.

Glastonbury Tor at dawn

As for King Arthur, we all know that after he was wounded at the Battle of Camlann, Morgan le Fay took him away on a barge to Avalon. Speculation exists that Avalon was nearby, possibly being Glastonbury Tor, a hill that rises up like an island shrouded in mist. Here it has also been said that the Holy Grail was kept. While I prefer to believe King Arthur is still living on Avalon—a place yet to be discovered by the modern world—and waiting to return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need, one tradition is that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. In 1191, monks at the abbey claimed to have discovered the remains of Arthur and Guinevere on the abbey property. Also found was an iron cross verifying they were Arthur and Guinevere’s graves. The original cross has since disappeared—if it ever existed—but a drawing of it was made that has survived. The story also goes that one of the monks reached in and touched Guinevere’s golden tresses, but they then instantly disintegrated. In 1278, King Edward I and Queen Eleanor attended a ceremony at the abbey when King Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies were reburied under the high altar. No one has apparently disturbed the bodies since then, although I am surprised no archeologist has tried to.

Arthur and Guinevere’s most likely fake grave at Glastonbury Abbey

Were King Arthur and Guinevere really buried at Glastonbury? I’m skeptical. Many scholars have speculated that the bodies were planted there by Henry II as a hoax to destroy myths that King Arthur would return, thus keeping the Welsh and Saxons from having any hope that they could rebel or that they would be saved by Arthur from the rule of a Norman Plantagenet king. It’s also possible the monks themselves created a hoax so they could make Glastonbury a place of pilgrimage, thus increasing the money coming into their coffers.

One of the abbey walls.

No one can say if any of the stories of Glastonbury Abbey associated with King Arthur or Joseph of Arimathea are true or even if they have any shred of truth to them. I only know that for me, my visit to Glastonbury Abbey was a surreal experience. Something instantly drew me to the place that I cannot explain. On my first visit, I was on a tour. I remember that after fifteen or so minutes, everyone on the tour with me left the ruins to go into the gift shop or the village for coffee, but I remained behind, my heart leaping with joy to be there. I wandered all over the ruins, taking numerous pictures, climbing the stairs, visiting the chalice well, and exploring every inch of the property. I honestly cannot think of another time when I was so excited to visit a place. It wasn’t that I had been greatly anticipating my visit there, but that something about the place made me feel like an overjoyed child; my heart was laughing and I wanted practically to skip as I explored the ruins. My reaction could be because Glastonbury is a sacred space, or because it is believed to be one of the energy sources on the planet. I also think it’s possible, since I believe in reincarnation and think it likely I spent several past lives as a monk or priest, that perhaps my past is connected with Glastonbury. I cannot truly explain why it attracts me so much. I only know that for me, after all these years, the magic of that visit has never faded.

A reproduction of the lead cross found at Glastonbury Abbey claiming it as the place of King Arthur’s burial.

If you only get to visit one Arthurian place in your life, hands down Glastonbury Abbey is the place to visit. If you wish to learn more about it, I highly recommend John Matthews’ book A Glastonbury Reader: Selections from the Myths, Legends and Stories of Ancient Avalon, and I also recommend The Mists of Avalon as a novel that is partly set there. Several other Arthurian novels have also incorporated Glastonbury into their storylines.

If you do wish to visit Glastonbury, as well as other Arthurian sites, I recommend you check out the Scholarly Sojourns tour Uncovering Camelot: A Journey Through Arthurian Britain.

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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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I’m pleased to welcome back Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy. Nicole has been a guest here in the past when I interviewed her about her previous books in the series, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. Reviews of those books and my previous interviews with Nicole can all be found here at ChildrenofArthur.com. Before we get into today’s interview, here’s a little background information about Nicole.

Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere trilogy

Nicole Evelina has spent the last nineteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome.

Nicole holds a BA in English and an MA in media communications. Her previous novels have won multiple awards, including two Book of the Year designations and the North Street Book Prize. Her non-Arthurian works include Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for president way back in 1872, and Been Searching for You, a contemporary love story. Nicole is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I’m delighted to have you back, and I have to say I was completely wowed by how you ended this trilogy. For starters, will you tell us why you decided to have Mistress of Legend continue Guinevere’s story beyond the Battle of Camlann?

Nicole: I’m so glad you liked it! My goal in writing the trilogy was to explore Guinevere’s whole life, not just the parts that include King Arthur. So, just like I covered her youth in Daughter of Destiny, I wanted to shed light upon her life after the fall of Camelot in Mistress of Legend. Guinevere was her own woman, independent of the men history associates her with, and it was important for me to show that in order to dispel the long-held belief that she couldn’t function once Arthur died. She still had very much living to do, thank you very much.

Tyler: To my knowledge, Parke Godwin’s novel Beloved Exile (1984) was the only other Arthurian novel to tell Guinevere’s story after Camelot’s fall. How would you say your book or your vision for Guinevere was different from Godwin’s?

Nicole: Oh, I loved that book! It was one of the two (along with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon) that really influenced my portrayal. I loved that Godwin made his Guinevere a strong, intelligent woman. It gave me the courage to do so as well. That being said, I didn’t think it very likely that the queen of Britain (SPOILER ALERT) would be taken captive as a Saxon slave as she is in Beloved Exile. The idea rang very false with me as a reader. I went in a different direction because of that, but also because of the backstory I had given Guinevere and her mother. I wanted to bring the series full circle by connecting her with her heritage. Also, it was important to me that she not seek the throne of Camelot, as she has done in other novels. After all she’s been through, my Guinevere is tired of politics and war, though she does get pulled back into both just by the nature of her former position.

Tyler: Your Arthur comes off looking somewhat weak and ineffective at the end of the novel? What were your goals in your depiction of Arthur, especially as a contrast or complement to Guinevere?

Nicole: I don’t know that I would necessarily characterize him as weak. He’s more lost and confused. Father Marius’ betrayal and its almost-deadly consequences have shaken him to his core, resulting in a king who is not only unsure of himself, he’s also for the first time being doubted and mistrusted by his people. We tend to think of Arthur as this superman, this all-powerful, almost godlike figure, but I wanted to portray him as very much human, prey to insecurities and crippled by pain just like everyone else. Whereas the events of Camelot’s Queen brought Arthur to a breaking point, Guinevere was able to use the calamity to strengthen herself all the more. In many ways, the series is about how two very different personalities process adversity. As we see in the previous books, Arthur can handle external political challenges just fine, but he is incredibly vulnerable when it comes to matters of love and emotion, especially where Guinevere and Morgan are concerned. Guinevere’s trial and sentencing and the role Morgan may or may not have played deeply affect both women, and in many ways that is Arthur’s Achilles’ heel. Guinevere, on the other hand, is more used to emotional upheaval, having dealt with so much of it in her past. As we see in Mistress of Legend, it is the external, political aspect of her role that she struggles with, despite her years of experience. If you think about it, that makes sense because she never intended to become queen, much less contemplated ruling Camelot without Arthur, so she wasn’t exactly prepared for the role fate thrusts upon her (once again) and we see her struggle with that.

Tyler: Did you find it easier or harder to write the parts of the novel that are not based deeply in the Arthurian legend?

Nicole: Easier. There aren’t nearly as many expectations involved in the parts of the story that aren’t part of the cannon of the Arthurian legend. That means I was able to let my imagination run free and use history as a guide to direct where Guinevere’s story went—when the characters weren’t totally throwing me for a loop, that is.

Tyler: I was fascinated by the role of religion in the novel, especially at one point when Guinevere decides to start praying to the Virgin Mary even though she doesn’t believe in Christianity. What kind of message about religion were you trying to convey in the novel?

Nicole: One of the things that was important for me to explore in this series is the conflict between paganism (in this case Druidism) and Christianity in the early Dark Ages. This was a very real, historical struggle that affected hundreds of thousands of people. I was able to use Guinevere’s paganism as a way to explore the old ways that were dying out and show the rise of Christianity through Arthur and his conversion from the cult of Mithras. It’s a well-established fact that in converting pagan peoples, the Catholic Church adopted or subsumed many pagan deities and traditions. One of these was the idea of a divine mother-figure. Paganism was polytheistic, and many versions included the worship of one or more goddesses, who were naturally identified with motherhood, given that is a uniquely female role. To lose that portion of their faith would be untenable to the people they were trying to convert, so the Church encouraged veneration of (although not officially, worship, but I suspect many common people did in fact, worship) Christ’s mother, the Virgin Mary.

Throughout the books in this series, Guinevere is highly aware of the similarities (and differences) between Christianity and her own faith. When she is at her lowest point, when she feels like everything and everyone she has ever loved has been taken away from her, including her own identity, she naturally turns to this mother-figure, just as we as children cry to our human mothers. At the time, she is in a Christian convent (and very hurt by what she sees as abandonment by her own gods and goddesses), so she seeks refuge where she can, at the feet of the Blessed Virgin. Some readers may note that in The Mists of Avalon, Morgaine has a similar experience, but I want to be clear that unlike Morgaine, Guinevere never considered converting to Christianity. She is very much aware that the Christian faith is not for her, yet she sees echoes of her own mother goddesses in the Blessed Virgin, and, therefore, finally gives herself permission to turn to her in time of grief, adding another goddess to her personal pantheon.

Tyler: Guinevere is not the only strong female character in the novel. She comes into conflict multiple times with other strong women, including Morgan, Evina, and Elga. Will you tell us why you included them in the novel, especially since the latter two are your own creation?

Nicole: While this book is Guinevere’s story, it would have been very boring if Guinevere was always right and always had all the answers. I’m seeking to portray her as human, so she has to have adversaries and foils, just like we all do. I also wanted to show that she was not the only woman to be reckoned with in Dark Ages Camelot, a time when respect for women was within bardic, if not living, memory. I also wanted to explore the different peoples of Britain at the time, so I needed a strong Saxon (Elga) and a strong Votadini (Evina) to compare and contrast with Guinevere. All three women have very different moral compasses and different approaches to power, which is part of what I think makes them work so well together, as well as what helps enrich the world of the book.

Mistress of Legend tells a new story of what happened to Guinevere after Arthur’s passing.

Tyler: Typically, after Camelot’s fall, we are told Constantine became King of Britain. You mention Constantine, but he plays only a minor role in the novel. What would you say was the state of Britain after Arthur’s death and what challenges did you face in depicting that situation?

Nicole: I think Britain would have been in total chaos. No one expected Arthur to die so young, and for his heir to die at the same time would have been unthinkable. There really would have been no blueprint for how to move forward. Add to that the fact that many, many power-hungry men (and maybe a few women) would have seen this as an opportunity for advancement, one which they would use any means to achieve, and you have a recipe for civil war.

One of the main challenges for me was that my story is one of women and they aren’t the ones history typically remembers, so I had to construct their story based on what might possibly have happened. Another challenge was helping readers to understand and remember the complex political situation of the time. It took me a long time to get it straight, and I have all the resources at my fingertips, whereas readers have only what I can reasonably put into the story without messing up the narrative flow. My answer to that was to try to simplify it down to a handful of key players and get readers truly invested in the roles that each person plays so they were more likely to remember who was who.

Tyler: I’m frequently asked questions about the Arthurian legend on Quora, and one question I was recently asked was “Why do you think so many retellings of the Arthurian legend fail?” How would you answer that question, and what do you think you’ve done to make yours succeed?

Nicole: Well, as with any type of book, some are just poorly written or constructed, but I think many fail because they simply retread the same old material over and over. That gets boring very fast. I have had purists criticize me for taking the story in another direction than the one they treasured/expected, but if you don’t add anything new to myth and legend, it can’t grow. As we see over and over in the evolution of the Matter of Britain, each author who has come down to us through time has added his or her own mark to the traditional story, fleshing it out, changing it to meet the needs and expectations of his or her time. This is what gives it life and keeps it from becoming irrelevant. As you can tell, I’m rather passionate on this subject; I actually wrote a book on how Guinevere has changed over time, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend.

Only time will tell whether my books succeed or fail, but I believe I have given them a strong shot at success by doing just that, taking the character of Guinevere—and with her, the rest of the Arthurian legend—to places previously unexplored. For example, few authors have asked the question “What was Guinevere’s life like before she met Arthur?” or “What did Guinevere do after Arthur’s death? What if she didn’t take the easy way out and become a nun?” I sought to answer those questions as my way of adding to the time-honored story.

I think two other things may help my books last. One is that I created a Guinevere who can stand up to the scrutiny of feminism and the #MeToo movement. She is a strong woman for a new generation. While she’s not perfect and she has her moments of being used (especially as a political pawn in Daughter of Destiny and Mistress of Legend), she certainly is no one’s docile doormat and she finds ways to make the most of what life hands her, which is something everyone struggles with. The other thing that I hope will help my books is that they are very much anchored in the history of the late fifth and early sixth centuries. That means they have a chance of remaining relevant as a way to experience and understand that mysterious time period, if nothing else.

Tyler: Now that you’ve finished your trilogy, do you think you’ll write anything more about the Arthurian legend, either in fiction or non-fiction?

Nicole: Yes, I do. I’m planning to eventually write Isolde’s story, which already has a good head start given that I have something like 40,000 words that I cut from Camelot’s Queen that help tell her tale. Sobian, my fictional pirate-turned-assassin, wants her own novel, so that is on the horizon, and I’m toying with the idea of telling Morgan’s side of the story, given that there is so much that happens with her off the page in this series. I’d also love to play with how she sees herself versus how Guinevere saw her, and I want to find out what else happens to her daughter, Helena, whom we meet in Mistress of Legend. I see each of those being their own book, so there may well be another trilogy in the future.

I also really want to do a series guide/companion guide that gives you a behind-the-scenes type look at the world of my Arthurian books and goes into detail about many of the aspects of my world and its characters. I think I likely will end up crowdfunding that one.

Unfortunately, none of these are top priority at the moment because I need to switch my focus to books that will hopefully land me a traditional publishing deal and finance these future Arthurian dream children of mine, which likely will all be self-published.

Tyler: They all sound like fascinating books, though, Nicole, and I’ll be eager to read them. But what projects are you currently working on?

Nicole: As I said above, I’m looking toward traditional publishing. I am currently researching sample chapters for a non-fiction proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the United States, which I’d really like to release in August 2020, to coincide with the centennial of women getting the right to vote in the U.S. On the fiction front, my next novel will be a biographical historical exploration of a little-known World War II heroine who was a French nun who worked for the resistance. I can’t wait to share her story with the world!

Tyler: Those sound awesome too. I can’t wait to read them. Thank you again, Nicole, for joining me. I have no doubt Mistress of Legend is going to be another award winner for you. Thank you for helping us see the Arthurian legend in new ways through Guinevere’s eyes, and best of luck with all your future books.

Nicole: Thank you. And thanks so much for your support and enthusiasm along the way. Friends and readers like you make the writing journey so much easier. I’m so glad we have been able to share our passion for the Arthurian legend!

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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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Daughter of Destiny: Guinevere’s Tale Book One is the latest addition in the plethora of Arthurian novels being published every year. Yes, there have been plenty of novels about Guinevere before, but this one stands out for several reasons.

Nicole Evelina's new novel is the first in a trilogy that allows Guinevere to tell the tale of Camelot from her own point of view.

Nicole Evelina’s new novel is the first in a trilogy that allows Guinevere to tell the tale of Camelot from her own point of view.

Author Nicole Evelina states that she was inspired to write this book after reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and loving it but hating how Bradley depicted Guinevere in the novel. Admittedly, I agree that Guinevere is the weakest character in that otherwise powerful novel, and Evelina’s Guinevere is a remarkable improvement as she tells her story in first person narration.

In Evelina’s version, Guinevere is far from the frightened Christian girl of Bradley’s novel. Instead, she is the strong-willed daughter of a Roman-descended king and a mother who was part of the Votadini tribe. Guinevere’s maternal family are believers in the old religion of Avalon, and so Guinevere is sent there to study, where she learns beside several other well-known characters from the legends, including Viviane and Morgan. This first part set in Avalon was probably my favorite section of the novel since I have always loved the idea of Avalon and tried to envision what it is like and have depicted it in my own Arthurian novels. Evelina is obviously influenced by Bradley in her depictions, but she also gives the story twists of her own, especially in the rivalry that develops between Guinevere and Morgan. Yes, like Morgan, Guinevere has her gifts—she has the gift of the sight—she can see events at a great distance as they happen—it’s like her brain is able to Skype! But perhaps most surprising in the novel is the young man who becomes Guinevere’s love interest—I think every reader will be surprised by this plot twist—it isn’t Lancelot or Arthur who captures Guinevere’s heart. The shocking Beltane scene in Mists also influences the Beltane scene in this novel, but again, Evelina makes surprising choices in how she depicts it, including Guinevere’s involvement in the rituals.

The novel moves forward when Guinevere returns home to find her father greatly changed and herself disinherited. While she thought, as his only child, she would inherit her father’s throne, he has now decided it will go to her male cousin. Then, so Guinevere can learn proper Christian ways, her father also decides to send her to live at King Pellinore’s court, where she meets two other young ladies, Pellinore’s daughter, Elaine, and his ward, Isolde, heir to the Irish throne. Despite her newfound friends, Guinevere finds life with Pellinore’s family—especially his cruel wife Lyonesse—far from pleasant.

Overall, I found the entire plot refreshing—it is familiar, yet original, bringing together many well-known characters and placing them in new relationships to each other, and then developing those relationships in unexpected ways. At the same time, Evelina has clearly done her research and uses it to determine other relationships among characters. For example, King Lot is married to Arthur’s half-sister, Ana, a character usually written out of modern novels in favor of Morgan le Fay or Morgause, but Ana actually dates back to Geoffrey of Monmouth and has more historical clout, therefore, as Arthur’s sister. As for Morgan, she is an orphan whose origins are unknown—though I suspect we’ll find out she’s Arthur’s sister in a future book. Evelina also draws on Geoffrey of Monmouth in depicting the “Kingmaker” comet in the novel that prophesies the birth of a great king.

Hopefully, I don’t give too much away by saying that at the end of the novel, King Arthur makes his appearance and claims Guinevere for his future wife. Of course, she has to marry him—her situation as well as the literary tradition demand it—but given that she already loves another man, I’m sure we’re in for some more interesting plot twists in the future novels. The second novel will be out later this spring and the third novel of this trilogy will be published in 2017. I suggest watching for both of them after you read this one. I read Daughter of Destiny in two days, almost unable to put it down. Evelina’s writing style is visual and smooth, so it is a pleasure to read; I felt taken back to the Arthurian time without being weighed down by too much detail or historical facts. I felt like I was living the story, rather than reading it, and that’s how a good writer should make her reader feel. I’m grateful for any chance I get to live in Camelot, so I thank Evelina for a pleasant time there.

For more information about Nicole Evelina and Daughter of Destiny, visit her website at www.NicoleEvelina.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, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly work King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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I first read Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy—The Crystal Cave (1970), The Hollow Hills (1973), and The Last Enchantment (1979)—and the follow-up book The Wicked Day (1983) in 1986 when I was fifteen. I had already read Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur and some children’s versions of the Arthurian legend, but this was the first novel series I read. (Later, I would read Stewart’s The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995), but sadly, that novel was far inferior to the earlier ones.)

Mary Stewart's three novels, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment, compose her Merlin trilogy, here published in one volume.

Mary Stewart’s three novels, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment, compose her Merlin trilogy, here published in one volume.

I admit that after all these years, I remembered very little of the novels, and I have since read so many other Arthurian novels that many of them are blurred together in my mind, but I did remember a few scenes from Stewart’s novels, and most of all, how they held me under their spell, so I decided it was time that I go back and reread them.

The spell was still there, although perhaps it is no longer as strong as it was upon my first reading and when Arthurian novels were still relatively few in number. As an older and more educated reader in Arthuriana, I could see some of the novels’ faults—mainly that they were a little overly descriptive and the pacing a bit slow in places—but I also found things I did not pick up on before—most noticeably the poetic elements and powerful build-up in The Hollow Hills that crescendos with Arthur becoming king, and also, how exactly Stewart juxtaposed different parts of the Arthurian legend to make it her own interpretation. In fact, I think some of the novels influenced me so much that upon rereading them, it was like I had discovered a lost part of my brain because some of the choices I made in writing my own novels I may have unconsciously been influenced by Stewart to do.

Two things specifically stood out for me in this series: 1) the idea that Constantine was power-hungry and seeking to take the throne for himself, and 2) the possibility that Mordred was a relatively good person caught up in the wrong situation at the wrong time. In fact, I think Stewart was the first to suggest both in a novel. Later, when I wrote my nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children, the initial version of which I penned in 1994-1995, one of my primary theories was that Constantine was the villain of the story, but because he had conquered, he had caused the story to be retold to vilify Merlin. As for Mordred, plenty of sources suggest he was not a villain, obscure sources that I also explored in King Arthur’s Children and which led to my positive depiction of Mordred and my negative depiction of Constantine in my novel Arthur’s Legacy.

Also not on my radar when I first read these novels was the fact that in them King Arthur has children other than Mordred—we are told in The Wicked Day that Arthur was rumored to have other bastards—“two at least, were spoken of,”—but unlike Mordred, they are not at court or in favor with the king. Arthur also has a stillborn son by his first wife, Guenever, who dies as a result. His second wife, Guenevere, is barren. We also find out that Mordred has two sons—the first by a woman in the Orkneys before he comes to Camelot, who is named Medraut and thinks Mordred is just his stepfather when Mordred later returns to the area and weds his mother. The second child, named Melehan, is Mordred’s son by his mistress in Camelot. Mordred’s sons are referenced in other Arthurian works as slain by Constantine after the Battle of Camlann, and in my novel Arthur’s Legacy, I named them Morgant and Meleon (the French version of Melehan). The difference is that in my novel, Meleon has a child who survives to carry on Arthur’s lineage. In Stewart, none of these children by Arthur or Mordred plays any significant role and no hope is provided of Arthur’s lineage continuing, although it may have in obscurity.

In The Wicked Day, Constantine plays a key role in trying to turn Arthur against Mordred.

In The Wicked Day, Constantine plays a key role in trying to turn Arthur against Mordred.

Another interesting aspect of rereading these novels is the reference to the Goddess being worshiped at Ynis Witrin (Avalon) in The Last Enchantment. This depiction of a cult of the Goddess was a major theme in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982), the novel that probably influenced more recent Arthurian writers than any other, but here the seed was planted in Mary Stewart before Bradley—one wonders whether Bradley read Stewart since Stewart’s novel was published three years before Bradley’s. Whether there ever was a Goddess cult at Ynis Witrin I’m uncertain, but it seems doubtful—if there was, it was probably for a very specific goddess and not a vague Mother Goddess.

Arthur’s sword in these novels is that of Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig in Welsh tradition). Here Stewart is following the in footsteps of Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote what was probably the first series to set Arthur in his correct historical time period, something Stewart continues but with a slight touch of fantasy. Both Sutcliffe and Stewart depict Arthur as a descendant of Maximus, a concept that numerous other successive Arthurian novelists have continued.

One final item that I know consciously influenced me was Stewart’s decision to give Bedwyr the role of being Guinevere’s lover. As she states, Bedwyr probably had that role before Chretien de Troyes invented Lancelot. For that reason, in writing Arthur’s Legacy, I consciously followed Stewart’s lead and had no Lancelot, but rather a Bedwyr as Guinevere’s lover to be more true to the original Welsh sources.

Stewart’s novels were probably the most popular Arthurian novels of the 1970s and early 1980s until Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon became so incredibly popular. They created a new interest in the Arthurian legend for many people, and all of us Arthurian novelists of more recent years owe a tremendous debt to her, one that has been overshadowed by Bradley and then by many fine Arthurian novelists since, but Stewart deserves her place in the Arthurian canon, for all the reasons stated above and especially for her depictions of Merlin and Mordred. Her first-person style, telling the story in Merlin’s voice in the first three novels, is especially remarkable given that almost every female novelist who has used first person narration has chosen instead to tell the story from Guinevere or Morgan le Fay’s point of view. Now, over forty years since she began her series, Stewart remains one of the finest Arthurian novelists of modern times.

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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, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly work King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Recently, Sarah Luddington published a novel Lancelot and the Wolf, with explicit gay sexual content depicting Lancelot and Arthur as lovers. The book has created a controversy and even hate mail to Luddington and her publishers. In response, she has created a special Kindle edition at Amazon, for sale for $3.00, to raise funds to help the LGBT charity Stonewall in Britain.

But what is all the fuss about? The Arthurian love triangle of Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot has always had a hint of homoerotism in it—and romantic feelings between Lancelot and Arthur seem a reasonable reason to many for why Arthur would not do anything about his best friend sleeping with his wife. Luddington may be the first one overtly to depict a homosexual relationship between Arthur and Lancelot, but the possibilities have been implied or suggested in numerous Arthurian works, especially in the twentieth century.

Even as far back as Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, there are homoerotic hints in cross-dressing scenes and a scene where two knights accidentally end up in bed together. Dorsey Armstrong’s Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur has explored this topic and how the knights of Camelot themselves are aware of the possibility of homosexual rumors surrounding a group of men in an organization like the Round Table.

Aubrey Beardsley’s image of Sir Bedivere returning the sword to the lake. Beardsley, who may have been homosexual or asexual, was known for his androgynous looking characters in his Arthurian illustrations, and for very erotic works, complete with enlarged genitalia, in other works not geared toward children.

More recently, in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958 but published in smaller pieces 1938-1941), the scenes of Lancelot’s youth where he dreams of coming to Camelot express a sort of boy crush upon King Arthur. Later, the story takes normal turns of Lancelot loving Guinevere, but is that not a more acceptable outlet for his love for Arthur? T.H. White was himself later treated at the end of his life for his own homosexuality.

In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1982), Arthur endorses the romance between Guinevere and Lancelot. He cannot provide an heir so he hopes Lancelot will do it for him, leading Lancelot to his bed to sleep with Guinevere. Arthur joins them in bed, and later, Guinevere comments to Arthur that she saw how he touched Lancelot.

But White and Bradley only hint at homosexuality. Other authors introduced it into the legend, but perhaps felt creating a gay King Arthur was going too far. Furthermore, homosexuality is a negative behavior in these works that can bring about Camelot’s downfall, so other characters than Arthur are the ones afflicted with homosexuality—notably, the villains.

In Joan Wolf’s The Road to Avalon (1988), Agrivaine is homosexual and the downfall of Camelot comes largely due to his jealousy because of his crush on Bedwyr, the Lancelot character in this novel. Because he can’t have Bedwyr, he doesn’t want Guinevere to have him so he reveals their love and brings about Camelot’s downfall.

Douglas Clegg goes even further in Mordred, Bastard Son by depicting Mordred as homosexual—and while Mordred is not a villain in this book (it’s only the first of a planned trilogy), homosexuality being associated with him seems to imply a negativity to it. Mordred is hopelessly in love with Lancelot, and while he is well-meaning in this first novel, we know from the story’s frame that he will bring about Camelot’s fall nevertheless. (Clegg has not yet published the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.)

And that brings us to “Merthur.” If you don’t know what Merthur is, where have you been? I’m talking about the legions of fans for the successful BBC television series Merlin who insist and badly want Arthur and Merlin to be in love in the show. These fans are convinced there is a secret love between Arthur and Merlin and they are even making YouTube videos with clips from the TV show either to promote their argument that there is a Merthur bromance going on, or even splicing to make there be actual love glances and scenes between the two characters. Just go to YouTube and search for “Merthur” and you’ll find dozens of these videos.

So why has Lancelot and the Wolf created such a fuss? I think it’s because while these other works depict homosexual desires not acted upon, Susan Luddington is the first author to depict actual sex between Arthur and Lancelot—in fact, her reviewers are calling the book an adult version of the Merlin TV series.

And while Luddington might be getting hate mail, she’s also found a gay readership longing for such stories, and her Kindle sales are reportedly skyrocketing. With Luddington, perhaps the Arthurian legend has taken a new turn and will never be the same again, and it is always an author ready to push the story, push the boundaries, and thereby renew the legend for the next generation.

I haven’t yet read Lancelot and the Wolf, but I plan to and will review it in the near future.

Meanwhile, for more information about Lancelot and the Wolf and the special edition to raise funds to support the LGBT British charity Stonewall, visit: http://www.xtra.ca/blog/ottawa/post/2012/08/14/King-Arthur-and-Lancelot.aspx

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

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In one word, my answer is sadly, “No.” A couple of months ago, I published a glowing review of Ravens of Avalon which I thought had redeemed the series for me, and I also liked Priestess of Avalon quite a bit, but I just could not get very attached to Sword of Avalon.

Sword of AvalonInitially, I was excited about reading this book. After all, it was going to tell me how Excalibur came to be, and I thought we would be making progress in the series. One aspect of this series I don’t understand is that there is no progression to the books. They are written to jump about in time. Priestess of Avalon takes place in the third century, then Ancestors of Avalon is centuries earlier, then Ravens of Avalon is set in the first century, and now Sword of Avalon takes place around 1,000 B.C. I just don’t get it. What’s the point of all this jumping around? Why wasn’t the sword then in Ravens or Priestess? There’s no real overarching plan to this series. I keep thinking each successive book should move chronologically forward, bringing us up to The Mists of Avalon, but there is no such plan. And I keep hoping for a sequel to The Mists of Avalon—I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay, but no satisfaction there either.

But I was excited to read this book when I saw that part of the story would take place in Greece a generation or two after the Trojan War. I thought, “Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Firebrand about the Fall of Troy, and after The Mists of Avalon, it’s my favorite of her books. Will Diana Paxson connect the stories, maybe play off the interesting twist at the end of The Firebrand that Cassandra lived and had children—so that maybe she is also an Ancestor of Avalon? But no—no such connection.

Instead, there’s a boy named Mikantor who is saved by the Lady of Avalon during the burning of a village in Britain. She must hide Mikantor because he’s heir to the sacred kings descended from Atlantis, placing this books timeline after Ancestors. That’s basically the story. There’s also a bad guy named Galid, a chieftain who suspects Mikantor is alive and wants him dead. When Mikantor is a young man, he is kidnapped by pirates and ends up in Greece where he befriends the man who will one day make Excalibur. Together they will return to Britain. You can guess what happens when they do.

Galid is one of the least inspired villains I have ever experienced. Other than one or two successful dramatic scenes, there was nothing about this book that interested me. I found myself struggling to get through it. Every time I sat down, I tried to get back into it but after five or ten pages I was bored. The last couple of hundred pages, I could do nothing more than skim through and just read the dialogue, to see how it would all turn out, which was quite predictable.

I hate to say it, but Marion Zimmer Bradley is dead. So is this series. I hope this book has put it to rest so Marion can rest in peace. The Mists of Avalon was a tremendous achievement that changed modern Arthurian fiction—in fact, it is my all time favorite novel, which is saying a lot since I love Dickens, Trollope, Galsworthy and so many other great authors—but even though a couple of the other books in this series have been enjoyable, none of them are really very relevant to Arthurian fiction. I respect Paxson as a writer because I know she has skill from what she showed in a couple of the books, but I can only thinks she is just as bored with this series as her readers. No one will ever write another The Mists of Avalon, so it’s time to accept that and move on. Since it’s been three years since this book was published, I’m hoping Paxson and her publishers have realized that too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

“Is this the only way?” Boudica cried.

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

“That is a hard teaching,” Boudica said.

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

*

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

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

My review of Sword of Avalon will be forthcoming.

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

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

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First, let me make it clear I am not advocating giving children the Starz’ Camelot series, which was terrible and not appropriate for children. What I am advocating is that you introduce a child to the Arthurian legend this holiday season.

Last year for Christmas I got one of the best gifts ever – an iTunes version of the original Broadway Cast of Camelot–my favorite musical which I listen to almost daily–and it introduced me to iTunes, which has made my music listening better than ever–and my friend who bought it for me showed me how to use iTunes and soon I was discovering the videos as well and purchased the Merlin TV seasons and the HBO production of Camelot. For me, Christmas just doesn’t seem like Christmas without King Arthur.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I remember Christmas 1992 when I received The Mists of Avalon, which soon became my favorite book. Another year I got the film version of the musical Camelot, another year Excalibur, and Bernard Cornwell’s novels, and many others. I am certain there will be something Arthurian for me under the Christmas tree this year.

But never did King Arthur mean as much to me as when I was a boy and first read the fabulous stories as depicted in Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur. They captured my imagination in a way few other stories have, and they have stayed with me for decades now.

At the end of the Broadway production of Camelot, King Arthur gives the boy Tom of Warwick the mission to spread Camelot’s story by saying:

Each evening, from December to December,

Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,

Think back on all the tales that you remember

Of Camelot.

Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story,

And tell it strong and clear if he has not,

That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory

Called Camelot.

In other words, in December we are to tell people of Camelot. Do you know someone who does not know the story and will appreciate, who will aspire to be a better person, to find more magic in life, as a result of discovering the tales of King Arthur? No matter what age, you can introduce Camelot to others.
For children, gifts could include the film version of The Sword in the Stone or picture books about the Arthurian legend.
For older children, how about the Prince Valiant comic books, the Merlin TV series DVDs, or early chapter books like Cheryl Carpinello’s wonderful Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend.

Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend by Cheryl Carpinello

For teenage readers, Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy is a good introduction (I read them when I was fifteen).
Don’t forget there are more than books and films, there are Arthurian products of all sorts out there. Maybe Mom would enjoy a King Arthur Flour cookbook. King Arthur video games can be found with little searching.
King Arthur playsets can be found at: http://howcool.com/product_info.php?products_id=24451
Think about how you came to King Arthur. Did an adult first introduce you to Camelot with a coloring book, a storybook, a record….
Keep the story of Camelot strong and inspired in the hearts of the next generation! Give the gift of Camelot to kids of all ages at Christmas!

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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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Camelot has gotten a lot of attention, not all of it good. I find in the end I’m quite disappointed with the show, although the final episode was intriguing for a few twists and what it left open for the next season, which since the show has been cancelled, is not likely to happen unless the series is picked up by another network – highly doubtful.

This final episode drags through its first half. Arthur shows himself to be fairly stupid in remaining behind at Bardon Pass to fight Morgan’s soldiers by himself just to prove himself to the men, after they are upset with him for sleeping with Leontes’ wife Guinevere. Arthur doesn’t really prove anything except his stupidity. He does make some entertaining traps to stop the enemy, but in the end, he needs the other men to come back and help him anyway. The best part of this whole scene was when one of the opposing soldiers tells Arthur they fight for Morgan and adds, “You’re a fucked up family all right.”

Leontes gets mortally wounded in the battle. As he’s dying he tells Arthur to “treasure her.” Of course, Leontes knows Arthur and Guinevere will get together–this isn’t permission so much as his accepting reality and Leontes is a gentleman to the end. Too bad he has to die; to bad he wasn’t king and Arthur couldn’t die instead. What a waste to create a fake Arthurian character only to kill him off. Why not start out with Lancelot in the first place since Lancelot is apparently going to show up in season 2? Later in the show, the Round Table is built and a special seat is created in Leontes’ memory until someone as good as him can take it. Gawain says it will remain empty, but I suspect it’s the Siege Perilous which normally in the legend only Galahad is pure enough to take, but the writers probably planned to have Lancelot take instead–thus beginning the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle.

Merlin also decides to leave after Morgan’s plot is foiled. He should have left a long time ago. While Arthur has been away fighting, Morgan almost ends up being crowned queen, under the belief that Arthur has died. Merlin is tied up and helpless and completely useless to stop the crowning. As I’ve said previously, he’s the most pathetic version of the great wizard in any film or written version of the Arthurian legend to date.

I’d like to mention here that a lot of people have posted about Camelot online besides me, and I’ve read several of the other posts. One I think particularly worth reading is at: http://www.denofgeek.com/television/938298/camelot_episode_10_review_reckoning_season_finale.html because the reviewer thinks the show as ridiculous as I do.

That said, I disagree with this reviewer, as well as most of the others, that Merlin was the best part of Camelot. In fact, as I’ve pointed out in every post I’ve written about Merlin so far, he’s the worst depiction of the famous sorcerer I have ever seen, and totally incompetent when he’s not doddering. Other than getting Arthur a sword and getting him elected king, what has he done of any real value? Did all his stupidity in going with Igraine to Morgan’s castle reflect a deeply thought out plot to get Morgan to Camelot to seize the crown so she can be exposed? If so, he didn’t foresee that Igraine would get killed in the process; and his being tied up and unable to escape during the crowning ceremony just makes him look all the more unimpressive.

Then, after Arthur accuses Morgan of treason and Sybil takes the blame for it, Merlin has to be a total prick by going to watch Gawain behead Sybil and tell her, “There is no God.” Perhaps he’s just that small that he needs to taunt her, to kick his enemy when she’s down, but seriously, how stupid is he to think there’s no God? How else do you explain the other supernatural elements in the show like magic and witchcraft. It’s possible the god in this show isn’t a Christian god, but there’s got to be some godlike force in this program, and God isn’t going to be nice to Sybil after all the bad things she’s done anyway. Saying there’s no God implies there’s no afterlife. But the show obviously makes it clear that’s untrue when Morgan prays at Sybil’s grave and then hears a voice telling her what to do. Sybil is able to influence Morgan from beyond the grave, and since Merlin is now going off to “find himself” as one reviewer put it, I imagine Sybil will have more power than ever, even if it’s filtered through Morgan. At the end of the day, if you had Sybil and Merlin match wits, odds are Sybil would come out ahead. Too bad we can’t give Sybil and Merlin I.Q. tests. I’d rather have a clever villain than a stupid good wizard any day.

I admit I was impressed by the final twist. When Guinevere showed up in Arthur’s bedroom I thought she must be a total slut–Leontes is barely dead and she’s throwing herself at Arthur already–wait at least 30 days, I thought. But we then find out Guinevere was really Morgan in disguise–something I should have guessed from Sybil’s voice telling Morgan to sire a king. This plot twist completely worked for me and solved the problem of Morgan getting pregnant with Arthur’s child–Mordred. In fact, other than Marion Zimmer Bradley’s depiction in The Mists of Avalon of how Arthur and Morgan come together to have a child, I thought it the best explanation for the incest twist in the legend that I have seen. I admit, it made me anxious to see the next season–the season that will not be.

My personal opinion, in the end, is that Camelot had great potential but just about fell flat on its face. Ultimately, only Sybil was able to capture my imagination and retain it through the 10 episodes, although Morgan came close. And if the show is cancelled, we’ll never know just exactly what that wolf was that Morgan slept with. 😦 Oh well, there’s always season 4 of Merlin to look forward to.

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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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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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