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Posts Tagged ‘the Mists of Avalon’

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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