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Posts Tagged ‘The Once and Future King’

Merlin has ended, and unlike King Arthur, it doesn’t seem likely that it will be the once and future TV show, despite countless fans on Facebook and across the Internet trying to convince the producers to continue it.

And as much as I love this show, I’m glad it has ended gracefully, before it “jumped the shark,” before it was cancelled without an ending.

Merlin310_2289The series finale offered few surprises in my opinion, but that is because we have heard the tale of King Arthur so many times before, and despite the original elements of the series, which often seriously diverged from the legend, I doubt any viewer who knows the Arthurian legend would have been content with any other ending than Arthur sailing off to Avalon.

It’s unlikely anyone will read this blog who didn’t see the episode, so I won’t summarize the plot here, but go watch the last two episodes of the series if you haven’t already.

For me, this series had a serious amount of content that needed resolving in this final episode. The strength of this storyline throughout has been the prohibition of magic in Albion, imposed by Uther and then by Arthur, and how Merlin has successfully kept secret his identity as a sorcerer from everyone, while trying to aid others with magic and often fighting those with magic who sought to harm Arthur, most notably Morgana. The series has done a tremendous job of highlighting this tension throughout, and in the last two seasons especially, we have seen Merlin come into his own, slowly using his powers and even revealing himself to his enemies before destroying them. And despite my earlier blog about the Old Religion and magic and the inconsistencies that exist in its treatment in the series, what has mattered most to the storyline has been how Merlin reconciles his magic with his relationship with Arthur, as Arthur’s servant in greater ways than Arthur knows.

And the series reconciles this issue with great ease and class. In the final episode, Merlin appears as a sorcerer, identity unknown to all except Gaius, at the Battle of Camlann, using his power to defeat the enemy, and having everyone realize a sorcerer has saved the day for Camelot, even Arthur admitting that the sorcerer won the battle. But Merlin cannot save Arthur from being slain by Mordred. Surprisingly, Arthur lingers for a couple of days after Mordred runs him through with a sword, while when Arthur stabs Mordred, he dies immediately.

Now Merlin must figure out how to save Arthur before Morgana can find him, and because he was slain with a sword forged in the dragon’s breath, he can only be saved if brought to Avalon, a journey that requires secrecy and a couple of days’ journey, allowing Arthur and Merlin to have the discussion they have put off all these years.

Merlin, in despair, tells Arthur how upset he is that he could not save him which leads to his revelation that he has magic and is a sorcerer. The result is Arthur’s initial disbelief, then anger that he has been lied to, even wanting Merlin to leave him, and finally, Arthur’s understanding of why Merlin kept his powers a secret, and of the great help Merlin has always been to him.

I admit, at this point, when Arthur tells Merlin he has something to tell him that he never told him before, I thought the show was going to give into the “Merthur” fans and have Arthur tell Merlin he loves him. It was for me a bit of an uncomfortable moment, for the Merthur fans (those who want to see a gay relationship between Arthur and Merlin) have not been too far off—Merlin’s closeted magic can easily serve as a commentary on closeted gay people within our own society who are unappreciated and unjustly considered to be deviant—but the show gracefully skirts these undertones (which may or may not be intentional—I’ll leave it up to each viewer to decide) by having Arthur simply say, “Thank you.” And thank you is enough for Merlin, and that moment is enough to resolve the show’s greatest tension. It is a powerful moment. Perhaps one of the very best in television history.

What happens next is not so surprising. Morgana makes one last attempt to kill Arthur, but Merlin successfully kills her, slaying her with Excalibur, a dragon breath forged sword just like the one she created to kill Arthur. To some extent, I found Morgana’s death scene anti-climactic, and more disappointing for me is that Morgana and Arthur did not reconcile in the end, for in the traditional legend, it is Morgana who comes to Arthur when he is dying to take him to Avalon. Morgana truly got the short end of the stick in this show—I almost wanted her to win in the end—she’s a great character who deserved redemption of some sort and the reconciliation of the Old Religion with Camelot—but perhaps that was too much to expect, too much happiness for what is basically a tale of tragedy.

Not only does Morgana not take Arthur to Avalon, but nor are there the traditional three other queens who accompany her, and there is no Sir Bedivere to tell Arthur to throw the sword into the lake. Merlin takes on all these roles. Merlin tosses the sword back in the lake and the hand reaches up to grab it. The dragon arrives and tells Merlin not to despair for all has happened as it should and Arthur is the once and future king who will return in Albion’s hour of greatest need, and then Arthur is placed in a boat and floats off to Avalon.

As for Albion, the throne passes to Guinevere. I don’t really want to know what happens next because it will be inferior to whatever came before. I had hoped we’d learn that Guinevere was at least pregnant with Arthur’s child, but no such hint. I imagine she’ll end up marrying Sir Leon since he’s at her side proclaiming her queen.

And then we see Merlin as an old man walking along the shore by the lake, and suddenly, a bus passes, a jarring moment letting us know that Merlin still waits for Arthur’s return, but also one that makes Albion appear to be part of our real world and not a fantasy kingdom. I’ve always believed the show intentionally created a fictional world, including fictional neighboring kingdoms, so it would not be caught up in the issues of depicting a sixth century, historical Britain. So I found this modern moment jarring, as well as the references in the last few episodes to Saxons, without any explanation of who they were. Albion is not England nor Britain, yet the show ends on this odd note trying to connect the two. I’d have been fine without that final scene.

My qualms with the series overall are few, however. Long ago I stated it was the best Arthurian TV series ever made, far surpassing the short-lived 2011 Starz Camelot series that was a complete disaster, or even the fun 1950s British The Adventures of Sir Lancelot series. Is it perfect? No. There has yet to be a perfect Arthurian film or television program, but Merlin gets an A- for effort. Finally, I think Colin Morgan has proven himself to be a great actor in this series and I hope it leads to big things for him—just not another Merlin series. Please, I understand the fans’ demands, but don’t destroy Merlin with a spin-off or sequel series. Like with Gone with the Wind, we need to leave well enough alone. Let there be many other Arthurian TV shows and films and books—I hope there shall never be an end to them. Just let Merlin be the great TV show it was without degrading it. Congratulations to the writers, producers, and cast for ending it well.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about Arthur’s descendants. You can visit Tyler 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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Today, I am very pleased to interview my fellow Arthurian author Cheryl Carpinello.

Author Cheryl Carpinello

Cheryl is the author of the young adult novel Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend and today she will be talking about her new novel The King’s Ransom, the first in her new series Young Knights of the Round Table.

Tyler: Welcome, Cheryl. It’s a pleasure to talk to you today. I’ve read and enjoyed both of your books and I only wish they had been around for me to read when I was a kid. To begin, will you tell us what made you decide to write books about the Arthurian legend for children?

Cheryl: I’ve always been fascinated by King Arthur. I’ve probably read just about every fiction story written over the last 15-20 years. One of my favorites is Deepak Chopra’s The Return of Merlin. I’ve also ventured to nonfiction or scholarly accounts like your King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. However, I’m more of a romantic, and it’s that side of the legend that appeals to me. I like the ideas that surround the legend like might is not right; how when seen from the air, there are no lines or boundaries on Earth—we are all here together, and we need to learn how to get along; and how in Arthur’s time hope still lives. Underneath it all, I believe this is what draws young and old to the legend. What the legend says to kids without them realizing it is that there is a right way and a wrong way to live. This is done with the stories of the knights with their quests, their jousts, their rescuing of the damsels, and their fighting for the underdog. These stories present young readers with vivid accounts of honor, loyalty, and friendship. This is why I chose Arthurian Legend.

Tyler: What age group would you say your books are most suited for?

Cheryl: I typically write shorter books for the readers I’m trying to reach. My focus is on reluctant readers in grades three through eight. These reluctant readers are kids who are able to read, but prefer to do other activities. If I can reach them early in their schooling, it’s just possible I might hook them into exploring other books. I’ve yet to find a student in the younger grades who isn’t excited about the medieval time period. Reluctant readers, my nephew Joe is one, will usually balk at long, fat books, so I shorten mine. I usually add simple illustrations to break up the text, but being an ebook, The King’s Ransom does not have these. I’m hoping my publisher will put the illustrations back in the print book when it comes out later this year.

Tyler:And in this first book, just who are the Young Knights we’re talking about?

The King’s Ransom by Cheryl Carpinello

Cheryl: The Young Knights are three kids who have become friends via their friendship with a beggar/vagabond called the Wild Man. Without the Wild Man, it is likely that they would not have met and become friends because they are from very different backgrounds. Eleven-year-old Gavin is the youngest prince of Pembroke Castle in southern Wales. Fifteen-year-old Bryan has been sent to Pembroke by his parents to learn to be a blacksmith. Thirteen-year-old Philip is an orphan who wandered into Pembroke village and lives and works at the church. They are really just three lonely kids who find friendship with the Wild Man and each other.

Tyler: Will you set up the plot a little for us?

Cheryl: Someone breaks into the king’s (Gavin’s father) treasury in Pembroke Castle and not only steals the medallion The King’s Ransom, but also kills Aldred, the king’s advisor. Being a beggar/vagabond, the Wild Man is captured and charged with the crime. It doesn’t help that a bloody knife is found with his belongings. Gavin, Bryan, and Philip are determined to prove that the Wild Man is innocent. In order to do this, they embark upon a quest where each is tested and must conquer his fears or face humiliation and/or even death.

Tyler: I think the Wild Man is my favorite character. Where did you get the idea for him?

Cheryl: Ah, the Wild Man. He is much more important than it appears. I knew that in order to make The King’s Ransom (Young Knights of the Round Table) work, I had to have a strong tie-in with Arthurian Legend. Sure, King Arthur makes an appearance, but that wasn’t enough. Then I remembered the Wild Man from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. He worked perfectly. The Wild Man is also mentioned in a number of other Arthurian books, but my Wild Man comes from White.

Tyler: How many books do you think you’ll write for the series?

Cheryl: Right now, I don’t have a definite number in mind, at least two or three more.

Tyler: Is Guinevere going to be tied into the series down the road or is it a completely separate book?

Cheryl: Guinevere won’t be tied into the series because it occurs at the beginning of Arthur’s reign. Young Knights takes place after Arthur is more established. However, another book featuring Guinevere and Cedwyn is in the planning stage. I’ve had several requests from readers to write about what happens to Cedwyn. That’s what the next book or two will deal with in that line.

Tyler: Do you have a favorite Arthurian novel of your own or which ones most influenced you in your own writing?

Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend by Cheryl Carpinello

Cheryl: I would have to say my favorite is T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I like how White makes the legend so accessible to a variety of readers. Many people—kids included—are already familiar with White’s story even though they may not be aware of it. Of course, I’m talking about the fact that Disney made the animated feature story The Sword in the Stone from Book I of The Once and Future King.

Tyler: You include several educational items in the book for teachers. Will you tell us a little about those?

Cheryl: One of the many reasons I’m excited about The King’s Ransom is that my publisher MuseItUp wouldn’t let me include the educational pieces in my book. They had me do a separate eighteen-page Teacher Guide that is available as a free PDF download when readers purchase The King’s Ransom from their bookstore. (https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore2/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=322&category_id=10&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1) I also have a copy that I can send to readers for free and hand out in classrooms and at workshops. The guide carries that great castle cover and is loaded with resources and materials for teachers and homeschooled students. Included are a synopsis, information on the Arthurian Legend and the medieval time period, castle vocabulary, and a word find puzzle. Teachers have suggestions for discussions, projects, and writing exercises as well as additional medieval references specifically geared for young readers. I also put together a complete set of comprehension questions/answers for all eighteen chapters.

Tyler: How has being a teacher yourself influenced your writing middle grade/tween books?

Cheryl: I’ve written several books over the years. I’ve done an adult romance, a YA romance/bildungsroman, and several stories suitable for picture books. I just never seemed to find a genre I was passionate about writing. Then I started teaching The Once and Future King. My students loved the story and the whole medieval world. After writing Guinevere, I started doing medieval writing workshops in the elementary schools and found every classroom full of kids crazy about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and the medieval time period. I have to say that being in the classroom and working with the younger kids has been my entire motivation for writing my books.

Tyler: What do your students think about having an author for a teacher?

Cheryl: My students were excited when I told them my book would be published at the end of the school year. Then when they found Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend in the school’s library, one of my senior boys told me, “That’s tight, miss.” When the cover proofs for The King’s Ransom came out, the kids picked the one(s) they liked best. In the end though, I combined aspects from a couple of the proofs for the final cover, and they liked that as well. The book released just three days before school ended. Many of my students left me their addresses so that I could contact when the print book comes out later this year. They want an autographed copy.

Tyler: Thank you for the interview, Cheryl. Will you tell us about your website and what information we can find there about The King’s Ransom and the Young Knights of the Round Table series?

Cheryl: Beyond Today (Educator) http://www.beyondtodayeducator.com contains information on the King Arthur Legend and both Guinevere and The King’s Ransom. The events section is a picture gallery of my Medieval writing workshops I do with the Colorado Girl Scouts. The education section currently shows how Guinevere aligns with the Colorado State Standards for Reading and Writing. I’ll be updating a lot of the site this summer.

On my blog Carpinello’s Writing Pages http://carpinelloswritingpages.blogspot.com, I review Children/MG/Tween/YA books, conduct interviews with authors, and post ideas to get kids involved in reading and writing. Visitors can still do the virtual blog tour of the book’s settings in Wales that I posted when The King’s Ransom released.

Tyler: Great, Cheryl. And thanks again for the interview. I can’t wait to hear about the next book.

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