Many of you may recall that back in June 2019, I spoke at the Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University on the evolution of the character of Guinevere throughout literary history. That led to me being asked to write a chapter for a book on Ethics in Arthurian Legend.
Fast forward three years and I can finally say THE BOOK IS BEING PUBLISHED!! It is called entitled Ethics in the Arthurian Legend and my chapter is “The Ethics of Writing Guinevere in Modern Historical Fiction.” It will be published by Boydell and Brewer by the end of 2023.
I have to say that this chapter is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written because it was written in academic style and had to fit in with essays written by Medievalists, who have a totally different mindset and training from me. Being an author used to writing for the general public who doesn’t have her PhD and writes historical fiction in the modern age is very different than what these people do. But I have fabulous editors in Melissa Elmes from Lindenwood University and Evelyn Meyer from Saint Louis University, from whom I learned a ton. I really appreciate their patience with me, which was unending!
So with this title, I officially have six books coming out in about 14 months. And two other books due on Oct. 31 and Jan. 13. If you see a woman with her hair on fire, it’s probably me!
Today is a momentous day for me. Not only does it mark the publication of my sixth book, Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3), and a single-volume compendium of The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, it is also the end of an era.
You see, 19 years ago Saturday is when I first heard Guinevere speak in my head. (Yeah, I’m one of those authors – wouldn’t have it any other way.) I tell the whole story in the Author’s Notes to Daughter of Destiny, the first book in the series, but for now suffice it to say she told me she wanted me to tell her story and that it would be unlike any written to date. I’ve always loved Arthurian legend, and Guinevere in particular, so I thought, “why not?”
That afternoon when I got home from school (I was a sophomore in college at the time), I sat down at the computer in my dad’s bedroom and began to type the words Guinevere was saying in my head:
I am Guinevere.I was once a queen, a lover, a wife, a mother, a priestess, and a friend. But all those roles are lost to me now; to history, I am simply a seductress, a misbegotten woman set astray by the evils of lust.This is the image painted of me by subsequent generations, a story retold thousands of times. Yet, not one of those stories is correct. They were not there; they did not see through my eyes or feel my pain. My laughter was lost to them in the pages of history….
It goes on for a bit longer, but you get the idea. That prologue is mostly intact in the published version of Daughter of Destiny (though it was shortened a bit). I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the first few chapters of the book (it was in the double digits for sure) as I learned to find my own voice as an author and developed a plot and style that was doing more than simply aping The Mists of Avalon (which was the book that inspired it). But somehow, Guinevere’s words remained.
(Some of you know this story, so feel free to skip down if you have heard it before.)
I never thought I would become a published author. For the next 10 years I played around with the book when I had free time from college, then grad school and my first two grownup jobs. But it was just a hobby.
Then in 2008 I started taking my writing seriously. The catalyst? Twilight. (Shut up.) By that time I was about halfway through what would become Daughter of Destinyand realized I had something worth reading on my hands. At this point, I still thought the book would be one doorstop of a volume (which is why I’m publishing the compendium). Upon researching the publishing industry, I realized it would have to be trilogy.
Fast forward another 10 years – past an agent, countless rejections (okay, I counted, it was like 40), three damn-near book deals with Big 5 publishers, self-publishing and three Book of the Year awards – and here we are, on the precipice of the final book being published. And I have to say I am very, very proud. It may have taken me two years to finish this book (much longer than I know my readers wanted to wait), but I think it was worth it.
I set out to give Guinevere back her voice and give her the fair shake I never thought she had from other authors (at least the ones I had read). In my mind, she was a full-fledged woman with hopes, dreams and desires, not the one-dimensional adulteress we usually see. In order to show that I set out to tell her whole life story, not just the part that involves Arthur. That meant dreaming up a youth for her in Daughter and imagining her heading into old age in Mistress of Legend. I feel like I’ve told the best possible story I could and did as much as possible to redeem her from the stain of sin past literature has laid upon her.
Apparently others think so as well. I sent an ARC of Mistressto my friend and fellow author Tyler Tichelaar so he could review it on his website. He liked it so much, I ended up using the opening of the review as a blurb on the cover. But the part that brought tears to my eyes was this line: “She has given back to Guinevere, an often overlooked and derided figure, her dignity and endowed her with a true personality.” Mission accomplished.
Completing a trilogy is no small feat. There were years upon years where I wondered if I could do it and feared I could not. I remember burning with jealousy the day one of my friends completed her first series. But now all I feel is tremendous accomplishment and pride. I want to jump up and down and yell “I did it! I did it! I did it! I did it!”
More than that, I feel like each book on the series got better as I grew as a writer. One of my biggest fears was that my story would end up like so many other trilogies and peter out or go totally off track in the last book. (Breaking Dawn, anyone?) In fact, I feel like this is the strongest book in the series, and early reviews are indicating the same.
Now I face for the first time in nearly two decades a future without Guinevere. (Well, not totally. She’ll be one of the point of view characters in Isolde’s story whenever I get around to writing that.) I will be forever grateful for all she as done for me. She was meant to get me started in my career, and I know she will gracefully cede the stage to the characters who come next. I just hope this trilogy is repayment enough.
PS – If you want to catch up, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen are only $0.99 for a limited time…
PPS – For those who know of my obsession with the band Kill Hannah, the reference in the title of this blog to “a wild dream achieved” comes from their song “Believer.”
The Indie BRAG Medallion, which honors the best in independently published books. This is my fourth Indie BRAG Medallion.
Here are some comments from the Indie BRAG reviewers:
“When I chose this book, I wanted to send out a warning to the author “I LOVE Guinevere stories and have read a great many of them. Well, good for you Ms. Evelina, this was not a disappointment! This is a very well researched book told in a very fluid and readable way. I will certainly be looking forward to the next book in this incredible story. Thank you.”
“This is a very thorough examination of Queen Guinevere in literature for at least 1000 years. It is well-researched and well-documented with an abundance of footnotes. There is a clear line discussing the changes in the character through the years. I enjoyed the book very much.”
“Extremely well-researched with comprehensive footnotes. An excellent compendium of scholarly research and fictional sources, both ancient and modern. A useful reference book to have in the library of anyone interested in this period.”
“This is a very well researched book with a number of new, to me, insights. I will be interested in reading what the author does next.”
So I made my first list today! Bookriot does all kinds of cool book lists, and this one, Rex Quondam, Rexque Futurum: Arthurian Legend in History And Literature, is even cooler because a) it’s about Arthurian Legend and b) I’m on it for Daughter of Destiny! It is so thrilling to be in the company of major award winners like Kazou Ishiguru, legends like Persia Woolley (to whom The Once and Future Queen is dedicated) and my real-life friends like Helen Hollick. Plus, I added Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell to my TBR list.
If that isn’t enough, I’ve got an article on author branding in the November issue of InD’tale Magazine (p.23-27). This article is also the basis of one of the online classes for authors that I’m developing with Teachable. Hoping to have those available to you by the end of the year.
And I have the next to final layout of The Once and Future Queen in my hands. I have two days to proof and index it. If you don’t hear from me for a while, that’s what I’m doing.
Plus, I am toying with the idea of exhibiting next year at Wizard World convention in St. Louis, where Sebastian Stan (the inspiration for Nick in Been Searching for You) is slated to appear. Yep, I’m going to go all fangirl on him. Actually, I’ll be more crazy author “OMG-you-are-my-character-come-to-life,” which I think is worse! We’ll see if it works out.
Oh and speaking of 2018, I found out that the Historical Writers of America conference will be in Rhode Island, which is the major place I need to go to research my biography of Marie Rose Ferron. So that book may be finished much sooner than I anticipated.
I’ve known for months that when Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur movie came out (as it does tomorrow in the US) I wanted to share some of the many books that have been written about Arthurian women. What I didn’t expect is to go on about the lack of movies about female Arthurian characters. Well, I’ve done both in this article in the Huffington Post! Happy reading! (And I hope you find another book you’d like to add to your list!)
Arthurian legend is one type of folk tale that certainly does not end with “and they lived happily ever after.” In fact, it’s unclear exactly what happened to our favorite characters after the battle of Camlann.* In the most familiar versions (though not all), Arthur and Mordred are killed in the battle. Guinevere enters a convent to live out her days in penitence, and Lancelot becomes a monk. Sometimes, the two lovers meet one last time, while in other stories, Lancelot is called to the side of the dying Guinevere, but arrives too late and dies of a broken heart.
What then, are we to make of the mysterious carved stones that bear their names? Are they more a part of folk legend than truth? Or did Guinevere and Lancelot seek refuge in Scotland there after the battle? Was Tristan real? Or perhaps some of the theorists are correct and they were all from the area to begin with. We likely will never know the truth. But the stones do make for some thought provoking reading.
According to one interpretation of a Pictish carved stone found in a Highland area called Meigle, after Guinevere was kidnapped and released from the clutches of Mordred (in this version, he’s a Pict), Arthur had her executed by ordering her torn apart by wild animals (dogs or lions, depending on who is telling the tale). Supposedly, the stone, called the Vanora stone (Vanora being a version of Guinevere) marks where she is buried and tells the story of her death.
And Lancelot? There is a stone for him in Scotland, too. At least I know I read about one, but of course, I can’t find where I read it. It’s possible that I’m making it up, I don’t think I am. One thread of legend associates Lancelot with the name/area of Angus, which is something that shows up in my third Guinevere book. If any of you happen to know what stone I’m thinking of, please let me know in the comments. It’s driving me crazy that I can’t find it!
The Tristan Stone (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Depending on the version of the story, Tristan may have been killed by King Mark for having an affair with Isolde, or he may have died in Brittany of a broken heart, thinking Isolde no longer loved him. Either way, his body was brought back to Cornwall, or he was buried there. A 1,500 year old stone in Cornwall near the town of Fowey that memorializes a man named Drustans who is believed to be connected with a possible historical or mythological inspiration for Tristan.
*In some versions of the legends, Guinevere is dead long before Camlann, either from disease or by Arthur’s own hand. In others, she helps Mordred in his bid for the throne and therefore must be punished by Arthur.
The minute I heard Guinevere and King Arthur were going to be a major story line on Once Upon a Time this season, I knew I had to watch it. I wasn’t so much curious about the way they’d handle the whole legend (I already didn’t like their Lancelot who was in season 2 when I was still watching – he was just, meh), as I was how they would handle Guinevere, for obvious reasons.
There was a really great quote about Guinevere being the true power behind Camelot – with which I wholly agree.
But beyond that? Historically accurate and true to the legend it is not. Inconsistent it is. (Spoiler alert – stop reading if you don’t want to know details.)
Guinevere Guinevere is a mixed bag as a character. She doesn’t do anything at all until episode 4, and even then the way she is portrayed varies within the episode. At first she seems docile, and then all of a sudden, Arthur has disappointed her with his alienating obsession one too many times and she’s in full on I’m-not-going-to-take-this-crap, I-can-solve-this-problem-myself mode. THIS is the kind of woman I want to see! She takes the initiative to find the object Arthur is obsessing over (don’t ask – it’s a McGuffin made up for the show), her determination so strong all poor Lancelot can do is trail behind and vow to protect her. *snort* This woman doesn’t need a guardian, as she proves when she rescues him from a dark evil swarm of…something…bats?…magic? Whatever.
Guinevere is in sight of said McGuffin, but her access is blocked by Rumplestiltskin, who offers her magical sand from Avalon instead. This is where Guinevere becomes an imbecile, much like her legendary counterparts. Instead of being a clever woman and bargaining with him or at least TRYING to out-think or fight him, she ends up taking the sand, which is said to be able to “fix” anything. Later, when Arthur reveals he knows about her and Lancelot kissing and she threatens to leave him for Lancelot (she gets points for that), she falls for the old “magic sand in the face” trick. Suddenly, she’s docile, my-husband-is-wonderful Stepford Guinevere…and their marriage is “fixed.”
I get that this is magic and there may be some subtext in that the only way Arthur could control his wife is through magic, but it really made me want to bang my head against a wall. This show is famous for taking strong fairy tale women with agency (Snow, for example) and allowing magic to turn them into useless beings (Mary Margaret may be nice, but she’s not so bright). The only one who seems to have escaped that “curse” (pun intended) is the Evil Queen/Regina. I would have liked to have seen a consistently strong Guinevere from a show that at least, at times, has been the only thing in popular culture to showcase women with brains, beauty AND power.
As Rebecca Jane Stokes writes at Den of Geek, “While it’s refreshing and cool to be presented with a powerful incarnation of Guinevere (instead of a wet noodle in the center of a love triangle), they immediately zap her of any power courtesy of Gold’s red dust. The show is so scared of anything that might be perceived as being outre – LET Guinevere cheat on Lancelot! It’s a complicated story! One we’d watch!”
I find it telling that the other fairy tale woman in this episode is Merida from Brave. They did an AMAZING job with her. She was everything I wanted Guinevere to be: strong, courageous, kick-ass, not-going-to-back-down from her beliefs. I wonder why they felt like they should keep her agency, but not Guinevere’s? Maybe Brave is too recent a story for them to feel like they could cheat with it? I’m just happy someone was allowed to stay strong. Pray she remains that way.
(The actress that plays Merida looks so much like the character, it’s frightening. OUAT’s casting directors get props for that and for keeping diversity in mind with the Arthurian cast, although for me, it’s distracting because it doesn’t fit the legend. But at least this Guinevere isn’t a blonde!)
A Few Other Thoughts: King Arthur and Arthurian Legend Most of the Arthurian story line is very medieval, even down to Camelot castle being modeled after
Were they even trying? Neuschwanstein castle on the left, OUTA’s Camelot on the right.
Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, itself the model for the Disney castle (hello, Hollywood, there are beautiful castles in Spain, France and all over the British Isles you can use, too). And it doesn’t play well with traditional legend, but that show is known for twisting up the tales.
But the interesting thing to me is the writers seem to have taken a cue from older Arthurian legend for the character of Arthur. At first he seems to be the benevolent king that we’re used to, but then he reveals a dark side: he’s so obsessed with finding the McGuffin that he is nearly insane. This is a dark side rarely seen by those who don’t know the early legends. I’ve seen quite a few people online talk about how “stupid” or “unbelievable” a dark or possibly evil Arthur is, which proves they only know the whitewashed medieval version.
I haven’t watched episode 5 yet, but from the recaps I’ve read, it doesn’t seem to further this story line much. I only hope that once the magic Avalon dust wears off (sorry folks, there’s none of that in my books), we’ll have a strong Guinevere who can learn from Merida and take her rightful place in history and on our TV screens.
Do you watch Once Upon a Time? What are your thoughts? Do you think we’ll EVER see a strong Guinevere on screen?
Today, my special guest is Tima Z. Newman, whose new book, Elaine of Corbenic, is new take on an often overlooked character in Arthurian legend. I personally love the character of Elaine and can’t wait to read Tima’s book. Take it away, Tima!
He opened the door.
A woman stood looking out the window, her back to him. She was clothed in blue and azure interfaced with rose, her black hair tumbling loose. It was not Guinevere.
She turned at the sound of the door opening.
“I had thought to find the queen here,” Launcelot began.
“No.” Elaine’s lips trembled as she spoke the single word. She wore no jewelry. The open neckline revealed the young throat he had once glimpsed wet in the stream from a distance. A quality like the moistness of dew lay upon her, yet in that moment he saw that she whom he had thought child was also woman….
Elaine of Corbenic is an Arthurian character that is often eclipsed in the shadow of Elaine of Astolat, immortalized by Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot” and John Waterhouse’s and Rosetti’s art, as well as overshadowed by the legendary passionate love of Launcelot and Queen Guinevere. Elaine of Corbenic only briefly appears in Malory’s account of the Arthurian saga. Yet she is the one who bears Launcelot’s son. And unlike Elaine of Astolat, Elaine of Corbenic does not pine away for Launcelot, to be carried down a barge, but goes to King Arthur’s court to fight for recognition by Launcelot, and when two years later he is discovered in his madness, it is the Grail of which Elaine was once bearer which brings Launcelot healing.
I found myself drawn to her character when I came across the tale some many years ago, and began writing her story – and my book has just now been released by Savant Books. Based on Malory’s account in Le Morte d’Arthur of the three brief encounters of Launcelot and the Fisher King’s daughter, my ELAINE OF CORBENIC is the chronicle of their poignant romance—and of Elaine’s journey through abandonment and despair to the finding of inner strength and deepening wisdom.
I have taken poetic liberties with Malory’s account, telling it from Elaine’s point of view, and leaning at times toward a metaphoric and symbolic interpretation. For instance, in Malory’s account Launcelot lay with Elaine thinking all the while she was Guinevere, both times drugged by a potent potion of Lady Breusen’s. It seemed clear to me that while the more magical an enchantment Launcelot might claim, the more efficacious an excuse it might have been, any such enchantment in reality was more like due to the close presence of the young Elaine than to any potion or brew.
Offering the poetry of medieval legend, for me the tale speaks to contemporary themes of love, betrayal, abandonment and the finding of identity—and also the deep longings of the spirit, the quest for the sacred, and the search for meaning in the mystery threading through our lives. My rendition approaches the grail legend in a way that reflects an evolving relationship to the mystery of the grail embodied in life itself. In the heart of the heroic Arthurian legend, it offers a deeply feminine spirituality, threading through the pain and joys of a young girl’s heart, a single mother’s hopes and broken dreams, and a fierce determination to find the grail’s meaning.
The novel wrote itself over the course of a few months the spring of the year of my arrival in the Bay Area, its first paragraphs emerging as I climbed among the gorse covered hills, my own young son in tow….
Corbenic’s valley lay hidden, in a corner of Lystenoys close by the sea, and it was not wholly by chance that any man found his way there, including Launcelot.
It was spring when he came; the hills of the valley were verdant, and the evening mists fragrant. Spring was short in that part of the country, except in the valley where the castle lay, where the mists rolled in from the sea, and a stream from the hill flowed into the river which bordered the castle’s south wall. The rains were meager and often did not come, so that the land surrounding the valley was barren and wasted, the tufts of grass dry and sparse over the rocky soil. What green did come from the winter snow quickly browned and withered in the summer sun. That week though, in the rocky barren seacoast land of Lystenoys, spring was in the air, the sky was blue and the gorse blooming yellow
She was not looking for love that day. It is true she had not passed through her youth without hearing minstrels’ songs and dreaming girls’ dreams of some noble prince bearing her away….. Though her father lacked wealth, and his land was no great lure, her blood was royal, and her face fair. There was, true, a strangeness about her family, the strain of mystery that hung about their lineage. Lystenoys lay sequestered far from the main thoroughfares of Britain, and Corbenic’s valley was hidden. However, that the strangers were few who came through was of little import, for there were worthy enough lords in the court of Corbenic itself.
Yet in the end, she had no thought for the knights of her father’s court. The aura of the grail that haunted her dreams was fullness enough for her. She was Elaine, daughter of the fisher king and of the lineage of the grail keepers, and the mystery of the grail, the sacred cup that lay within Corbenic’s walls, was in her very blood. Nothing else could find space in her heart. Until Launcelot came.
Zoe Newman, MFT, is a psychotherapist in Berkeley, California
Tima Z. Newman has written as far back as she can remember, and has always loved medieval times, fairy tales and legends, and brings an attunedness to myth, symbol and archetypal fairy tale motifs in listening to the narrations of those she work with. Originally from Minnesota, she currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she practices as a psychotherapist and dream group leader. She has written several children’s books, as well as the adult nonfiction Lucid Waking: Using Dreamwork Principles to Transform Your Waking Life, which explores approaching our everyday life as a waking dream, similarly as we might work with our night dreams, to find in it the same opportunity for guidance, insight and creative possibilities.
If you have any questions or comments for Tima, please leave them in the comments. She’ll be monitoring them and will respond as she can. Hope you enjoyed hearing from her and are interested in her book.
“Queen Guinevere” by James Archer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Some of you may remember a post I did a while back on “Guinevereian fiction,” i.e. Arthurian legend that’s focused on Guinevere. I came across this article from the Medievalists’ site and wanted to share in case any of you were interested. While, as you will see, there’s a lot I don’t agree with in this article, I’m happy anytime someone brings the role of Guinevere to the forefront of discussion in Arthurian legend, which is usually focused on the men.
(I have not read most of the books discussed, only The Mists of Avalon, Firelord and Beloved Exile. I’m purposely avoiding the others until I’m done with my own story. Noble summarizes each book, so you can make sense if his arguments even if you haven’t read the books.)
I’m all for celebrating a strong Guinevere and I agree with Noble’s assessment of the character in The Mists of Avalon. However, the use of the word “superwoman” in the article made me bristle. My first thought was the author is being pejorative in the use of the term. (Perhaps not, but that’s how it struck me.) Why, if a man raises children and rules his people, is he considered a hero, but when a woman does both (even if it is through the pen of a fiction writer), she has to be called “superwoman?” The term, to me, evokes a feeling that Guinevere is being over-characterized into something impossible, a comic book caricature, which I’m sure is not what Newman, Wooley or Miles intended in their novels.
The focus on motherhood/maternal instincts in this article doesn’t sit well with me, as that was never Guinevere’s sole function in Arthurian legend. The tradition of her being sterile or her children being stillborn is an old one (attributed in part to the need for Mordred, Arthur’s son/nephew to inherit the throne), a fact never mentioned by the author. Even in the medieval tales where Guinevere has little agency, she is more than a brood mare. She is a wife and mistress, an object of affection, if nothing else (not much better, but still). In the modern tales analyzed by Noble, she is also a queen. Why then, restrict the focus of such an essay to the traditional role of mother?
I take great offense to this statement made by Noble toward the end of the essay, “Indeed, one cannot help but wonder if it is not the mythology of the triple goddess that ultimately also gives shape to the trilogies by Newman,Woolley, and Miles, each of whom makes a point of affording her heroine a ‘maidenhood,’ a profound experience of motherhood, and what Malory would have been certain to describe as ‘a good ende’ as a wise woman.” Hello?! Putting aside the New Age triple-goddess reference, those are generally the three phases of life of any woman. Just as a man starts out as a boy, grows into a man and becomes (we hope) a wise old man, women’s lives follow the same pattern of girl, mother/adult woman (if she doesn’t have children), and wise woman. How else are you supposed to tell a life story? This is the same pattern followed in every biography (fiction or non-fiction) out there.
Perhaps he is reacting to the “happy ending” given to Guinevere in these books as a wise woman/healer. Why is it so wrong that the authors chose not to have her die young or end her life useless? That is their right. Personally, I don’t find that surprising coming from female authors who are writing for a modern audience. Part of writing stories like Guinevere’s is keeping your audience in mind, a group who I don’t think would take kindly to reading three books about a character only to have her wither away helplessly in the end.
If you can’t tell, it is attitudes like this that moved me to create my Guinevere, a 5th century Celtic woman, who like her ancestors, is a warrior, a priestess, mother, wife and many other roles. Though our historical evidence for warrior queens in the 4th and 5th century is lacking (as is almost all knowledge of that time), Celtic myth and what we know about Celtic culture gives us a solid basis on which to build the idea of a realistically strong Guinevere. This is not a “superwoman” who is in some way superhuman, but a woman of her time who used the opportunities life gave her to her advantage and prospered (or not) because of them. Guinevere is not above and beyond all womanhood; she is actually intimately accessible because she represents so much of the female experience.
So, what do you think of the article? Have you read any of the books analyzed? Do you agree or disagree with the author? Do you think I’m misinterpreting the article? (It’s always possible.) In your opinion, is it right for modern writers to try to make Guinevere into a strong woman or do you find that anachronistic? How do you think she should be portrayed?