The Once and Future Queen will be out in November (exact date TBD). I’m thrilled to share the cover and back page copy with you! Depending on when I know the publication date, I may or may not do pre-orders. I’ll let you know at that time.
I hope you are as excited for this book as I am!
Guinevere’s journey from literary sinner to feminist icon
took over one thousand years…and it’s not over yet.
Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.
Nicole Evelina has spent more than 15 years studying Arthurian legend. She is also a feminist known for her fictional portrayals of strong historical and legendary women, including Guinevere. Now, she combines these two passions to examine the effect of changing times and attitudes on the character of Guinevere in a must-read book for Arthurian enthusiasts of every knowledge level.
Some of you may remember my friend, author and fellow Arthurian nut Tyler Tichelaar, from his 2012 guest post where he talked about a trip he took to Turkey and the Arthurian connections he found there. Well, now he’s back, talking about the fifth and final book in his Children of Arthur series about King Arthur and his descendants.
Tyler is an author of Arthurian nonfiction and historical fantasy and an enthusiast for, if not expert on, modern Arthurian fiction. His nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, which I reviewed here, was published by Modern History Press in 2011. It explores various traditions concerning King Arthur’s children in Welsh and medieval sources, the possible historical descendants of King Arthur, and more recent creations of descendants for King Arthur in modern fiction. (It’s a great book, one that has been a resource for more than one of my novels and non-fiction books.)
Tyler began writing King Arthur’s Children as his master’s thesis in 1994 and as research so he could write his first King Arthur novel, which eventually became the five-book Children of Arthur series, consisting of Arthur’s Legacy (2014), Melusine’s Gift (2015), Ogier’s Prayer (2016),Lilith’s Love (2016), and the newly released Arthur’s Bosom (2017).
I’m thrilled to have him here today to talk about the publication of his fifth novel in the series, Arthur’s Bosom.
Without giving too much away, can you give us an overview of the series for readers not familiar with it?
Tyler: Sure, Nicole, and thank you for having me here. The premise of the series revolves around the idea that King Arthur had descendants. Most people are not aware that he had any children other than Mordred, and depending on which version of the story you read, Mordred is often just Arthur’s nephew. However, there are ancient Welsh traditions that Arthur had several other sons—namely Gwydre, Llacheu, and Amr. There are also traditions that Mordred had children. Furthermore, several families over the centuries have tried to claim descent from King Arthur, including the Scottish Clan Campbell, and the Welsh Tudor family, which, of course, means the current British royal family can claim descent from King Arthur. Whether any of this is true is open to speculation. Many people are very interested in determining the historicity of King Arthur, but to me, the magic has always existed in the legend’s flexibility to recreate itself for each new century and even decade. My premise then is that King Arthur did have descendants, they are living among us today, and considering the fifteen hundred years separating King Arthur’s time period from our own, most of us are King Arthur’s descendants.
Wow. That would be really cool to be a descendant of King Arthur. (I have always thought I was a queen…) So will you tell us a little about what King Arthur’s descendants do in your novels?
Tyler: In the first novel, Arthur’s Legacy, the story starts in 1994. The main character, Adam, has been raised by his grandparents. His mother gave birth to him outside wedlock and then basically abandoned him. He doesn’t know who his father is. I don’t want to give too much away, but eventually at age twenty-two, he starts to get answers, which lead him to finding his father in England and also meeting a strange professor named Merle (you can guess who that is). Eventually, Merle arranges for Adam to fall into a deep sleep and dream the true story of Camelot. In that dream, we learn that Mordred had descendants who survived the fall of Camelot. We also learn that Mordred was one of the good guys, and instead, other villains brought about the fall of Camelot. In the successive volumes, Mordred’s descendants battle the evil ones who destroyed Camelot and who continue to try to destroy them over the centuries, including during the time of Charlemagne, during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and during World War I.
Is it giving too much away to ask who these villains are who were really responsible for the fall of Camelot?
Tyler: No, you learn that right in the opening pages of Arthur’s Legacy. There are two of them, but they are not the usual suspects, although I believe they are the most likely ones when you dig a bit deeper into the legend. First of all, we understand today that history is written from the conqueror’s perspective, so think about who ends up ruling Britain after Arthur—it’s Constantine of Cornwall. It’s never clear why he is chosen as Arthur’s heir; he seems to be some shirttail relative. However, in the sixth century book De Excidio et Conquestu Brittainiae, written by Arthur’s contemporary Gildas, there is reference to a king named Constantine who murdered two royal youths. I believe these youths are Mordred’s sons. In Arthur’s Legacy, one of those sons, Meleon, has a child before he dies, and that child carries on Arthur’s bloodline. The other villain is Gwenhwyvach, whom I imagine most readers have never heard of. However, there is a statement in the Welsh triads that one of the causes of the Battle of Camlann was the blow Guinevere struck to her half-sister Gwenhwyvach. There is a later tradition in the Prose Lancelot that Guinevere’s half-sister, Gwenhwyvach, tried to pass herself off as Guinevere on Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding night. The trick was discovered and Gwenhwyvach, known as the False Guinevere in the Prose Lancelot, was imprisoned in Hengist’s Tower. So it is Gwenhwyvach and Constantine who bring about Camelot’s fall.
I’ve learned a lot about Gwenhwyvach in my non-fiction research. What you say makes perfect sense. I love this theory. But I’m confused; how can they continue to pursue and try to kill Arthur’s descendants in successive centuries? Is it reincarnation?
Tyler: Not exactly. Constantine can’t since he’s just human, but Gwenhwyvach can in my novels because she is a witch, and even more than that, she is an ancient sorceress who is able to reincarnate and has for many centuries since the beginning of time—the title of the fourth book in the series, Lilith’s Love, gives away her real identity. You see, Lilith was Adam’s first wife in the Garden of Eden. Tradition says she refused to let Adam be on top (a sign of submission) when they had sexual intercourse; consequently, she was derided in Jewish folklore as a monster (a totally sexist attitude), and in my series she acts that way.
Interesting. Tell me about the other women in your novels. You know I’m all about the girl power.
Tyler: One thing I absolutely wanted to avoid was just another story of good vs. evil. Lilith/Gwenhwyvach does many evil things in the novels, but she is a complicated character, and in Lilith’s Love, she gets a chance to explain her own side of things. There are lots of gray areas in my novels—nothing is black and white or exactly as it seems at first. One thing I refused to do was just follow the traditional storylines of various medieval legends that I used. I wanted to turn everything on its head, showing that these stories I use are not necessarily what we have been taught. I did that first by retelling the Camelot story.
I also turn everything on its head in the second novel, Melusine’s Gift, where the French fairy Melusine is the strong female protagonist. Traditionally, Melusine was raised in Avalon, so it only made sense to me that Melusine must have grown up knowing King Arthur, who was there recovering from his wound. Melusine marries one of Arthur’s descendants and uses her fairy powers to try to bring about good. However, in tradition, Melusine made her husband promise she could always hide herself away on Saturday and not be seen by him. Eventually, he broke his promise and discovered she took on a mermaid or serpent form (depending on which version of the legend you read) on Saturdays. At first, he kept her secret, but later in a fit of anger, he called her a serpent in front of his court and she flew away. She is treated as an evil character in tradition, but I am much more kind to her. She is the strength of her family and also works to bring about good, though others cannot accept her because she is different.
Another strong female character throughout the series is Morgan le Fay. Since she shows up in the Charlemagne legends, I thought she obviously must be immortal and live beyond Arthur’s time, so throughout the series, she intercedes as needed to help Arthur’s descendants (and her own since she is Mordred’s mother in my novels).
People know know you through King Arthur’s Children (both the blog and the book) may not know that you have another blog where you write about Gothic literature. Can you explain what that influence is on your Arthurian novels?
Tyler: Yes, one of the main influences that carries through all five novels is the Gothic format of using stories within stories to move forward the plot. It was used in such classic Gothic novels as Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). All five novels in the Children of Arthur series use this format. By inserting stories within stories, I am able to peel back the layers of the onion—to reveal the secrets about the characters and secrets lost to time that King Arthur’s modern descendants must learn in order to succeed in their goals.
I also use Gothic elements particularly in Lilith’s Love, which includes in it the story of Quincey Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker, who defeat Dracula in Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Because Mina drank Dracula’s blood, I imagined that Quincey, who is born at the end of Dracula, must have some of Dracula’s blood in him, which gives him some superhuman powers. In his quest to understand his vampiric origins, Quincey has several Gothic experiences that make up bulk of the novel, which you might call a sequel to Dracula really.
And what about your latest novel, Arthur’s Bosom? When does it take place and how does it bring the series to an end?
Tyler: I wrote Arthur’s Bosom for two reasons. The first is because I wanted to bring the series full circle since the first novel largely takes place during Arthur’s time but the three novels after that take place in different centuries, so this novel returns the storyline back to the time of Camelot. In the novel, Arthur’s modern-day descendants, Lance and Tristan Delaney, travel back in time to sixth century Britain.
The second reason I wrote this novel as the series finale is because in the first book of the series, Merlin tells Adam that he and his family (Lance and Tristan are Adam’s grown sons) will be responsible for helping to bring about King Arthur’s return. I’ve been sorely disappointed by the few novels that have tried to depict Arthur’s return, so I set about to write my own version of what Arthur’s return would be like, and hopefully, I pulled it off in a way that will surprise and satisfy readers. So far, the response I’ve received has been positive.
Why did you pick the title Arthur’s Bosom?
Tyler: It’s actually from a line in Shakespeare’s Henry V where Falstaff is said to have gone to Arthur’s Bosom. Shakespeare was playing on the biblical phrase of Abraham’s Bosom. I used the term to refer to a type of Arthurian heaven. I must admit I have no desire to sit around on a cloud and play a harp all day. I think I’d much rather go to a heaven that resembles King Arthur’s Britain as depicted in Malory, so in the novel, Arthur’s Bosom is used to refer to the Arthurian version of heaven where Arthur’s true believers go when they die.
What do you hope readers will come away with after they read the series?
Tyler: The theme of this series is “Imagination is the salvation of mankind.” I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction and that our thoughts create our world. I want people to use their imaginations to think outside the box, to question the past we believe we know to find new truths in it, and also to imagine new and positive possibilities for our future. Through imagination, we have the power to shape our world. We don’t have to believe in a doomed world where global warming and the possibility of nuclear war make us think humanity’s best days are past. The future is still ours to write, and through the power of our thoughts, we can make it into a glorious one. I even think it possible we could change the past if we concentrated hard enough upon it. Why can’t the King Arthur and Camelot we dream of have been real? Why can’t we make it real in the future, even if it is in the past? What would it mean to us if we learned we were descended from King Arthur? Would it make us want to live those ideals of Camelot? So, ultimately, I hope that in the Children of Arthur series, I have used legends—that of King Arthur, but also Charlemagne, Prester John, Ogier the Dane, the Wandering Jew, Dracula, etc.—as inspiration and encouragement for all of us to want to create a better world for our future.
Wow, that’s a lofty but worthwhile goal. Before we go, where can readers purchase your books?
Tyler: The books are for sale at my website www.ChildrenofArthur.com. They are also at the major online booksellers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, etc. They are available in paperback and ebook formats. At my website there is also more information about the Arthurian legend and I have a blog where I regularly write about Arthurian modern fiction and other related topics.
Your blog really is a great resource. I’ve been reading some of your old posts lately. So everyone, go check it out. Thanks again, Tyler for being here today. It’s been a pleasure having you. I wish you all the best with your series.
Tyler: Thanks, Nicole. I’ll be looking forward to reading your own last Guinevere novel when it comes out.
Do you have questions for Tyler? If so, please leave them in the comments. He’ll be stopping by to answer them.
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!)
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.
According to some legends, the Celts believed that to know a person’s true name was to hold power over them. Some tribes even named their children one thing and then gave them another, permanent name when they reached adulthood. That’s why in many myths, a hero doesn’t learn his true name until he is armed by a goddess-like woman. In some versions of Arthurian legend, Guinevere asks Lancelot his name, but he is unable to tell her (because he doesn’t know) until after he completes a quest.
Why am I mentioning this?
You’ll do great if it ever comes up at trivia night.
There are lots of names in Arthurian legend.
Depending on the author and/or translation you read, the same Arthurian character could go by many different names. I’ve only included a few common ones here, but thought you might find it interesting to see who is who:
What’s My Name Again? (Keep in mind that depending on the author, those listed below as the same character, might in fact be separate characters.)
Guinevere/Gwenhwyfar (Welsh)/Gvenhvyuar (Welsh)/Ganhumara (from Geoffry of Monmouth) – There are about a million more. If you want to see all of them, check out this site. Some legends say there were two or three Guineveres.
Morgan/Morgause/Morganna/Morgaine/Morgan Le Fey/Morgane – Traditionally Arthur’s half sister, she’s also sometimes called Anna.
Galahad/Gwalchavad (Welsh)/Galeas/Galath – Son of Lancelot, he is one of three who find the Holy Grail.
Perceval/Percival/Peredur (Welsh) – Knight who sees the Grail and also meets the Fisher King.
Isolde/Iseult/Iseo/Yseult/Isode/Isoude/Esyllt/Isotta – There are three Isoldes, 1) a princess from Ireland who marries Mark even though she’s in love with Tristan, 2) the Irish Isolde’s mother, and 3) a princess from Brittany who marries Tristan after he’s banished from Britain.
Tristan/Drustanus/Drystan/Tristran/Tristram – One of Arthur’s knights, he loved Isolde.
Gawain/Gwalchmei/Gawan/Gawaine/Gwaine/Gavan/Gavin/Walewein/Waweyn – Knight and Arthur’s nephew.
Are you confused yet? I know I am!
Do you think names have special power or significance? What does your name mean? Do you use a special spelling? Can you think of any other Arthurian characters that you’ve seen with different spellings of their names? Which ones do you prefer?
Technically, it was supposed to take place in April, but I couldn’t do it then, so I’m doing it now, but with my own twist to the rules. The official rules say you blog every day except Sundays for 26 days, with each day’s topic starting with a different letter (A, B, C, etc.). My life doesn’t allow that kind of aggressive blogging schedule, but I’m going aim for twice a week, Thursdays and Sundays, until I’ve made it through the alphabet. (I reserve the right to interrupt the challenge for the Through the Mists of Time blogiversary next month.)
The idea is that these posts are supposed to be shorter than the ones I typically do, and that’s probably going to be the hardest part. And since I’m not going to confine myself to Arthurian/Celtic themes, so you might just learn a little more about me or maybe read something that interests you more than my boring old posts about bygone days. But my first topic is Arthurian.
A is for Aggrivane
More properly spelled Agravain or Agravaine, this Arthurian character is the second son of King Lot and Arthur’s sister (Morgause or Anna, depending on who the story), which makes him Arthur’s nephew. He is said to be somewhat of a villain. Aggrivane knew about Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair and worked with Mordred to arrange the lovers being caught in the act. Traditionally, he is killed by Lancelot, either at the time of their discovery or when Lancelot rescues Guinevere from her death sentence.
I’ve always seen this character used as a secondary player, but when I plotted my story, he became a natural main character. If I told you how or why, it would ruin one of the biggest plot points of my first book, but I can tell you this: in my world, he is still the son of Lot, but he is a much kinder person who has a talent for reading the stars and dreams of a life very different than the one legend has put him in to date. I fell in love with him, and I hope you will, too.
So, why do I spell his name Aggrivane? Well, that’s the way it came out of my fingers the first time I typed it and since I’ve never been able to get myself to spell it any other way, that’s the way it’s staying. (In my head, he wants it that way.) And if you need help picturing him, think of Orlando Bloom. I wrote the character with him in mind.
So what do you know about this character? How have you seen him portrayed? What do you want to know? I’ll probably do the A to Z Challenge again in the future, so please let me know if you have any other “A” suggestions.
Miss Evelina has her chalk board (do they even still make those?) and textbook ready to go, so your course in the basics of Arthurian legend is back in session. Is everyone present and accounted for? Amberr, Tyler, Daya, Courtney, Chris, I know you’re here. Bueller? Bueller? (Come on, you know I had to say it.) Good. Before we take a look at some of those crazy kids who populate Arthurian legend in secondary roles, why don’t you take a minute to refresh yourself on the main characters, so we’re all on the same page.
So now that you know the basics, here are five characters you may not know as much about:
1. Mordred – If you know anything about Arthurian legend, chances are good just the mention of his name makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Mordred is sometimes Arthur’s nephew (via his sister Anna and King Lot), but usually his son, most commonly by his sister Morgan (those medieval writers really did like incest). Usually, Mordred grows up ignorant of his paternity, only to be acknowledged by Arthur around the time he becomes a man. Mordred is the ultimate traitor, being one of two responsible for exposing Guinevere and Lancelot’s affair (the other being Agravain). Once they are shamed and Arthur is distracted, Mordred makes his own bid for the throne (sometimes kidnapping/marrying Guinevere and allying with the Saxons in the process), bringing on the battle of Camlann, where he and Arthur are both fatally wounded.
2. Elaine – There are actually several Elaines in Arthurian legend, but two seem to be the most common. One is the daughter of Pelles, who is sometimes represented as the Fisher King. She used magic to trick Lancelot into thinking he was sleeping with Guinevere, instead of her, and thus conceived Galahad. The other is the daughter of Bernard of Astolat. She fell in love with Lancelot, who wore her token during a joust. She died for love of him and was found in a boat on the river near Camelot. She is Tennyson’s famous Lady of Shalott. For simplicity’s sake (and because its WAY more fun), I’ve combined the two in my books. She’s a character I love to hate. You’ll see why.
3. Viviane/Nimue – This character, by whatever name she is called, is usually identified with the Lady of the Lake. She is a powerful sorceress who catches the eye of Merlin, who, in his obsessive love for her, teaches her everything he knows. She then betrays him by using his magic against him to kill or imprison him (in a tower, cave, oak tree, depending on the source) where she can visit him, but from which he cannot escape. I have treated these two as separate characters in my books, with very different personalities and ambitions.
4. and 5.Isolde and Tristan – It’s difficult to tell the story of one without the other, so I’m going to tell them together. Isolde (also called Iseult) is the daughter of the king (or queen) of Ireland. King Mark of Cornwall falls in love with her and sends his nephew, Tristan, to bring her back for their wedding. On the journey back to England, Tristan and Isolde unwittingly drink a love potion meant for Isolde and Mark, and become lovers. In some versions, she marries Mark anyway, but in others, her maid stands in for her at the wedding so that she and Mark are never truly wed. Isolde and Tristan carry on an affair for years until Mark finally finds out. He tries to kill Isolde in a number of preposterous ways (beheading her, drowning her, throwing her into a leper colony) but each time, Tristan saves her. Eventually, Tristan goes into exile in Brittany (sometimes voluntarily) and weds another woman named Isolde (of the White Hands). Tristan is fatally wounded and the Irish Isolde is sent for (because of her skill in healing) under the agreement that if she is aboard, the ship will have white sails, if not, black. The Breton Isolde, jealous of her Irish counterpart, tells Tristan the ship has black sails and he dies of a broken heart. When the Irish Isolde arrives and finds him dead, she either dies of a broken heart or commits suicide. (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?) The plot involves more, but that’s the short version.
Some say the legend of Tristan and Isolde was tacked on to Arthurian stories late in the game, but I treat them as interwoven for a reason. You’ll meet Isolde in books 1 and 2 and she’ll get a chance to tell her side of the story in book 4.
Someday we’ll look at the Knights of the Round Table as well, but this is enough for one day. Class dismissed! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. If you want to know more, I recommend The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legend by Ronan Coghlan.
I’ve always loved this image from the cover of Norma Lorre Goodrich’s book “Guinvere”
I was telling a stranger the other day about my books and he called them “Guinevereian fiction.” I was immediately struck my how apt that phrase is. Yes, what I write is part of Arthurian legend and Arthur is a major character, but the books aren’t about him. They are all about Guinevere.
I’ll admit I’m far from the first author to tackle the subject of Guinevere. Long before me, Persia Woolley, Sharan Newman, Nancy McKenzie, Rosalind Miles, and others decided to tell her story. I’ll admit to attempting two of these author’s works, but by the time I read them, I had such a clear vision of my own story, all I could do was argue with their books because in my mind they were wrong. Needless to say, I didn’t get far in either book, and haven’t picked up any since then.
But what is really neat about Guinevere is that so little is known that each story is different. I really wish I could tell you exactly how mine differs, but we’ll all have to be patient for that. Suffice it to say her lineage, upbringing and relationships with other traditional Arthurian legend characters are all different in my books than in the stories you’ve probably heard. I also think she has a unique personality and outlook on life.
I can hear some of you asking “So what’s the traditional story?” or “What have others done?” Guinevere is quite the busy lady, so here’s a rundown. (If you want a shorter version, check out my post Arthurian Legend 101.) In many traditions, there are two Guineveres (the true and the false), who are sometimes twins, sisters, or lady/serving maid. In Welsh tradition, there are three. But for purposes of this overview, we’ll just assume there’s only one.
Early life – Traditionally, Guinevere is the daughter of Lord/King Leodgrance or Leogden. Nothing is ever said about her mother, siblings or early life. Was she close with them or perhaps abandoned or abused by them? We don’t know. Some fiction writers have had her grow up on Avalon, others make her childhood friends with Elaine, Morgan, Lancelot or even Arthur. Some have given her lovers or even husbands before Arthur. Because tradition tells us almost nothing, authors are free to use her early years to influence the decisions she makes later in life. I’ve done the same thing in my books because all of us are who we are as the result of our experiences.
Queenship – Ah, yes, the be all and end of Guinevere’s life is that she marries Arthur. Most of the time she’s barren, but a few authors give her a child or two, usually sons, who die in childhood, making way for Mordred to lay sole claim to the throne. No wonder so many modern fiction writers, myself included, try to breathe life into other parts of her existence. No woman is defined solely based on who her husband is or whether or not she has children – not anymore.
To me, this picture shows Guinevere at her most powerful, in her role as Sovereignty
It’s interesting to note that in nearly every version of the tale, traditional or modern, Guinevere becomes High Queen, not just Arthur’s royal wife. Whether portrayed as Christian or pagan, in this role she is Sovereignty Herself, the Goddess who bestows (and can take back) all power. So in this reality, it is Arthur who is dependant on Guinevere for his identity as High King.
No wonder she gets kidnapped so much! In almost every story, Guinevere is kidnapped by one or more lords seeking to use her to usurp the throne. The most common culprit is a rebellious Lord named Malegant or Melwas, whose heavily guarded castle is sometimes set on Glastonbury Tor. In some fiction he uses Guinevere only as a bargaining chip, while in others he is outrageously brutal, raping her in attempt to sire a child. Usually, its Lancelot or Arthur who rescues her.
Poor Guinevere. I don’t think I’ve seen any version of the story (at least one where she’s a main character) where she is faithful to Arthur. Lancelot is, of course, her most famous and most popular lover, but other characters including Mordred, Kay, Bedivere or any number of the Knights of Round have been named. Was she simply a randy little lass? Maybe. But this storyline could have come from the Celtic practice of polygamy (which I’ll write more about in the future) or in the idea that as a representative of the Goddess, she could choose her lovers at will. Or it could simply be a morality tale added in the Middle Ages by monks seeking to show wives what evil could befall them if they were unfaithful to their husbands. As I’ve said above, I didn’t get this far in any modern fiction, but my guess is her reasons for infidelity likely were influenced by her relationship with Arthur and other life circumstances, because most people don’t just up and choose to have an affair; usually they will tell you they were driven to it by circumstance.
As if once isn’t enough, some versions have Mordred kidnapping Guinevere after Lancelot rescues her from the stake. Sometimes Mordred marries, rapes or takes her as a lover in a quest to secure his claim on the throne (back to that Sovereignty idea again). Some writers have even made Guinevere a willing party in shacking up with Mordred. Directly or indirectly, this situation usually leads to the battle of Camlann, where both Arthur and Modred die.
Some say Guinevere eneded her life as a nun. I doubt it.
Life after Arthur – Guinevere is traditionally said to either have died of grief after Arthur’s death or lived out her days in a convent. I always thought the convent thing was a sign of penance, but in King Arthur’s Children (to be reviewed here in a few weeks) Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., posits that a convent could have been a safe haven where Guinevere could wait out the battle of Camlann and be either rescued by or safe from the victor. I’ve only ever read one book that explores Guinevere’s life after Arthur, Beloved Exile by Parke Godwin. In it, Guinevere ends up a Saxon slave (I won’t ruin it by telling you how). It doesn’t appear that her owners know who she is or her great value, which to me, would have made the story a whole lot more realistic. I have my ending planned (nope, no slavery here) and I have no doubt it’s different from anything you’ve ever read.
So, what Guinevereian fiction have you read? What parts of the plot did you like? Which parts didn’t work for you? If you were to speculate about her life, what would you say happened to Guinevere throughout the years?