When I first began weaving tales of a Bronze Age King Arthur, I thought it might be difficult to fill a whole novel with this subject. Instead, little known, archaic versions of the legends leapt out at me from mouldering tomes, screaming to be included, and relevant archaeological finds seemed turned up in the landscape almost daily …and so the tale grew in the telling.
So STONE LORD became book one of a two-part series, with MOON LORD the sequel (although a standalone book in its own right). In STONE LORD, we have a young “Arthur”-Ardhu the Stone Lord, rising from obscurity under the tutelage of the shaman known as the Merlin, high priest of the temple of Khor Ghor (Stonehenge) and driving back sea-raiders seeking to steal the precious British tin. The usual Arthurian elements are present, but in a more ancient form—The White Phantom, faithless bride but sovereignty of the Land; the Spearman, the mighty friend who betrays his lord; the Hawk of the Plain who fights the Green Man at Midwinter; the malign sister who seduces her own half-brother in revenge for status and love lost.
So what would be included in MOON LORD, how would it differ from its predecessor? Whilst the earlier part of the original legend is quite cohesive, traditionally the Arthurian myths tend to become more choppy and fragmented in the middle section of Arthur’s “reign”, with the king appearing less and less often while other knights such as Percival and Galahad come to the fore in various adventures for the glory of Camelot. It is a series of episodic tales rather than a straight narrative.
The Quest element, with its mysticism (both pagan and Christian) which is of course part of an older tradition, the Imram of the Celtic hero or saint, becomes a main area of focus, bringing with it a batch of new younger characters that replace or compete with the old… Such a shift of focus seemed appropriate for my purposes, since in the Bronze Age you were old by 30 and often dead by 40. So the setting was moved seventeen years into the future, and my first anti-hero was ‘born’– Mordraed, the King’s illegitimate son by his own half-sister, the Dark Moon who would be the foil to the ‘White Light of Arthur’ and the destroyer of the stability and rudimentary civilisation his sire had worked to create.
Mordraed leaped out, snarling, from my imagination but he was probably the most fun to write of any character I’ve created so far—beautiful but twisted, hard and bitter and yet vulnerable, driven by ambition and by his mother and yet, underneath, struggling to understand what he feels and what he does. He came to life for me; one of those rare characters that almost wrote himself.
The Quest that I set for my ancient warriors is a prehistoric version of the Grail Quest, starting with a trip to the Wasteland of the Maimed King and finishing up in the ritual complex that grew up around Newgrange in Ireland in the early Bronze Age after the great chamber-tomb had lost much of its original function. They seek a Cup of Gold that is rumoured to be the font of all fecundity—a primitive Holy Grail which is based on mythological vessels such as the Cauldron of Cerridwen and the Cauldron of the Dagda. The appearance of the Cup itself is based on several finds from the archaeological record—the golden beakers from Rillaton and Ringlemere. The latter cup obviously had a ritual use as its bottom was curved so that it could not be set down; hence it must have been passed from hand to hand in some kind of ceremony.
In MOON LORD there is no actual magic; the prehistoric ‘Grail’ is made holy by the mythic power of our imaginations, made sacred by the power of sacrifice…and like in the original Arthurian myth, the vessel is attained by the only one of Ardhu’s company ‘pure’ enough to accept it, but there is no resulting joy, no magical turning of the hands of Fate to spare Ardhu his final doom at his ‘Camlann.’
The Cup was a symbol of hope but when hope failed it was the steadfastness and the nobility, even if primitive, of a lost heroic society that echoed down the paths of time to us, from the Dark Ages and perhaps even from an earlier time– its more admirable qualities still flickering in our consciousness like ghost-dancers in a mist.
And though the Moon has set, and the great stone monuments of the ancient world lie bleached and ruinous beneath a hard sky…
Do you have any questions for J.P? Leave them here and she’ll answer. What do you think of her new book? I know I can’t wait to read it!
The story of Arthur’s conception at Tintagel comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. In it, Tintagel was the seat of the King Goloris and his wife, Iggraine. High King Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, falls in love with Iggraine on first sight. When Goloris is killed in battle, Merlin casts a spell on Uther to make him look like Goloris. He enters the castle unquestioned and sleeps with Iggraine, who conceives Arthur. Nine months later, when the child is born, Merlin comes to Tintagel to spirit Arthur away to safety. Thus, does this impressive castle enter Arthurian legend.
Tres and me high on the cliffs
Yes, you have to walk up all of those and more to get to the castle.
The Tintagel of today is definitely an imposing structure. Situated high (and I mean high) on the Cornish coast, the visible ruins are all that is left of a 12th century castle. To get there, you have to walk up a crazy series of stairways that jut this way and that, and many of the steps are uneven and difficult for a 5’1” person to get up. (My calf muscles will never be the same!) But it is all worth it when you get to the top. In addition to the monastery ruins, there are several stone foundations of early Celtic settlements, where you can see where different buildings, even different rooms would have been. These, wisely, are on the part of the cliff most sheltered from the unforgiving wind.
Some of the Celtic settlements
A few other attractions up top are an ancient, acoustically perfect cavern that no one knows the purpose of. It’s speculated it was for ritual. The walls were hand dug, but are so smooth, they appear machine made. Then there is a flat piece of rock with nearly perfect circles carved into it. Again, no one knows the purpose (ancient cup holders? :)).
King Arthur’s footprint
Getting back to King Arthur, there’s a rock with an impression in it called King Arthur’s footprint, where, legend says, he was crowned and symbolically married to the land. It does indeed look like a large man’s foot made the impression. You can put your own foot in it, too. Not far away, just off the coast, is a triangular island known as Merlin’s hat.
Inside Merlin’s Cave
The view out from Merlin’s Cave
Far below are several caves, only one of which actually connects to the mainland. That cave is known as Merlin’s cave, home of the legendary enchanter. It floods at high tide, which we witnessed, since the tide came in while we were there. It is a beautiful cave, with a vertical fissure that lets in the light. It may or may not be magical, but I did capture an orb in a photograph there, the only one in over 1,000 photos.
Merlin’s Cave from above
We went swimming in the water just outside of the cave, which was so cold it hurt your feet. Well, Jamie was the only one brave enough to actually swim. I clung to the rocks (which had algae that felt like Astroturf) like a mermaid, only daring to get about waist deep when the waves splashed me. My friend Tres waded out to a waterfall to get a closer look and said she couldn’t feel the lower half of her body when she came back.
The Camelot Castle Hotel
I have to put in a plug for the Camelot Castle Hotel, where we stayed during our time in Tintagel. There are a lot of negative stories about it on the Internet, but I truly enjoyed my time there. It’s a fancy hotel on top of the cliffs that is currently undergoing a five-year renovation. I paid for an upgraded room, which I would recommend to anyone staying there. My room had a four poster bed and a bathtub that was big enough to swim in! (I kept wanting to quote Pretty Woman: “His bathtub is bigger than the Blue Banana!”) Plus, it had a private balcony overlooking both the ocean and a labyrinth carved into the grass below. I went out on the balcony after dark to look at the stars and was blown away by how many more you can see than in the city. It was a spiritual experience.
Sunset from our hotel, overlooking Tintagel Castle
The food is also very good and we got to meet the artist in residence. He’s very kind, maybe a little eccentric (aren’t we all), but I really liked him. I even bought one of his paintings that I fell in love with. And I don’t ever do that – that is the only piece of real art I own.
So, what do you think of Tintagel? Is it Arthur’s birthplace? I have my doubts, but I’d love to hear what you think. Have you been there? What was your experience like?
“The rain may never fall til after sundown. By eight the morning fog must disappear.” – “Camelot” from the musical of the same name
The earthenwork ramparts around Cadbury castle
Learner and Loewe obviously didn’t have Cadbury Castle in Somerset in mind when they write these lyrics, because not only did it rain on us, it stormed and HAILED when we were at the top. Cadbury is one of many places thought to possibly be the actual location of Camelot. It was certainly the home of someone important in Arthurian times. That much we know from archaeology.
The path up to the castle. That’s Jamie, our guide.
You get to the castle by walking up a steep hill through some trees. When you get to the top, the view is unbelievable. It’s one of those things that photos will never do justice, no matter how panoramic our cameras get. You can see for miles in every direction, even to Glastonbury Tor. Whoever lived there would have known of any invading army long before they got anywhere near the castle. And it’s well defended, too, ringed by five earthenwork ramparts, which are still impressive today. At the time, there likely would have been wooden stake walls (possibly some dry stone walls) to defend in addition to the earthen banks, making it no doubt a formidable sight.
A view from the walls. No army is going to do a sneak attack on this castle!
Our guide, Jamie, told us that land behind the hill was thought to have been the real Round Table, and is the area Guinevere brought to Arthur as part of her dowry. I’ve not heard that about this location before, but I have heard a similar theory about land south of Stirling in Scotland. But, if it is true about this land near Cadbury and if we assume Cadbury was Camelot, then Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere certainly makes strategic sense.
Another shot of the ramparts. That’s hail in the photo.
The plan was for us to walk all around the top rampart to really take in the view, both inside and outside of the castle walls. We did that for maybe 10 minutes. Judging from the land on top of the hill fort, the castle would have been massive. I really wish I could have seen it in its glory. But we hardly had time to take it in before the rain and hail got so bad we had to turn around to take cover in the trees sheltering the path back to the car.
The slippery, muddy path on the way down.
The path was very muddy and slick, with rivulets of water running down the hill. We were soaked to the bone. A normal person might have been upset by this, but I thought it was cool, since in my pivotal scene at Cadbury, it’s raining. This gave me real-life knowledge of how hard it would have been to flee the castle in the rain. I wonder how it would have been on horseback. Easier? Harder?
If I didn’t already have my books based around Camelot being elsewhere, I would locate it at Cadbury. I haven’t done full research into most of the other possible locations, but Cadbury’s proximity to other Arthurian places like Glastonbury and Tintagel and strong defenses make it a logical choice. Then again, I’m looking at this from a fiction writer’s point of view, not a historian’s, so many people may disagree, and that’s fine. But as the muses would have it, I had already written Cadbury as a major setting in the second book, so it will still be well represented in my series.
Tarot for Writers
Before we went up to Cadbury, we ate lunch at the Camelot Inn, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in the area. (They have a fabulous apple and pear cider, the equal of which I have yet to find.) Since we had nothing else to do while we waited out the storm, one of our tour members, Linda (founder of Global Spiritual Studies), taught us a tarot exercise for writing. It can be used to plot a whole book or for a specific scene you’re having trouble with. You separate out our major arcana cards, the minor arcana cards and the court cards. Then, without looking at them, you choose:
One major arcana card for the theme.
Court cards for your major characters.
Three minor arcana cards for the plot.
I just liked this sign, which is at the base of the path leading up to the castle. The inn is just across the street.
The major arcana card will give you a deeper sense of the theme you’re working with (consciously or subconsciously). The court cards will give you insight into hidden aspects of your characters. Then, with the three minor arcana spread out in the order in which you drew them, you start telling a story that begins “once upon a time” using the symbolism of the card.
I’m making this up off the top of my head, but let’s say you have The Lovers as your theme card, with a young female main character (represented by the Page of Cups) and a young man (represented by the King of Cups). You draw the Ace of Cups, Three of Swords and Eight of Swords.
You would say something like, “Once upon a time, a young girl leaves home (the optimism of the Page of Cups), determined to find a husband (Ace of Cups = beginning of relationships). She meets a handsome young man, but then learns he is not what he seems (duplicity of the King of Cups) and is heartbroken (Three of Swords). She feels powerless to escape her situation (Eight of Swords), but knows there must be a solution.” And then you would write the story from there. Or if you have an established plot already, you would look to see how the definitions of those cards may impact it.
(Feel free to disagree with the interpretation, as it’s only a quickly written example, not meant to teach the meaning of the cards. I used this site to help with the card interpretation: http://www.ata-tarot.com/resource/cards/) I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems like this exercise could really be beneficial.
What are your theories on the location of Camelot? Is Cadbury in the running for you? What do you think about the tarot exercise? Do you plan to use it? Have you used anything similar?
Me fangirling over Geoffrey Ashe autographing my copy of one of his books.
Geoffrey Ashe is something of a rock star in the Arthurian community. Now 90 years old, this historian has written some of the most influential non-fiction books about King Arthur, seeking to uncover Arthur’s true identity and the locations of the legendary Camelot and the Isle of Avalon. Whether or not you agree with his theories (I do on some), he’s considered an expert.
He has advised Arthurian fiction writers from Persia Woolley (who also wrote a series on Guinevere) to Marion Zimmer Bradley (she thanks him in the acknowledgements of The Mists of Avalon) and more recently, Tony Hays (who writes Arthurian mysteries). I am honored to be in such prestigious company. Mr. Ashe told me that anyone who seeks to write Arthurian legend should, “Leave the Grail out of it and resist the temptation to rationalize Mallory. That’s what everyone seems to be doing lately. Use your imagination and tell your own story. Don’t try to tell someone else’s.”
We were lucky enough to have him and his wife, Pat, as guests at Glastonbury Abbey. Before exploring the Abbey grounds with Pat, we sat down for what turned into a two-hour lesson on the area from Mr. Ashe. He was very kind to answer questions as we went along, even multiple ones from me pertaining to aspects of my plot. Because he and his wife gave us so much information, I’ve split it into two posts, this one focusing on the Arthurian ties, and the next on Glastonbury Abbey itself. What follows is a summary of the notes I took. I hope you enjoy learning from him as much as I did.
From left (Pat Ashe, Geoffrey’s wife; Linda, a member of our tour group; and Arthurian historian Geoffrey Ashe.
The Arthurian Period Mr. Ashe believes the historical Arthurian period to be the mid fifth century, with 458 a likely date for Arthur’s coronation. During that time, the area around Glastonbury would have been under water, with Glastonbury Tor, Chalice Hill and Wearyall Hill being islands due to their height. Because of this, you would have accessed them by water, but it may have been possible to get to the Tor from a small strip of land that joined the Mendip Hills. There was so much water in the area that in the Middle Ages, they were still pumping it out of the area. The surrounding Lake Villages date from the beginning of the Christian era. Fishing and trade would have been very important to them. They lasted until the Saxon Conquest, when they were destroyed.
We All Have A Theory
There are many theories that point to Avalon being sacred before Christianity. Mr. Ashe jokes that “the wisest thing ever said about Glastonbury was uttered by a Benedictine monk: ‘you have only to tell some crazy story in Glastonbury and in 10 years it will be ancient Somerset legend.'” Here are a few he spoke about in-depth:
Zodiac – The idea that the signs of the zodiac can be found in the surrounding landscape, once quite popular, has fallen out of favor lately. This is mainly because you can only trace the shapes on modern maps. It doesn’t work on maps of the landscape from the Arthurian period.
Ley Lines – Ley lines – lines of energy – connect a series of seemingly scattered ancient sites and hill forts across Britain. They run in straight lines across the landscape. For the most part, Mr. Ashe believes this is over-hyped, but he does concede that the St. Michael Line, which starts at St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, goes through Devonshire and the Tor, continuing northeast into the country, does have an unusually large number of sites dedicated to the saint on it.
Labyrinth – Many people, Mr. Ashe included (and me, too) believe that paths carved into the hillside around the Tor, which can still be seen today, are actually a Cretan-style labyrinth that was used for ceremonial purposes. This would have been created during the pre-Christian era. Some people propose that these paths were actually terraces for farming, but Mr. Ashe counters that if that was the case they would have been carved on only one side of the hill, the one with the best exposure to sunlight.
The Holy Thorn – The Holy Thorn at Glastonbury Abbey is from a cutting of the original, one of three in the area (the original was cut down in the 1600s by a zealous Puritan. The others are on Wearyall Hill, site of the original, which we couldn’t go to because it was closed to the public, and the other is at the church of St. John, which was just up the street from our hotel). The tree is a Syrian variety, so it well could have come from St. Joseph, if he really did live in Glastonbury. The other possibility is that it was brought back by soldiers from the Crusades. (And yes, it really does bloom at Christmas time. It blooms in spring, too, and was in flower when we were there.)
Arthur and Guinevere’s grave was found here at Glastonbury Abbey.
Arthur and Guinevere’s Grave As the tradition goes, in 1191 a group of monks were digging at the Abbey and uncovered a leaden cross marker that bore a Latin inscription which translates, “Here lies the famous King Arthur on the isle of Avalon.” (Some versions also add “with his second wife, Guinevere” to the text.) They dug down a little more and found a hallowed out tree that was a kind of coffin containing two bodies: a large man who had suffered from head trauma and a small woman, whose golden hair was still in tact.
The usual position of scholars is that this was faked by the monks in order to attract pilgrims (and with them, funds) to the Abbey, which was still recovering from a devastating fire in 1184. But Mr. Ashe is not among these. He believes that the discovery could be real. He won’t say for certain that it was Arthur and Guinevere the monks found, but it had to be someone important. To defend this position he notes:
The Welsh, who have always claimed Arthur as their own, accepted the Glastonbury grave without complaint.
There is no evidence that the Abbey tried to raise money or attract pilgrims at that time, something that would have been reflected in their own record keeping.
It was traditional for monks from the 10th century on dig a second grave on top of the first layer in order to make more room. This would explain both why the cross was found lying down (rather than standing as grave markers usually do) and also why the monks had to dig down more to find the bodies.
The leaden cross dates from the seventh century or earlier and appears to be written in a French translation of Latin, one that would have been unknown to the monks who found the grave, so they couldn’t have forged it.
He also refutes the claims of those who say no one ever connected Arthur and Glastonbury before the graves. He notes that in the life of St. Gildas (c. 1130-1150), it is mentioned that Melwas kidnaps Guinevere and holds her at his stronghold in Glastonbury.
Close up of the grave marker today.
Both Ashe’s are believers that King Arthur died in France. They identify him with the historical Riothamus, who was killed in the Lorre Valley by a blow to the head. They say he was buried in the city of Avallon in France (which also is a city on a hill with abundant apple orchards) and that is where the cross was made. They believe that both the bodies and the cross were brought back to Glastonbury later and interred at the Abbey.
As for me, I think it could be possible they were really buried there, but I doubt it. I guess I would need more proof, which we’re not likely to get.
What about you? What do you think about Mr. Ashe’s theories about Avalon, Glastonbury and the graves of Arthur and Guinevere? What you do believe?
Our tour group: (from left): Maureene, me, Linda, Jamie, Tres
First off, thanks to everyone who entered our two year blogiversary giveaway contest! The winners are:
King Arthur magnet: Mary Beth Lewis
Location magnets and Cernunnos plaque: Wisher
I will contact you by email to make arrangements to get your gifts to you. Now, on to the matter at hand. For those who haven’t yet seen photos from my trip, you can view them on Flickr. I also have some very amateur video on YouTube from the trip. In case you were wondering, the tour I went on was called From Avalon to Camelot, and was conducted through Gothic Image Tours. I waited until now to publicize it because I wanted to make sure it was something I could endorse. I would recommend it to anyone. The accommodations are top notch and the nature of the tour allows for personalized interaction and visiting out of the way sites that a larger group wouldn’t be able to manage. Tour guide Jamie George has been doing this for over 20 years and certainly knows his stuff. He also has the contacts to be able to arrange for guests such as Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe and divination expert Sig Lonegren. My group had some last minute cancellations and was therefore only five people, including Jamie. Besides me, there were three women from Australia – Tres, Maureene and Linda – none of us knew each other before the trip. Now, we’re all good friends and are keeping in touch.
The George and Pilgrim Hotel, built in 1475, where we stayed.
We started the tour in Glastonbury. We stayed at the George and Pilgrim’s Inn on High Street. This hotel has been around since 1475, and has played host to a number of famous guests over the years, most notably King Henry VIII, who stood in one of its rooms to watch Glastonbury Abbey (which is across the street) burn during the dissolution of the monasteries. The hotel is also host to a number of ghosts, including a merry, fat friar. None of us saw him, but Tres did have her TV come on unexpectedly one morning and Maureene was taking a picture of the town when she captured what appears to be a ribbon of energy, which she didn’t see at the time. By the way, some of the hotel’s rooms are named. I stayed in “The Nun’s Cell,” which is really funny since I used to want to be one and was voted Most Likely to Become a Nun in high school.
High Street in Glastonbury. Jamie’s shop, Gothic Image, is on the right.
Glastonbury itself is a nice, eclectic town. Somehow I was imagining a place full of frenetic energy, but it’s really not. There are plenty of New Age shops specializing in esoteric subjects, crystals, jewelry, etc. but you can also tell people live there. I guess what I’m saying is it isn’t a pure tourist trap. The Tor and Chalice Well are actually a bit away from the town center, so you either need to drive take the trolley/bus to get to it. Glastonbury Abbey is within walking distance. (More on Glastonbury Abbey in the next post.)
If you get the chance to take a little side trip, I highly recommend the town of Wells, which is about a 15 minute bus ride from the top of High Street. We went there on the recommendation of one of Maureene’s friends, and I will never, ever forget it. The town itself is cute, but the main feature is its breathtaking cathedral. No photo could ever do it justice, no matter how professional. It gave me a whole new respect for the generations of people who spent their lives building these monuments to God. To think that they accomplished such feats in an age without our modern technology is very humbling. The main attraction is a clock that has mechanical figures that come out every hour and do I little routine. There are many such clocks throughout Europe, and this is the second one I’ve seen, but they never fail to inspire.
The Bishop’s palace grounds in Wells.
And if the cathedral wasn’t enough, we also toured the Bishop’s palace and grounds, which adjoin the cathedral. I haven’t uploaded most of those photos yet. The best I can do to capture their beauty is to say the grounds are better than any botanical garden I’ve ever been to. Seriously, if it was possible to die of beauty, this place would do it to you. And, you can even see the Tor from its walls!
Gardens in the grounds of the Bishop’s palace in Wells.
So that’s a bit of the first part of the trip. Next time I’ll talk about Glastonbury Abbey and let you in on what Geoffrey Ashe had to say about it and Arthurian legend. Then we’ll talk about Cadbury, a likely spot for Camelot. There will be a few posts on Tintagel and Merlin’s cave. I’ll probably put St. Clether’s Chapel, St. Madron’s Well, St. Crede and St. Nectan’s faerie pool into one. Then we’ll talk about the stone circles of Boscawen-Un (which is very special to me) and the Merry Maidens, as well as the dolmen of Lanyon Quoit. And of course, Avebury and Stonehenge. So stay tuned for the next several weeks!
What do you want to know about Glastonbury or Wells? Do you have any questions about the tour? What do you want to know more about?
Defeat of the Saxons by Arthur by John Cassell (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Today in the United States is Memorial Day, when we remember those who have served and have fallen in battle. This got me thinking about all of the wars that have been fought through the centuries and how many millions of warriors have died. So many lives tragically cut short. And for what? We’re still fighting over the same things we were thousands of years ago. But I digress.
I’m also editing my second book right now, so Arthur and his battles have also been on my mind. The list that comes down to us was recorded by Nennius, a Welsh monk and historian, who lived in the 9th century. He lists Arthur’s victories as:
Battle 1. On the river Glein.
Battle 2, 3, 4 and 5. On the river Dubglas in the region of Linnuis.
Battle 6. On the river Bassas.
Battle 7. In the wood of Celidon/Cat Coit Celidon.
Battle 8. At castle Guinnion.
Battle 9. In the city of the Legion
Battle 10. On the river Tribruit
Battle 11. On Mount/Hill/Rock Agned or Breguoin
Battle 12. At Mount/Hill/Rock Badon.
Interestingly, the final – perhaps most famous – battle, Camlann, isn’t noted by Nennius, but is mentioned in the Annales Cambriae, a Welsh historical document dating to the 1100s.
If this list is to be believed, Arthur was certainly a patriot. He is commonly called Dux Bellorum (Leader of Battles), even in the earliest literary references. These are only the victories. Can you imagine how many other battles he fought and lost? Tradition tells us the Britons and the Saxons were fairly evenly matched during the time of these battles (approximately to 480 to 510 AD), both sides winning and losing untill Badon decisively turned things in the Briton’s favor, ushering in an era of peace that may have lasted as long as 30 years.
As with everything Arthurian, historians can’t agree on if these legendary battles took place, and if so, when and where. The only two that are part of historical record are the Battle of Mount Badon (possibly at Bath) and a skirmish at a place called Camlann (sometimes placed in the north of modern England near Hadrian’s Wall, other times in Wales or southern Britain). Because of translations and changing place names as power shifted from the Celts to the Saxons, then to the Normans, and so on, the modern locations of these conflicts is the subject of great interpretation. If you want to read about some location possibilities, Early British Kingdoms has a great list. Historians also argue over whether it is humanly possible that one man could have led (and survived) so many battles over such a long period of time and in such far-reaching locations.
Someday I’ll probably do posts on the individual battles, as I have plans to write more fiction about them, so I’ll have to get to know each one intimately. But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this general overview. Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Please take a moment to think of those who served your country (wherever that may be) so that you might live in peace and freedom.
Have you heard of Arthur’s 12 battles before? Do you have theories on where they might have been located or who he fought against? Which historians do you think are correct, if any?
Think this is what Camelot looked like? Think again.
When I say the word “Camelot” what do you think of?
Probably a grandiose medieval castle made of stone with turrets and spires, something out of a fairy tale. And that is how it has been portrayed in drawings, movies and TV shows.
(Full disclosure, my Camelot does have some of these elements, but I’ve also given you a logical explanation of why it could be possible. In that, I’m invoking the fantasy side of the genre of historical fantasy. But all of the other castles in my books are true to the time period.)
But the reality of Celtic castles, if we assume King Arthur lived somewhere in the late fifth to early sixth century, is very different. In fact, the word “castle” really doesn’t even accurately describe them. They were more like fortifications than homes. For the most part, rulers didn’t have permanent residence there. The castles were protection for the surrounding populous and their livestock in case of attack.
Cadbury Castle in Somerset, which some believe to be the real location of Camelot. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Most Celtic castles were likely hillforts, which kind of resemble what would later become the motte and bailey style of castle. They were based on large earthenwork hills. The castle itself was at the top in the center, surrounded by one or more wooden palisades, and usually at least one earthen wall or ditch. There are many where the hill is terraced and each terrace has wooden walls and earthen ditches or ramparts to make it even more difficult for the enemy to succeed in siege.
The castle itself was likely to be wooden because timber was readily available. The exception is that stone was plentiful in Highland Scotland, and some British rulers, especially on the western coast, were thought to have fortified their wooden castles using stone. But they didn’t build them the way we picture until the 10th century. In fact, castles as we think of them didn’t come into prominence until the reign of Edward I, who is credited with building the great castles of Northern Wales.
These hillforts would have been defended with arrows, swords, axes and spears, along with sling shots. In order to conquer one, the enemy (depending on what technology they had available) may have used ballista bolts in addition to pure manpower.
Examples of hillforts in Arthurian legend include Traprain Law (King Lot’s capital in Lothian), Badon (if one takes Solsbury Hill outside of Bath to be the location of the battle of mount Badon), Maiden Castle (which is linked to several Arthurian stories), and Cadbury (which Geoffrey Ashe and many other scholars believe is the true location of Camelot).
Tintagel, long thought to be Arthur’s birthplace. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
But what about Tintagel, you might ask? It’s the most famous surviving castle linked to Arthurian legend (Arthur’s birthplace) and it’s made of stone. We know the site was occupied during what I’ll call the Arthurian period, but the castle itself dates to the 13th century. I’ll be visiting Tintagel in less than a month, so I can tell you more when I get back.
PS – Scholars can’t agree on if Camelot existed, much less where. Someday I’ll do a post on some of the possible locations. What I’ve described here is typical of the time period, but we may never know for sure what Camelot really looked like.
Sources British Forts in the Age of Arthur by Angus Konstam Strongholds of the Picts by Angus Konstam Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World by Matthew Bennett and Jim Bradbury, et al
There are probably more because I wrote most of this post from memory. Please check my research page for more possible sources.
How do you picture Camelot? What have you seen portrayed in movies, books or TV? Are there any other Arthurian castles you’re curious about?
Today I’m honored to feature an interview with Kim Headlee, a fellow Arthurian author whom I’ve admired for years. She and I were on the same Arthurian list-serve back in 1999 when I was first conceiving my own Guinevere books and I’m so thrilled to have connected with her once again!
1. Please tell us a little about Dawnflight.
Dawnflight is the first installment of The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles, a series that I hope will span at least eight volumes, including two which precede Dawnflight in terms of the characters’ chronology. Dawnflight features the romance of Gyanhumara (“Gyan”) and Arthur beginning in the aftermath of the first of Arthur’s twelve battles, in which he defeated her people and established the treaty clause that she must marry a nobleman from his side of the border.
Of course, treaties, like all other rules, are indeed meant to be broken. The trick lies in how to break them without creating calamity for all involved. Throw in an enemy invasion for good measure (battles two and three on Arthur’s list of twelve), and our heroes have quite the conundrum, indeed.
2. What inspired you to write it?
A combination of factors contributed.
When I was 7 (I’m dating myself, but I stopped caring about such things decades ago), my parents took me to see the movie Camelot in the theatre. The two images I liked best from that first viewing were Guinevere in her white fur wrap and the knights fighting on top of the Round Table and breaking it. Both foreshadowed the direction of my Arthurian fiction.
At age 9, I read a modern-English rendering of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur cover to cover and became hooked. I began devouring every Arthurian title I could lay my hands on. In those days, that meant editions such as The Boy’s King Arthur, a version of Malory illustrated by Howard Pyle, an umpteenth reprinting of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and an almost-umpteenth reprinting of The Once and Future King.
In high school, my parents gave me a first-edition copy of The Hollow Hills, which made me thirst after historical adaptations. The highest compliment any reviewer has paid my work to date is to give it a favorable comparison to Mary Stewart’s novels; she was my primary literary hero in those days. She still is, come to think of it.
High school was when I first started writing my own version of the Arthur-Guinevere relationship. I still have a couple of drafts of that—and read them recently, in fact. What a hoot! 100% teenage girl, no question about it.
Then Marion Zimmer Bradley came out with her iconic entry into the Legends (Mists of Avalon and, yes, I have a first edition of that, too), which concentrated on “rehabilitating” the reputation of Morgan le Fay.
Through all of this—and I include the works by Nancy McKenzie, Persia Woolley, Sharan Newman, and Helen Hollick—I couldn’t find a rendering of Guinevere that I well and truly liked. So, as the adage goes, “If you want something done right…” 😀
3. You are a woman after my own heart! What’s different about this new version from the award-winning one released in 1999?
Glad you asked!
The most obvious difference at first glance is the inclusion of my digital line-art renderings of images engraved on Pictish standing stones found throughout Scotland, plus some of my original artwork inspired by said stones. These drawings function throughout the text as clues to the reader of an imminent viewpoint shift: the doves represent Gyan, the dragons Arthur, and so forth. With more than ten viewpoint characters, I decided my readers could use a bit of help!
Linguistically—aside from tighter wording and hotter sex—I have expanded my characters’ vocabularies to include additional epithets, endearments, insults, and mythology in order to more richly define their world. I never would have dared to do this had I not decided to include a glossary. Since my work has truly epic scope, I also include an index of characters who appear or who are referenced in the book. This index defines each character’s function in the story and gives other pertinent details.
4. I’ve heard you say that yours is a Guinevere “people will actually like.” What do you mean by that? What makes her different?
She’s smart (and sometimes a smartass!), she’s strong willed, she has a fairly firm idea of who she is and what she wants from life—and from her life-partner—and yet all that strength forms a shell around a compassionate, vulnerable core. She wants to do the best thing for her people but sometimes doesn’t have the first clue how to accomplish it and seeks approval along the way. Consequently, she is mercilessly hard on herself when she perceives that she has failed to meet others’ expectations. In short, she is very much a woman that female readers can relate to despite the fact that most of us don’t rule clans or collect heads. I once described the book to a coworker as, “a female assertiveness training manual.” It’s not far from the truth. Male readers can simply sit back and enjoy the view, along with the battles and political intrigue and whatnot.
5. What made you choose Scotland as the location for your novel when England is the traditional setting?
Several research works I read in the 1980s—before Dawnflight first took shape upon the page—suggested to me that the Border Country was an ideal location for Arthur’s military operations. Plus, I was attracted to the cross-cultural aspect of having Arthur be a Romanized Celt and Gyan a Pict (or “ban-Caledonach,” as she would call herself in my newly invented Pictish terminology). In fact, the more I delve into Scottish Gaelic to create Pictish terms for place-names, the more I am convinced that southern Scotland/northern England was Arthur’s home turf, in spite of what others may insist. The wording, in comparison to traditional Arthurian place-names and battle sites that nobody can identify with anything approaching certainty, fits far too nicely to be mere coincidence.
And, yes, I firmly believe Arthur, his wife, and their associates existed. To do anything less would be a gross disservice to my writing and to my readers.
6. I’ve read that you purposefully stripped your tale of the magic usually associated with Arthurian legend to focus more on the history. Why?
Oh, the magic is there, trust me! But it is the magic of visions and prophecies, the magic of prayer, the magic of curses and blessings, the magic of herbal lore…and most of all, the magic that happens when two charismatic individuals unite to forge a better world for themselves, each other and their people.
7. The summary for your book puts forth an interesting premise: Gyan (Guinevere) marries someone other than Arthur. What made you choose such a bold departure from previous legend?
Good question! I think it may have been inspired by some obscure, ancient tale…after having studied the Arthurian Legends for more than four decades, it’s safe to say that I’ve forgotten far more than most people know about the subject.
Actually, to be fair—and this isn’t really a spoiler alert—Gyan is betrothed to Urien. After she and Arthur meet and become attracted to each other, they spend the rest of the book trying to figure out how she can extricate herself from the betrothal without making Urien start a civil war.
8. Dawnflight has a sequel, correct? What can you tell us about this book and when it will be available?
Morning’s Journey picks up the morning after Dawnflight leaves off and follows Gyan & Arthur through more battles and family changes and triumphs and tragedies. And it delves a little farther into the relationship of Gyan and Angusel (Lancelot). Morning’s Journey will be available as soon as I can get a cover commissioned & delivered, since my copyeditor has given me her input.
9. What else might readers like to know about Dawnflight?
If you choose to buy the print edition, email me (kimheadlee at earthlink dot net) or message me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/kim.headlee) for instructions on how to obtain an autographed bookplate. If you buy the e-book edition, I can mail you a magnet… but I wouldn’t advise putting it anywhere near your device!
Apple, Sony and other distribution channels will be available as soon as possible.
11. How can people find out more about you?
Friend me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kim.headlee. I like to share stuff about cats and Star Wars and writerly things and inspirational sentiments and, oh yeah, the occasional original thought. 😀
Thank you , Kim, for joining us here. I hope you find great success with Dawnflight, and best of luck on your future works!
If you have a comment for Kim, please leave it here. She will be monitoring this site periodically.