Guest Interview with Tyler R. Tichelaar, author of the Children of Arthur series

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.

On Historical Fiction Writing

"Looking Back Through Time" by adrians_art

Over the weekend, I took a break from editing book 1 to work on a short story that’s been haunting me since 2007. It’s totally different from everything else I’ve ever written (read: it takes place in modern times and is a little gritty). I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with it, but I thought it would be a nice change of pace. And it was.

But what surprised me most is that it gave me a whole new appreciation for historical fiction (HF). HF and fantasy are all I’ve ever tried to write because, well, apparently I enjoy other time periods and worlds more than this one (I blame it on one too many past lives). In one weekend, I wrote more words than I usually do in twice that time, all because I was writing about my own time period. What did this teach me?

  1. It takes patience to write HF – You would think after 10+ years of research I would realize that, but I guess I’m a little slow. Until I wrote about my own time period, I didn’t realize how much of my time writing HF is taken up by second guessing word origin (i.e. time period and place), looking at maps to confirm geography, or fussing over some other detail to get things just right. These details are what make HF pop, but you don’t have to think about them as much when writing modern fiction – they just come because you have a natural frame of reference. It’s one thing to transport readers within their familiar world, but to take them somewhere else in time is completely different.
  2. Good HF looks deceptively easy – Why? A good HF writer (like any professional) makes it look effortless. But in reality, HF writers voluntarily become experts in their chosen time and place. That’s not something everyone (outside of historians and archeologists) can say. And why do we do it? Well, insanity is one possibility, but mostly it’s a labor of love.
  3. I wouldn’t want to do anything else – Yes, I can write modern fiction faster. But, there’s something about being able to bring the past to life that makes HF special and makes me want to keep doing it. (I have plans beyond Guinevere and Isolde, I’m just not ready to talk about them yet.) There’s something special about resurrecting lost voices or rescuing those on the brink of being forgotten. After all, we all want to think we’ll be remembered; perhaps helping others secure their place in history will somehow assure ours.

What do you think? If you write or read HF, what draws you to it?

Guinevereian Fiction

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?

Samhain: The Celtic New Year

Samhain, or as we know it, Halloween, marks the beginning of the Celtic New Year. We have no records of exactly how this holiest of feasts was celebrated, but traditions passed on over thousands of years give us a good starting point. What follows is my dramatic imagining of what could have taken place at a Celtic Samhain ritual. Journey with me back in time, won’t you?

The last of the day’s dying light casts long shadows at your feet as you depart from your small cottage. Leaving the door slightly ajar, you look back one last time at the simple plate of bread and cheese on a table by the front window, sustenance for wandering ancestral spirits, and to the single burning taper meant to both welcome the good and ward off the malevolent. All is in place. You can make your journey in peace.

As you walk through the countryside to the forest, you pass the herders and shepherds, coaxing sheep down from their highland pastures to their winter pens and leading the weaker cattle to be slaughtered, their sacrifice a store against the cold, starving days of winter that linger just on the horizon. In the thick blanket of leaves on the side of the road, squirrels and children scrounge for the last of the nuts and withered berries, for this is the night of last harvest. Anything remaining on the vine after nightfall is taboo, left for the spirits, a gift for the puca, with its long, shining mane and luminescent yellow eyes, or the beguiling Sidhe who ride out from the hollow hills in search of humans to enchant. Your stomach tightens against the current of unease in the air. This is the time of magic, the time when the dead walk among the living, for the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest tonight.

It is dark by the time you reach the stone circle and the air is thick with the scent of wood smoke and sounds of merriment. Friends call greetings and beckon you to feast with them on the roasting meat of a sacrificed boar, freshly baked barley bread and dishes made from apples and gourds. You gladly accept a cup of cider and sit on the cold earth to sup.

Watching the crowd you see tribesmen of all ranks joined together to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. To the east, a group of giggling young girls take turns peeling apples and casting their seeds like lots to divine the identity of their future mates. In the center of the circle, a couple leans toward the bonfire, each grasping the handle of pan, seeing their future predicted in the dancing of the hazelnuts on its surface. All around you, a stream of dancers twirl, some from an overabundance of drink, while others keep the more sacred tradition of dancing to keep the evil spirits at bay.

You are about to join them when a hush falls over the crowd as an elderly woman enters the circle, her long gray hair trailing loose over the folds of a black cloak. You recognize her as the high priestess of the Druids and bow to show your respect as she passes by, shuffling footfalls echoed by the thumping of her walking staff.

When you rise, you see someone has placed a large cauldron over the fire. The woman takes her place behind it and lifts her arms in invocation. The air stills and the crowd holds its breath. When she looks up, her eyes hold an otherworldly fire and you realize the Goddess stands before you. Before you can draw breath, you hear her reedy voice resonate in your head, although her thin lips scarcely move.

“This night you pay homage to Me, keeper of wisdom, harbinger of death, She to whom all return in the end. In my cauldron you shall be reborn or taste the bitter dregs of death, dependant on your actions in this life. Come forth and drink in remembrance of those who have passed through the veil before you.”

Your Chieftain steps forward, carrying a bowl in which the blood of the slain boar was the collected. He and the Crone walk the circle moonwise and pour out the blood at the base of each stone in thanksgiving for the fertility of the past year and as a gift meant to ensure its continuance in the year to come.

Returning to the center, she dips the cup into the cauldron and presents it to the Chieftain. He drinks, passes it on to his family, who give it to the next and so it makes its way around the circle. When it comes to you, you hesitate, seeing for a moment in its gleaming surface the blood of the fallen boar, even as its acrid smell identifies the contents as mere red wine. You swallow, wincing as the sour liquid winds its way to your belly, and seat yourself on the ground.This is the time for saying farewell to those whom the tribe has lost since the last Samhain festival. You close your eyes and slowly their faces take shape, the father lost to winter’s chill, the sister who died in childbirth, neighbors and friends who were their own bloody sacrifice in battle. And then you think of her, the Goddess Cerridwen. You must make you peace with her, for life is fickle and you know not if you will live to see this festival again. After several moments of silent prayer, another face rises in the darkness, a man crowned with antlers. It is his voice you hear this time, the dying God.

“Mourn me not, for I shall always return. Born on the longest night as the child of light, I wait only for the return of the sun. Blessings be upon you and those you hold dear.”

As you watch, his antlers fall off and he is swept into the Goddess’ ancient embrace.

When you open your eyes, you see the priestess is now gone. The ritual is over. All that remains of the former revelry are a few people casting objects into the fire – bunches of reeds or scraps of cloth representing their prayers – and those still rapt in private contemplation.

Taking a torch lit from the bonfire, you join your friends for the journey home, for no one should wander alone this night. There is solace in numbers from both the wolves howling in the hills and the wandering spirits.

Later, as you rest your weary head, you reflect on the transition of this ritual, from the time of harvest into the season of silence and of sleep. Though the land will soon be swathed in ice and snow, deep within the frozen earth, life goes on unseen. And from these tiny seeds, swaddled in their loamy wombs, shall rise the buds of spring.