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!
Blog note: This is the last post of this year. In 2013, new posts will be published on Mondays, starting January 7. Happy Holidays to all, no matter what you celebrate.
About a month ago, I was fortunate to interview author J.P. Reedman about her new debut novel, Stone Lord. At the time, I knew very little about the book, other than it was Arthurian legend set in the Bronze Age. This unusual concept, combined with her interview and excerpts posted online, were enough to convince me to buy her book. Given that I can be a bit of a tough sell when it comes to anything Arthurian, I was happily surprised by how much I liked the book. And “liked” is an understatement. Ask anyone who had to listen to me rave while reading it. If you want the short version: 4.5 stars.
Despite its title, this book isn’t only Arthur’s tale. It begins with the story of the boy who would become Merlin, how he escaped the clutches of Vhortiern (Vortigern), and grew to guide U’thyr (Uther), Arthur’s father. Once the young king is born, his story comes to the forefront. Throughout the book, Reedman gifts us with truly creative takes on classic Arthurian legend, including the dragons under the tower, Merlin’s relationship with Nin-Aeifa (Nimue), the nature and purpose of Afallan (Avalon), the Sword in the Stone, the finding of Excalibur (called here Caladvolc), and more. The only place where I felt it fell a little short was in Mordred’s conception, which reminded me of other versions I have read, but with a gothic chill that the others lack. I especially appreciated her inclusion of the Green Knight and his beheading game and the hunting of the boar T’orc, neither of which I’ve seen touched by authors in quite some time.
Honestly, I haven’t been this captivated by a book since The Mists of Avalon. But then again, I’m a sucker for all things mythological, and that is where Reedman truly excels. Her descriptions of the ancient monuments and the rites associated with them will take your breath away. She has a way of making such an obscure period of the past come to life, that you half expect to be there when you put the book down. It is a story firmly rooted in its time period, one that actually caused me, as a writer, to reexamine some of my character’s motivations to make sure they are historically accurate. (That is one of the highest compliments I can pay an author – to have learned something about my own work by reading theirs.) Reedman’s insertion of the Arthurian story into the Bronze Age is done so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget this isn’t its usual time period. I’m not in a position to judge the archeology, but I am certain her expertise in this area is a major contributor to making this book feel so real.
The pacing of this book is well done. I didn’t want to put it down. The only place where I felt it was a little off was Fynavir’s (Guinevere) kidnapping. It’s my understanding that in most tales, Melwas holds Guinevere captive for quite some time. But in Stone Lord, she’s being carried away on one page and 25 pages later (most of which is taken up by another part of the story), Fynavir is rescued. Reedman spends far more time on the hunt of the boar than she does on the event that is the catalyst for Fynavir and An’kelet’s affair, which doesn’t seem equitable. I also felt that the ending was a little rushed, like Reedman was in a hurry to wrap things up, but this is a common complaint I have about many books, so it may be more me than the author.
In a few places, just a little more explanation would have helped the overall story. I felt that the background between Fynavir (Guinevere) and An’kelet (Lancelot) depended a lot on the reader’s knowledge of the myth of King Arthur. There are furtive glances and reddening cheeks that make you aware there is an attraction and some sort of past between the two, but the nature of this is never made clear. I would have liked at least a few pages of background to help me understand why, in Reedman’s world, these two are so heartbroken that they can’t be together and what bonded them in the first place. I also would have liked a little more motivation for Morigau (Morgan). She’s as crazy as crazy comes, but the only explanation we really get is a preternaturally intelligent girl of “no more than three” wailing in jealousy that Merlin picked Ardhu to train rather than her. Later, she rails about how Ardhu took everything away from her, especially the love of her family, but here again there’s so much reliance on prior knowledge of legend that Morigau’s motivation feels forced on her. If we could have seen one or two scenes showing how her life changed for the worse because of Ardhu, her venom would be easier to understand. Maybe these things will be further explained in the sequel, Moon Lord, but I would have liked to have had them in the context of this book.
One key thing I thought was missing from the book was a list of place names, both then and now, and maybe even a map, since they are so different from anything most of us would be familiar with. Reedman has a list on her website, but even that individual post is difficult to find and this isn’t a convenient solution when you’re reading and don’t feel like getting online on to verify a location. I made it through just fine without the map, but it would have been nice to be able to flip to the front or the back to verify the characters were going where I thought they were.
Also, if you buy a first edition, there are several typos, so be forewarned. The author is aware of these and will be correcting them in future editions.
But even for its flaws, Stone Lord is a fantastic book. I think it is worthy of a Big Six publisher’s attention, but I’m pretty much the ideal audience for a book like this. If you like the story of King Arthur and can handle a non-traditional setting, you’ll enjoy this book. Congratulations to Reedman on a fine contribution to the Matter of Britain. I look forward to reading more of Ardhu’s adventures in Moon Lord when it comes out.
Have you read Stone Lord? If so, what did you think of it? If not, does it interest you? Why or why not?
J.P. Reedman, author of “Stone Lord: The Legend of King Arthur, The Era of Stonehenge”
Today we have a very special guest, author J.P. Reedman, whose historical fiction novel, Stone Lord: The Legend of King Arthur, The Era of Stonehenge, was recently published.
Q: Thank you so much for joining me and my readers. By way of introduction, please tell us a little about yourself.
Janet: Stone Lord is my first published novel. I began writing fantasy when I was 11, back on the west coast of Canada, where I grew up. I had lots of stories and poems published in the small presses in the ’80s, and had a long foray into ‘fan fiction’ but slacked off when I moved to the UK in 1992—I was too busy traveling around and having fun! A serious illness ten years ago kick-started my writing again; I knew then that it was time to sit down and really make an effort, and not to think you had all the time in the world.
Q: Stone Lord is a very unique take on Arthurian legend, as most books about King Arthur are set the Middle Ages or Celtic times. What inspired you to set yours in the Bronze Age?
Janet: I have read all the different Arthurian versions, plus non-fiction and the legends in the Mabinogion. There were so many versions of the Arthurian legends I began to think that, like Robin Hood, there may have been more than one source of inspiration for the character. I believe there probably WAS a dark age Arthur who stemmed the Saxon tides for a while…but certain mythic qualities in the legends speak of an older time, long before the Dark Ages. In the Welsh Mabinogion Arthur fights monsters and witches, not Saxons, and his company have the thinly disguised names of gods. Then there were Geoffrey of Monmouth’s anachronistic mentions of the building of Stonehenge, a monument many thousands of years older than the historical Arthur. Add to that, stories of weaponry coming from and being deposited in lakes (a custom that began in the Bronze Age), swords in standing stones, and you start to see what may be the root of some aspects of the legend.
Q: In reading the excerpts from your book available online, I noticed the main characters have names that are derivations of the names we normally associate with Arthurian legend. How did you determine what you would call them?
Janet: With great difficulty! I knew that it wouldn’t sound right to call them by their traditional established names, which are a mix of Celtic, French, and even a bit of Germanic. So I looked for older or more ‘primal’ sounding versions of the names, and found them most often in Irish myth—for instance Arthur’s sword Excalibur seems to have the Irish hero’s sword Caladbolg as its direct ancestor, so I used a version of this. I decided I wanted ‘Celtic sounding’ names, but with alternate spellings so as not to sound TOO familiar or confuse people about the timeline. And if anyone is wondering, it is now thought that Celtic languages were in Britain at least from 2500 BC.
Q: What types of traditional research did you do for this book? What are some sources you’d recommend if others want to learn more about the Bronze Age or its people?
Janet: Visit the monuments if you can! There’s nothing like being in the field. There are several brilliant books on the subject of Stonehenge and the British Bronze Age. Stonehenge by Mike Parker Pearson contains much of the recent findings in the Stonehenge landscape, and Aubrey Burl’s Rites of the Gods covers the ritual side of things.
Q: You’ve also done some archeological research. That’s something few people can claim. Please tell us a little about this research, how it came about and how it influenced your book.
Janet: I work part-time at Stonehenge itself and have been lucky enough to talk with many of the top archaeologists in the field. I also have worked myself on a marvelous site just 2 miles from the stones where there is an ancient sacred pool full of deposits that spans the ages from the Mesolithic to medieval times. A rare type of Bronze Age dagger was found in the spring, and this really started to make me think about the Excalibur tradition. The site is on private land and covered in trees; an iron age hill fort stands next to it, and the Avon river curls around it like a serpent…it’s a truly magical place and may well become a site of worldwide importance.
Q. You have some very nice nods to traditional Arthurian legend in your work, such as Ardhu (Arthur) moving a stone and taking a sacred dagger from underneath it. What made you choose to portray the Sword in the Stone in this manner?
Janet: I saw a video about someone who could move large stones. He did it using a pivot point and I thought, ‘Yes, that could work!’ I began to think again, about Geoffrey of Monmouth’s description of Merlin dismantling Stonehenge when it was still in Ireland. It wasn’t magic that moved the stones but his ‘ingenious machines.’ I didn’t want to use magic in Stone Lord, so I had to come up with something that could be done and would look visually impressive to onlookers.
Q: One of the most fascinating aspects of your story, at least to me personally, is the mythology of the people and how it affects their daily lives. Can you please tell us a little about how you came to learn about it and the role it plays in your story?
Janet: When reading many books about prehistoric people, I was nearly always disappointed by the usage (or lack) of personal mythology/ritual. People laugh when archaeologists dig a mysterious mound and say it’s ‘for ritual’ but it WAS a very different world to ours, one when you really didn’t know if the Sun would return every Midwinter, where a simple virus or a bad tooth could kill you, where you would have to placate the powers for your continued survival.. I studied anthropology briefly in the ’80s and tried to make a fairly realistic portrayal of what I think Bronze Age Britons might have believed in—a world where the spirits of the dead co-existed with the living, where trees, stones, rivers all held tutelary deities. It wasn’t the ‘fluffy’ time some authors like to make it either; there is plenty of evidence that strange and not-so-nice rites did take place on occasion.
Q: Your pre-historic version of Guinevere, whom you call Fynavir, is Irish. Why did you choose this background for her? How did you choose how to place the other characters since they are very much out of their traditional element in your book?
Janet: The name Guinevere has the same origin and meaning as Fynavir—White Phantom. Findabhair was daughter of the Irish Queen Maeve in the famous saga The Cattle Raid of Cooley. I liked the idea of a marriage alliance being made, especially as much British gold work of the Bronze Age came from Wicklow. It is now also thought that the Irish hero sagas have roots in earlier prehistory rather than just in the Iron Age. As for the others, I did try to keep some of Arthur’s familial ties in tact. I used Cornwall for his mother’s Y’gerna’s home as not only was Tintagel in the original, it was a very important place in prehistory—the source of Britain’s tin. Lancelot (An’kelet) is a prince from Brittany in France…not a million miles from the ‘canon’ Lancelot who was also from that area; Brittany has had strong tied to Britain since the Stone Age and also has a great megalithic culture.
Q: Some reviews have likened your book to Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. Obviously they are both set in pre-historic times, but beyond that do you find it an apt comparison? How would you describe your book to those trying to decide whether or not to read it?
Janet: Auel’s book is set at a very much earlier period than mine, but I can see some resemblance. She may have been writing an adventure epic but she knew her stuff about the people and their lifestyle.
Q: What is one misconception you’ve heard voiced about your work and what would you say to clarify?
Janet: I’ve had a few people who don’t seem to recognize that it is fiction! I am not expounding a theory on King Arthur in any way. You could almost call what I write a form of alternative history, I suppose.
Q: Do you believe there was a historical King Arthur? Why or why not? Or do you think it really matters?
Janet: I do think there was, but whoever he was, he has assimilated both mythic characters and a whole handful of different historical figure into his mythos. That’s why there are legends in various parts of Britain concerning him, from Cornwall to Wales, to Scotland.
Q: Is Stone Lord a stand-alone book or part of a series? What are you working on next?
Janet: There will be a second part which carries through to the end of Ardhu’s life. It introduced several new main characters, including Ardhu’s illegitimate son, Mordraed.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Janet: I hope that this book might also give people a better idea of the Bronze Age era in Britain. Too many people still have this image of ‘cavemen’ in shaggy skins grunting as they haul stones around a landscape. These people are our direct ancestors and no less intelligent than us—they wove cloth, wore gold jewellery, forged bronze weapons, used razors and had buttons on their clothes!
Q. Where can readers find the book, online or in print? Where can people connect with you online?
Janet: Stone Lord is available in print and kindle on Amazon. Other e-book variations are available on SMASHWORDS, and print copies from Barnes and Noble and Waterstones.com. There is a blog at stone-lord.blogspot.com, and also a Stone Lord Facebook page. Both have lots of archaeological items as well as information on the book.
Thank you again for spending time with me today. I wish you the greatest success with your work, both now and in the future.
Do you have questions or comments for Janet? Add them here and she’ll respond.