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Tuesday, April 07, 2020

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2020: G Is For Guinevere, Gawain and the Green Knight

Today’s Arthurian characters are Guinevere, Gawain and the Green Knight, who appears with Gawain in Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

Guinevere, Gwenhwyfar, Guenhumara... or Jenny! That last is what Arthur calls her in The Once And Future King. She appears in so much modern fiction that I will have to be selective, but I will mention it. 

Public domain

She gets one mention in Culhwch And Olwen, where Arthur tells his young cousin he can have anything he asks except... and “Gwenhwyfar, my wife” is on the list. She is Guanhumara in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account(Latin) 

Basically, she is the female in the love trio of Arthur, Guinevere and his best friend, whoever that might be in the individual account, but also carries on with Mordred while Arthur is off on his Roman campaign; he arrives home from his successful war to find that his son has taken his wife and his country! 

There are some theories about a connection with an Irish story, “The Wooing Of Etain.” I can’t see the connection, myself, but I’m not a scholar. Here is a link.

She gets quite a few portrayals in modern fiction, probably just as well, because the mediaeval Guinevere is not very sympathetically portrayed. She not only betrays her husband - which is pretty much okay with the authors during the era of courtly love - but makes her lover’s life miserable with her jealousy and demands. 

Let’s have a look at some portrayals of this lady. 

My favourite is Parke Godwin’s(Firelord). She is a strong, intelligent woman who comes of a matriarchal tribe and is used to ruling, herself. Arthur forgives her brief  romance with Ancellius(Lancelot) which she has when stressed out by her loss of her child and inability to bear more, and still having to do all the work of Queen(no embroidery here!). What makes him angry is her murder of Morgana, his first wife, who is a decent, gentle woman and whose only crime is giving Arthur a child. (In fact, that murder, along with Arthur having left his mother, is what sets Medraut off). She gets her own novel, Beloved Exile, after Arthur’s death, living among the Saxons as a slave, but learning to see their point of view.

I also liked Bernard Cornwell’s version. She starts off as a poverty stricken Princess who elopes with Arthur from his very engagement party where he is getting betrothed to someone else! She, too, is strong, and her passionate wish is to make her beloved husband King. He isn’t, only a regent for Mordred, his nephew, who really isn’t fit to be king. She even sleeps with Lancelot as part of the process! 

An unusual portrayal is in Arthur, King by Dennis Lee Anderson. In that one, Arthur pursues Mordred into the 20th century, during World War II. Mordred had stolen Excalibur and Merlin’s diary, which goes to the end of the war(he is living backwards, like T.H White’s Merlin). Arthur has three months to get these back. While there, he becomes an Air Force pilot(he has to learn to fly very quickly!)and meets and loves a beautiful doctor called Jenny, who goes back with him. 

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Guenhumara(Sword At Sunset) is another favourite. Artos the Bear, leader of the British forces, fighting the Saxons, is honest when he tells her he is marrying her for the men her father will give him to fight at his side as her dowry. But there is, eventually, love between them, although she never quite forgives him for leaving her to give birth in a village of the Old People, convinced that her own child died early as a result of their spells. 

I’ll leave you to look up these and many others while I continue on to Gawain. 

Gawain, or Gwalchmai, “Hawk of May”) is one of Arthur’s earliest companions, as I have mentioned in an earlier post. He is a bit of a boor in Malory, but other than that he is known as the Knight of the Lady(or Knight of the Goddess in John Matthews’ book of the same title), and is a decent, honourable young man who is courteous to all women, including a Loathly Lady I will be mentioning in my R post. He carries a shield with the pentangle representing the Virgin. When he is tempted by Bertilak’s unnamed wife in Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, he has a hard time resisting her, but tries not to be rude. 

Public domain
Sir Gawain And The Green Knight is  a 14th century poem. It has the motif of the Beheading Game and the exchange of winnings, both of which appear elsewhere, but it’s a sweet story in how its characters are presented. 

So, it’s New Year in Camelot. New Year in the Middle Ages was when gifts were exchanged, not Christmas. The knights and ladies have been partying for days, but Arthur won’t eat dinner till something unusual has happened(another motif, which also appears in a later poem, the Geste Of Robin Hood, and was used in an episode of the 1950s TV series).  

Well, something unusual is  about to happen. A huge knight on his huge horse rides into the hall, carrying an axe. Knight, horse and axe are all green. The knight challenges Arthur and his men to use the axe to strike him a blow and take one in exchange. There is obviously something fishy about this, but Arthur leaps up to take the challenge. He is persuaded to allow his nephew, Gawain, to do it instead. Gawain grabs the axe and chops off the Knight’s head. Instead of dying, the dreadful man puts his head back on and leaves, telling Gawain he will see him in a year, at the Green Chapel. 

Several months go by and Gawain leaves Camelot on his beautiful horse, Gringolet, who is dapple grey, dressed in his best clothes, looking not unlike Culhwch in Culhwch and Olwen, too honourable to weasel out, despite having been cheated. He looks here and there and everywhere before finally, just before his appointment, arriving at a castle where he asks for hospitality from his jovial host, Sir Bertilak. “Of course!” Bertilak says. “The Green Chapel? It’s just down the road. You can even sleep in on the day. I’ll send someone to guide you. Stay till then.” 

So, for three days Gawain stays with the Bertilaks, Mr and Mrs, and each day his host goes hunting while he stays in the castle and sleeps in. Bertilak suggests an exchange of whatever each of them “wins” that day. All very well, but Mrs Bertilak drops into his room and tries to seduce him the first two days. In exchange for the animals Bertilak has hunted, all he can give is a kiss. Which he does, much to Bertilak’s amusement. Well, it is a castle, with staff and retainers, no reason to assume it’s his wife. 

But the third day is different. The lady offers him a green embroidered girdle which, she assures him, will protect him from injury. So, what does he do? Hand it to his host as his “winnings” or keep it to protect him from having his head cut off? 

He does what any normal human would do in the circumstances. He keeps it and passes on only the kiss the lady also gave him. 
The next day he is escorted to the Green Chapel. There are no priests or hermits there, and he hears the grinding of an axe on a whetstone. It’s more like a portal to the Otherworld than anything Christian. Still, he grits his teeth and proceeds, despite the pleas of Bertilak’s servant. 

The huge Green Knight appears. Gawain kneels to receive his blow, and when it comes he is startled to realise the knight has not hit him. “Just testing,” says the Green Knight. Again, he nearly, but not quite, swoops down with the axe. 

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, just get on with it!” Gawain cried.

The third time, there is a slight cut. Gawain, much relieved, leaps to his feet, grabbing his weapon. “Right, you’ve had your blow! That’s it!” 

But the Knight is grinning. “The first two were for the days when you gave me your winnings,” he says. “The third was for when you let my wife give you the girdle without passing it on.”

Gawain is absolutely appalled! Yes, he is alive, but ... that creature is Bertilak? And he is right, thinks Gawain, he ought to have handed over the green girdle. Sure, Gawain, feel bad about being human! 

It turns out that the whole thing was a plot by Morgan Le Fay to scare Guinevere to death. She did the magic that turned human Bertilak and his horse into creatures of the otherworld.

Gawain returns to Camelot, feeing depressed. He decides to wear that belt permanently as a sign of his shame. Nobody back home gets it. They make green belts a fashion statement instead of being annoyed with him. He is their Gawain, dammit! They love him, perfect or not. But Gawain is Gawain. He is one of those people for whom it’s a matter of honour. 

The belt turns up in Phyllis Ann Karr’s Idylls Of The Queen. More about it in the K post. 

The Green Knight is probably a vegetation god - that’s what he tells Gawain in the film Sword Of The Valiant, in fact, a not-very-good film that nevertheless had the involvement of Rosemary Sutcliff. He dies and turns into vegetation. The role was played by Sean Connery, who looked like a giant Christmas gift in his Camelot scene. As a result, anyway, Bertilak and the knight are different people. 

One of the elements of the early Gawain was that he became stronger until noon and then weaker by sunset; one theory was that he was a solar god before he became the knight of the Lady. 

This is turning into a longer post than I intended, but I hope you enjoyed it! I’m off to make some early dinner. See you tomorrow for H! 

By the way, I wrote a novella inspired by Gawain And The Green Knight. I’m still looking for a market for it, so I won’t put it up on my blog, but meanwhile I made it up into a little ebook on Creative Bookbuilder for my own benefit. If you want to read it, email me -  my address is under “Review and posting policy and Contact.” It comes in ePub and PDF, as CBB doesn’t do mobi, but you can convert it from PDF. I tested it on my Kindle App. I’ll be happy to give you a copy for free. 

Monday, April 06, 2020

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2020: F Is For ... Fisher King!

Why Fisher, anyway? There are many possibilities, but I think it’s a pun. The French words for “sinner” and “fisherman” are the same, pecheur, with a difference in accents in the written words(Sorry, I can’t seem to get a French accent above the “e” on my iPad, so you will have to Google it to see what I mean.) 

This is a confusing character. There may be more than one of him. One is King Pelles, who is the father of Elaine of Carbonek. Or Pellam. Or maybe they are brothers? Father and son? Depends which version you read. It’s part of the Grail legend and, of course, appears in our friend Malory’s work, but also in French and German stories of the Middle Ages, and may even have pre-Christian Celtic elements. 

Anyway, he is a sinner who has been wounded by the Spear of Longinus, which was used to stab Jesus on the cross. He can only be healed by a pure Grail knight who is sometimes Galahad and sometimes Percival. His wound is described as being in the thigh, but is probably meant to be in the genitals, so you have to assume he was wounded  after fathering Elaine or other characters described as his children. What was his sin? Liking women too much, apparently!

In Malory there is an early story, “Balin and Balan” in which the two brothers end up killing each other unintentionally, the sort of story you will find in Tolkien’s more depressing works. In it, there is a downright scary scene in which Balin is rushing through a castle unarmed, having broken his weapon, being chased by King Pellam, whose brother he had just killed. He finds himself in a room with a bed, and a spear set on a gold table. Desperately, he grabs the spear and stabs his pursuer. Dreadful things happen, because this is not just any old spear, of course. The whole castle comes crashing down and both Balin and Pellam fall into a “swoon” for several days, awakening in the ruins. Balin has struck the Dolorous Stroke, and Pellam will be in agony from his unhealed wound for years till Galahad comes along to heal him.

Public domain 

Or Percival. Or whoever. Anyway, that is the last we hear of it till the Grail Quest begins. Pellam is a Grail Keeper, a relative of Joseph of Arimathea, so is important.

More than that, the land is also “wounded”, becoming a wasteland. Maybe another good reason for not letting kings run around having knightly “adventures”! 

In John Boorman’s film, Excalibur, the whole Fisher King thing is handed to Arthur himself, who needs to drink from the Grail to recover. The knight who achieves it and brings it back to his lord is Percival, who has to answer a riddle(no, not “what is your name, what is your quest, what is the flight velocity of an unladen swallow?”). Arthur has been wounded and the land with which he is connected has become a wasteland. When he is healed, he and his knights gallop across land which is blossoming with his recovery, to the tune of “O, Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina Burana

If the King Pelles of the Elaine story really is the Fisher King, no wonder he wants a grandson to relieve him of the misery of his wound! 

Tomorrow’s letter is G, featuring Gawain, Guinevere and the Green Knight. See you then! 

Sunday, April 05, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: E Is For.. Elaine and ... Elaine!

Today’s letter is E and the characters are both called Elaine and both were involved with Lancelot, whose mother was also called Elaine. There must be something about the name. I believe it’s a variation of “Helen”.

I’ll be mentioning the appearances of these two women in modern fiction as well as their mediaeval stories. 

Elaine of Astolat is known as the Lily Maid of Astolat. She is the pathetic one of the two. I should add, she is the one who makes it into modern and Victorian fiction too, inspiring the Lady of Shalott. 

The Lady Of Shalott. Waterhouse. Public Domain.

In the Morte D’Arthure, in a story taken from “the French book” mentioned by Malory, Elaine is the daughter of a certain Sir Bernard, who is having a tournament. Long story, but boils down to this: one of the participants is Sir Lancelot, of whom you will hear more in a future post. She is in love with him and begs him to wear her favour in the contest, an embroidered red sleeve. He agrees, but says he will be doing it incognito, so uses her brother’s plain white shield, while she hides his in her room. She doesn’t know who he is herself. 

Lancelot wins the tournament but is badly wounded. Everyone admires this amazing knight and wonders who he is. He gets treatment at the forest cell of a hermit who was once one of Arthur’s knights but has retired and is a hotshot surgeon.

Sir Gawain turns up at Sir Bernard’s home and, after seeing Lancelot’s shield, identifies him and tells the horrified girl that he has been badly wounded. Of course, she rushes off to nurse him, but while she is gathering herbs or whatever, the idiot decides he simply has to compete in another tournament he has heard about, and gets out of his sickbed well before he is ready. 

So, more time in bed, and does he fall in love with his nurse? Nope. Furthermore, he finds out that Gawain has identified him and knows he is going to be in huge trouble with Guinevere, because Gawain is going to blab... Oh, dear. 

He tells Elaine firmly, after he recovers, that sorry, he can’t be her husband or lover. And then he offers her money in the form of a huge yearly income when she marries someone else... Idiot.

Elaine dies ten days later and, probably during the ten days, comes up with her revenge - “He’ll be sorry when I’m dead, you’ll see!” 

She requires her body to be dressed richly and have a letter put into her hand and be carried by barge down the river, with a boatman to make sure it reaches its destination and not just some random spot. 

And then the whole court gathers as the letter is read. Guinevere says something like, “You could  have been nicer to her!” Lancelot says that he can only love who he can love and not call it up on request, and Arthur agrees - poor man! Lancelot even says “But I offered her all that money to marry someone else, I don’t get it!” No, Lancelot, you wouldn’t, would you? 

Guinevere, who has been angry with him, as he predicted, calls him in to apologise, but he is not accepting apologies. Coldly he tells her he has had about enough of her jealousy and they have a quarrel. A nice revenge for Elaine. 

The Lady Of Shalott is the heroine of Tennyson’s poem of the same name. She lives in a tower on the way to Camelot, weaving scenes from life, but never allowed to see the real thing, except in her mirror, due to a curse. And in her mirror, she sees Lancelot, riding along singing “Tirra Lirra by the river”. Finally, angry and frustrated with only shadows of life, she turns to see the real thing and, of course, the curse comes down on her. “The mirror crack’d from side to side” (Agatha Christie used that for the title of one of her murder mysteries) She goes down to the river, gets in her barge and lies down to die. No letter, no boatman. “She has a lovely face,” says Lancelot, who has no idea who the woman is. By the way, that poem has been turned into a song by Lorena McKennitt. Listen to it here

In T.H White’s novel Elaine has been in love with Lancelot for years and knows perfectly well who he is. She is not a young thing either, by then, but neither is he. 

American novelist Phyllis Ann Karr wrote a short story, “Two Bits Of Embroidery”. One is that scarlet sleeve made by Elaine. The other is a head cloth embroidered by a kitchen maid who has a crush on Sir Kay, who is in charge of the kitchens. She asks him to wear it as her favour. He says no, but asks to keep the cloth to show somebody. The “somebody” is the Queen, who takes the girl into her personal service, sewing for her. So, the girl whose knight wears her favour dies, the one whose knight didn’t wear it lives and thrives. A nice story, in several anthologies if you want to read it. 

The other Elaine is Elaine of Carbonek/Corbenic, daughter of King Pelles/Pellam, the keeper of the Holy Grail. Lancelot rescues her from a bathtub full of very hot water(a curse, of course). She doesn’t die of unrequited love for Lancelot - oh, no, not her! She is helped to sleep with him by a great enchantress, Dame Brisen, who sends him off to a castle where he thinks he is meeting Guinevere - and puts something in his wine to make sure he doesn’t notice his lover that night isn’t the Queen. 

When he finds out, next day, he is furious, but calms down, thinking it isn’t her fault, it was that bitch Brisen! However, he doesn’t seem to end up beheading the enchantress as he vowed to do, and Elaine becomes pregnant with Galahad, the future Grail Knight, who will sit in the Siege Perilous and achieve the Grail, so that’s okay. Never mind that Lancelot had to be drugged and tricked, or that he is told he is too sinful to achieve it himself. 

This Elaine also gets some time in modern fiction. She appears in T.H White’s Once And Future King, in her Malory guise, though T.H White has a bit more compassion for her than Malory. 

She is also in Parke Godwin’s Firelord and Beloved Exile. She marries Lancelot(called Ancellius in these books), and gives birth to their son, but is furious when she realises that he merely feels sorry for her. Her anger is directed at Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere)rather than her husband, who has remained good friends with Gwenhwyfar even after their brief affair is over, and tries to get her revenge in the second novel, after Arthur’s death, a revenge that backfires on her.

Anyway, this is a long post and I need to go away and do some housework after breakfast, so goodbye for today and tomorrow I will be back with the Fisher King! 

Friday, April 03, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge - D Is For Dagonet, Dinadan And Dragons!

There are not many people or elements in Arthurian legend with names starting with D, so today I will present three short ones.

The first is literally short. He is Sir Dagonet, who is a dwarf and acts as King Arthur’s court fool in Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthure. He does that job well, though he would like to be a real knight. Unfortunately for him, he isn’t very brave and doesn’t tend to win in a fight. Mind you, Dagonet in the film King Arthur is a big, tough dude not remotely related to the jester of the mediaeval tales! 

Sir Dinadan probably comes from the French, like Lancelot, but also appears in Malory. He is the court joker, as opposed to jester, enjoying practical jokes, though he is brave enough when he has to fight. He admires those who fight better than he does. 

Mark Twain’s version(A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court)is called Dinadan the Humorist, whose idea of humour is to tie metal mugs to dogs’ tails. The courtiers think this is hilarious, though the novel’s hero, Hank Morgan, doesn’t. He also keeps telling jokes that Hank has heard over and over in his own time, including one that he absolutely loathes. When Hank introduces printing and Dinadan writes a joke book that includes that joke, Hank “suppressed the book and hanged the author”. 

The mediaeval Dinadan dies more dramatically, in a revenge situation. 

Finally, dragons. While we all think knights slaying dragons when we think of Camelot, there really aren’t too many in Arthurian literature and none I can recall in Malory. Sorry! 

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century book does mention a couple of dragons, but they are more symbolic than anything, the red dragon of the Britons and the white dragon of the Saxons, fighting each other. As I’m planning a post on this subject I won’t go into too much detail here. 

Lancelot slays one in the Prose Lancelot. I can’t think of any others, though you may know of some. 

Lancelot. Arthur Rackham. Public domain.

Apart from being heraldic beasts, Western dragons are connected with the Devil, unlike the wise and dignified Asian dragons.  Malory, anyway, is mostly about knights fighting and slaying other knights, though there is magic in the Morte. There is the odd giant, sorceresses such as Arthur’s two half sisters Morgana and Morgause, there is Merlin the magician and his apprentice Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, magical swords, the story of the Holy Grail... but no dragons. 

Tomorrow we will be checking out a couple of girls called Elaine, silly enough to fall in love with Lancelot. See you then! 

Thursday, April 02, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: C Is For Culhwch and Camelot

Public Domain
Culhwch is the youthful hero of the Welsh prose tale Culhwch and Olwen, which probably dates to some time in the 12th century. It was translated in the 19th century by Lady Charlotte Guest, along with the stories of the Mabinogion. There have been other translations since then. 

It’s particularly interesting because it has a long list of Arthur’s warriors and the magical abilities they had. Cei(Kay) and Bedwyr are in it, along with many others whose names you have to be Welsh to pronounce properly. I rather think that many of them must be the heroes of their own stories, perhaps lost, and were made Arthur’s men for the purposes of this story. 

Culhwch is the son of King Cilydd. His mother went crazy, ran amok and died giving birth to him after being scared by a herd of swine. His father sends him away to be nursed, so that when he eventually remarries, the new Queen doesn’t know about him immediately. 

Culhwch is sent for and she puts a curse on him when he refuses to marry her daughter. The only woman he can marry, she declares, is the beautiful Olwen, daughter of the giant Yspaddaden. Immediately he falls in love with this girl he has never seen and vows to win her. 

His father gives him advice: go to the court of his cousin, King Arthur, and ask for help. So off he goes to Arthur’s court at  Celliwig in Cornwall(not Camelot!), described in great detail as he mounts his wonderful grey horse and rides off, a very pretty youth with glittery clothes and very sharp weapons. 

At the castle, he encounters the porter Glewlwyd and demands to be admitted. Glewlwyd finally agrees to go ask his boss and Arthur makes him welcome, asking what he can do for his young cousin. Culhwch explains his needs and demands the help of the long list of all Arthur’s warriors, beginning with Cei, Bedwyr and Gwalchmai, threatening to tell the world about it if Arthur doesn’t co-operate. 

His first offer of help is from Cei, who tells him not to be so rude to Arthur and vows to go with him until he either gets Olwen or can’t. Six of Arthur’s warriors go with Culhwch. Along the way, they find that Yspaddaden doesn’t have many friends, but plenty of enemies. This is helpful.

 Culhwch gets to meet Olwen, the most beautiful girl in the world. She tells him firmly, however, that if he wants her, he has to ask her father for her hand. 

The trouble is, Yspaddaden has had a prophecy. When his daughter gets married, he will be killed. So he asks for a series of impossible tasks to be completed before he will agree to the marriage - and while he’s about it, throws poison spears at the departing companions. They throw them back, injuring but not killing him. He complains bitterly. 

Time to return to cousin Arthur. Culhwch doesn’t complete the tasks himself, of course. Arthur and his warriors do that. The final task, after a lot of people have been killed, is hunting the wild boar Trwch Trwyth, who has scissors, comb and razor between his ears, needed to shave Yspaddaden for his daughter’s wedding.That is a quest that ranges across entire countries; Trwch Trwyth is not just any animal. 

Well, the giant, who has killed a lot of people in his own time, gets his comeuppance and Culhwch gets to marry Olwen. I’ll speak more about her in the O post. 

Gustav Dore. Public Domain.
Briefly, let’s talk about Camelot. Despite all the arguments about where it might have been located, such as Cadbury in Somerset and Roman Camulodunum - Jack Whyte’s Arthurian novels use that idea, with two retired Roman army buddies founding it and naming it for their old home - it was first mentioned by mediaeval French writer Chretien De Troyes in his Lancelot stories. He may even have invented it. Apparently he was known for inventing stuff. 

That didn’t stop Henry VII from deciding that Camelot was Winchester, and even getting his very own Round Table with a Tudor Rose painted on it. (If his son hadn’t died young, he would have been King Arthur - and six women would have had very different lives) 

We all have a thing about Camelot, really. “Camelot” symbolises idealism. The John F Kennedy administration was known as Camelot - the Broadway show was going at the time, and John and Jackie played the record over and over. 

We imagine it as the place where knights and their ladies lived and loved and knights went on quests, begged for help by damsels in distress, the towers and the blue sky above. It has inspired a lot of art and music. 

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of the song from the musical. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2020: B Is For Bedwyr And Bertilak

Art by Walter Crane.  Public Domain.

Today, two people with names starting with B - Bedwyr and Bertilak. 

If you have any knowledge of the story of Arthur, you’ll know about that late scene in which the mortally wounded Arthur orders his knight Bedivere - or Bedwyr - to throw his sword Excalibur into the lake. Bedwyr lies to him twice; he can’t bring himself to throw away this amazing sword. Arthur knows he is fibbing and insists. The third time he does what he is told and a hand comes up, catches it and sinks below the waters. After that, Arthur is able to relax as three otherworldly women take him off to the isle of Avalon. In Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel Sword At Sunset, Arthur - known as Artos the Bear in that book - asks Bedwyr to do this, not for magical reasons but because his sword is too recognisable, and he doesn’t want the enemy to know he is dead. 

Bedwyr is one of Arthur’s earliest companions, along with Gwalchmai and Cei(Gawain and Kay). Mentions of him in Welsh poems go back to at least the tenth century. He is one-handed, but doesn’t seem to have any problems as a fighter. In the poem Culhwch And Olwen he plays a major role. More of that poem in a later post. 

He is also in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History Of The Kings Of Britain, a twelfth century text.  

Rosemary Sutcliff gives him the role later assigned to Lancelot, although he only sleeps with Artos’s wife once, and is sent away, but asks to be with Artos in the final battle. 

I confess to having used him in my New Wales series, fan fiction spread across various media universes. New Wales, or Newydd Cymru(and yes, I know it should be Cymru Newydd!)is a planet in the constellation of the Unicorn. After the Battle of Camlann, Bedwyr leads his people through a portal to another world, where they settle comfortably and their descendants meet characters from the universes of Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Robin Of Sherwood. 

Monty Python And The Holy Grail shows him as the intellectual of the group of knights galloping through Britain on foot. Bedivere is the one who suggests weighing the accused witch against a duck. 

So, on to the second B character for today, Sir Bertilak. Bertilak appears in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. There are several editions of this poem, but a recent one  was translated by Tolkien. I read the original Middle English poem  at university. 

 Gawain is on his way to the Green Chapel to meet the Green Knight, who is supposed to lop his head off. Near the end, he arrives at Bertilak’s castle. Jolly Bertilak invites him to stay till New Year’s Day, when he has that appointment, feasting Gawain each night and leaving him in the company of his pretty young wife, to go hunting. Each day there is a challenge to exchange whatever they have gained. Bertilak gives Gawain the animals he has hunted. The trouble is, Gawain’s only gain is a kiss from the wife. When he kisses Bertilak, his jolly host bursts out laughing. 

I’m rather fond of Bertilak, though he is somewhat sneaky. He knows perfectly well what is happening - and he is not exactly who Gawain thinks he is. But he has a likeable cheekiness about him. More about him in my G post! 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A to Z Challenge 2020: A Is For Arthur

Public domain

So, what was your first image of (King) Arthur? Was it the old man sitting on a throne handing out quests and knighthoods? Was it the boy pulling the sword out of a stone? The heroic Romano British warrior? Something in between? All of them are legitimate, all of them have their modern authors writing about them, as well as the mediaeval ones. 

Here is a post I wrote earlier, about visual Arthurs, to save writing about those again. There are quite a few films and telemovies and even a TV series, Arthur Of The Britons

I think my first Arthur may have been T.H White’s, via the film Camelot and the Disney Sword In The Stone, both of which I saw as a child. And T.H White’s Once And Future King was based on Malory’s 15th century Morte D’Arthure. This is probably the Arthur most of us think of first when we think of him. Sword in the stone or from the lake, Merlin, Camelot, Lancelot and Guinevere, the Grail Quest. 

But there are others. Even Thomas Malory’s Arthur, the king who hands out knighthoods in Camelot gets his moment of warrior glory when he goes to war against Rome and wins. By the way, Malory seems to have written his magnificent work while in prison. He chose the wrong side in the Wars of the Roses(Lancaster while York was in charge), but he may have been locked up for reasons that were not political. Whatever the reasons, he gave us the Arthur everyone imagines even today, though he was using existing French works. 
There is a warrior Arthur, who turns up in quite a few modern books, including Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword At Sunset. His first companions did not include Lancelot, who arrived later, from France, but Bedwyr(Bedivere) and Gwalchmai(Gawain). Drust(Tristan) was an early one too, and may even have been a real person. 

So, why did Arthur change from warrior to the King of Camelot? I wrote my Honours thesis about that very question. The early, possibly historical, Arthur gets very few mentions in the surviving texts, but if he was around he would have been too busy trying to keep out the post-Roman invaders to sit around handing out quests. And he is not a Christian creation. My conclusion was that by the time you get to Malory he has become a Christian King, and while Christian kings did fight - look what happened to poor Richard III! - the expectation was that they didn’t risk themselves and the kingdom, the land which was one with them, by going into battle. At the start of the Morte Arthur, having won his kingdom in battle against eleven kings who didn’t want to serve “a beardless boy”, decides to  have adventures like his knights and goes off alone to have one. He meets up with a mysterious knight who turns out to be King Pellinore, fights and is defeated, having to be rescued by Merlin, who explains to Pellinore who he is. What’s more, he has broken - broken! - that sword which made him king when he pulled it out of the stone. That’s when Merlin arranges for him to get another one, from the Lady of the Lake and you see the arm in white samite. (I wrote a story about that, “The Sword From The Lake”, published in Andromeda Spaceways #5. In my story it was Nimue, who was disobeying orders, desperately trying to get the sword to Arthur). 

After that, Arthur never does the adventure thing again. Battle, yes, in the Roman War and, of course, when he has to fight Mordred. And he kills a giant at St Michael’s Mount to save the local community. But none of the silly, “Bet I can beat you!” (to paraphrase Mark Twain) the knights are doing. If he, the anointed king, had died that first time, what would have happened to the kingdom?

I’d compare it to Captains Kirk and Picard. Kirk just runs off every time, taking his second in command, sometimes even his chief engineer and medical officer, and nearly gets killed. Who would run the ship in that emergency  without him? Early Picard has to be reminded by his second that it’s not appropriate. Not that he listens for long. 

But warrior Arthur is in quite a few early tales including some I will mention in the course of this A to Z. Watch out for them! 

And here are two posts I wrote about Arthurian books!