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Thursday, April 30, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: Some Reflections...And Other Stuff

Time to reflect on this year’s A to Z Challenge, theme: the Arthurian legend! 

Public Domain

I have to say, it has been quieter than last year and the year before, mainly because I only visited the blogs of those who visited mine. I have had a lot of family commitments and work catch-up time when I wasn’t with my family. I just couldn’t bring myself to wade through a whole lot of other blogs I hadn’t seen, especially because on the A to Z site it has been a lot harder to find anything that interested me since they went from daily blurbs by bloggers to spreadsheets. I did send a polite email inquiry last year, but got no reply.

But quantity this year was made up for by the quality of those bloggers who did visit - thanks, guys! You rock! 

I almost didn’t sign up this year, but decided to have at least one more go because it gave me the excuse to write something every day. I don’t regret it - the Arthurian legend is something I care about very much, and it was fun, not only writing about it and getting responses, but thinking about parts of it that I hadn’t considered before. 

I will - hopefully! - be writing a couple of posts a week after this, on my regular themes. I have plenty to talk about - review books I’m reading, some rereads of comfort books, delightful discoveries of books I haven’t seen in years, the CBCA shortlisted books, the Hugo Awards ...

I’d like to get on with my own writing, though - I do have a work in progress and some stuff for which to check out markets.

Before I depart, I have a couple of bits of - good - writing news to share with you. 

This is me, in a very good mood! 

My short story, “Red Sky At Morning”, has been accepted for the anthology Oz Is Burning! This is a themed SF/F anthology about the bushfires we had here last(Down Under) summer. A friend who knew about it told me it was taking submissions - she has a story in it too. There will be more about this closer to the time, when there is a cover reveal. Right now, I do have the Table Of Contents, and I was amazed at the names I saw in it! I am actually in an anthology with the likes of Jack Dann! Lucy Sussex! And many more you may recognise. But I’ll give this a post of its own.

The other bit of good news was from the NSW School Magazine. I should explain the background first. This publication has been around for over a hundred years. I might even have read it when I was a child. Schools buy it for reading in class. Kids love it. There have been some very big names writing for it.

Over the years it has been a wonderful market for me. I used to email to ask if they were interested in a particular theme. If the editor said yes, I’d research and write an article. As long as the writing was good, they would buy it. Only once did they reject an article, when the regular editor was away, and then they still bought it after a rewrite. 

So, a couple of years ago, I did the usual and submitted three articles. After waiting for months I emailed to inquire and got a reply that said something like, “Oh, didn’t we tell you? We have gone to themed issues now.” 

No, they hadn’t told me. But I asked if they might consider the articles for the themed issues. One of them was published early - they had, after all, paid for it already(back then they paid on acceptance). It was fitted into a science themed issue, as it was about an astronaut, John Glenn. Another, about the Eugowra bushranger robbery, was found a place in a history issue. 

After they had done a couple of reprints of my old articles they liked, there was just one left to consider: my article about Apollo 8. Thing is, Apollo 8 happened in 1968. My hope was that it would be accepted and  published by the end of 2018, the 50th anniversary, right? 

But they had gone to themed issues by then. They did have an issue on the theme of Voyages planned, so I asked to have it considered for that. Okay, they agreed, and I waited some more months. Recently, I visited the web site to see what was going on. I couldn’t find anything about forthcoming themes, so I emailed. 

Apparently they had stopped doing themed issues. You could submit directly on the web site, as many publications are now doing. 

I resubmitted. They have accepted it. It may still be a while, but the editor assured me they had all loved it, so publication is very likely. 

Two years, but it’s finally there! I am very happy.

I will go away now and look again for a market for my Gawain and the Green Knight novella. Meanwhile, if you want a copy in ebook email me and ask. I can send it to you in PDF or ePub. I think you can convert PDF to mobi.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: Z Is For - Zoology!

“Gray Hound”, 17th century. Public Domain

For our final post in this series, we are going to take a look at a few of the critters associated with Arthurian legend. We have to remember that at the time these stories were written the forests were a lot bigger than later, full of animals, and hunting was a part of getting meat for the tables of the aristocracy. Hunting is definitely a part of Arthurian tales, because a hunt is likely to be the beginning of a knightly adventure. Some of these animals are real, others fictional like the Questing Beast(although... can we really imagine this as a fantastical version of a giraffe?). There are even a few dragons around, though not as many as you might think when you hear the word “Camelot”. And those which are there are mostly, though not entirely, symbolic, or part of a dream. 

We’ll start with the boar. Boar hunting was a dangerous sport. T.H White has a detailed description of it in The Sword In The Stone

Let’s check out some Arthurian boars.

  1. A boar is the second beast hunted by Bertilak in Gawain And The Green Knight. There has been a suggestion that the order of animals hunted by the hero’s jolly host symbolises the gradual downgrading of Gawain’s encounters with Bertilak’s wife. A deer is a noble beast. It’s followed by a boar, then down to a fox, which you can’t even eat. 

  1. Lancelot sees a boar being hunted, late in Malory’s Morte. One of the hunters stops his hunt and leaves a horse tied up. Lancelot steals it to chase the animal himself, gets badly wounded, because the beast is vicious, and goes mad, not letting himself be treated, probably suffering infection. He ends up in King Pelles’ garden, where he is found by Elaine, who recognises him as the knight who once saved her. 
  1. In Culhwch and Olwen, the hunting of TrwchTrwyth, the boar with the scissors and comb between his ears, is a huge event. Even Arthur participates as they chase it out of the country and across the Channel. 

Next, there is 

The dragon! 

  1. It’s a part of Arthur’s name. Uther used it because of a comet he saw, shaped like one. (Geoffrey of Monmouth)There are also fighting dragons in Geoffrey, when Vortigern’s tower keeps toppling,  symbolising Britons vs Saxons. 

  1. In the Morte, Arthur dreams of a dragon fighting a boar. His dream is interpreted as himawan the dragon  fighting enemies and winning.

  1. Lancelot fights a dragon that pops out of a mysterious tomb, after rescuing Elaine of Corebenic from a boiling tub of water. He goes to the Grail castle with her father and a dove flies in with a censer,  after which the table is full of food and he gets a view of the Grail. Well,it is the Grail castle...

Big cats! 

Royal arms of England, Creative Commons

Remember, there was a royal menagerie in the Tower of London when the Arthurian stories were written. King Henry III was presented with three leopards(or possibly lions) in the mid 13th century and started his own private zoo. 

There are lots of big cats in Arthurian literature. 

  1. The leopard/libbard is a symbol in Malory. When Lancelot kills that dragon he reads the prophecy of a “libbard of king’s blood who shall engender a lion.” Obviously it refers to him fathering Galahad.

  1. Cath Palug is a giant cat, maybe a lion, which was killing warriors on the Isle of Anglesey in early Welsh poems. It was finally  killed by Arthur’s Companion Cei. So much for Sir Kay the Coward! 

  1. Chretien’s Yvain is the Knight of the Lion; he helps a lion being menaced by a snake, and it helps him in return.

Deer of various kinds are usually big and white so that whoever is having the adventure simply must follow and ends up not actually catching it, but it leads him into an adventure. That happens several times in Malory. 

Doves usually flutter in carrying a gold censer, connected with the Holy Grail. Knowing pigeons as I do, can’t help imagining the critter as flying over Lancelot or whoever and pooping in his eye... oh, please, please, dove, do your business! 


Damsels coming to Camelot to plead for help are usually accompanied by a dog of one kind or another. 

The brachet is a type of hunting dog, female, that hunts by scent. 

Greyhound. Creative Commons

They also tend to have greyhounds with them. In these days we think of them as racing dogs, but they appear in Malory as hunting dogs. Actually, there is even a milkmaid with a greyhound, the mother of Sir Tor. She was raped by King Pellinore, who helped himself as well to her greyhound as a souvenir. She later married a cowherd and Tor comes to Camelot asking to be knighted(which he is, once Merlin announces who his father is).

Dogs in Arthurian literature are usually valued as hunting animals. When the Questing Beast is described as making a noise like thirty couple of hounds questing, the readers would have known what that would sound like. 

Arthur traditionally has a hound of his own, Cabal. There is one theory that it’s the Latin word for “horse” and refers to Arthur’s horse, but  the beast is mostly shown as a dog. In Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword At Sunset, he is definitely a dog. Two dogs, actually. The first is an old dog he has had since childhood. After Cabal dies, it’s a while before Artos can bring himself to have another. Then he wins a wonderful dog from its Saxon master, who has died in battle. The loyal hound is persuaded away from his dead master’s side and becomes Artos’s loyal hound, also called Cabal. Both dogs are beloved pets, but also accompany Artos into battle. 


There are coursers and palfreys in Arthurian literature. The courser is a knight’s horse, the palfrey for civilians, including women. In Malory, when Arthur has defeated Accolon - the man who used his own sword against him - he tells Damas, for whom he had been forced to fight, that, among other things, he is going to ride a palfrey from now on. No more knightly coursers for him! 

Knights do tend to steal each other’s horses, though, if they want to chase a Questing Beast or a boar or a white hart or whatever and are short of a horse. In fact, King Pellinore steals Arthur’s horse to go after Glatisant. Arthur has just been given a fresh horse after his last one died, so now has to get yet another horse! 

But the early version of Arthur rides a bay mare called Llamrei. 

Sutcliff’s hero has two horses in the course of the novel. He likes to ride white horses, and when his first war horse dies, he is replaced by a beautiful beast called Cygnus, from Artos’s own herds. Cygnus was chosen as a foal. 

Gawain’s horse is a dapple grey called Gringolet, and in Gawain And The Green Knight, he is described in loving detail, as is his expensive gear. 

Gawain and Gringolet. Public Domain

And there, I think we will finish this year’s series of A to Z posts, apart from my concluding thoughts. 

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: Y Is For ... Ygerna!

Merlin takes the baby. Public Domain

Ygerna, Igraine, Ygraine, Igerna - the same person, Arthur’s mother. Also, the mother of Morgan Le Fay and Morgause, one of whom was always trying to kill or at least seriously disadvantage her little brother, the other of whom seduced him when he didn’t know who he was and gave birth to the son who did kill him. Oh, and a daughter, Elaine, who is the only one of the three sisters who doesn’t do much at all. 

Today I will call Arthur’s mother Ygerna, to simplify things, and because I need a Y post. 

We know of her mainly as the beautiful wife of Gorlois of Cornwall, who was deceived and, let’s face it, raped by Uther Pendragon, given that she didn’t consent to him, only to her husband.

She does appear in fiction. There is even a novel written in 1903, Uther And Igraine, in which she is a major character. It’s a love story. I had forgotten about this one till doing some looking up yesterday. I do have a print copy somewhere on my overflowing shelves, but it’s on Gutenberg if you are interested. 

Illo: Uther And Ygraine. Public Domain

In Malory she is parted from her baby son as soon as he is born, when Merlin takes him away. She doesn’t even know his name, let alone that he is king! Arthur finds out he has a living mother and sends for her. This could become serious, because questions are asked at this point, as to whether he might, in fact, be Gorlois’s son, not Uther’s, but she answers satisfactorily, and mother and son give each other a big hug. 

The odd thing is, we don’t know where she spent the time between Uther’s death and Arthur’s sending for her. For that matter, it’s the last time we hear of her. It would be nice to think that Arthur has his Mum living at court and can go to her for advice and help when he wants. Or maybe she just retires to a convent? That would, at least, spare both her and her daughter-in-law some tension, especially after Guinevere starts sleeping with Lancelot! 

I can just hear the conversation now: “Arthur, I told you not to marry her! She is nothing but a slut!” No. I think she retired to a convent. 

Uther Pendragon gets a lot of coverage in Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Ygerna doesn’t. Malory’s Ygerna is shown as uncomfortable when Uther hits on her, and warns her husband, saying she supposed they were only invited to court so Uther could dishonour her. Geoffrey’s Ygerna says nothing much. It’s her husband who notices and drags the wife back to Tintagel. And after Uther has fooled her and left in the morning(Gorlois’s men have arrived to tell her that her husband is dead, only to find the fake Gorlois having breakfast with her), he returns and marries her and they have another child, Anna(associated with Morgana). She doesn’t seem to mind. 

In Parke Godwin’s Firelord, she is dead, but we do get some background on her. 

Arthur’s Mum is a changeling. Not in the fairytale way. In the world of Firelord, the Faerie are not supernatural beings at all, but the indigenous folk of Britain, feared by the later inhabitants but, let’s face it, the poorest of the poor. They are in small matriarchal tribes, one of which is ruled by Morgana. Morgana takes Arthur as her husband number 3 at one stage, before he becomes king. She loves him, but says she can’t dump her other husbands for him. Probably just as well, as he leaves her to go back when there is an emergency. But their son, Medraut, resents this later. 

As I said - poorest of the poor. So when they have a drought or some other event that makes it impossible to raise their children, they slip them in among the richer folk, Romans and such.

In Ygerna’s case, she is swapped with the stillborn child of a wealthy Roman woman who has been unable to have a living child. The Faerie midwife does the switch and the new mother is delighted. She wants to name her little girl after the midwife, but when she is told “Ghern Y Fain”, which just means “head of the household” she assumes it’s a name and calls the child Ygerna. Ygerna is brought up as a Roman. She is a wild young woman. 

So this Arthur is half indigenous Briton. 

In the film Excalibur, she is shown dancing a wild dance for the knights at the celebration banquet, and you can tell exactly what Uther is thinking as he watches her. Oh, dear...  

Tomorrow I will talk about a few of the animals that appear in the legend, under Z Is For Zoology! 

Monday, April 27, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: X Is Sort of For... EXcalibur

Public Domain

Okay, X is not really for Excalibur, but I thought I’d cheat a bit, because very few words in the Arthurian universe actually do start with X, and if they do, I’m not familiar with them. Please tell me if you know of one and I’ll look it up. 

Strictly speaking, I could have put this into the C post, because it’s also called Caliburn. But I thought C and E were more interesting as they were - Culhwch and Elaine.

So... Excalibur! Arthur’s amazing sword. There are plenty of famous, named swords in legend and even, occasionally, history. Charlemagne’s sword Joyeuse, for example. Roland’s sword Durandal. The Grass-Cutting Sword of Japan. El Cid’s two swords  Colada and Tizona. Read about them and others here.

What is not always picked up by readers is that Excalibur is not the sword from the stone. That unnamed sword got broken when the youthful Arthur got into a fight in his attempt to have a knightly “adventure”, the silly boy! 

Mind you, in the film Excalibur it was the sword. Arthur breaks it, yes, killing Lancelot early in the movie(unfortunately, Lancelot is brought back to life, but the film would have ended there if he hadn’t been). However, the broken bits are repaired instantly by the Lady of the Lake, who hands it back to him. In that film, Uther wields it first. He is about to die and thrusts it into the stone, in an unsuccessful attempt to break it, declaring that nobody shall have it but him. Whoops! 

Later in the film, Arthur finds his wife and Lancelot sleeping naked out in the woods and thrusts the sword between them so they will know he was there.

In Malory, Excalibur is the sword given to him, complete with scabbard, by the Lady of the Lake, to whom he returns it at the end. Merlin asks him whether he prefers the sword or the scabbard. “Oh, the sword, of course!” the boy says enthusiastically, and Merlin, who just can’t stop teaching, tells him that he’s a fool - the scabbard will protect the owner from bleeding to death. Well, how was he supposed to know? 

Public Domain

In any case, he does lose the scabbard when his sister Morgana steals it. She also steals Excalibur, which she hands over  to her lover Accolon, promising him the throne in exchange for killing Arthur in a duel to the death. Luckily, our girl Nimue gets involved, making Accolon drop the sword in time for Arthur to grab it back and win the fight. Arthur has unwittingly been using a copy. 

I wrote this episode into my novella A Matter Of Honour. If you want to read it, email me. It’s only available free until I find a home for it. It’s in PDF or ePub. 

In Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword At Sunset, Artos’s(Arthur’s) sword is just a standard Roman cavalry blade; what makes it unique is the royal seal gem in it, given to him by his uncle, Ambrosius. But it is still too recognisable to allow it to fall into enemy hands. The dying Artos asks Bedwyr to throw it into the water so that the enemy won’t know he is dead. No Lady of the Lake. No hand in white samite. Just a good, logical reason for disposing of it. 

In Peter David’s Knight Life, Arthur and his reborn knights return. Arthur is in New York, not the UK. He knows the British royal family won’t be letting him take over, so he stays where he is and runs for Mayor of New York, before standing for President. (Merlin has forged US records for him) First he goes to the lake in Central Park, where he retrieves Excalibur from the Lady, who is covered in wrappers and other bits of pollution. “Never again!” she declares. 

The most unusual version of Excalibur I have read about was in Jack Whyte’s series beginning with The Skystone. It’s set in Roman, and post-Roman Britain. Two Roman army buddies start a colony called New Camulodunum, after the town where they come from. One of them is a skilled blacksmith and when they find a meteorite, the metal is used to forge a statue of the goddess Coventina, whom they call the Lady of the Lake. Later in the series, the statue is melted down and reforged into a very special blade...

Just one more reference, though. Has anyone reading this seen the SF show Babylon 5? There is an episode called “A Late Delivery From Avalon”.  In it, a man in ring mail armour(played by the wonderful Michael York) turns up on the titular space station. He is carrying a sword. He says he is King Arthur and immediately proceeds to do good, rescuing the poor and vulnerable from criminals, with the help of the Narn Ambassador G’Kar, whom he dubs with his sword as the Brown Knight. 

The thing is, he isn’t King Arthur. He is a man who did something for which he felt terribly guilty, and associated with the Arthurian legend; he believes he is Arthur. The only way he can be healed, the regular characters decide, is to finish the story, by returning his sword to the Lady of the Lake. So that part is played by the Minbari Ambassador, Delenn, who is appropriate for reasons you will need to see the show to understand. 

That is the only time I saw that sword in a science fiction show, though the spaceship in the spinoff series Crusade was called the Excalibur, and there was a nice touch in the opening credits when you hear the sound of a sword being drawn. 

Time to let you have your say! Tomorrow I will be talking about Ygerna, the mother of Arthur. See you then! 

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: W Is For... T.H. White!

Fair Use. This is the cover of my edition

T.H White is the author of The OnceAnd Future King, which may be the definitive modern Arthurian novel. Interestingly, while it’s his best-known work - and he wrote a lot of books! - the one which allowed him to give up teaching and write full time was not that one, but a memoir called England Have My Bones, which was a bestseller, published before The Once And Future King

Anything that gave him the chance to write that wonderful book! 

I bought my copy at my local newsagent for $1.60. I was reading stuff for university at the time and there was one book I could only get through by promising myself another chapter of T.H White’s masterpiece.

Terence Hanbury White was born in India in 1906. At the age of 11 he was sent to England, where he lived with his grandparents and was enrolled in Cheltenham College, a school where he was very unhappy, though he did like one teacher, C.F Scott, who encouraged him in his writing. 

He had to do a year’s private tutoring to raise the money to enrol in Cambridge University in 1925. Again, he found a tutor who liked and helped him, raising money for him to go to Italy to recuperate when he contracted TB. In Italy, he wrote his first novel, but his first publication was a book of poetry. 

Between 1930 and 1936, he was writing about seven books while working at his teaching day job. So, those of us who have found it hard to write with a day job, especially teaching, could definitely  take a lesson from him.

Then he put together a book of bits and pieces of a year in his life, England Have My Bones. It was a huge success and he could finally give up his day job and get on with the writing! 

While staying in a gamekeeper’s cottage near his workplace, Stowe School, which is still around, he curled up with Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, just for the enjoyment, and absolutely loved it. He said afterwards that it was a perfect tragedy with a beginning, a middle and an end that was implicit in the beginning. He found the characters believable. It was, he felt, still relevant to his own era. 

In the end, of course, he was interpreting them in his own way, and I have to say, I do like his interpretations of Malory’s Arthurian characters. I even found myself caring about White’s Lancelot, and that’s saying something. 

The novel was not written all at once, but in separate volumes. They were The Sword In The Stone, The Witch In  The Wood(later The Queen Of Air And Darkness) and The Ill-Made Knight, and, unlike Tolkien, he managed to get the first three books written and published between 1938 and 1940. The fourth volume, The Candle In The Wind, was never published by itself; it came out as part of The Once And Future King in 1958. There was a fifth volume, The Book Of Merlyn, which was intended to be part of the full novel but was not published till 1977, well after his death. I’m old enough to remember that. It came out as a separate book. 

White was a pacifist. If you read his Arthuriad you will notice that. Merlyn turning Arthur into animals and birds teaches him about the stupidity of war. As a bird, he can’t see borders. Those are, after all, artificial. 

It has been said that White’s Merlyn(as he spells the name) is a lot like Albus Dumbledore. Well, he is, sort of, though he doesn’t have a tragic family history and Dumbledore is certainly not living backwards. I’d say that there is a resemblance also to Tolkien’s Gandalf. Maybe the likeable and loopy old wizard is a trope which appears all over the place. Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University wizards tend to be lazy, overweight characters who spend their days waiting for the next meal and hiding from the students. However, I can see Pratchett’s likeable Mustrum Ridcully hanging out with White’s Merlyn. 

White died on a Mediterranean cruise in 1964 and was buried in Athens, but he did live long enough to see both Disney’s animated The Sword In The Stone and the musical Camelot. That is good to know! 

Here is the trailer for that Classic Disney film! Enjoy! 

Friday, April 24, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: V Is For ... Vortigern!

V is for ... Vortigern.

Vortigern watches the dragons fight, with Merlin. Public Domain

I’ve mentioned him in previous posts, about Merlin and Uther. He was the usurper who took over the throne that rightfully belonged to Ambrosius Aurelianus and his brother Uther and nearly killed the young Merlin to get a falling tower set up, but found out the real problem was two fighting dragons. He invited the Saxons into Britain. Big mistake! 

He is mentioned in so many early chronicles that he may even have existed, as a fifth century warlord. We don’t know. The real Vortigern, if any, certainly wouldn’t have seen two dragons fighting! 

Geoffrey of Monmouth gives him a large chunk of his History Of The Kings Of Britain, with a detailed description of how he took over, starting with having a chat with Constans, the son of the late King, now a monk. He suggests that as his little brothers are too young, he, Constans, should quit the monastic life and become King himself, with Vortigern’s support. When Constans is murdered by Vortigern’s household Pictish warriors, he happily takes over. The boys, Ambrosius and Uther, flee with their guardians to Brittany, to return later and become a part of the Arthurian legend.

This is where the Saxons come in. Three shiploads arrive, led by brothers Hengist and Horsa, who explain that every now and then the Saxons get rid of the surplus population by lot, and they are the latest exiles. They offer their services as mercenaries, in return for land. Lots of land. And then they send back to Saxony for anther 18 shiploads of settlers, including Hengist’s beautiful daughter Rowena, with whom Vortigern immediately falls passionately in lust. Incidentally, the young lady introduces the words “Wassail!” and “drink hail!” into Britain while bringing out the welcoming cup to Vortigern. 

In return for her hand in marriage the Saxons demand Kent. Which he grants them, without bothering to tell the man currently running Kent. Oh, dear! 

You can guess what happens after all those Saxons arrive, can’t you? And Vortigern gets the blame for it. 

In fact, I have read that there were Saxons in Britain long before the fifth century. They first arrived with the Roman army, in which they were auxiliaries. No doubt, though, there were plenty more who invaded after the Romans went, which is how we get the early Arthurian legend. We just can’t blame one person for it.

Vortigern does make appearances in fiction, including the work of twelfth century authors Wace and Layamon, and modern fiction and drama. The TV Merlin(Sam Neill, not Colin Morgan) showed him in his Geoffrey of Monmouth guise, played by Rutger Hauer, whom you may know better as Roy Batty, the replicant who makes that beautiful, poignant speech near the end of Bladerunner, and whom I adored as Navarre, the cursed hero of Ladyhawke. In Merlin he is the baddie. 

There is also a play, Vortigern And Rowena, which was written in 1796, by one William Henry Ireland, who managed to pass it off as a lost Shakespeare play, right up until it was performed, on April 2. It didn’t get a second performance. 

In fact, John Phillip Kemble, who was the manager of the Drury Lane Theatre where it was performed, had been so dubious about it that he suggested performing it on April Fools’ Day. 

There were some other plays about Vortigern, though, including one anonymous play, The Birth Of Merlin and one by Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton, Hengist, King Of Kent

He is in Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, which is based on Geoffrey of Monmouth.

And Vortigern got some places in Wales named for him - Vortigern’s Gorge, Vortigern’s Grave, Vortigern’s Fort. That doesn’t mean he existed, of course. There are plenty of Arthur’s Seats or Leaps or his horse’s footsteps, and we have no idea whether he existed either.

But not bad for someone who is supposed to have done so many dreadful things! 

See you Monday, when I will devote a post to the author of one of the definitive Arthurian novels, T.H White.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2020: U Is For ... Uther Pendragon!

So... U is for Uther Pendragon! 

King Uther. Public Domain

If you have read/seen any Arthurian fiction/film, you will know who he is: Arthur’s Dad. The one who got into disguise, with the help of Merlin, and went off to sleep with a woman who wasn’t his, to conceive Arthur, one night while her husband was fighting and, importantly, dying elsewhere.

In my favourite Arthurian film, Excalibur, he was shown as a man who was so desperate to get his hands(and other bits of him) on the wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall that he didn’t even bother to take off his - plate! - armour before leaping on to her! Presumably he took off the important parts of what he was wearing, but we didn’t see it. In fact, even the actor, Gabriel Byrne, commented on that...

Uther and Merlin plan their action. Public Domain

We all know that part of the story. We’ll get back to it later. 

Uther gets a detailed mention in Geoffrey of Monmouth. 

Uther, later known as Pendragon(Chief Dragon, head warrior), was the brother of Ambrosius, the rightful heir to the throne. But when they were children, the throne was usurped, by one Vortigern(more of him in my next post), their father killed and the boys whisked away to safety across the Channel. 

Eventually they return and Vortigern gets his comeuppance. But there is still a lot of fighting to do, against the Saxons, and they do it. Ambrosius gets killed and Uther is king. He helps Merlin get those stones to Britain, to act as part of Ambrosius’s tomb.

Around this time is when the story of Uther betraying his loyal ally, the Duke of Cornwall, happens. Yes, we know! They are having a party to celebrate a victory. Uther sees Ygerna/Ygraine/Igraine and falls madly in lust with her. Gorlois hustles his wife, and maybe their kids(at least one, Morgana, the future enemy of  Arthur, was there in Excalibur, and saw right through the glamour put on Uther by Merlin)off to their castle, Tintagel, while he goes off to another castle to defend it against Uther’s troops. He gets killed just before Arthur is conceived. That’s important to the story. It means Arthur can be made legitimate. 

And then Merlin takes the child away till he is ready. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, I vaguely recall from my university years, he is off being raised by the fairies in Avalon. 

Uther is busy fighting Saxons. Towards the end, he is badly wounded, but insists on continuing to fight, even if it means being carried into battle on a litter. The Saxons call him the half-dead King.

There is a rather nice scene in Mary Stewart’s The Hollow Hills. Young Arthur has been brought to court, very excited about his first battle. He doesn’t know, yet, that the king is his father(Actually, that bit does lead to disaster, when Morgause seduces him that night). But in the battle, Uther, proud of his warrior son, smiles and throws him his sword... 

In the BBC Merlin, of which I admit I have only seen a few episodes, Uther Pendragon is still alive and ruling when the youthful Merlin comes to court and Arthur is the crown prince. The role was played by Anthony Head, whom you might remember as the school librarian and Buffy’s Watcher in Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Mary Stewart’s Uther is a passionate man. Merlin - his nephew in this series - doesn’t actually have to use magic to fool Igraine, just a bit of make-up to get them into the castle. Uther and Igraine have already met and fallen in love. When Uther finds out that Gorlois is dead, he is furious with Merlin. One more day, he complains, and he could have had her legitimately. But Merlin replies that one more day would have meant a different child. He was not doing this for his uncle’s benefit, but for the hero who will come of what they did this night. 

In Sutcliff’s Sword At Sunset it is Ambrosius, not his brother, who survives and brings up his nephew, Artos. Artos/Arthur is Utha’s (her spelling) bastard. 

If you haven’t seen Excalibur, do. The scene where Merlin uses magic to change Uther’s appearance is amazing. He is on his horse, galloping towards the castle, and as he goes his armour dissolves into Gorlois’ armour. 

He dies at the hands of his enemies, chasing Merlin when the wizard is carrying the baby from the castle. It is Uther who puts the sword into the stone, while trying to break it - nobody shall have Excalibur but him! 

The Pendragon name comes from Uther’s viewing a comet that looks like a dragon. He takes the dragon for his device. 

There is much more, including a theory that “Arthur son of Uther” is a mistranslation of “Arthur the Terrible King” (Terrible as in scary to his enemies, not as in incompetent). I’ll leave you to look that up, though. 

Here is a scene with Uther from the BBC Merlin

Next time, we will, hear about Vortigern, the guy who usurped the throne and used Saxon mercenaries.