As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot.
I am very excited and
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Now without further adieu here is Jennifer’s awesome guest blog.
The Multifarious Tapestry of Arthuriana
by Jennifer M Baldwin
I have this amazing encyclopedia on my bookshelf, and despite the fact that I found it on the bargain rack at Barnes & Noble, it might be the most significant encyclopedia I own. In fact, if it wasn’t for the The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends I might not be sitting here, a published author, a professional writer.
How long I’ve had this book is a mystery; it seems to have always been on my shelf. I’m sure I bought it when I was a teenager, when I had money of my own to spend on frivolous bargain-priced books. But it’s been such a constant companion throughout the years, I might as well have had it since the first day I could read. Over the years, I’ve certainly absorbed all of its wisdom.
Open it up to a random page and be greeted by entries like this:
This earless, tailless creature who, despite his dogginess, was fully able to converse in human speech, was one of the heroes of the Irish romance Eachtra an Mhadra Mhaoil. He was an enchanted prince named Alexander, son of the King of India. His step-mother, Libearn, had turned him and his brothers into dogs to ensure that her son, the Knight of the Lantern, would obtain a handsome inheritance. When this knight humiliated Arthur and his court, the Cop-eared Dog and Gawain went to track him down. When their quarry had at length been captured, he changed Alexander back to his own shape. Alexander eventually became the ruler of India.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from reading The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends is that there is no one, true Arthurian legend. Instead, there are multitudes. There is no purity when it comes to the corpus of Arthurian stories. Those who tend to say, “This adaptation is nothing like the real Arthur,” haven’t spent hours pouring over The Illustrated Encyclopedia. If they had, they’d know that there is no “real Arthur.” King Arthur may be the legendary king of Britain, but he belongs to all places and all times; everyone has borrowed from him, inserted him into their stories, referenced him either directly or obliquely, responded to him, reacted to him, tried to make him their own. There is a Welsh Arthur, a German Arthur, a French Arthur, an American Arthur, and on and on and on. King Arthur and his world are the great melting pot of medieval fantasy. From literature to music to fine arts to comic books, every art form has dipped its hand into the waters of Arthuriana. The reason for this, I believe, is because the world of Arthur, Merlin, and Camelot is limitless. There’s no flight of fancy too fanciful that it can’t be subsumed into the tapestry that is Arthuriana.
Looking at my Encyclopedia again, I search out all of the entries that are tied to the Welsh version of Arthur. This one in particular is intriguing (so intriguing that I decided to make him a character in my second novel):
A survivor of the battle of Camlann. He was considered to be so hideously ugly that everyone mistook him for a devil and consequently no one attacked him.
The Welsh tales can be delightfully weird, bu they are no more the “true” Arthurian tales than is “Gawain and the Green Knight,” Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “history,” or Malory’s Morte. Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot” is just as valid as Henry Purcell’s opera or Camelot 3000.
Arthur, his cohorts, and the adventures that surround them are all extraordinarily malleable. They can flavor all kinds of stories, adding their personalities, their exploits, their strangeness to any sort of tale. Think of how the Arthurian stories have influenced cinema, from old Hollywood movies like Knights of the Round Table to Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Eric Rohmer’s Perceval to Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King (or even the much-maligned Guy Ritchie flop from this year. I contend that it’s as valid as any other Arthurian tale; storytellers have been grafting Arthur and his world onto their own fantasies for centuries, so why should our own storytellers do differently?). Arthurian influence can be heard in operas (Purcell’s, Wagner’s), seen in painting and illustration (the Pre-Raphaelites, Arthur Rackham), and read in poetry and prose (Tennyson, Twain, T. H. White).
Did you know that in some legends, Arthur is reincarnated as a puffin? In others, he’s a raven. Or did you know that in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s telling, the ancient British kings (including Arthur) were descendants of Aeneas (the legendary Trojan warrior and founder of Rome)? In the Welsh tradition, Arthur descends from the god Llyr. And why not? There is no “true” Arthur, so why not make Arthur a part of all these legends?
One of my favorite bits of randomness is the romance about Tom a’ Lincoln, Arthur’s illegitimate son, who defeated the Portuguese as a commander in Arthur’s army. After his victory, he has a son with a woman known as the Fairy Queen (this son was called the Faerie Knight), and afterwards runs away to Prester John’s realm and marries another woman named Anglitora. Their son was known as the Black Knight. Later on, Anglitora finds out about Tom’s illegitimacy, leaves him, and then murders him. But Tom’s ghost tells his son, and the Black Knight kills his treacherous mother in revenge. Meeting up with his half-brother, the Faerie Knight, the Black Knight then travels to England. It’s a tale that’s only tangentially about Arthur, but that’s the beauty of the Arthurian corpus: any tale might be enhanced by tying it to the magical world of Arthur.
In a way, Arthur is synonymous with enchantment, with magic itself. When Arthur rules Britain, magic seems to spring forth from the blades of grass themselves. That’s why the Welsh tales can have Arthur’s warriors facing down a giant boar with a pair of scissors and a comb stuck between its ears, or a magical pig named Henwen can give birth to a giant cat (the Cath Palug).
Merlin, of course, is at the center of so much of this magic, and he too, like all the things tied to the Arthurian legends, is incredibly malleable. This malleability, this multifariousness, is what I wanted to capture in my trilogy, Merlin’s Last Magic.
In the first book, The Thirteen Treasures of Britain, I have talking animals, brutal pagan gods, travels to Pluto, and meetings with Atlanteans. I created a Celtic fairy world that lives alongside the Greek underworld. Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god, is an old acquaintance. The Cath Palug is a deadly enemy. I include some parts of the legend of Avalon, but I add my own twists. I let Nimue imprison Merlin, but I invent a completely new background to their story. I’ve taken my cue from so many other storytellers before me: I entered the world of Arthurian legends and let my imagination run free.
There is no “right” version of Arthur, no “right” version of Merlin. If there are limits on these stories, it’s because we have erroneously placed them there. But if we let our imaginations run free, if we enter the realm of Arthur and let its magic take hold, then the stories of Arthur are limitless.
My Merlin may listen to The Smiths on his Walkman. He may steal inventions from Daedalus and hang out with a talking owl. But he’s just another entry in the vast encyclopedia of Arthuriana.
Jennifer M. Baldwin has been writing since childhood. Also since childhood, she’s dreamed of fighting dragons and going on quests. While epic quests & dragons have been in short supply, she has instead embarked upon another sort of adventure: writing and publishing her first fantasy series, Merlin’s Last Magic. In addition to fiction, Jennifer has also led a double-life writing about classic movies on various sites around the web (N.B.: If you ever ask her about old movies, be prepared for a lengthy, passionate conversation). She’s still looking for an epic quest to undertake, so if you know of any, drop her a line on social media or at her website, http://www.jmbaldwinwriter.com. And when she’s not adventuring or writing fiction, Jennifer spends her days with her husband, her children, and their two dragon-like cats.
1,400 years is a long time to be asleep. Even for a wizard. Especially for a wizard who has to stop an ancient prophesy from coming true. By the time Merlin wakes up from his enchanted sleep, it’s 1985, the legendary Thirteen Treasures of Britain are missing, and his magic is starting to fade. To make matters worse, in twelve days’ time, it will be Midsummer: the prophesied day when the old gods will return to Britain and wreak havoc on its people. If the Treasures fall into the wrong hands, the gods will rise, thousands will die, and Britain will be utterly transformed by chaos. In the old days — the days of Camelot and King Arthur — Merlin would’ve sent someone else on the quest for the Treasures. But now, with time running out and everything at stake, he’s ready to take up the quest himself. The search for the Treasures will take him from the realms of Faerie to the Land of Dreams, and from the streets of Glastonbury to the distant reaches of the solar system, where he’ll meet friends and foes alike, including Arthur Pendragon, Morgana Le Fay, and a panther-like creature called the Cath Palug — the “slashing cat” with a taste for king’s blood.