Corrigenda to King Arthur in America
10Carmichael is also the author of an Arthurian short story, "The Grievous Stroke," an account of Balin's fatal wounding of Pellam with the sacred spear.
11In some novels, the Arthurian background is more peripheral. Anya Seton's Avalon (1965), for instance, is the story of Rumon, a descendant of Charlemagne and King Alfred, who has visions of King Arthur's Avalon, and Merewyn, a lonely but courageous girl descended from King Arthur. After a shipwreck off the Cornish coast, the two find that their lives are connected.
12Of the relationships in Guinever's Gift, Nicole St. John writes: "Referring back to the synthesis between rational/irrational within the individual (which many writers refer to as the masculine and feminine within each of us) and Eastern myths, I see in the Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur triangle the universal myth of Isis/Osiris/Horus and its various forms (some Christian writers see this as Father, Son and Holy Spirit!) . . . . . the immortal Earth Mother, and the dying/rising godlike-king . . . Shakespeare's 'Phoenix and the Turtle.' You will, of course, have recognized that the plot of Guinever's Gift is essentially that of the Fisher King/Sleeping Beauty story, with the difference that Guinever as well as Lancelot is on a quest for Self. I see Guinever as, at different stages, all the dimensions of the Feminine (what Medievalist Madeleine Pelner Cosman calls, in the words of the Middle Ages, 'beast/bitch/saint/virgin' . . . and some branch or other of myth studies termed Eve/Helen/Mary/Sophia). And Lancelot/Arthur as all the dimensions of the Masculine, dichotomized into young and old, with the two of them (like Osiris/Horus?) being essentially the same man in different stages." Referring to "the Great Mother figure [dichotomized] between Mary, Lilith and Magdalen," St. John concludes, "I see Guinever as being that dichotomy synthesized" (Letter of Dec. 18, 1980, to Alan Lupack).
13Andre Norton explains her own conception of Arthur in a letter of December 31, 1980, to Alan Lupack. She writes, "I, myself, went back as well as I could to the historical Arthur in my own writing--as did Mary Stewart and other writers of this era--brushing aside the pageantry of Mallory [sic] who fitted the old legends into the pattern of his own time. It is this earlier Arthur, who faced terrible odds and went down to defeat because of a flaw in his own following, who appeals to us at this day and age--we can understand such a man. . . . My Arthur is not a 'knight' but a man holding out against all odds and trying to keep a fragment of civilization intact."
14In another of Anderson's works, A Midsummer Tempest (1974), "King Arthur and the Knights of Avalon appear among the Royalist forces to turn King Charles's last stand, on Glastonbury Tor at Midsummer, into Cromwell's utter defeat" (NAE 8).
15In Saberhagen's Merlin's Bones (1995), in which Merlin's spirit plans to return to rebuild Camelot in the otherworld of Logres, the "characters move backward, from the twenty-first century to the time of Vortigern" (NAE 604).
16Like Dorothy Roberts in The Enchanted Cup (1953), discussed earlier in the chapter, Joyce Carol Oates (writing under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith) retells the Tristan story. In You Can't Catch Me (1995), a suspense novel in which bibliophile Tristram Heade is tricked into helping a beautiful young woman, Fleur, with whom he is infatuated, to escape her unhappy marriage. Tristram realizes that he has been betrayed when he sees a photograph of Fleur with her new lover at a performance of Tristan and Isolde. And numerous other novels (e.g., Douglas Carmichael's Pendragon) draw on the legend for subplots.
17Paxson has also written other works with Arthurian themes, including a masque in verse, "The Feast of the Fisher King" (1992), based on Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, and "The God-Sword" (1995), about the origins of the holy sword Excalibur before it passes into Arthur's hands.
18"I had been familiar with the Arthurian story, in many versions, for most of my life," writes Laubenthal. "I had also long been familiar with the Prince Madoc legend, and I had read somewhere that the royal house of Gwynedd claimed descent from Arthur. One summer evening in what must have been 1963, I was standing on the back porch of our house in Mobile, looking eastward into darkness and a thick tangle of trees. Out of sight, the land fell away towards the city and the bay; and I was pondering on the beauty, the differentness, the mystery of that old and then much smaller city. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an image came to me: the image of Excalibur thrust into the stone, in an underground place full of fiery, golden light. From that image the whole book evolved, over a period of almost ten years" (Letter of Jan. 18, 1981, to Alan Lupack).
19The series have many different focuses. Science fiction and fantasy author Robert N. Charrette, for instance, portrays a struggle between magic and technology in A Prince Among Men (1994), A King Beneath a Mountain (1995), and A Knight Among Knaves (1995). Courtway Jones's projected "Dragon's Heir Trilogy," including In the Shadow of the Oak King (1991) and Witch of the North (1992), is a series of historical romances, while Gael Baudino's Dragonsword series--Dragonsword (1991), Duel of Dragons (1991), Dragon Death (1992)-takes place in the alternate world of Gryylth.
20In Winter's Shadow, the third novel of the series and "the one where everyone gets killed," is the most realistic. Bradshaw writes, "I do not try, like T. H. White or Rosemary Sutcliff, to mitigate the tragedy. I want it to be very painful. . . . I want it to be a proper tragedy. It's no use having such noble characters if you're not going to use them for a tragedy" (Letter of April 17, 1981, to Alan Lupack).
21"After everybody and his brother was coming out with a version" of the Arthurian story, Godwin "determined the only way to do it was my way." So, writes Godwin, "I made Arthur a universal type, a spiritual Everyman so that his joy and sorrow echoed eternal truths about the human condition. And to do this, I needed him downstage, immediate, talking directly to the reader, even referring to the reader as 'you' quite often. The other main choice was the treatment of Merlin. This bloody old bore has irritated me since I first read Tennyson. I resolved instead of a remote and all-wise Druid tripping over his beard and omniscience, that I'd make him Arthur's genius, his alter-ego. This way, growing with Arthur, he carries the nobility and 'legendary' qualities that an immediate 'now' character like my Arthur has to leave off." Godwin views Modred and Morgan Le Fay as "a beleagured minority . . . sort of like emergent third-world people . . . a modern relevance" (Letter of Jan. 19, 1981 to Alan Lupack).
22Lawhead's publisher Crossway, which typically publishes work with a religious orientation, also published Donna Fletcher Crow's Glastonbury (1992), a sentimental religious novel about the holy site, Joseph of Arimathea, and Arthur as historical Christian king.
23See the entry by Daniel Nastali on "Mystery and Suspense Fiction" in NAE 339-40. Nastali concludes that "Even the best of these [Arthurian mystery and suspense] novels can scarcely be considered genuine developments of the Arthurian tradition; they represent, rather, adjuncts to it. But they also serve as illustrations of the extent to which the tradition has become part of our common literary currency" (340).
24Although Greta the Strong is his only explicitly Arthurian work, Sobol is the author of the very popular Encyclopedia Brown detective series for younger readers. In that series, there are occasional references to Excalibur.
25In a more recent work, Wizard of Wind and Rock (1990), a children's book illustrated by Laura Marshall, Service recounts Merlin's youth.
26Though set not in the contemporary day but in sixteenth-century Cornwall, Nancy Faulkner's Sword of the Winds (1957) also tells the story of the sleeping King Arthur and his knights. The young hero who discovers them helps Arthur to use his power against the Spanish Armada.
27Merlin also appears in a number of the stories in Camelot: A Collection of Original Arthurian Stories, edited by Jane Yolen.
28The quest is also at the heart of Robert Newman's juvenile Arthurian novels. In the humorous fantasy Merlin's Mistake, three questing youngsters--Brian, a sixteen-year old squire; Tertius, a boy gifted with special sight; and Lianor, disguised as a crone--end up at Nimue's castle. The situation is more serious in The Testing of Tertius: to keep England safe and to rescue Merlin and Blaise, the three must face Nimue and the evil wizard Urlik.
The scope of American popular Arthurian literature is suggested by the many perspectives from which the stories of Arthur and his knights are told: historical, science fiction, fantasy, feminist, trilogies and other series, romance, mystery, and juvenile, among others. Yet, even within these broad and sometimes overlapping categories, there is considerable diversity. The historical novelists, for example, who set their works in fifth- or sixth-century Britain and who look to the early chronicles of Arthur's life, sometimes combining them with traditional literary accounts like Malory's, take a variety of approaches to the familiar stories. Gil Kane and John Jakes retell the "stirring saga" of Arthur and his "mighty sword" as a typically American fast-paced adventure, an approach consistent with Jakes' many best-selling tales of the Wild West. Even the cover of Excalibur! (1980) suggests the connection: "Here," it announces, "is the dazzling epic of England's past . . . the birth of the nation that gave America birth." Kane and Jakes's Guinevere and Lancelot are lovers before, but not after, her marriage to Arthur--although their "forbidden love" continues to pose a threat to the stability of Arthur's new kingdom; Modred poisons Arthur and fights him with Saxon troops; and the questing Galahad discovers the Grail: England itself. Other popular historical novelists, like Douglas Carmichael, focus on the psychological motivation of the characters about whom they write. In Pendragon (1977), for instance, Carmichael writes a historical novel which draws on Nennius's account of the twelve battles that Artorius fought.10 Original twists enhance Marvin Borowsky's The Queen's Knight (1955), which employs a kind of Connecticut Yankee theme in reverse. Arthur, a slow-witted oaf brought to the throne as a puppet-king by Merlin and Mordred, uses his Yankee-like ingenuity, peasant's good sense, and dream of peace to earn the kingdom's respect. Unfortunately, his efforts are insufficient to bring lasting unity. Edison Marshall's The Pagan King (1959) begins rather conventionally, in fifth-century England, a time when the country--beset with Picts on the north, the wild men of Eire on the west, and Saxon pirates on the east and south--desperately needs a strong leader like Arthur, the pagan king, to turn the tide of barbarism. In telling Arthur's story, Marshall tries to infuse some humanity into what he calls the often bloodless characters of myth: Arthur's half-brother Modred, for instance, emerges as a complex, fascinating figure, not merely the representative of unmitigated evil, and Merdin is not simply a wizard but a shrewd kingmaker and last of the great Druids. But the plot becomes contrived, especially towards the end, when Arthur gives up the kingship so that he can wander as a bard--a downplaying of kingship similar to that in Cram's Excalibur and in other earlier American works.
Unlike the historical novelists, whose fidelity to their Dark Ages context limits the extent of the liberties they can take, some popular novelists incorporate aspects of the legend into a High Middle Ages or even contemporary time frame. Barbara Ferry Johnson, whose novel Lionors (1975) is based on the brief passage in Malory, which tells of Arthur's affair with the Earl Sanam's daughter. The child born from that affair becomes a daughter in Johnson's retelling.
Dorothy James Roberts' three Arthurian novels, two of which are also based on Malory, offer modern perceptions into theme as well as character. In The Enchanted Cup (1953), Roberts examines the conflict between love and duty in the tragic romance between Tristram and Isoud. Love is again the subject in Launcelot, My Brother (1954), in which Bors, construed by Roberts as Launcelot's brother, tells of Launcelot's love for Guinevere and of its tragic consequences. Kinsmen of the Grail (1963), influenced by Perlesvaus, shifts the focus to the Grail quests of the sheltered Perceval and the world-weary Gawin.11
Of the novelists who employ contemporary settings, among the most interesting is Babs H. Deal. In The Grail: A Novel (1963), she cleverly reveals--as F. Scott Fitzgerald before her had--a correspondence between modern sports and medieval warfare by transposing the Arthurian story to the world of American college football. Arthur, Guenevere, and Launcelot are transformed into Coach Arthur Hill of Castle University, his wife Jennie, and his star quarterback Lance Hebert; the Grail is a perfect season with no losses. The coach--hailed as "king" for his career successes--seems well on the way to achieving his dream, until Lance falls in love with Jennie and disrupts the unity of the team, which loses its final game. Virtually all of the traditional characters appear in the novel, usually as players and their sorority girlfriends. The guitar-playing fullback Buck Timberlake, for instance, is Tristan the harpist; twin linebackers Wayne and Dwayne O'Hara are Gawain and Gareth. "Even the feud with Lancelot is recalled," notes Raymond H. Thompson; "Wayne abandons his earlier support of Lance after the quarterback strikes Dwayne for challenging him about his affair with Jennie" (Return 24). Deal's use of the sports and Grail motifs in combination is also reminiscent of Bernard Malamud's The Natural, in which Roy Hobbs becomes a modern-day Percival in search of a contemporary Grail, winning the World Series. But ultimately, despite its witty premise, The Grail lacks the sustained and darker vision that makes The Natural a much more effective work. In Guinever's Gift (1977), the best-selling novel by Nicole St. John (pseudonym of Norma Johnston), the Arthur-Guinever-Lancelot relationship is again set in the twentieth century, this time as a Gothic romance with many of the familiar conventions: a dark house that contains untold mysteries, a crippled aristocratic owner obsessed with the past, and an innocent heroine whose life is threatened.12 What makes St. John's story even more interesting, as Thompson points out, is the fatal triangle that occurs not once but twice. The first time, the heroine Lydian Wentworth's mother and father represent Guinever and Arthur, while the young Lord Charles Ransome is Lancelot. Later, Charles (a scholar whose historical specialty is King Arthur) takes on the Arthurian role, while Lydian, now his wife, and Lawrence Stearns, his archaeological assistant, are cast as the lovers. Charles' cousin "serves as a fusion of Elaine of Corbenic and Morgause, and she bears him an illegitimate child who functions as Mordred. The crippled Charles also evokes elements of the Fisher King legend" (Thompson Return 25). Another romantic tale, Will Bradley's Launcelot and the Ladies (1927), published half a century earlier than Guinever's Gift, finds the protagonist, an American dreamer named David, reliving scenes from the love triangle of Launcelot, Guenevere, and Elaine (a fusion of the two Elaines); when he must make a comparable choice in his own life, he marries the younger, single woman (NAE 50).
More popular and more original in their handling of the legends than either the historically-based or the more realistic (non-fantasy) novels set in the High Middle Ages or in contemporary times are the works of Arthurian science fiction and fantasy. Andre Norton, perhaps the best known science fiction author to treat Arthurian themes, explained her ongoing interest in the legend in terms of its relevance to modern American life. "The story of an intrepid leader fighting with a small force against odds," she writes, "has been important all through history--such men are the cherished folk leaders of all time--Arthur, standing against the black night of the fall of civilization, is as important to our fears and hopes now as he was in his own day." Moreover, his "defeat because of a flaw in his own following" ensures that "we can understand such a man."13 In Norton's Merlin's Mirror (1975), Arthur is indeed the once and future king, sealed by the "half star-born" Merlin in a chamber until future space travelers are able to heal him. Merlin, meanwhile, is the product of cross-breeding with aliens; his powers are the result of extra-sensory perception. Both Arthur and Merlin figure again in Norton's juvenile fantasy, Steel Magic (1965), in which three children enter Avalon to recover three stolen magic talismans, Arthur's sword Excalibur, Merlin's iron ring, and Huon's silver horn. ("Huon is the subject of an earlier work, Huon of the Horn , Norton's adaptation of a portion of the Charlemagne cycle; in that novel, Huon and Arthur--in anticipation of King Oberon's passing--amicably resolve the rule of the Land of Faery".) Artie Jones, a young boy, is transported to historical Britain in order to participate in the rise, fall, and secret burial of Artos in "Pendragon: Artos, Son of Marius," a tale from Dragon Magic, a companion volume to Steel Magic (1965). The Siege Perilous transports another protagonist, Simon Tregarth, from a post-World-War-II world to a magical and matriarchal realm where he can discover his destiny in Witch World (1963), a novel in Norton's most extensive and familiar series (NAE 345).
Among the recurring and related devices employed by Norton and other writers of American Arthurian science fiction are the use of time travel and parallel universes, the "return" of Arthurian characters to modern society, and the introduction of aliens and other strange beings into the Arthurian world. Time travel, in particular, has become a kind of staple of the genre: a wounded soldier awakens as Ogier the Dane and encounters Morgan le Fay in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961);14 Arthur, with Merlin's help, must keep the evil Morlocks from using the time machine to invade nineteenth-century England in K. W. Jeter's sequel to H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, Morlock Night (1979); the twenty-third-century hero of Steve White's Legacy (1995) is rescued from imprisonment by time travelers from the future, who send him back to Arthur's day. Such travel often involves parallel worlds, which figure prominently in juvenile literature, discussed below, as well as in adult fiction like Victoria Strauss's Worldstone (1985), in which the realms of magic and technology are no longer united after Arthur's death. Strauss's novel describes a quest to return the Grail, called the worldstone and originally stolen by Percival, to the world of Mindpower from the modern world of Handpower.
Of the traditional Arthurian characters, one common time traveler is Merlin, who moves backward--albeit in his dreams--in a work like Merlin and the Dragons of Atlantis (1983), by Rita and Tim Hildebrandt, which is set millennia in the past and which suggests that Merlin's skills--like the dragons'--are products of highly developed but lost sciences in Atlantis and Lemuria, and forward in Fred Saberhagen's Dominion (1982), where Merlin finds himself in Chicago trying to fend off Nimue's plan for world control.15 Arthur himself makes similar journeys in time--though far less often than his wizard. As Norris Lacy and Geoffrey Ashe note, Arthur is supposed "to return from Avalon, where he is sleeping. [Yet] surprisingly, novelists have treated his return less frequently than Merlin's and that of other Arthurian characters" (The Arthurian Handbook [hereafter cited as AH] 211). In one of his most inventive reappearances, after centuries of sleep Arthur Pendragon awakens as "Arthur Penn," to campaign successfully for mayor of New York City in Peter David's Knight Life (1987). Though Penn--aided by Merlin, ever his best political adviser--hopes eventually to run for president, he must first cope with his resurrected adversary Morgan. In Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy's novels, The Forever King (1992) and The Broken Sword (1997), Arthur is reincarnated as a twentieth-century boy, Arthur Blessing; aided by Merlin and Hal Woczniak, an alcoholic former-F.B.I. agent (and eventually by the once-blind Beatrice, whose sight is restored by a vision of the Grail), he takes possession of Excalibur, begins a quest, and tries to restore the old order of Camelot. Irving E. Cox follows a different character; his "Lancelot Returned" tells a story of 1950s Hollywood, as "Lancelot comes to rescue a young girl from an 'evil enchantress,' her actress mother" (NAE 103). And, in the short story "Excalibur and the Atom" (1951) by Theodore Sturgeon (pseudonym of Edward Hamilton Waldo), a private eye who is hired to locate a cup with the power to make H-bombs powerless, a cup once possessed by a shepherd named Percival, "remembers" that he was formerly Galahad (NAE 435). The return theme occurs even in poetry, such as Richard Huemer's book-length poem Dragon on the Hill Road (1958), which offers an unusual variation on the theme by taking Lancelot into twentieth-century Tennessee. And in one of the finest modern Arthurian poems, "The Naming of the Lost" by Valerie Nieman Colander, Merlin and Nimue reappear and are reunited in twentieth-century West Virginia. Like Merlin, Arthur, Lancelot, and other characters displaced from their traditional Arthurian realm, aliens (e.g., the mind-controlling "intelligent form of slime" who invade Annwn, now ruled by Arthur's descendants, in George Henry Smith's Druid's World ) and mutants provide additional opportunities for intriguing juxtapositions and satirical commentary.
Among the finest science fiction treatments in contemporary American fiction are those by Roger Zelazny and C. J. Cherryh (pseudonym of Carolyn Janice Cherry). Zelazny's Prince of Amber series incorporates various legends, including the Grail quest and a wasteland theme. The strongest Arthurian parallels occur in The Guns of Avalon (1972), in which Lancelot appears, just as Merlin does in the fifth novel, The Courts of Chaos (1979), and Parsifal and Excalibur do in a later "humorous fantasy", Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming (1991), co-written with Robert Sheckley (NAE 615). But it is in "The Last Defender of Camelot" that Zelazny most adroitly handles his Arthurian subject. In that story, Lancelot forms an alliance with Morgan le Fay in order to prevent a re-awakened Merlin from imposing his will upon a new age. Zelazny's Lancelot is Camelot's last defender because he prevents Merlin from creating a new Arthur and from conferring on this new leader a power that would be dangerous in the modern world. Cherryh's Port Eternity (1982) imagines a marooned spacecraft, the Maid of Astolat, owned by wealthy Dela Kirn and staffed by androids, or "made people," modeled on the characters from Tennyson's Idylls of the King: Elaine, Dela's beautiful, loyal maid and the narrator of the novel; Lancelot, Dela's programmed lover and household manager; Vivien, the efficient keeper of the accounts; Gawain and Lynette, the pilots; and Percivale and Modred, the engineers. At the beginning of the journey, they "play out the old game" (12), with Dela acting as a kind of Guinevere and drawing in some of the "born men" like Griffin, the novel's Arthur figure. But as soon as the ship gets stranded in an alien dimension, the made people begin asserting their personalities and living out their Arthurian roles, even to the point of a final battle, in which they are overwhelmed by the alien "Beast" and giants. Yet, like their Arthurian counterparts, they experience an almost legendary triumph in their defeat. Although the plot is not seamless, Port Eternity nonetheless integrates the Arthurian element more successfully than any other science fiction novel except perhaps Norton's Merlin's Mirror.
Like science fiction, fantasy novels also feature imaginative uses of Arthurian subjects. In Silverlock (1949), John Myers Myers sends his protagonist on a picaresque journey through a land filled with memorable literary characters, including Nimue and Gawain, who "teach him a fuller appreciation of life." A sequel, The Moon's Fire-Eating Daughter (1981), chronicles the journey of a university science professor, guided by supernatural beings like Merlin and Morgan le Fay, develops his literary talents as he encounters famous poets and authors, including Taliesin. As Myers did, Robert Nathan merges the Arthurian and literary/academic worlds. His entertaining novel The Elixir (1971) takes recounts the adventures of an American professor who, while touring Stonehenge and other nearby sites, encounters Anne (Niniane) and Myrdin (NAE 339, 341). A long-lived Merlin, again in a contemporary setting, uses his talents in a somewhat different capacity in Linda Haldeman's The Lastborn of Elvinwood (1978), as he brings together a fairy groom and a mortal bride needed to save Oberon's dwindling race.
Not surprisingly, the Tristan legend holds a special appeal for writers of romantic fantasy.16 In Dawn in Lyonesse (1938), Mary Ellen Chase's protagonist Ellen Pascoe, a poor Cornish woman, reads the story of Tristan and Iseult. When her fiancé Derek kills himself after an affair with her best friend Susan, Ellen's understanding of that story transforms her so that she forgives Susan and takes joy in the fact that she (Ellen) and Derek were happy 'for even a little' (111). And in Chase's "A Candle at Night" (1942), the Tristan story inspires a similar forgiveness by Mary Penrose of her friend Susan Glover. Ruth Collier Sharpe's Tristram of Lyonesse (1949) addresses the legend more directly. While attempting to treat the story in its entirety, Sharpe places it in a "disconcertingly anachronistic setting that recalls the 18th century" and transforms it into "a tediously long and sentimental Gothic melodrama with a convoluted plot and a happy ending", with Mark giving Ysolt a "Bill of Divorcement" that allows her to become Queen of Lyonesse (NAE 417). Dee Morrison Meaney's Iseult: Dreams That Are Done (1985), narrated by Iseult herself, also uses much of the traditional material. Meaney, however, has the lovers themselves decide that Tristram should leave court. Both, moreover, continue to love Mark. Later, when Tristram dies of a wound, Iseult arrives too late to bid farewell; so she dies as well. It is not Iseult (here called Esseilte) but her cousin Branwen, daughter of Morholt, who is the narrator of Diana Paxson's The White Raven (1988).17 Branwen describes the love between Drustan (Tristan) and Esseilte, for which she acts as a go-between, and recounts the story of how she took the latter's place in the marriage bed with the noble King Marc'h. Only after Esseilte's death does Branwan reveal her love for the king, with whom she shared a special and symbolic bond, and her shame in his betrayal.
Another significant fantasy motif is the quest. In Excalibur (1973), Sanders Anne Laubenthal skillfully introduces Arthurian characters into an American setting. The plot revolves around a quest to find Excalibur, said to have been brought to Alabama by Prince Madoc.18 Andrew M. Greeley's The Magic Cup: An Irish Legend (1979) tells an equally unusual version of the Grail quest--an Irish version (though with democratic elements that resonate with American readers).
To be sure, one of the most successful and influential fantasy novels is Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon (1982), which relates the Arthurian story from the viewpoint of the women in the legend: Igraine, the wife of Gorlois; Morgaine, their daughter and the central figure and primary voice of the novel; Morgause, Igraine's half-sister, and later the wife of King Lot; Viviane, Igraine's half-sister and Lady of the Lake, who is a priestess of the Holy Isle of Avalon and mother to Lancelet; Niniane and Nimue, Viviane's descendants; and Gwenhwyfar, queen and wife of Arthur.
The popularity and the influence of the book rest largely on the central roles of its women. Though the Mists draws heavily on Arthurian tradition, "Arthur is no longer in the focus of the novel's interest" and "the important events are not initiated by him" (Volk-Birke 411). Throughout the novel there are feminist overtones in keeping with the focus of the women, as when Igraine says she will not have Morgaine "brought up to feel shame at her own womanhood" (79); or when Morgaine herself criticizes the Christian foes of Avalon for being "overfond of that word unseemly, especially when it relates to women" (288); or when Viviane asks, "What woman would betray a fellow woman" by exposing her adultery? (473), a question that foreshadows Niniane's refusal later in the book to assist Mordred in trapping Gwenhwyfar with Lancelet. "Am I to help you by betraying a woman who has taken the right the Goddess has given to all women, to choose what man she will?" Niniane asks (851), a stance for which she is killed by Mordred.
Though The Mists of Avalon is usually read as a feminist tale, not all of the women are admirable. For most of the book Gwenhwyfar is a nagging agoraphobe who tries to inflict her religious beliefs on everyone around her, including Arthur and therefore the people of his realm. First seen as a weeping child lost in the mists of Avalon, she dutifully marries Arthur and with her uncompromising piety draws him, and all of Britain, under the powerful sway of the Christian priests. She even believes in making "such laws as would keep my people from sin" (420). It is she who insists that Arthur abandon the Pendragon banner because of its ties to the ancient religion of Britain. Instead she has him carry a Christian banner and will not permit a compromise--either the carrying of both banners or allowing one of Arthur's captains to bear the symbol of Britain while Arthur fights under the banner depicting the Virgin Mary and the cross of Christ that Gwenhwyfar has made for him. By failing to fight under the Pendragon banner, Arthur breaks the vow he made to Viviane as Lady of the Lake when she presented him with the sword Excalibur and its scabbard, crafted by Morgaine and enchanted so it will prevent him from bleeding while he wears it.
This struggle between a matriarchal Avalon and a patriarchal Christianity becomes the central conflict of the novel. Sabine Volk-Birke rightly sees the "juxtaposition of the two concepts of Avalon and Christianity" as essential to the understanding of the book. This is in part because Bradley's joining of "the age-old tale of the Round Table and the grail with the Neo-Pagan monomyth" (Fry 339) gives her a framework for her feminist approach to the legends. But the contrast between Avalon and Christianity is symbolic of something more important to the book than the feminist theme. As Raymond Thompson has noted, "The basic conflict is waged between tolerance and intolerance" (The Return from Avalon 132), which is couched primarily in terms of the struggle between the natural and liberating Goddess worship of Avalon and the restrictive and constrictive rules of Christianity. Throughout the novel, those who practice the religion of Avalon are generally tolerant of Christianity and object mainly to its attempt to declare all other religions heresy. A basic principle of the religion of Avalon is that "all the Gods are one" (779), a notion that echoes throughout the Mists. It is preached by Taliesin, the first of two "Merlins"--here a title rather than a name--who appear in the book, and by his successor, Kevin, who tries to accommodate the new religion in ways that seem to Morgaine such a betrayal that he must be put to death. It is a similar sacrilege by Arthur, using Excalibur as a cross on which to swear an oath to the Saxons, that prompts Morgaine to give the sword to Accolon, her lover (and the son of her husband Uriens), to use against Arthur, who is himself more interested in peace in his realm and in his marriage than in doctrine.
More important, however, than the discord between Morgaine and Kevin or Morgaine and Arthur is that between Gwenhwyfar and Morgaine. Morgaine is initially a priestess who is possessed of the Sight. She is also a tormented woman, torn, as Gwenhwyfar is, by love for Lancelet and her failures as a mother, sister, and wife; and it is her tragic and heroic fate to bring down Arthur, her brother, lover, and foe. Against this continuing conflict, Bradley tells the traditional story--of Arthur's conception; his fathering of Mordred by his half-sister; his marriage to Gwenhwyfar; his establishing of the Round Table; the love between Gwenhwyfar and Lancelet; the affair between Lancelet and Elaine and the resulting birth of Galahad; the Grail quest, including Galahad's achieving of it; and Arthur and Mordred's final battle--albeit in an often untraditional way. For example, Lancelet's love for Gwenhwyfar is tinged with homosexual desire for Arthur; and the half-sister and mother of Mordred, whose birth name is Gwydion, is not Morgause but Morgaine. And Morgaine, as Lee Ann Tobin demonstrates, is "a vision of female power rather than an evil manipulator," just as Gwenhwyfar is an example of the way in which "women lost power in Western culture" (147). By such "reinscrib[ing of] power for female characters" and by decentering "such Arthurian commonplaces" as chivalry, concludes Tobin, Bradley accomplishes a "specifically feminist revisionary act" (147) that gives her novel a distinctive voice and makes it a cult classic.
But even this rivalry is softened by a natural bond between women. Morgaine recognizes that "in spite of all old enmities, there was love too" between her and Gwenhwyfar (725). And in the end Gwenhwyfar can think of Morgaine "with a sudden passion of love and tenderness" (864). Though it takes most of the book for this to happen, both of them become a little more forgiving of each other and of what each represents. Through her love for Lancelet, a love she chooses and not a relationship that is thrust upon her, Gwenhwyfar finally overcomes her fear of being out in the open, which is really a fear of life. Just as she learns to love her newfound freedom, however, she realizes that because of the love she has for Lancelet and the obligation, paralleling Morgaine's, that she has to Britain, she must forego her chance for personal happiness and retire to the nunnery at Glastonbury. The sense of enclosure in the cloister, which had once made her feel "so safe, so protected," now almost overwhelms her as she feels the walls "closing her in, trapping her" (864). But she is willing to endure the maddening sense of imprisonment because her sacrifice will prevent the kingdom from being torn apart as Troy was because Helen "had all the kings and knights of her day at strife over her" (862). Though Gwenhwyfar is still sacrificing her happiness for others, it is now her choice to do so, a mature sacrifice for a higher good rather than a frightened child's acquiescence to authority figures.
Morgaine too matures, as does her view of the worship of the Goddess as the feminine principle in the world. As Avalon fades more and more into the mists and Morgaine feels that it might be lost forever to the outside world, she brings to Glastonbury cuttings from Avalon's thorn tree, which grew originally from the staff of Joseph of Arimathia, so that something of Avalon will remain. There she learns that nuns pray for Viviane, to whose burial at Glastonbury rather than Avalon Morgaine had objected. Once thought to be an evil sorceress by the Christian priests, now Viviane, or at least her memory, is treated with respect by the nuns of Glastonbury, who also drink from the Chalice Well so important to the old religion and pray to Brigid as a saint though she is in fact "the Goddess as she is worshipped in Ireland" (875). Morgaine realizes that the nuns know "the power of the Immortal" (875) and that the Goddess is not only within those who worship her but within the world as well. Her ability to accept the nuns of Glastonbury as representatives of the Goddess is a broadening of her awareness of the presence and power of the divine force she worships. With this new awareness, she understands that "I did not fail. I did what she had given me to do. It was not she but I in my pride who thought I should have done more" (876).
In a sense the very feminism of Bradley's book, especially as it is subsumed into the larger theme of religious tolerance (reminiscent of that found in an earlier novel, William H. Babcock's Cian of the Chariots), marks it as very American. In the Mists, the notion that a king is not the highest authority is made clear. Both Viviane and Morgaine, for instance, challenge Arthur when he breaks his vow to Avalon. And, as in other American Arthurian works, the role and power of the king are downplayed. Viviane tells Morgaine that the "High King is a leader in battle--he does not own the lives of his subjects . . ." (494). Arthur himself says, "I command no man's conscience, King or no" (331); and, in a sentiment like that expressed in Sallie Bridges' poem "The King and the Bard," Arthur recognizes that "such music as [Kevin's] is not to be commanded, even by a king" (681). Similarly, Elaine, the mother of Galahad, says of her son that "even if he was to be king one day, he must be brought up to a simple and modest manhood" (603). Bradley's modern, feminist retelling is perhaps the best known and most widely read Arthurian novel since T. H. White's The Once and Future King; and, as such, it has had tremendous influence on other novelists and on readers who now take for granted that approaching the Arthurian legend through the women characters is as acceptable as approaching it through the men who have traditionally been more prominent.
Bradley's recent novel Lady of Avalon (1997), tells of the creation of Avalon and looks forward to Arthur's birth. The novel also emphasizes female characters. Caillean and a group of priestesses create the mists which envelop Avalon. Ana gives birth both to the mother of the future king and to Viviane, who will become the Lady of the Lake.
Though little known, Mary J. Jones's Avalon (1991), identified by its publisher a "lesbian Arthurian romance," is also a noteworthy contribution to feminist fantasy fiction. Gwenhyfar's child Argante ("brilliant one"), who grows to womanhood with her soul-friend Elin and becomes the fabled Lady of the Lake, is a Daughter of the Goddess whose duty it is to watch over the Celtic Realms of Ireland, Britain, and Gaul. But her foe, Annis the Hag, the fearsome dark sister of the Goddess Mother and Queen of the Wastelands, wants dominion over the Celtic Realms; and so Argante and the Daughters of Avalon must do battle. The novel reworks the legends in radically feminist ways: for example, it is Morgant, not Merlin, who moves the huge stones to Salisbury; and Morgant is Nimue's lover. The male characters, in large part secondary, are easily corrupted: Balin, for instance, is seduced by Annis.
Some of the most fascinating and extended treatments of Arthurian topics occur in fiction series.19 The early but fine sword-and-sorcery novels of H. Warner Munn, like much American Arthurian literature, bring the legends to the New World. Munn's heroic fantasy King of the World's Edge (1939) brings Ventidius Varro, Arthur's former centurion, Myrdhinn (Merlin), and a handful of other survivors of the battle of Camlann to North America, where they forge new alliances among the native peoples. In The Ship from Atlantis (1967), published together with King of the World's Edge as Merlin's Godson (1976), Gwalchmai (Gawain) learns the customs of his father Varro and of his godfather Myrdhinn, who gives him a magic ring with the power to defend against various enemies and to defy the passage of time. In the final book, Merlin's Ring (1974), Gwalchmai, who enjoys an enduring romance with the immortal Corenice from Atlantis, finally returns to Britain, where he finds Arthur's sword in a faery mound and restores it to the king, who lies sleeping in a cavern beneath St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall.
Gwalchmai (the "Hawk of May") appears again as the narrator of Hawk of May (1980), the first book in Gillian Bradshaw's popular series. After witnessing the horrifying rituals of his mother Morgawse, the boy escapes to the Isles of the Blessed; when he returns years later, he wishes to support her adversary, his uncle Arthur, from whom he learns of Medraut's (Mordred's) incestuous origins. In Kingdom of Summer (1981), Gwalchmai's servant Rhys ap Sion continues the tale of Gwalchmai's conflict with Morgawse, who is ultimately beheaded by Agravain. In Winter's Shadow (1982) is narrated by Gwynhwyfar, who tells of her desire for Bedwyr, her love for Arthur, her fear and hatred of Medraut, and her guilt and shame for her part in the breakup of the "Family."20 Medraut, whom she has tried to poison, exposes the lovers. Bedwyr, in trying to rescue her, accidentally kills Gwalchmai's son Gwynn. Gwalchmai's resulting desire for revenge allows Medraut to seize power and thus leads to the tragic end of Arthur's reign. Bradshaw borrows material "from a variety of traditional sources" and "integrates it with skill" into her trilogy "to produce a convincing, if increasingly somber, vision of the Arthurian legend" (NAE 51).
Told in the words of Artorius Pendragon, Firelord (1980), the first novel in Parke Godwin's Arthurian "triptych," portrays the king as "a spiritual Everyman" and a visionary Pict who strives to restore life and purpose to a mighty nation.21 After Arthur's death at the hands of his son Modred (by Pictish wife Morgana, the ruler of Prydn, the Faerie-folk), Guenevere--her husband's equal in strength and character--comes into her own. In Beloved Exile (1984), she struggles for power, though it means forming odd alliances and even living for a while in servitude and captivity by the Saxons, whose values she learns to respect. Guenevere's experience, which in many ways parallels Arthur's, provides a nice symmetry between the two novels. The Last Rainbow (1985) goes back to the time of St. Patrick. Living among British pagans, he meets Dorelei, the Prydn ruler who teaches him the powers of the earth and the pleasures of love; in turn, he offers her and her people a new god and savior. The Arthurian element occurs later, when Patrick meets Ambrosius Aurelianus. Godwin's narrative techniques and attention to modern concerns, especially to the role of Guenevere and other women within their respective societies, no doubt account for much of the novels' success.
The increasing emphasis in American fiction on the legend's female characters is reflected in several other series that focus on those figures often minimized or overlooked in more traditional accounts. For instance, as suggested by the titles Guinevere (1981), The Chessboard Queen (1984), and Guinevere Evermore (1985), Sharan Newman's trilogy examines the queen's protected childhood and her troubled marriage. But Newman also infuses the familiar Arthurian world with otherworldly elements like the Unicorn; features uncommon depictions of Merlin, Gawaine, and Arthur as youths; and introduces original characters such as Alswytha, the Saxon maid, and Gaia, a lonely woman who is the victim of self-condemnation. Persia Woolley's Guinevere trilogy, Child of the Northern Spring (1987), Queen of the Summer Stars (1990), and Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn (1991), also begins with Guinevere's description of her youth and marriage to Arthur; continues with her idyll with Lancelot at Joyous Gard; and concludes with the quest for the Grail and the fall of the Round Table. Though Woolley draws heavily on Malory for details, she offers a host of psychological insights into her characters' motives that makes the story more accessible and understandable to modern popular audiences. Patricia Kennealy's projected nine-book Keltiad includes three novels, The Copper Crown (1984), The Throne of Scone (1986), and The Silver Branch (1988), known as the Aeron trilogy, in which Aeron, queen of the Kelts, must recover the Thirteen Treasures that disappeared with Arthur after the battle of Camlann (here a "space battle"). The continuation of the series, the Tales of Arthur trilogy, includes The Hawk's Gray Feather (1990), The Oak Above the Kings (1994), and The Hedge of Mist (1996), the last two written under the name Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. In these novels, Taliesin recounts Arthur's early wars to restore the High Kingship, his marriage to Gweniver, and the growing danger posed by his half-sister Marguessan (Morgause). As she did in the first part of the series, Kennealy simultaneously employs and radically transforms traditional elements like the Grail and the love story of Tristan and Isolde by framing them in the distant star-realm of Keltia. Even Joan Wolf's otherwise undistinguished historical-romance series--The Road to Avalon (1988), Born of the Sun (1989), and The Edge of Light (1990), all but the first only marginally Arthurian--puts some of the women in unusual situations; Morgan, for instance, is both Mordred's mother and Merlin's daughter as well as Arthur's aunt and his ongoing lover. In Quinn Taylor Evans's "Merlin's Legacy" romance series, which suggests a possible new direction for popular Arthurian literature, Merlin has not just one but three daughters: the second-sighted visionary Vivian of Amesbury in Daughter of Fire (1996), the changeling Brianna of Scotland in Daughter of the Mist (1996), and the healer Cassandra of Tregaron in Daughter of Light (1997).
Another noteworthy series is Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle, originally planned as a trilogy but now consisting of five books: Taliesin (1987), which describes the bard's origins, religious conversion, and marriage to a princess of Atlantis; Merlin (1988), the autobiographical story of Taliesin's son, who prepares for Arthur's coming in much the same way that Taliesin prepared for his; Arthur (1989), the tale of the High King and Pendragon of the Island of the Mighty who tries to bring about the Summer Kingdom, a reign of peace and prosperity foreseen by Taliesin; Pendragon (1994), in which Arthur, the Bear of Britain, battles to keep alive his cherished dream of Summer; and Grail (1997), the account of Arthur's miraculous renewal by the sacred relic, which mysteriously vanishes and must be recovered by the king and his Dragon Flight. Although a religious message underlies Lawhead's cycle, the novels nonetheless use their Welsh and Celtic source material to tell a thoroughly engrossing story.22 Simon Hawke (pseudonym of Nicholas Yermakov) employs the Arthurian material in a less traditional but even more inventive way than Lawhead does. His "Wizard" books are all set in the future, a fantastic time in which magic reigns supreme, characters "die" but send their essences into the bodies of others, and spirits offer assistance. Joining forces against the Dark Ones in the various novels--The Wizard of 4th Street (1987), The Wizard of Whitechapel (1988), The Wizard of Sunset Strip (1989), The Wizard of Rue Morgue (1990), The Samurai Wizard (1991), The Wizard of Sante Fe (1991), The Wizard of Camelot (1993), and The Wizard of Lovecraft's Cafe (1993)--are Morgan le Fay, her son Modred, two descendants of her sisters Elaine and Morgause, Merlin, the spirit of Gorlois, the descendants of Gorlois's three daughters, a punk rocker named Billy (whose body, at one point, is shared by the spirits of Gorlois and Merlin), and a policeman named John Angelo (into whose body Modred sends his dormant essence). The international adventures, which span London, Los Angeles, the sewers of Paris, Tokyo, Santa Fe, Camelot, and New York City, involve opponents like a werewolf and a Jack the Ripper-style murderer enlisted by the ubiquitous Dark Ones, who have escaped their imprisonment.
Robert Monaco's two series are almost as long as Hawke's but considerably less engaging. Loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, Monaco's Grail books present an especially grim and bloody version of the Arthurian world, a realm full of savagery, rapes, murder, even cannibalism and other gratuitous horrors. In Parsival (1977), The Grail War (1979), The Final Quest (1980), and Blood and Dreams (1985), the holy fool Parsival searches for the Grail in a rationalized and despiritualized quest that leads ultimately to emptiness, while the demonic Clinschor devastates the country in his own ruthless pursuit of the vessel. The novels, in which the behavior of the aristocracy is generally deplorable and even typically noble knights like Lancelot and Lohengrin kill without a second thought, are "all antiromances of the most extreme sort." Parsival, in particular, "continually rejects his role as Grail savior, first in extreme knightly brutality, and then in his turning to family life for comfort from the horror of a harsh, feudal, plaguey, hungry, and war-torn world--a true wasteland" (NAE 326). But nothing brings the unknightly knight any real balm. Monaco's new Arthurian fantasy series seems almost as gloomy and as full of treacherous misconduct as his first: Runes (1984) treats the adventures of Arthur's parents, Bita, a British slave, and Leitus, the son of the gladiator Spartacus, while Broken Stone (1985) continues their story and introduces the young Arturus to his half-sister Morga. Although the brutality in Monaco's work, according to Raymond H. Thompson, recalls the world of sword and sorcery fantasy and "provides an ironic contrast to the high-minded ideals of chivalric romance and the Holy Grail" (Return 145), ultimately it is hard to look "below all the ugliness . . . on the surface" (Parsival 335). Consequently, the most memorable aspects of both series are their confused plots and repetitious scenes of butchery and violence.
The Arthurian stories have also provided the basis for interesting and innovative American mystery fiction,23 some of which is set in Camelot during Arthur's day. In Maxey Brooke's short story, "Morte d'Alain: An Unrecorded Idyll of the King" (1969), for instance, a knight is murdered at King Arthur's court. Merlin's apprentice describes how his master, the magician, solves the mystery, not through any supernatural "power of darkness" (271) but by the time-honored art of following the killer's footprints, and how he forces the killer to confess. Merlin solves another crime at court by deducing who destroyed financial records and assaulted his assistant in Brooke's "Morte d'un Marcheant" (1992). Phyllis Ann Karr also sets her Idylls of the Queen (1982) in Camelot. Based on a short episode in Malory about Sir Patrise, who is killed after eating a poisoned apple at a banquet given by the queen, Karr's novel is narrated by Sir Kay, who discovers the truth about the crime and clears Guinevere of suspicion. A medieval gumshoe, Kay makes other unusual discoveries about people at the court, especially about those traditionally dismissed as villains. He realizes that Mordred is an intelligent man who is embittered not only by the circumstances of his birth but by the prophecy that dooms him as well as his father, and that Morgan feels true concern for the kingdom. Unfortunately, Kay is not accorded the full or proper credit for his successful detective work; Lancelot, who defends the Queen in trial by combat, and Nimue, whose magic corroborates the murderer's guilt, receive more praise than the hapless seneschal does. "This resolution," writes Thompson, "comments upon the Arthurian world, where valor and sorcery are more highly prized than intelligence" (Return 123). Yet the plot line, in which a lesser figure achieves what more prominent characters can not, is quite compatible with the more democratic tradition of American Arthuriana. (Sir Kay reappears--though not as a detective--in a later short story by Karr; in "Two Bits of Embroidery" , a scullery maid's love for Kay is contrasted with the story of Elaine of Astolat's tragic love for Lancelot.)
More common are mysteries set in the modern day that draw, often obliquely, on Arthurian legend. Typically, those novels involve a quest for a specific legendary artifact like the Grail. Such is the case in Richard Ben Sapir's Quest (1987), in which the hero, worldly-wise Detective Arthur C. Modelstein--"Artie"--rises to untypically chivalrous stature in the pursuit of the gold, gem-encrusted saltcellar that incorporates the Holy Grail and that was originally created for Queen Elizabeth I to celebrate the victory over the Spanish Armada. Artie's quest inside the criminal world of international gem dealers takes him from New York to Cairo, to Paris, to London, and to Geneva. In Nelson DeMille's The Quest (1975), characters with analogues in the Arthurian stories seek the holy cup, which is hidden in an Ethiopian monastery, whereas Alice Campbell's The Murder of Caroline Bundy (1932) sets the mystery in Glastonbury and James Goldman's The Man from Greek and Roman (1974) at Cadbury Hill. The Grail in James P. Blaylock's The Paper Grail (1991) is not even a cup but a nineteenth-century Japanese sketch that had once been shaped into a cup used to gather blood. Northern California museum curator Howard Barton discovers the "paper Grail's" mystery and eventually succeeds Michael Graham, the novel's Fisher King, as its keeper.
The Grail, however, is not the only mysterious or coveted artifact. In Jo Anne Stang's Shadows on the Sceptred Isle (1980), it is the discovery of the leaden cross from Arthur's grave that motivates the wealthy industrialist Sir Edmund Littell to conspire to restore Britain's national purity in Arthur's name and forces the heroine, Elizabeth Kendall, the American on sabbatical in England, to untangle the mysteries at Thorn Hill Manor. And an ancient iron ring is at the heart of Elizabeth Peters' The Camelot Caper (1969), in which the owners of an old manor in Cornwall try to create an Arthurian archaeological site by salting it with fifth-century objects (cf. NAE 340).
Among the most widely-read versions of the Arthurian legend are those works written for a juvenile audience. Inspired by the youth movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writers like Sidney Lanier and Howard Pyle retold the popular stories for younger readers, an important trend that has continued throughout the century with the contributions of increasing numbers of new and prominent writers.
Whereas the retellings by Lanier and Pyle were based largely on Le Morte D'Arthur, Allen French, in his early juvenile romance Sir Marrok (1902), uses only a brief passage in Malory as the basis of his story. French's noble knight Marrok is sent by King Uther, at Merlin's suggestion, to restore peace and justice to Bedegraine, "a fertile land laid waste" (7) and rife with witches, robbers, and other violent and unholy people, and then by the new king, Uther's son Arthur, to fight the kings who oppose him. Before going to war, Marrok sets his affairs in order and leaves the welfare of both his son and his new kingdom of Bedegraine in the hands of the duplicitous Lady Irma, a member of the council of Morgan le Fay. In Marrok's absence, Irma "began new ways" (85); and, upon his return, she uses her magic to transform him from man to beast, forcing Marrok to roam the woods for more than seven years in the form of a gray wolf. Yet, even in his altered state, Marrok protects his vassals and to turn adversity into opportunity. He defends Lady Agnes, daughter of the good Sir Simon, against the men of Sir Morcar; delivers his retainer Andred from robbers; assists the swineherd Blaise; saves the monk Norris; protects Father John from harm until he is made abbot; and brings a peasant child home, on his back, in the middle of a brutal snowstorm. Even those whom Irma tries to enlist to kill the wolf--Wat, Pellinore, Tristram--soon come to respect and admire his dignity. Ultimately, by using a secret passage to the castle that Merlin had long before advised him to build, Marrok destroys the magic wolfen image of himself, is restored to his former shape as a man, and frustrates Irma as she tries to work a similar evil transformation on his son Walter. Within six months, Walter and Irma's good daughter Gertrude are married; "and all the land of Bedegraine was happy, except that the peasants lamented that they saw the great gray wolf no more" (280). French's didactic tale, which reminds younger readers not to be deceived by appearances, underscores the virtues of strength, devotion, and loyalty that Marrok displays even in the most difficult circumstances.
Still other juvenile novelists draw not on characters from traditional sources like Malory but instead use Arthur's court as a historical background for their own original characters, oftentimes young people the same age as their intended audiences, and for their own original American "rags-to-riches" stories, in which the achievement of knighthood depends on moral qualities rather than circumstances of birth. In Catherine Owens Peare's Melor, King Arthur's Page (1963), for instance, the youthful Melor proves himself by saving Arthur from the giant boar Troynt. In Page Boy for King Arthur (1949), the first of two Arthurian novels by Eugenia Stone, a young peasant named Tor rescues Sir Lancelot and is rewarded by being made a page to Sir Galahad. In Stone's Squire for King Arthur (1955), Tor rescues the son of Pellinore from the Saxons, warns Arthur of a Saxon invasion, and is made Pellinore's squire. The hero of Clyde Robert Bulla's The Sword in the Tree (1956) performs similar brave acts. After his father Lord Weldon reportedly dies in quicksand and his uncle Lionel usurps the family's castle, Shan runs away with his mother and eventually travels to King Arthur's court, where--on a "special day"--he asks the king for a boon: assistance in reclaiming the property that is rightfully his. With Sir Gareth's help, he returns to his castle; retrieves his father's sword, which he had hidden in an old oak tree; and frees his father, who has been imprisoned in the dungeon by Lionel. Since the story Shan told King Arthur is true, Gareth suggests that "the king will call [him] to Camelot some day" (95) to train as a page, a squire, and ultimately a knight. Maturation and elevation to knighthood are also the subject of Gwendolyn Bowers' Brother to Galahad (1963), in which Hugh of Alleyn leaves his ancient castle of Brannlyr; travels to Glastonbury, where he learns that he is descended from the line of Joseph of Arimathea; becomes Galahad's squire on the Grail quest; witnesses Arthur's defeat; and realizes his need to embark on his own quest back to Alleyn, where he is most needed. Galahad's words ring in Hugh's ears: "For you too follow the Grail--by another road" (186). Another Hugh, this one a lame young monk whose father was one of the murderers of Thomas Beckett, is cured by a vision of the Grail while a fire destroys Glastonbury Abbey in Eleanore Myers Jewett's The Hidden Treasure of Glaston (1946) (NAE 252). The orphaned Wulf, protagonist of another of Bowers' books, Lost Dragon of Wessex (1957), makes an important discovery as well: he learns that he is a descendant of Arthur's bard Taliesin and fulfills Merlin's prophecy by presenting a dragon-shaped armring that originally belonged to Arthur to another great king, Alfred. Young men are not alone in proving their nobility through their deeds. In Donald J. Sobol's Greta the Strong (1970), "set in the lawless years following Arthur's reign," it is a "strong but sensitive" heroine who embarks on a quest to recover Excalibur. Eventually, however, she learns that there are better ways to achieve justice than by the sword (NAE 424).24
Also popular are the juvenile novels of fantasy, particularly those involving time travel, in which characters journey back to Arthur's day or Arthurian characters travel to contemporary time--or sometimes in both directions, as in British-American author Susan Cooper's immensely popular "The Dark Is Rising" series. Three young American boys go back to Camelot, where they defeat the Black Knight and save the kingdom from both a giant and a dragon in Jon Scieszka's illustrated Knights of the Kitchen Table (1991), whereas Merlin travels to modern times in Tom McGowen's clever fantasy Sir MacHinery (1971), in which he teams up with a scientist named Arthur and his knightly robot to help the brownies defeat the demon dwarves led by the evil Urlag. In the fantasy series by Pamela F. Service, Britain--after 500 years of nuclear winter-"is still in a new Dark Age that is, once again the setting for a conflict between Arthur and Merlin and their old enemy Morgan La Fay." In Service's Winter of Magic's Return (1985), Merlin returns in the body of a teenager and, with the help of two schoolfriends, Wellington Jones ("Welly") and Heather McKenna, embarks on a quest to find Arthur, who is "needed again" (97). After confronting Morgan and her consort Garth, a werewolf, at Stonehenge, the three teens build a boat held together by magic; arrive in Avalon, a contrast to the wasteland they have left behind; and enlist the aid of Arthur, who wonders "Is there anything here worth fighting for?" (191). In Service's Tomorrow's Magic (1987), the trio supports Arthur in his struggle to reunite the feuding kingdoms of Britain against Morgan and her mutant followers (NAE 414). Merlin, however, realizes that his powers are waning: simple spells still work, but the important aspects of magic escape him; and even with his Bowl of Prophecy he has difficulty seeing into the future. When Morgan uses Heather's amulet to entrap him and then taunts him for his weakness in needing to "be loved," Merlin responds, "your powers are nothing! They're tattered, dying relics. . . . Your amulet, my bowl--they are things, cold, lifeless things. . . . The strongest new magic comes from people, not things" (181-82). And, after Morgan hurls Merlin through the crack that she had wedged in time and he finds himself--along with Welly and Heather--back on the very day that the Devastation began, Merlin indeed calls on Heather's "new power" (185) to defeat Morgan's evil by "build[ing] a world of hope" in which the vision of the nuclear winter that they have experienced will prevent "this ultimate horror" (190) from ever actually transpiring.25
As in adult science fiction and fantasy, the crack in time is a familiar device: it occurs not only in Service's novels but also in other works, such as L. J. Smith's juvenile Arthurian fiction, in which Smith creates an elaborate new--and often convoluted--Arthurian mythology. After the Weerul Council, the supreme ruling body of Findahl (Wildworld), decrees that the Wildfolk be evacuated to their own world and the passages to Stillworld (Earth) be sealed, the sorceress Morgana Shee protests because she has fallen in love with a young Native American boy, a dreamsinger, who lives on the other side. Morgana argues that, because her mother was a Quislai (fairy) and her father a human, she is entitled to spend half her time in the Wildworld and half in the human world. Thia Pendriel, a magistrate of the Council, opposes the plan; but the Council allows a single "Passage" to remain through which Morgana can move. That passage can be opened only by an amulet, which--against the Council's directive--Morgana eventually shares with her new husband, the dreamsinger. But when he uses it to follow Morgana to the other world, Thia has him put to death; and Morgana herself is exiled to Earth, never to return to Wildworld, where she now has numerous enemies. In Smith's The Night of the Solstice (1987), Morgana still guards the sole gate to the parallel universe of the Wildworld, a mirror located in her contemporary suburban California mansion, Fell Andred, built directly on the Great Coastal Passage. When Morgana is betrayed and imprisoned in the Wildworld by her former friend Cadal Forge, now a sorcerer who wants to enslave the earth, Morgana's familiar (a vixen who has the powers of speech) recruits the four Hodges-Bradley children to find her. The rescue must be accomplished before December 21, the night of the winter solstice, the one night that Cadal Forge can travel through the mirror to Stillworld. The adventures continue in Heart of Valor (1990), which is set a year and a half later. Although, by the end of the first novel, Morgana and the children had managed to close the last gateway to Wildworld, a California earthquake now threatens to re-open the passage. As Morgana goes searching for the quake's epicenter, the children are left to battle Morgana's archrival Thia Pendriel, who has the power of the stolen Forgotten Gem, the Heart of Valor of the novel's title. By their combined efforts, including Janie's skill at sorcery and Claudia's ability to talk to animals, they succeed--in time for June 21, Midsummer Eve, the summer solstice. Whereas Smith's Morgana is largely a sympathetic character, it is a more traditional and evil Morgan who is defeated in Jane Curry's The Sleepers (1968), a novel in which four children discover Arthur and his knights sleeping underground. With the help of Myrddin, they prevent Morgan and Medraut from destroy the Sleepers and stealing the thirteen Treasures of Prydein (Britain) (NAE 106).26
Merlin, one of the most popular characters in juvenile Arthurian fiction, is also the central character in several books by the prolific author Jane Yolen.27 In Merlin's Booke (1986), a collection of tales for younger as well as older readers, Yolen tells of the magician as a boy, as a man, and as a centuries-old legend. The thirteen stories and poems (about half previously published) describe a series of separate events "from the sorcerer's birth to his entrapment and, ultimately, to the discovery of his grave in the twenty-first century" (NAE 529). In The Dragon's Boy, Merlin--known to most as Old Linn, the apothecary--is revealed to be the dragon whom Artos (Arthur) encounters in a dark cave and who teaches him the game of wisdom and imparts the knowledge he needs to become a man and a warrior. Drawing very loosely on Geoffrey's twelfth-century Vita Merlini and the few other early accounts of his life, "The Young Merlin Trilogy" traces Merlin's unusual and generally unhappy childhood. In Book One, Passager (1996), Merlin, as an eight-year-old boy, is abandoned in the woods; after a year of sleeping in the trees and foraging for food, he is captured by a falconer, who tames him as he would a passager, an immature bird caught in the wild, and who helps the boy relearn the things that he has forgotten. Among the falconer's hawks and merlins, the boy finally remembers his own name and begins reclaiming his magical identity. After his adoptive family is destroyed by fire in Book Two, Hobby (1996), Merlin is orphaned again. Assuming new identities as "Hawk" and "Hobby" (the name of a small falcon), the birds that recur in his dreams, he joins a company of traveling performers that includes Viviane and Ambrosius, who help him to explore his new powers, especially the dreams that come true "on the slant" (82). In Merlin (1997), the now twelve-year-old boy falls into the hands of another band of outcasts--the wodewose, or wild folk--and begins to come into his magic. His dreaming, however, continues to mark him as an outsider; and his survival seems to lie in the "cub" he meets--Artus, or "bear-man"--for whom some of Merlin's dreams, like that of a table round, eventually materialize. Even in Yolen's beast fable, The Acorn Quest (1981), in which King Eathor the owl sends four of his knights--Sir Tarryhere the turtle, Sir Belliful the groundhog, Sir Gimmemore the rabbit, and Sir Runsalot the mouse--to save the creatures of Woodland from starvation, Merlin appears as the wizard Squirrelin, on whose advice Eathor initiates the quest for the golden acorn.
The quest underlies another novel, Katherine Paterson's Park's Quest (1988), a juvenile work that uses the Arthurian legends in a truly innovative and interesting way and that is reminiscent of Bobbie Ann Mason's adult fiction In Country, in which a young woman quests for similar answers.28 Paterson's Parkington Waddell Broughton the Fifth--"Park" for short--embarks on a quest to learn about his father, who died in Vietnam when he was just a baby. Park's quest takes him first to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and then to the farm where his father was raised, where he discovers the family secrets that his mother has withheld from him--that she divorced his father just before his second tour of duty in Vietnam, during which he was killed; that his grandfather, a career military officer called simply "the Colonel," had suffered his first stroke when he heard the sad news. And Park learns the deepest secret of all: that Thanh, the strange and scrappy Vietnamese girl who lives on the farm, is actually his half-sister. The very contemporary Park is therefore much like the traditional Percival, whose mother kept him ignorant of chivalry, which she blamed for his father's death; who, learning of the existence of knights, ignored his mother's grief and left for court; who, in a strange castle, is witness to a strange procession but, as advised, never questions what he sees; and who eventually asks the question that cures the infirm Fisher King. Park's mother's refusal to discuss his father and her attempts to shelter him from the Colonel and the rest of the family, whose military associations date back centuries and whom she somehow holds responsible for the Vietnam War and the loss of her husband, impel Park to find things out for himself. But, upon the advice of his mother and out of his own fear of seeming forward or impolite, he rarely asks the necessary questions; when his uncle Frank picks him up at the bus stop, for instance, Park realizes "he had used up his one question" (43). After several visits to the farm's springhouse, where Thanh--a kind of modern-day Grail maiden--not only gives him water but also guides him to various self-discoveries, he is able at last to speak to his grandfather. His questions--"What's the matter?"; "Does something hurt?"; "Do you miss him?" (147)--cause the old man to break down in tears that bring healing to both of them. When Thanh reappears, she holds in her hands a coconut shell full of clear water for the two men to drink. "Then they took the Holy Grail in their hands and drew away the cloth and drank. . . . And it seemed to all who saw them that their faces shone with a light that was not of this world. And they were as one in the company of the Grail" (148). In entwining the Grail theme with a young boy's odyssey to understand Vietnam and discover his heritage, Park's Quest tells a powerful story that is at once traditionally Arthurian and uniquely American.