First off I want to thank Bigworldnetwork.com and VCLM for providing the opportunity for me to enjoy the Salt Lake Comic Con this year.
On the afternoon of September 25, I was very pleased to join a discussion on the legend of Arthur Pendragon, how it began, where it had gone, and what changes it was going through. I joined an awesome group of authors: Mikey Brooks, Jessica Day George, Shawn Speakman, Robison Wells and E.B. Wheeler.
Mikey Brooks, the panel’s moderator, kicked off the discussion by asking each panelist what our favorite rendition of the Arthur legend was.
Many panelists, including yours truly, cited Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series as influential. Also cited were John Boorman’s film Excalibur; the Mini Series Merlin staring Sam Neil; the SyFy series Merlin; the Disney film The Sword in the Stone; and Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles.
Logically, the next question dealt with all the iterations of the stories of Arthur’s Round Table, from the early Britons, to the French romantics, to the revival of the stories by Tennyson and Wagner. Even in today’s world there are TV series, comic books, anime, music, operas, etc. What is it about the story of Knights, Round Tables, and Magic that keep us wanting more?
I think what brings us back to the story of the Court of Camelot is that life has always been tough. From the eighth century to the twenty-first, might has always seemed right. Cruelty seems to be strength, and to be merciful is weakness. (At this point I broke out my best Mr. Myagi impersonation Mercy is for the weak.)
What’s attractive about Arthur’s Camelot is that might is not right. Cruelty is not strength, and mercy is not weakness.
The next question dealt with the recent findings, or lack thereof, of Arthur’s historical roots. While Arthur was mentioned in the Annles Cambriae, Historium Brittonum and the heroic poem Y Gododdin, actual proof of our noble King’s existence has yet to be found. So King Arthur: Myth, fact, or does it matter?
All panelists were in agreement, (though one who shall remain nameless brought up that they found him on Ancestry.com), that whether Arthur was real or not, it didn’t matter.
The ideals Arthur inspired, even though he was a man and a flawed man at that, are there as an example to inspire the rest of us.
The next question Mikey directed at me first, because I had mentioned something to him the day before the panel.
What is the strangest /wildest theory you’ve heard about Arthurian legend?
One I had recently heard, from my friend Jared Quan, was about the Sword of Aeneas, a hero of Troy. This particular blade had traveled to Rome after the Trojan War. After Troy’s defeat, Rome began to thrive. Then, the sword was taken from Rome. It traveled to the island of Britannia. When it left Rome, the power of the Roman Empire began to decline. Not long after this, (a few centuries or so), the British Empire rose to power.
(At this point, I broke out my Dudley Doright voice: “I read it on the internet, so it must be true!”).
Another legend I had heard concerned Excalibur’s sheath. Apparently, when worn, the sheath healed the wearer, or caused him to lose no blood. Rendering him, effectively, immortal. Thus, the sheath was greater than the sword.
(Again, Dudley Doright made an appearance at the panel: “It’s on the internet, so it must be true!”).
Our next question stepped away from Arthur and focused on the secondary players of the Court of Camelot. We’ve all heard about Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Merlin. There were other players in the Arthur legend and why were they interesting to us?
Other panelists chose the Fisher King because of his connection to the land. When he suffered, so did the land. When he was healed, the land prospered. Others chose the Lady Elaine, (immortalized in Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot), and the Puce Knight, who does (I’ve learned in hindsight. Sorry Robison) relate to my favorite character form Camelot.
I’ve always loved the story of Sir Gareth, called Good Hands.
Gareth was of noble birth. His father was King Lot, his mother was Arthur’s half-sister Morgause, (aka Morgan le Fay). His brothers were already Knights of the Round Table. Namely Gawain, Agravain, Gaheirs, and half-brother Mordred.
Gareth could have come to Camelot and had a knighthood bestowed upon him, but he chose to go in disguise to court and earn his title.
Gareth is sent to the kitchens to work as a pot scrubber by Sir Kay. Such labor was considered unfitting for one who has aspirations for a knighthood. It prompts Kay to scornfully call Gareth Beaumains a French word meaning Fair or Good Hands.
Undaunted by Kay’s heckling, Gareth takes up the cause of the Lady Lynette. He rides to rescue her sister from the Red Knight. He fights and kills the Black Knight and defeats the Green, Puce, and Indigo Knights. He goes on to challenge and defeat the Red Knight, Lord Ironside. Due to his heroism, Gareth becomes a Knight of the Round Table.
Why do I like the tale of Sir Gareth? Here’s the short-ish answer.
I like the idea of a hero who can have it all with little to no effort. All Gareth needed to do was present himself to Arthur as a son of Lot and ask for a Knighthood. Simple, no? Yet he decided to put himself through hell to achieve his goals. To prove himself worthy. Makes for a better story and a more interesting character.
The last question was put to us as writers. What correlation did we see with Arthurian legend and classical archetypes? And did we, as writers, use some of the same archetypes in our own writing?
The answer was the same for all of us. The correlation dealt with the archetypes found in the Hero’s Journey. The callow youth, setting out on his quest to become a hero. He meets a wise old man/wizard who gives advice. He finding friends and allies in his journey. He encounters/endures trials and hardships. He finds the magic item, (sword, potion, prophetic pig, etc.). He fights a villain and triumphs/fails. He gets/loses the girl. He returns home. He discovers he is more than he was when he left.
These archetypes, while not original by any means, were made popular by the Arthur legend. In my own book, I twist certain aspects of Arthurian lore around. A female descendant of Lancelot as a romantic interest for Arthur’s Scion. A clan of assassins that sprang from Guinevere and Lancelot’s bastard son. Et cetera.
However, I found I couldn’t get away from old wizards offering advice. Friends and allies popping up here and there, or swords being distributed by strange women lying in ponds.
And I certainly can’t get away from the magic. Nor do I want to.
One other thing happened at this panel. Not related to Arthurian lore, but a fun story.
Since Shawn is Terry Brooks’ webmaster, and was scheduled to be on The Shannara Chronicles Panel with Terry Brooks and Manu Bennet, the subject of the correct pronunciation of Shannara came up. (It’s pronounced Shanner-ruh, if you were wondering. Mr. Brooks has stated that either way is fine.) Shawn said he would put Terry on the spot about how to pronounce ‘ Shannara ‘ when he showed up to watch our panel.
Queue freak out from all panelists. Ok, just me. When I fanboy, I fanboy hard.
Sure enough, after the panel began, Terry Brooks made a quiet entrance. Since I was a panelist, I reserved my enthusiasm to vigorous applause when his presence was noted by Mr. Speakman.
The panel was such a great experience. As a bonus I go to be in the room with one more fantastic author than I bargained for.
I want to thank my fellow panelists for sharing their insights into Arthurian lore with me. This was truly a great experience. One I hope to repeat.
Here are links to my fellow panelists pages.
Mikey Brooks: http://www.insidemikeysworld.com/
Jessica Day George: http://www.jessicadaygeorge.com/
Shawn Speakman: http://shawnspeakman.com/
Robison Wells: http://www.robisonwells.com/
E.B. Wheeler: http://ebwheeler.com/
About the Author
J. Christopher Thompson lives in and loves the American Southwest. When he isn’t twisting plots or dreaming of new ways to torture his characters, he is a stay at home father, helping to raise twin baby boys. He is also a blade and exotic weapon enthusiast, and loves a good story no matter where he finds it. Lineage is his first published series.
Check out his current series, Lineage, and buy the first volume of the published story, HERE.