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Jun. 27th, 2012

Arthurian Things post #7 - Guenevere

So every little girl is supposed to grow up wanting to be Guenevere, right? She's the fairy-tale princess of the story, after all. She gets her newly-crowned king, her father is the one who gives him the round table, and she even gets to fall in love with the second most eligible man in the land, and have him love her back. What's not to like? Everyone loves her. But I never did.

I loved Vanessa Redgrave in Camelot. She was wonderful, but that was to be expected. She was from one of the great acting families of England. How could she not be perfect? And I love Angel Colby in Merlin, too. She's sweet, and when they let her be, she really adds something to the story. Too bad the writers don't know how to do a long-term plot without selling their characters short.

But for me? Neither of them get past my dislike of the character's part in the stories overall. In fact, Vanessa played right to them, and Merlin's Gwen is falling into the same trap. I've always had a dislike for the character, but it took me until college to really realize why. She's glorified in every Arthurian story as this beautiful (usually golden-haired) perfect match for Arthur. She's the most beautiful woman in the land, so with no other reason, she must be his wife, right? What does it matter what she does after that, because that's after happily ever after?

It bugs me. Because Lancelot's not her only conquest. she's always flirting with the other knights. The movies less so than the stories, but it's there. Yes, Lancelot is her "other" "true love," but that doesn't stop her from denigrating the knights who don't adore her and wait on her hand and foot to curry favour with her. And it certainly doesn't stop her from flirting with as many of them as she can.

In college, I read one of the Lays of Marie de France. A story called Lanval. Lanval is a young knight who comes to Arthur's court, and when the Queen tries to flirt with him, he avoids her passes, making her angrier and angrier. And when she learns he's in love with a faerie, she finds a way to come between them, nearly parting them forever. Now this is a story written by a nun, but even so, it shows a medieval view of the queen and at least part of how they saw her at the time. As someone who craved the attention of men.

If it were only one conquest, I might look on her more favourably, but it's not. Time and time again, Guenevere is shown as unfaithful to Arthur. In some of the earlier tales, Mordred is not Arthur's son, but Guenevere's lover, who then abducts her to try to steal England from Arthur. It is Guenevere who suggests Gawain be forced to marry the lothly lady, in order to curtail his flirting with the ladies of the court. Yes, this one can be seen in a more positive light, but when you read the texts, invariably, Guenevere comes off as sounding rather annoyed or jealous, and not at all interested in protecting any other women so much as punishing Gawain.

In short stories or long, and even in the movies, whether it is only Lancelot or others she focuses on, she's the one seeking out this attention. She wants it. She craves it. And she will do anything to have it. And with Lancelot, she's cast in the role of Eve, and her bite of the apple destroys Camelot. See that how you will, and a case can be made for that being the medieval view of the day--that no woman can be a positive influence, but at least Morgana, even in the depths of her malice, stands up for herself and her people. Guenevere seems to stand for the type of woman who thinks she deserves whatever she wants, and damn the cost. That or the spoiled little rich girl who doesn't know any better and goes about her innocent and merry way, destroying all she touches because she refuses to see the result of her actions.

I was so excited to see such a different sort of Guenevere at the beginning of the Merlin series. Here was a girl who wouldn't be playing the spoiled princess, right? But I was wrong. With each season, my expectations have been crushed just a little bit more. Especially the past two.

I worry about this coming season of Merlin because the writers seem to be forgetting the premise of this show, and they've completely taken all obstacles out of the way for Arthur and Gwen. They didn't have to fight to get past them. They're just gone. One wonders if they'll just bring back Nimueh at the end of the season and let her trap Merlin in the Crystal Cave, and rename the show...because they seem to slowly be forgetting why the bromance between Merlin and Arthur was even there, and are slowly replacing that with Arthur and Gwen. And I worry that Gwen will become the very embodiment of everything I have always hated about the character, more focused on herself than on the girl I know she could be, if she'd been written right this time.

It's really too bad, too, because I love these actors, and when the story is on point, it's amazing. But sometimes, it's just really hard to watch.

So yeah, that's my rant about Guenevere. What do you think of the character? Do you prefer her or Morgana, or another female character from the stories entirely?

Apr. 30th, 2012

Arthurian Things post #6 - Morgana le Fae

I can't recall where, exactly, my love for Morgana came from. It was definitely before I was aware of Mists of Avalon, because I remember playing with others in the SCA, and when we played at being in Camelot, I always wanted to be Morgana. Part of it was the fact that evil characters are just more interesting. All Guenivere did was sit around and eat bonbons or need to be rescued. Or macked on any Knight who let her... :P

Mists of Avalon only increased my love for her, and made it difficult for me to watch things like Excalibur, where she's so unrepentantly evil with no obvious reason other than peevishness. Which isn't to say I didn't love her in Excalibur (hell, how can you not love Helen Mirren?), it's just that her reasoning leaves a lot to be desired. Plus, a Morgana without dark hair just seems wrong.

Then there was Helena's Morgana. I only watched the Merlin Mini-series once. She was a kind of freak (not surprising, given it was Helena), so that made her difficult to watch as well. Even though I was ready to love her version to the ends of the earth.

I was quite glad when the Mists Mini-series finally made it to TV, though it really didn't do justice to the story. The book has so many little details, it would have been hard to get them all in. Juliana Margoles was all right, but I'm not a fan, and this didn't make me one, either. It was just a lackluster version of a great book.

So it wasn't until BBC's Merlin came on the air that I finally saw the Morgana I truly loved: Katie McGrath. Katie brings everything to the table--looks, style, grace, and a seeming understanding of a lady and how she would hold herself. No, the show's not perfectly medieval, but I adored her. I only wished the writers had been willing to more slowly develop her evil, instead of forcing it the way they did and making it seem almost comical.

Even so, Katie manages to shine, when Morgana is truly feeling things, as opposed to plotting or leering evilly. You can see her heartbreak at losing Gwen, or her anger at Uther for what he's done to her and others. Her confusion over her powers in the second season was especially well-acted, and if they'd moved slower at the end of that season, I could easily see her sink into vengeance and madness.

There is one honorable mention here, too. Eva Green's Morgan in the Stars series, Camelot. Though she was unrepentant in her evil, we could not only see her suffering, but her reasoning, even if it was flawed. I had high hopes for her character. Too bad the series was cancelled in the first season...

I think the reason I prefer Morgana over others is that as a character, there's so much to draw from. Depending on the legends you choose, she can have up to nine (yes, nine, there is a mention in a legend or two) sisters, not to mention her brother. And Mordred, whether nephew or son, is always an excellent ally. Not to mention her sister's other sons (of which Gawain is my particular favorite).

But most of all? I love the incestuousness between she and Arthur (when it's there--I tend to gravitate toward those stories that have it). I love the angst, danger, and evil inherent because of that liaison, which is why I tend to prefer her as Mordred's mother over Morgause. And, deep down, I believe that Morgana both hates and loves Arthur, and it is that confusion that drives her to fight against him time and again.

So...who's your favorite Arthurian Character, and why?

Apr. 29th, 2012

Arthurian Things post #5 - Favorite Arthurian book pt 2

So yesterday, I covered the Mabinogion, which is the best-remaining source for early Welsh Celtic folklore. Today I'm going to cover my other favorite (semi-)Arthurian book, the Celtic Heroic Age.

This one is unfortunately not available online except to buy, but I do highly recommend it. There are several editions, so there's no need to buy this version, which is now out of print, but I linked to my version of the book here.

When I finally made it to the UW, I knew I wanted to do an English degree, though I considered a few things before I settled on it for sure. One of the earliest classes I took outside my degree was a Celtic History class. This was one of many books I bought for the class. It's a source of translations of original historic documents detailing the Celts, starting with a couple ancient Celtic transcriptions, and working its way through what we could consider post-Arthurian Britain, if you believe that there was truly a man who became the legend that is King Arthur.

This book was one of my first experiences with secondary sources, and is as close as I have been able to get to primary sources on Arthurian history, given I do not read or write the languages the early tales were all written in.

In truth, the book has very little to do with Arthur, but there are a few passages about him in the Gododdin, which was an elegaic poem set in Northern England in the post-Roman age. It details the losses of a fight between the Britons and the Saxons in the kingdom of Strathclyde, apparently in or near the modern-day city of Glasgow. It is one of the few texts that reveals Arthur's name in a possible historical context. He is mentioned only in passing: "[Gorddur] used to bring black crows down in front of the wall/of the fortified town--though he was not Arthur--/amongst men mighty in feats/in the front of the barrier of alder wood..." He is used more as a descriptor than anything else, someone to compare the fallen man to. But there nevertheless.

There are other random passages in other sections of the book as well, and having such early record (all the sources in the book are pre-medieval, even if the translations are not) of Arthur only gives credence to those of us who think he may well be based in fact.

The book itself holds a cherished place in my library, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Celtic people. There's a ton of fascinating stuff in it.

Anyone else have any good non-fiction Arthurian sources?

Apr. 28th, 2012

Arthurian Things post #4 - Favorite Arthurian book pt 1

So [info]kabal42 suggested I do a post on my favorite Arthurian books. I have two, though both are only tangential to Arthurian lit. I'll do one today and one (hopefully) tomorrow (I do keep forgetting to do these posts...bad girl).

So the first I'll cover is the Mabinogoin (pronunciation for those interested: Mah-bin-oh-gee-in).

This is my copy, though there are at least as many versions of it as there are Arthurian legends. I've linked it to an online version, for those who are interested in reading it, though I'm not sure how long the link will be good for.

The Mabinogoin is a collection of Celtic (mostly) Welsh tales from the ages before and around the early Medieval period. Because of the timing of these tales, King Arthur is often mentioned, because by the Norman conquest of England, he was a popular folk hero in a dark time, so minstrels would connect their stories to him in order to make them feel more heroic, and in some ways, more real.

I remember getting copies of some version of these tales when we went to England when I was in 5th grade. I have no clue where they went, or if my parents still have them, but I remember coming home and just devouring them like candy. I think these and the English Fairy Tales and More English Fairy Tales books are the beginning of my love affair for Fairy Tales, but the Arthurian connection in the Mabinogoin always lingered in my mind as well.

The various editions generally cover 11 tales (some adding other Welsh tales, some taking out others) that focus on Celtic heroes and romances from ancient Britain. The texts were likely originally transcribed by welsh or English monks who had heard them as youths, though no one is entirely sure of their true origins, as with most myth and legend.

Of the legends generally included are two particular tales:  Culhwch and Olwen, and The Dream of Rhoabwy, both of which mention Arthur, though neither focuses on him as a character. Rather, they focus on others in the time of Arthur, who have some tangential connection to him.

Tomorrow, I'll cover a more historical work: The Celtic Heroic Age.

But for now, I'll leave with a question: What's your favorite Arthurian work? Or works, if you have more than one.

Apr. 23rd, 2012

Arthurian Things post #3 - Favorite Arthurian Movies part 1: Sword in the Stone

This movie is one of those "always been there" things for me, which makes sense, because it was released several years before I was born. I'm pretty sure it's one of the major origins of my Arthurian knowledge. I know it is for a lot of my generation, though far from the only source.

For me, this is one of the top 5 Arthurian movies out there (I'll be covering the others in later posts). This one's great because there's really no romance in it, and because it' simple for anyone to watch. Of course, it doesn't really get into the central stories of Camelot and the Knights of the Round table, but for several generations now, it's been introducing kids to the young Arthur, and thereby continuing the interest in Camelot into a new generation.

For me, the story itself always makes me smile. Wart's innocence, Merlin's excitement about learning, and Archemedes' crochetiness. Not to mention the creatures they become and meet, and the Wizard War with Madam Mim ...

I'll cover it more in a later post, but this is one of two movies based on one of the seminal modern Arthurian classic books: The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which has lent as much to the legends these days as Mallory or Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Given that the only other possible Arthurian story that would have made a good kid's movie (Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone) wasn't written for a few more years after this movie came out, I think this was the best choice for a Disney Arthurian story that they could have made, especially given the darkness of some of the stories.

There have been other attempts to do Arthurian stories for kids since, but really, none are quite as enjoyable as Sword in the Stone. At least, not for me.

So what about you? Like or hate Sword in the Stone? Do you have another kid's movie you prefer?

Apr. 21st, 2012

Arthurian Things post #2 - Arthurian Names and languages

This post is going to be more of a covering-my-ass post, to let everyone understand my thoughts on the names and how they are spelled.

The earliest record of Arthur dates to the 9th century, and so the stories have been written in a number of different languages: Celtic (mostly Welsh, though there are some mentions in Irish and Scottish tales), English (both old and modern), French, and Italian, to mention just a few. Add to that fact that English didn't have regular spelling until the Victorian age, and you end up with a wealth of spellings for some characters.

This doesn't means that the names are misspelled. In fact, most characters have several different spellings that are accepted by scholars as correct.

The nice thing is that this also makes it easier to determine where certain parts of the tales come from, because the names are spelled differently in different languages and at different times.

Igraine, the mother of Arthur, is an excellent example of this. In Latin, her name is Igerna. Welsh is Eigyr. and French is Igerne. Mallory was the one to coin the spelling we know today, though his version was Ygrayne, which was eventually modernized to igraine. As you can see, spelling is not so important as knowing which character is being referred to.

Of course, this becomes difficult when you start to get into certain knights and families. Of Arthur's nephews, three of the five have names starting with G: Gawain, Gareth, and Geriant. There are also several Elaines in the tales: one is Arthur's sister (along with Morgana and Morgause in some legends), one is the mother of Sir Galahad (son of Lancelot), and one is the Lady of Shalott who is best known from the Tennyson poem.

Which means that it will occasionally be difficult to figure out which character is actually being referred to until you get into the context sometimes.

So...all this was meant to do was to ask that before your inner grammer nazi tries to correct me, check out the character in question. It's quite likely I've spelled it the way it was referred to in a certain legend, though you may be right and I've misspelled it randomly--my fingers do tend to hit the wrong keys now and then, after all. All I ask is that you don't just assume it's wrong. Thanks. :)

Apr. 19th, 2012

Arthurian Things post #1 - Arthurian Mythos and me

My love of Arthurian Mythos started before I can really remember. it's always been there. I grew up in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and it was part of the whole experience. It was also omnipresent in what I saw and read and listened to as a child. I just can't recall a time when it wasn't something I knew.

My first conscious memories of anything Arthurian was seeing Camelot in a theatre with my mother and some of her SCA friends when my sister was still quite small, so 1977 or 78. And I also recall people commenting about Monty Python and the Holy Grail at an SCA event, and a toy someone had made based on the migrating coconuts.

As a fan, Morgana was the first character really to call to me, because there were so few female characters in the tales, and even as a child, I could see she was far more powerful than Guenevere, who was too trapped in her role to do much. Despite that, I've only ever managed to read half of Mists of Avalon. I do think it's a great book, I just never got my hands on it until I was out of the voracious reading stage of my life, and it is a very large book. Someday, eventually, I will finish it.

In college, I took a number of classes touching on myth and folklore, but the two that really stood out to me were a Celtic history class that included a section on Arthurian legends, and an Arthurian Lit class, both of which I absolutely adored. In both classes, I wrote papers on women in Arthurian Myth, and their roles in the stories, which only increased my interest in the subject.

Unfortunately, I've discovered that I was born in the wrong place to get an Arthurian Masters degree. It's not an impossibility, but definitely difficult. Not that I couldn't have gotten it elsewhere, but I've always been a hombody, and being that far from home felt undoable to me. Still, you never know. Maybe someday.

Beyond all that, every time there's a new movie or show about Camelot, I'm always right there to check it out, even if only one episode, and I keep searching for more, because I know that there are many out there that I haven't seen. both good and bad. Specifically, my current Arthurian obsession is Merlin, which will probably take over several of these posts, but definitely not all of them. Plus, I have a shelf full of Arthurian books, both literature and resource books.

As you can see, my knowledge on the subject matter is extensive if erratic. Ask me a question about Arthurian Mythos, and I almost definitely have an opinion and thoughts on the subject. And I can't wait to share them all with you.

Apr. 18th, 2012

100 Things - King Arthur and Camelot

So yeah, me too.

{Take the 100 Things challenge!}

I've decided to blog about King Arthur & Camelot, because it's one of those things that I really do know an excess of information about. I've got about 80 subjects so far, though some might not work out, but I'd love more ideas, if anyone's got ideas/thoughts/subjects they'd like to hear about.