Wondering what your old buddy Scott is up to? Since I’m obviously not writing a ton of movie reviews? And when I’m not looking for some sort of gainful employment?
I’m writing Arthurian fiction.
Arthurian fiction, you ask? Isn’t that all old and boring and stale? Actually no, it’s totally fascinating. And I’m going to tell you why.
History In a Snap
Here’s the deal. There may have been a person named Arthur, but over time, all these legends rose up around him, just like with a mythical figure like Paul Bunyan or something. All of these stories were orally transmitted from 500-1100. Then, from 1100-1480, they were finally written down, with certain elements we’ve come to know added on by different tellers. Then, in 1485, a knight named Thomas Malory whiled away his time in prison by compiling them all into one, unified story, and his version became the accepted version, simply because it was written down, complete, and relatively short. So the first thing that blew my mind is that there is no one, definitive account of King Arthur—only the most accepted version.
Why King Arthur Matters
King Arthur is the original sprawling, epic narrative with numerous interlocking storylines, so in that way, it invented the epic fantasy genre. Nearly everything with knights, wizards, castles and kings comes back to King Arthur. That means that Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings all owe their existence to King Arthur. Anything with a “chosen one,” a mythical weapon, wizards, noble quests and courtly romance and intrigue all owe their existence to King Arthur.
But We All Know the Story, Right?
Actually no. There are a ton of elements—sometimes very weird elements—that have fallen out of the popular tellings. For example, did you know that:
- Merlin is the son of a demon, freed of demonic influence by being baptized at birth?
- Lancelot was kidnapped as an infant because Arthur refused to help his father?
- Lancelot was raised in a matriarchal society?
- Arthur is finally killed by his own son through incest, who escaped Arthur’s order that all boys born on that day be killed?
- Arthur was actually against the quest for the grail, and begged his knights not to go?
- On the grail quest, after all of their adventures and conquests, the knights are essentially told: “Thanks for all the help, but we’ve got God now, and you guys are all killers and adulterers, so you won’t be needed anymore, please fuck off.”
In fact, we know the story as being about romance, honor and bravery, but it’s actually a massive story about the rise and fall of a civilization, and about the mistakes of youth coming back to haunt one in older age. Arthur unites the country for the first time, and imposes the rules of a civilized society. The Knights of the Round Table are significant because prior to that knights were just mercenaries—Arthur is the first to direct them to protect the weak and powerless. But the knights get arrogant, Arthur is flawed, and the mistakes he made early in life gather up to destroy everything he has built.
Trust your old pal Scott, it’s a lot, LOT more interesting (and ultra weird) than you would know from a casual acquaintance with it.
My Challenge: Retaining the Original Stories
Seeing as these things are written in Middle English, they are very, very sparse as to emotions, psychology and character. I am keeping the STORY the same as in the original sources, but filling in the psychology, unifying all the disparate elements, and beefing up characters where needed, all to make them compelling to contemporary readers. Most Arthurian fiction makes up new stories or invents new characters that exist in that world. So the challenge I have set for myself is to keep the events and plot unchanged, but add in surrounding elements that will make it all understandable. For example, the longest telling of the story of the first novel is 20 pages. My novel is 266 pages.
What I’m Into About It
There are a lot of very small—but hugely significant—details, or implications, in the originals that go undeveloped, and I am developing them. For example:
- Merlin is born as a baby with knowledge of all events past and future. But he has no experience to make sense of any of it. So in the first novel I explore the development of his mind and of his sense of morality, since he sees across generations, and may not care much about the fates of individuals.
- Merlin makes an offhand comment to Pendragon (current king) and his brother Uther, that he will see Uther king before he parts from him. That part is in the source, but nothing else. I explore how this comment affects them, with Pendragon thinking “Wait, so I’m going to die?” and Uther thinking “Wow, I’ll be king! But that means my brother has to die?”
- A guy wants to disprove Merlin’s powers to the king, so he disguises himself as three different men, and gets Merlin to predict three different deaths. The guy is pretty satisfied, thinking he has proven Merlin wrong and gotten himself a slick promotion. But Merlin knows what’s up, and goes to the king, saying DO. NOT. FUCK. WITH. ME. Then, just as the doubting guy thinks he’s got it all sewn up, the king tells him he won’t believe him—at least not until he sees how he dies. Then the guy’s life becomes a bizarre living nightmare, because everyone in the kingdom is watching him, waiting for him to die. You bet he ultimately dies in all three ways at once. That’s all in the original source.
- The themes are extremely strange and dark, since these stories were written before literature as we know it. So the theme of the first novel is not knowing your real father. The theme of the second is foreknowledge of your own death. And then the third will be an extended rape and psychological torture inflicted by our heroes! So the whole thing is much more Twilight Zone than Camelot.
So Buy It—it’s only $1!
The first novel is out now as an ebook (paperback available soon) and I’m midway through writing the second. The first book tells the story of Merlin’s conception and birth. The devil wanted a man on earth, just like God had with Jesus, so he impregnated a human woman. At that time, having an illegitimate child meant an automatic punishment of death… but luckily her baby is able to speak—and he’s pretty pissed off.
If you do buy it, and read it, let me know what you think! And also, please, please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE, WRITE AN AMAZON REVIEW, whether positive or negative. That will be an invaluable help to me.
And look, you can find it easily just by clicking the ad below! And there’s links below that if you’re the social following sort. Thanks for reading, folks… and wish me luck!