Merry Christmas from the World of Literature

King Arthur lay, at Camelot upon a Christmas-tide, with many a gallant lord and lovely lady, and all the noble brotherhood of the Round Table. There they held rich revels with gay talk and jest; one while they would ride forth to joust and tourney, and again back to the court to make carols; for there was the feast holden fifteen days with all the mirth that men could devise, song and glee, glorious to hear, in the daytime, and dancing at night. Halls and chambers were crowded with noble guests, the bravest of knights and the loveliest of ladies, and Arthur himself was the comeliest king that ever held a court. For all this fair folk were in their youth, the fairest and most fortunate under heaven, and the king himself of such fame that it were hard now to name so valiant a hero.

~Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14th century), translated by Jessie L. Weston in 1898

THEN stood the realm in great jeopardy long while, for every lord that was mighty of men made him strong, and many weened to have been king. Then Merlin went to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and counselled him for to send for all the lords of the realm, and all the gentlemen of arms, that they should to London come by Christmas, upon pain of cursing; and for this cause, that Jesus, that was born on that night, that he would of his great mercy show some miracle, as he was come to be king of mankind, for to show some miracle who should be rightwise king of this realm. So the Archbishop, by the advice of Merlin, sent for all the lords and gentlemen of arms that they should come by Christmas even unto London. And many of them made them clean of their life, that their prayer might be the more acceptable unto God. So in the greatest church of London, whether it were Paul’s or not the French book maketh no mention, all the estates were long or day in the church for to pray. And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus: — Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England. Then the people marvelled, and told it to the Archbishop. “I command,” said the Archbishop, “that ye keep you within your church and pray unto God still, that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done.” So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword.

~ Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, Chapter V

It was Christmas night and the proper things had been done. The whole village had come to dinner in hall. There had been boar’s head and venison and pork and beef and mutton and capons—but no turkey, because this bird had not yet been invented. There had  been plum pudding and snap-dragon, with blue fire on the tips of one’s fingers, and as much mead as anybody could drink. Sir Ector’s health had been drunk with “Best respects, Measter,” or “Best compliments of the Season, my lords and ladies, and many of them.” There had been mummers to play an exciting dramatic presentation of a story in which St. George and a Saracen and a funny Doctor did surprising things,[1] also carol-singers who rendered “Adeste Fideles” and “I Sing of a Maiden,” in high, clear tenor voices. After that, those children who had not been sick from their dinner played Hoodman Blind and other appropriate games, while the young men and maidens danced morris dances in the middle, the tables having been cleared away. The old folks sat round the walls holding glasses of mead in their hands and feeling thankful that they were past such capers, hoppings and skippings, while those children who had not been sick sat with them, and soon went to sleep, the small heads leaning against their shoulders. At the high table Sir Ector sat with his knightly guests, who had come for the morrow’s hunting, smiling and nodding and drinking burgundy or sherries sack or malmsey wine.

~ T.H. White, The Once and Future King, Chapter XV, 129.

“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Beaver?” panted Peter as they all scrambled up the steep bank of the valley together.

“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr.  Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!”

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was a reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you se people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”

And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.

~ C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 106-107.

And of course, the original:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

~ Luke 2: 1-20, NASB.
A most glorious and Merry Christmas to you all!

[1] What a fantastic episode of Doctor Who this would make!


Book Review: “Tristan & Iseult” by Rosemary Sutcliff

Title: Tristan & Iseult
Author: Rosemary Sutcliff
Pages: 150
Published: 1971
Spoiler-free Synopsis: In the days of King Arthur, Tristan defeats Ireland’s champion and gains the friendship of his uncle, King Marc of Cornwall, who entrusts him with a mission: to sail the seas in search of a flame-haired queen. But a troublesome fate descends when Tristan and Iseult fall in love, and their passion for each other wars with their love and respect for Marc.
Reason for Beginning: Sutcliff. Arthurian historical fiction. Retelling of a medieval legend. BAM, said the lady.
Reason for Finishing: Sutcliff. Arthurian historical fiction. Retelling of a medieval legend. You get the picture.
Story Re-readability: Fairly high, I should think. It’s very short for a novel, and moves quickly. The story, legend that it is, has more inherent drama than is usual for Sutcliff’s laid-back novels, so every chapter you read will tell you something interesting and important that is happening. And you’ll like these characters enough to revisit them.
Author Re-readability: It’s no secret that I love Sutcliff and find her the most endlessly re-readable author in my library. For me to reread her novels is like reminiscing about the good times with an old friend. Maybe not everyone will feel as strongly as I do, but if you read a book of hers once and like it, I highly recommend you reread it again after a year or so. She always rewards her readers with more subtle depth in her stories than we initially expect. After two, three, four, or even five rereads, many of her characters will be counted among your dear friends.
Recommendation: Most certainly, for everyone. In fact, this is probably a good introduction: 1) to Sutcliff, if you’re wary of committing the time of a longer, slower novel for an author you’ve never read, or 2) to Arthurian romance, if you’re intimidated by the medieval tellings themselves but want to get some of their feel and texture through a modern lens. Established fans of Sutcliff or this subject matter will be completely satisfied with her treatment.

Key Thoughts

In most of her novels, Sutcliff’s prose evokes deep, earthy textures that seep into you as you read; sometimes you have to slow down a bit and breathe a bit slower as her sentences curl their roots around your imagination, intending to stay and grow there. In Tristan & Iseult, her prose is quicker, livelier, but still uniquely hers, like a thickly woven tapestry which is not as immersive as, say, a sculpture, but is not as two-dimensional as a painting. At least, that is how I think of it. It’s the perfect style for this story, hovering as it does between historical fiction and legend. We watch it unfold in a fairly accurately-described Wales, Ireland, and Brittany, but on the edges of the tale are King Arthur and a dragon, and at its center is the tragic love triangle that gave birth to the intrigues of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot.

What makes it especially tragic is that there is no villain. We love all three of them, and they all love each other: Tristan, Iseult, and King Marc. They are all good people, who desire justice and admire it in others. When Marc discovers the affair, neither of the lovers can blame him for his anger and pain, because they know in their hearts they have wronged him. But they are too weak to the temptations of the flesh to stop themselves, and King Marc too hurt by the betrayal of his two dearest companions, that we feel the threads of a black fate tightening around them all, bringing inevitable doom and heartbreak to the end.

And when he made no reply, she said, ‘Shall I tell you the true reason that I did not kill you when I found the splinter lacking from your sword blade?’

‘I am thinking,’ said Tristan, ‘that it is best you do not tell me.’

‘It was because I loved you,’ said the Princess. ‘I was not knowing it then. I was not knowing why it was like a sword turning in my heart when you stood before my father and claimed me for the King of Cornwall when I had thought to hear you claim me for yourself. I was not knowing until you lifted me in your arms to carry me ashore in this place. Tristan, whoever takes me for his wife, whether you will or no, and God help me, you are my Lord as long as I live.’

And Tristan bent his head into his hands and groaned.

Although these are the characters and landscape of legend, Sutcliff writes them with tender dignity and a sort of restrained realism, the kind that takes note that the trees overhanging the lovers’ hideout are not just any trees, but hazel and hawthorn and thick-set oak. They are flesh and blood and tears; whereas some medieval versions of the story invoked a love potion to force Tristan and Iseult into adultery, here it is just their passion and their loneliness. There is some room for epic heroism, though. Tristan’s worries and passions are recognizably human, but his feats are just larger enough than life to inject the somber tale with some good, old-fashioned thrill and excitement.

The gulls wove their white curves of flight across the face of the cliffs below him; the jump would have been death to any other man, but Tristan had learned well from his masters in his Lothian boyhood, and had not forgotten how to make the Hero Leap. He filled himself with air until he felt as light as the wheeling sea-birds, and drew himself together and sprang out and down.

If I have one criticism of the book, it is that Sutcliff makes Tristan so good, honest, and self-controlled that I can hardly believe he would actually betray his uncle and best friend with Iseult. Both he and Iseult know it is wrong, and Tristan at least is very principled. I didn’t quite believe that they would give into their passions, when Marc himself is so good and worthy a friend to them both. But this is legend, and their fates are sealed. I think I can detect, from Sutcliff’s telling, a loneliness to both Tristan and Iseult. They each are greatly loved by many people and have many friends, but no true spiritual companions except each other. Maybe that’s why Sutcliff thinks they fell into each others’ arms so desperately, so often, despite the harm they knew they were doing to a good man.

Book Review: “Merlin” by Stephen Lawhead

Lawhead’s focus in this book is the life of the wondrous man Merlin from his childhood to his protection of the infant Arthur and his creating of the Sword in the Stone.

Title: Merlin
Series: 2nd of 5 in The Pendragon Cycle
Author: Stephen R. Lawhead
Pages: 446
Published: 1988
Spoiler-free Synopsis: The book chronicles the early life of Merlin, son of Taliesin, the greatest bard, and Charis, the Atlantean princess, from when he is a boy training to be a bard, to his growth into kingship, to his madness, and finally to his role as the legendary prophet of Britain.
Reason for Beginning: I liked much of what Lawhead did in the first book, Taliesin, especially regarding his treatments of Christianity and paganism.
Reason for Finishing: It’s a better book than Taliesin; better paced, more focused, with some better writing. It captured my interest as a good book should; particularly the character of Merlin himself intrigued me.
Story Re-readability: Its length and density is a small hindrance to re-reading, and I’m not sure if the book requires it. Still, the story is interesting and detailed enough that I could see myself returning to it after some years.
Author Re-readability: Indeed, I’m very interested in reading all else Lawhead has written. While not a truly masterful writer, he is strong, capable of eloquence while usually not overreaching himself, and often giving his landscapes texture and his characters relatable emotions. His weakness is still a tendency towards melodrama, but that is much lessened in this book compared to Taliesin.
Recommendation: I highly recommend the Pendragon Cycle for everyone interested in Arthurian legend. And while Taliesin worked only as a sort of prologue to the larger cycle, I actually think that Merlin could be read as a stand-alone, as long as you are familiar with the larger Arthurian legends. It has a clear character arc, and a satisfying, yet open, conclusion.

Key Thoughts

Lawhead’s focus in this book is the life of the wondrous man Merlin (or Myrddin, or Myrddin Ambrosius, or Emrys) from his childhood to his protection of the infant Arthur and his creating of the Sword in the Stone. How many years this includes is unclear because Merlin ages more slowly than normal men; still, I estimate that the whole story spans roughly an old man’s lifetime. As such, it has a sprawling, sauntering feel to it that some readers may not like. There is not one clear-cut plot in the normal sense, but rather a clear theme that carries through myriad events, and which we know will only culminate in the final book of the series. Personally, I don’t mind this. The theme (of a united British kingdom that is peaceful, just, and God-glorifying, referred to as the Kingdom of Summer) and Merlin’s character arc are strong enough to hold everything together.

Merlin himself

As in Taliesin, our protagonist goes through a series of extreme character developments: from optimistic, powerful, and wise young king to raving, heartbroken hermit to solemn, mature, and fearless prophet. Merlin’s transformations are handled better, I think, than Charis’ were in the previous book. We see deeper into his mind and soul, and we better understand the forces that shape him. While occasionally I questioned whether a person with such an obviously strong and genuine relationship with Christ could pass into such extreme despair and near-madness, this probably reflects more on my own sheltered life than on anything unbelievable in the narrative. I believed the changes Merlin goes through, and I sympathized with him, and was glad to see him strong again.

The great robe of mystique that hangs about Merlin can make it difficult to portray his inner thoughts and emotions convincingly. In literary and media portrayals, Merlin tends to work best when partially hidden from us; when his motives aren’t completely clear, when the source of his power is vague, when his youth is full of myths, when his origin is unknowably ancient and remote. If you want to get more personal with him, you often risk spoiling the mystery, or welcome the spoiling and delve headfirst into comedy.

Lawhead manages this difficult task admirably. He reveals most of the mysterious details surrounding Merlin in a way that makes perfect sense yet remains dramatic, while Merlin himself remains an enigma to all the other characters. We know Merlin’s Atlantean-Welsh parentage, although those of us with good memories will recall that his father’s own parentage remains an unsolved mystery. We know the woman he fell deeply in love with and how the loss of her drove him mad. We know that some of his magical feats are spells he learned from the mystical Hill Folk, but we do not know the true nature of their magic. We know that other magical feats he has seemed to perform have been acts of God (much like the Old Testament prophets), either in response to his faith or merely as a necessary part of God’s plan, but, like Merlin himself, we do not fully understand God’s plans. Rather, we understand why Merlin has faith in God. It’s not a perfect faith; there are many times that he doubts God and suffers from the temptations to act according to the dictates of his flesh. But he is ultimately a man of faith, who trusts God because he knows Him personally and has experienced His power to heal, save, and correct.

Paganism and Christianity

This faith is, for me, easily the most attractive element of Lawhead’s book. Other portrayals of Merlin, going back to many medieval stories, seem to have him largely pagan or straddling an uncomfortable line between paganism and Christianity. It always seemed odd for this paragon of nature-worshipping druidism to be so supportive of the very Christian King Arthur. So Lawhead makes Merlin very solidly Christian, too. But at the same time as he gives Merlin strong Christian mentors, he also gives him a few druidic ones. These few druids—primarily Chief Druid Hafgan—are coming slowly to accept the gospel of Christ, but still retain many of their ancient traditions. In fact, through the light of the gospel they are coming to better understand the old Celtic religions as shadows of it, with a truth that is incomplete but still unique and valuable. This idea, as I mentioned in my review of Taliesin, is much like what Tolkien, Lewis, and MacDonald wrote about when they gave respect to pagan mythologies. Lawhead isn’t excusing paganism or saying that such religions are alternate ways to God, but rather he is saying that God is not limited by the misunderstandings of men and will find ways to become known even by men who know nothing of His revealed gospel or Scriptures.


While reading Lawhead’s previous book, Taliesin, I felt that the scenes taking place in Wales were more interesting than those set in Atlantis; this feeling is confirmed by my satisfaction with Merlin, which takes place entirely in Roman and post-Roman Britain and benefits greatly from the rich texture of that setting. Admitting that I am still an amateur medievalist and classicist, I think that the research put into this book is excellent and well used. He does not info-dump, but rather has done a huge amount of work to integrate various elements of history and legend into the story he chose to tell.

Side Characters

Some of our friends from the previous book return, all in good form, though few in prominence. Of the new characters, I was most intrigued by Ganieda, Aurelius, and Uther. Ganieda is the wild, beautiful chieftain’s daughter who becomes Merlin’s best friend, lover, and wife, for a brief but blissful time. I really grew to like her in the relatively short time she appeared in the story. Though I understand why she couldn’t remain a part of Merlin’s life (can’t have a happily married Merlin advising Arthur, now can we?), I liked her enough that I wished she had remained.

Aurelius and Uther are the legendary uncle and father of King Arthur, though neither lives to know it. Aurelius interested me the most, because in Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset, where he is called Ambrosius Aurelianus, he became one of my favorite characters in all of fiction. In Lawhead he is neither as prominent nor as impressive as in Sutcliff, but he still emerges as a likeable and charismatic figure, wise for his young years but passionate with idealism. Utha is mostly like his legendary reputation: rash, somewhat brutish, harsh, and not well-loved. In fact, Lawhead breaks with tradition to assign Aurelius as Arthur’s actual father, with Uther assuming the role in the public’s mind due to a series of careful secrets kept by Merlin. He does this, clearly, to explain away the gulf between the legendary personality of Arthur with that of his father. Still, Lawhead’s Uther isn’t without his redeeming qualities. I like how his love for his elder brother is a really positive influence on him. Uther is rash and full of anger, but also no fool. He recognizes wisdom even when he doesn’t like it. He usually listens to Merlin even though he doesn’t like him. He still is ultimately a failure as a High King, but a much more complex, interesting, and, in an odd way, admirable figure than in many other portrayals.

Book Accessories

The map of post-Roman Britain at the beginning is very useful for following Merlin’s travels and making sense of the political and wartime intrigues. Similarly, the pronunciation guide should serve to eliminate the most grossly inaccurate soundings of Welsh names. I think less of the poem that precedes the story and that of Taliesin. It reads like a competent rip-off of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “ring poem” (or, if you are in a more comical mood, an epic version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”) which is to say that it isn’t bad so much as lacking an identity of its own. I also cannot yet see a real reason for it existing. Perhaps it will appear in later books and gain more meaning?


Merlin is an improvement on Taliesin, and a worthy continuation of the Pendragon Cycle. I recommend it.

Recommended Reading

Another series which also does an excellent job portraying Merlin’s youth is The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron. Written for a younger audience, it eschews the historical trappings of Lawhead for the fantastical island of Fincayra, the Otherworld, where a blind teenage Merlin sojourns to discover his powers and morals. It sounds stupid when I write it like that, but the series is actually very good.

Book Review: “King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition” by Tyler Tichelaar

[N.B. A review copy of this book was sent to me by its author. In no way has this influenced the opinions I express here. You can find Tyler Tichelaar’s blog at CHILDREN OF ARTHUR.]

Title: King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition
Author: Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D.
Pages: 179
Publisher: Modern History Press
Genre: Scholarly study
Blurb: “…The first full-length analysis of every known treatment of King Arthur’s children, from Welsh legends and French romances, to Scottish genealogies and modern novels by such authors as Parke Godwin, Stephen Lawhead, Debra Kemp, and Elizabeth Wein. King Arthur’s Children explores and often overlooked theme in Arthurian literature and reveals King Arthur’s bloodlines may still exist today.” (Back Cover)
Recommendation: For anyone with a more-than-casual interest in the Arthurian legend, especially regarding different versions and the more obscure tales, this is a very handy resource. The end significance of many of the discussions may not mean much except to serious scholars, but Dr. Tichelaar’s book will open even the eyes of an amateur hobbyist of Arthuriana to the extraordinary diversity of the legends and the ways in which they have been continually adapted and retold over the centuries.

Key Thoughts

“It may be Geoffrey of Monmouth’s responsibility that Arthur’s sons disappeared from later versions of the legends; The History of the Kings of Britain was so popular that it firmly placed a structure on the way the tale would be told from then on, and since Geoffrey did not give Arthur any sons, his successors avoided creating sons for Arthur. And if writers had added sons to the legend, they would have had to come up with explanations for why these sons did not succeed their father.” (23)

Though a slender volume, Dr. Tichelaar’s book examines an impressively large amount of texts in its pursuit of all information that could potentially shed light on its subject of study, which is in some ways a bit obscure. Loads of scholarship exists on King Arthur himself and the main body of legends, but surprisingly little is known about his progeny except for Mordred, the bastard son of Arthur’s incest with his half-sister Morgan (whose name has numerous spellings). There are actually quite a few others just in the medieval and Old Welsh sources. The great virtue of King Arthur’s Children is how methodically Tichelaar goes through every mention of a character being a direct descendent of Arthur and examines all possible ways in which that mention interacts with other versions of the story.

The first section of the book concerns the Welsh traditions, which give Arthur three sons: Gwydre, Amr, and Llacheu. They have brief mentions—and in the case of Gwydre, only one undeniable mention—and thus little is known about their stories; nonetheless, they are the oldest mentions of Arthur’s progeny.

The most substantial section of the book discusses Mordred and the myriad portrayals he has had. Popularly he is Arthur’s bastard son, but in some tales he is legitimate, in others he is a nephew, in still others he is a brother, and sometimes he is not said to be related to Arthur at all. Scottish traditions even regarded Mordred as the good and legitimate king of England, with Arthur the evil imperialist usurper! This section really shows the diversity of the legends.

The third section is more interesting from a historical perspective, as Tichelaar looks at Arthur’s descendents and heirs. The English monarchy has often claimed descent from Arthur, but I was surprised to hear that those of Belgium and the Netherlands also make the claim. There is virtually no possibility of these claims being true even if there was one man who was the real King Arthur, but it’s still fascinating to explore all the possibilities.

The final section of the book deals with modern literature. Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset is identified as the first twentieth-century novel to give Arthur a child—a daughter—although the role is minor, since the infant dies soon after birth and serves mostly to provide a source of tension between Artos and Guenhamara. Discussions of other authors follow: Barbara Ferry Johnson, Catherine Christian, Parke Godwin, Vera Chapman, Susan Cooper, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, Bernard Cornwell…even Stephen King’s Dark Tower series gets some attention! Not all sources seem legitimately relevant (such as the 1995 movie A Kid in King Arthur’s Court), but no one can deny Tichelaar’s thoroughness. This discussion of modern treatments is a great way to trace the legend’s influence, although Tichelaar does mix in a lot of these analyses in the earlier sections of the book, to distracting effect. I’d have preferred that he keep all the modern novels that deal with Arthur’s children in this final section, rather than sprinkling a lot of his discussion of them in the earlier sections as well.

As the subtitle indicates, Tichelaar is interested in the way Arthur’s children have been used by various authors. He believes in the possibility of a historical Arthur and goes to great lengths to see if any of the sons and daughters mentioned stand a chance of also being historical, or if not, then at least part of the earliest stories. Mostly this is done by checking what is said of them against the more venerable facts of older traditions. Tichelaar’s detailed examinations of the conflicting theories of various authors and later scholars is welcome, though often confusing for someone like me. I feel that many of the theories Tichelaar brings up rely too heavily on literary or mythical analogues, such as similarities in names and story events—many of which sound unlikely to a non-specialist. However, Tichelaar knows that the flexibility of Arthurian legend is such that it is extremely difficult to be dogmatic on almost anything. When discussing the more far-fetched theories of other scholars (such as the death of Llacheu coming from the tale of a Welsh solar god, or Norma Goodriche’s theory that Lancelot and Mordred were brothers because the Irish gods Lugh and Dylan might be interpreted to be brothers), he often comments on their unlikelihood. All the same, with subject matter as nebulous as this, it’s good to treat all legitimate possibilities seriously.

I cannot claim to know how exhaustive Tichelaar’s work really is, but it appears very thorough. I found King Arthur’s Children to be very interesting, and I’m glad to have it in my Arthurian collection.

Book Meme Day 25: A Character To Whom You Can Relate

I nearly gave up on this post. The difficulty of finding an answer for this meme topic distressed me. For a bibliophile to be faced with an inability to choose a single literary character he very much relates to is a troubling concept, for is that not one of the highest purposes of stories, to learn more about ourselves by experiencing the lives of fictional characters? Yet I do not typically read a book and think “Wow, I really identified with that character.” Perhaps some people do, but it is just not the way I think. My approach is not, I think, to look for how a character is similar to me, but to simply try to understand him on their own terms. That is my general approach, I think – I cannot claim to be as objective as that sounds.

Still, after spending many hours wondering, I finally settled on a plausible answer.

Sir Gawain from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

By John Howe.

I relate to him spiritually. As Gawain eagerly loves and serves King Arthur, who is also his uncle, so do I love and serve God, my King, who has declared me (as all Christians) to be his adopted son. As Gawain is dedicated to maintaining his purity and honor, as a Knight of the Round Table and a Christian man, so do I, as a Christian man, seek to maintain my own of both.  And as Gawain is tempted so dangerously in these areas, so am I.

When the Lady of Castle Hautdesert tries to seduce Gawain, she does so with disarming grace and humor. Her intentions are clear, but her manner is not that of mere slut. Gawain is faced with a difficult quandary: how does he rebuff her and maintain his purity, while not offending her and possibly invoking her husband’s wrath? Now, as a Christian, it is clear to see what Gawain’s priorities should be; he should have fled from the Lady’s presence as soon as her intentions were apparent, and risked offending her. That would have been the best course of action. Gawain makes the mistake of trying to please the woman while still refusing her advances and maintaining his physical and spiritual purity. The danger is real: Gawain is deeply attracted to her beauty, intelligence, and grace, and is pleased by her flattery.

In my reading, I believe Gawain is truly, utterly sincere in his values. He knows that physical purity is not enough – God demands that he have pure thoughts as well as deeds. It is a difficult struggle, and one that every man can relate to, as we watch Gawain struggle over three days to figure out the right course of action. He is imperfect, and even though in the end he maintains his physical purity – which satisfies everyone else in the story – he knows that he did compromise his spiritual purity, and that bothers him. By human standards he did exceptionally well, morally, but Gawain knows that in God’s eyes he is still a sinner. His awareness is something I can relate to, even as I rejoice in the knowledge of God’s mercy and grace.