It took a while to decide what other sort of King Arthurs things I wanted to take a look at. In the end I decided to show you all where in the “Arthur Cycle” we are. Now I’ve bounced around the original legends and ballands quite a bit, and sometimes I stick more closely to the novel interpretations–King Arthur and His Knights by Sir James Knowles and The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle–but even the novels follow Arthur through various cycles. These cycles are called “The Matter of Britain” or, by those of use who are less scholarly, Arthurian Cycles. (Also, please take my notes here as a grain of sand. I’ve done a lot of research on Arthur, but for the sake of keeping things short, I am over simplifying things.)
There’s a few cycles that involve Welsh and Breton sources. These cycles so barely resemble our modern vision of Arthur, you would be hard pressed to recognize it. (There’s no round table, no Camelot, and none of the usual knights.) The first real cycle that has anything we would recognize, is a narrative written by Geoffrey of Monomouth. Geoffrey brought in Merlin and Uther Pendragon, and the strange circumstances of Arthur’s birth. After Uther dies Arthur inherits the throne at age 15, and sets out to unit England. Guinevere makes an appearance–although her name is slightly different–as does Mordred.
Next you have the traditional romances–which were predominantly written in the 12th and 13th century and usually by the French. These stories introduce the knights into the story. Actually, most of the stories focus on the knights, and Arthur is a background figure. In fact, he’s actually pretty useless. In Geoffrey’s account he’s a widely celebrated warrior. In the romances, Arthur is mild mannered and feeble. The French poet Chrétien de Troyes played a big role in this segment of Arthurian history, as he introduced Lancelot and crafted the Lancelot/Guinevere love affair. (Some say he was forced to write the affair against his will as it was much desired by his patron, and there is evidence in the stories that Troyes sincerely disliked Lancelot.)
This era sparked the creation of the Vulgate Cycle–or the Lancelot-Grail cycle. These stories focused on finding the Holy Grail and Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair. The Post-Vulgate Cycle was created later, and is basically the writers’ attempt to focus on the Holy Grail quest, instead of Lancelot and Guinevere. The culmination of these cycles is Le Morte d’Arthur was published in 1485. It’s probably one of the most widely recognized volumes of Arthurian literature in circulation today.
With the birth of the Renaissance, interest in King Arthur significantly died off until the 19th century, when the Gothic revival and Alfred Lord Tennyson sparked a rebirth of sorts. The code of ethics the knights followed became a major focus point instead of the French’s version of courtly love. The renewal of interest sparked another publishing of Le Morte d’Arthur, and new novels–like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court published 1889, and written by Mark Twain. The interest continued–The Once and Future King was published in 1958, and The Mists of Avalon in 1992. There are many, many more books written about King Arthur after the Gothic Revival, but I don’t have time to list them all here.
So…what about my story?
King Arthurs and her Knights books 1-3 focuses on Geoffrey’s account. I bring in the characters from the romances, but the focus is on Britt and her actions. Embark and Enlightened borrow more heavily from early stories in the Vulgate Cycle, although they retain Geoffrey’s focus on Arthur’s adventures being the most important actions of the kingdom. However, we’re about to dive deeper into the Vulgate cycle.
With the Knights of Camelot aware of Britt’s identity–and growing older–they’ll spend more time questing and conquering for Britt than they do kicking up their heels in Camelot. I refuse to put Britt in the back of the story–her role is a central one, even if Vulgate stories made Arthur into a tame kitten–and fortunately there’s plenty of content to play with. In the Vulgate cycle there is: Lancelot and Gunievere’s betrayal, feuds between knights, Merlin’s abandonment, the quest for the Holy Grail, the arrival of the famous knight Sir Galahad (whom I have already brought into the story with Enlightened) Tristen and Isolde’s love, the list goes on and on.
These are the stories that I generally don’t like because they all spell out a disastrous end for King Arthur. That being said I’ve got some fun plans for Endeavor and beyond. Still, this is your warning shot. Things are about to get really ugly. However, I’m asking you to trust me (because I have a proven antipathy for sad endings) and I’m asking you to trust Britt as a character.
Most importantly, I took the time to explain the cycles because it’s essential that you understand that in all of the legends, Arthur’s life is not filled with happy times like Sir Gawain or Sir Lancelot. Arthur’s life is a romantic tragedy. While Britt isn’t going to take any of this sitting down, she’s got a rough road ahead of her.
Thanks for reading, Champions! Have a great week!