Continued from Part I.
Author Helen Hollick “never enjoyed the ‘traditional’ Arthurian stories”.
King Arthur and his Knights of the legend are closer to fantasy than history. Plus, there is no proof either way of Arthur’s existence. So, can we call “The Kingmaking” historical fiction?
2. Do you treat the trilogy as just another historical fiction, with characters with names similar to a legend, or do you treat it as Arthurian legend minus supernatural elements?
On the whole, neither. I have written my trilogy according to the original legends and stories of Arthur that were contemporary with the period he was probably alive. I say probably because there is no conclusive evidence that “King Arthur” actually existed. It is possible that the stories were a composite about several people, but I firmly believe Arthur lived and breathed. He was a War Lord, the son of a Romano British nobleman – and he lived and fought for what he considered his by right during the short period of time when there was a power vacuum for supremacy; between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo Saxons, circa 450 – 550 A.D.
The early Welsh legends do not make him out to be a chivalric king, nor even a Christian. This was when the Church was young and developing, Paganism was still the norm. These early stories are of Arthur stealing cattle from a monastery, of kicking a woman, of being condemned as a non-Christian. And of having three sons, one killed by Arthur his own father, another was the ‘son of Arthur the soldier’. He has a wife called Gwenhwyfar. Bedwyr (Bedevere) is there in these early tales, and Cei (Kay) and Uthr. There are twelve battles which he fought and “Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) fell.” No mention that Mordred was his sister’s son, or that this was Civil War. They could just as easily have been fighting on the same side.
Recently, an author went on to describe the “exploits” of “highwayman” Shivaji in his book in some detail, and in the process proved me wrong in thinking that I am forgiving enough to get through the European (and sometimes, Mughal) portrayal of Shivaji.
For most part of the book (especially when he is married to Princess Winifred), Arthur has a very loose concept of morals. Forced into the marriage, he is not particularly faithful or even, (with good reason) civil to his wife. That’s quite a difference from his historical portrayal.
3. Given the legendary status of Arthur, is it easy for people (especially British readers) to accept that almost complete reversal in his character, or do you get people telling you they didn’t like books because of it?
Would it have been easier or harder for people to accept if Arthur was historically proven real person?
Or have I completely overestimated the attitude of British readers towards Arthur?
In my story Arthur is not the Christian Chivalric King you are familiar with. He is a Dark Age War Lord – a fighter, a soldier, and by necessity war lords, fighters and soldiers are rough, tough men. No, he is not very nice to his first wife, Winfred, but neither is she very nice to him.
British readers welcome my different portrayal of Arthur very much – I think we quite happily accept what people were like in the Dark Ages, and he is far more acceptable as the Pagan I make him than the (forgive me) sanctimonious person of the Medieval tales. I think most British people – and I am hoping American as well, are interested enough in the more accurate portrayals of historical characters over the inaccurate.
The people who will not like him, or this series, are those who do not accept that history is history not fairy tale, that the Dark Ages were bitter, harsh times, and that my Arthur is a pagan not a Christian. Those who solemnly see him dressed in armour, kneeling before God and searching for the Holy Grail may not like my pagan character.
Arthur, on one hand has enough political sense to develop his power base and alliances before making the bid for his throne. On the other hand, he is impulsive and has a very quick temper. Which is why (especially now that he is a King), I hope to find a sane and stable character in his life, acting as his counsellor and really, a guide. That is the role, more than being a Wizard, that I think Merlin would have occupied in the tale.
4. You have said in the Note that Merlin will not make an appearance in the book. I thought Cunedda initially played the part similar to Merlin, as the person who declared the birth secret of Arthur, and as a guide to Arthur. Will there be someone Merlinish in coming books, a guide and counsellor to Arthur, not to mention a calming influence?
Merlin was made up by the Normans who made up the Arthurian stories. He did not exist. It is possible that the Welsh version of his name, Myrddin, meant something like “Wise One” or “Holy One” but that is all.
Yes Cunedda, the Lion Lord of Gwynedd was somewhat of a guide to the boy Arthur in my story, but there is no evidence to prove it so. Cunedda was a real person – he founded Gwynedd in North Wales and his sons founded various other places – Ceredigion, for instance. He also possibly had a daughter – Gwyn. He therefore fit perfectly into my novel.
And no, there is no Merlinish person, except perhaps for Cei. And Gwenhwyfar, the woman Arthur loved from the moment he first saw her. But she has a feisty temper too, and the sparks often fly …
Oh yes, Arthur’s Cymraes fach is a spirited lady indeed.
And sorry, I am not divulging any more secrets!
Well, I will be waiting for the next books. What about you, the readers?