Blogging has been down this week, as there is a deadline this weekend for submissions of stories for a collection of juvenile fiction based on Arthurian legend. Seemed like a) something I could do; and b) something with a deadline, so as to mitigate my infinite capacity for procrastination.
Predictably, fell down the research rabbit hole: I thought I had a good enough grip on Arthurian legend (hey, I’ve read Mallory and White, and seen Holy Grail a million times – what more could there be to it?) buuuut – a little investigation revealed what a moment of thought could have made evident: there’s a boatload of source materials, even apart from the more modern secondary stuff. Sheesh.
I love Once and Future King. White does a remarkable job of capturing the slapstick, the horror, the honor and the sheer baffling weirdness of Mallory – often found in Morte d’Arthur all in the same tale.
But the Welsh tales makes Mallory’s mish-mash of stories look like a tightly-structured novel. Evidently, Arthur was attractive enough a figure for the storytellers to simply graft him into all the existing nature myths and heroic tales. The whole chivalry idea that gives the Mallory and especially the White retellings their coherence are almost completely absent. Arthur is just a mythic warrior figure, not the imposer of some sort of moral order. His chief characteristic seems to be an over-the-top willingness to promise almost anything to anyone who walks into his court and asks a boon, before he even hears what the dude/babe wants. I’m guessing the ancestors to the Welsh found this sort of reckless vow-taking either heroic or amusing, or maybe both. But to me, it’s almost like those tense scenes in movies where you’re yelling at the screen: “Don’t go in there! Get back-up, or at least a flashlight, or just walk away!” But it wouldn’t be much of a story if they did…
I wanted real place and people names, mythical creatures that are already in the tales, and to capture the vibe of how the tales unfold. Check on the first two; still not sure I’m remotely getting it on the last point. But I’ll never know if the story works unless I finish it and release it into the wild.
Brief overview: a history professor from California gets a fellowship to a Welsh university, and brings his two daughters for a semester’s adventure. He has a great aunt who lives in an ancient and isolated manor house up in Brecon’s Beacon, a bit of Wales’ National Forest. Older daughter Ness has graduated high school, so she goes off to visit her great-great aunt. Younger sister Lynette is attending school in Caerleon-on-Usk, an ancient Welsh town – Roman ruins, that sort of thing, and one of the very few real places mentioned in the legends where Arthur held court.
The story follows Lynette, who is being picked on by three mean girls at school. Being pursued by them after school one day, she ducks into a tiny bookstore, where the proprietor helps her escape them in a most unusual way.
Lynette is worried about her sister, who left for her great-great aunts without any luggage and without saying goodbye. The old manor is outside cell-phone coverage, and the old lady is a bit of a Luddite, so there’s no easy way to contact her. Her father refuses to worry (at least, he’s not letting Lynette see his worry) and is trying to give his older daughter some room. So Lynette is stuck in Caerleon, waiting to hear from Ness.
Until something spooky happens. Lynette decides she must go find Ness NOW, and steals a horse from the University and heads out – with a gift from the old bookseller at her side….
So, anyway, will get back to blogging in a few days, after I’m either done or not done and the deadline is past.