So there I was, starting another blog post, when I realized I haven’t explained exactly what makes The Arthurian Age series different from other stories based on Arthurian legend. Well, it’s time to rectify that so that some of my articles will have better context, and because there’s some interesting background to the project. I’ll also give some news for future plans.
Some years ago, my lovely bride watched John Boorman’s Excalibur with me. Then she made the mistake of asking me if there was any historic reality behind the story. She quickly regretted it.
I talked about how it’s the best of the Arthurian movies (not including the great, though silly Monty Python version), but it’s based on the later French Romances that were, themselves, based on much older Welsh and Breton legends, and the original stories are far more interesting. Instead of shining plate armor and stone castles, Arthur’s world would have had chainmail and wooden forts. Instead of a search for a magical cup and a deadly spat with an angry teenager, there was a clash of cultures and years of struggle to maintain Romano-British Celtic culture in the face of Germanic expansion.
Yet, there is certainly some history behind the legends, though how much and what is in vociferous dispute. I’ve always been disappointed by the Arthurian portrayals in books and movies that claimed to have a historical basis. Some, like one based on theories tying Arthur to a minor Roman military officer who lived three centuries earlier than Arthur, even botch basic historical things they try to portray. More importantly, no one had made a movie or novel based on the one theory that I found most intriguing and most connected to both known history and ancient legend.
As I’ve talked about before, that is the theory linking King Arthur with a historical person the Romans called Riothamus, a Latinized Brittonic name or title meaning “Highest King”. I go into more details about that on this post, and in others, so I won’t get into the details again here. But in short, Geoffrey Ashe’s research is the best theory I’ve found on the historical Arthur.
I wanted a movie or novel based on that Arthur. Because that Arthur actually fit into the events and culture of the time. Because that Arthur did something rather amazing and birthed a legend that intrigues and inspires people to this day. I understood the overall concept, but I wanted to see it in action. How were obstacles overcome? How did political forces drive the historical events, and did they fit into the legends? Where is that novel?
My bride probably had no idea what she unleashed when she said, “Why don’t you write it?” I chuckled and went to brush my teeth for bed. Me? I’d dabbled in a little writing, but my only attempt at a novel, something based on my time in Germany, had been abandoned years before. But her words tickled the back of my mind. The next morning, that tickle was stronger. While sitting at work, I excitedly called her and said I was going to do it.
It took nearly five years to get the book from conception to print. There was a lot of research to do, because, aside from the Arthurian legend, I needed to have the fine details of history correct if I was going to do this. No potatoes or rabbits in fifth century Britain. What sort of ships were there? Did they use stirrups or horseshoes? How did military forces organize? What was the status of women? What was home life like?
The Arthurian Age is, roughly, the early 400’s to 500’s AD in Britain. Besides telling the story of Arthur, I wanted to give people a window into a time period that very few know much about. Virtually every movie about the medieval era shows the late medieval period, because shiny plate armor and towering stone castles are more visually stimulating than wooden shields, chainmail and wooden palisades atop a hillfort. I think the grittier, earlier era is far more fascinating. Maybe by portraying the way that people lived and struggle in the Dark Ages, I might interest others.
This project did not start out as a series. The first book, The Retreat to Avalon, opens at a point when Arthur is well into his career, and dives right into the war in Gaul against Euric. There are many ways that Ashe’s theory could be applied to the entire Arthurian legend, but the key points revolved around this space of a couple years, and that alone could fill an entire novel.
This is the part I wanted to puzzle out, and writing the story was the vehicle. I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in it and expected it to be my only book on the subject. Maybe my only book, ever. I was surprised by how quickly—my first try—I found a publisher interested in the book. I was even more surprised when they asked if I could turn into a trilogy.
Making it into a trilogy presented a puzzle. The Retreat to Avalon is really the third act in a four-act play. The Arthurian Age actually begins with the end of Roman rule in Britain, the rise of Vortigern and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. Years before Arthur is conceived. Then there is the rise of Arthur to the high kingship, which leads to the events of The Retreat to Avalon. And, finally, the fourth act, where the consequences of the war in Gaul lead to the end of The Arthurian Age.
I might have held off on releasing The Retreat to Avalon and gone through the time to write Acts 1 and 2 as book one, publish it first and release The Retreat to Avalon as book two. But I was impatient, and it occurred to me that doing so would give away some of the surprising details that I hid within The Retreat to Avalon.
So I decided that Book One of The Arthurian Age would be The Retreat to Avalon. Book Two would be about the events that follow book one, and would be called The Strife of Camlann. Book Three would be a sort of prequel, telling the story of Vortigern, Hengist and Horsa, Ambrosius, and finally Arthur. The title will be Three Wicked Revelations, and it will fill in the missing pieces.
Most of the pieces. There is one more detail, and that is about Merlin. Called Myrddin originally, and so named in my books, he is an enigmatic subject. I’ve found a surprisingly effective way to portray him in the series, and I thought to reveal all his secrets as part of Book Three. But then I realized, that there is too much material there. So I am now planning a fourth book. It’s more a spin-off than part of the series, and will be called The Life of Myrddin, which itself is a play on the title of the Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
The Retreat to Avalon has been out for three years now, and The Strife of Camlann is in editing with the publisher. We’re hoping to be released before Christmas. I’ve already started Three Wicked Revelations. I hope you’ll enjoy them, and, as always, I’d love to hear from you with questions or comments.