Prunella

It’s a funny thing with me that I don’t actually like Rapunzel (I mean, I don’t dislike it, it’s just not my favorite fairy tale), but I love reading the variants. There’s so much there, from Parsilette, a fairy tale where the heroine makes up with her stepmother at the end and ditches the prince, to Prunella, an Italian version which is probably my favorite. It’s kind of a nice thing about folktales, that if you aren’t exactly thrilled about one version of a story, there are probably a bunch of other variants that you might like better.

And I LOVE Andrew Lang. I freaking love him. I spent my early teen years thumbing (clicking, actually, I was online) through all the Andrew Lang books, and I want you, too, to experience the joy that is Andrew Lang. So, without further ado, an Andrew Lang story.

A wild plum tree grows in an orchard en route to Prunella’s school, and each day on the way to school, Prunella picks a plum and eats it. Because she’s seven, she doesn’t consider it to be stealing. The witch who owns the orchard does, and one day she catches Prunella doing it. She jumps out from behind the hedge and grabs Prunella’s wrist. “You little thief!” she says. “I have caught you at last. Now you will have to pay for your misdeeds.” ‘Paying for her misdeeds’ is apparently code for ‘take her away from her friends and family and keep her locked in your house, because that’s not disproportionate retribution at all.’ Prunella begs and pleads, telling her that she didn’t know it was wrong and that she won’t do it again, but the witch drags her away to her house ’till the time should come when she could have her revenge.’ Ominous. And also completely overboard for the situation.

It is an interesting thing in Rapunzel stories that the thievery that Rapunzel is punished for is never Rapunzel’s fault. In most versions, the parents do it before Rapunzel is even born, but Rapunzel is the one dragged away from her family and locked in a tower. In this version, she is SEVEN. It’s not her fault at all, she doesn’t even know what she did is wrong. But again. She’s still punished for it.

Anyway, the years pass, and Prunella grows up to be beautiful. Of course. At least she’s not described as being the most beautiful woman in the land or anything like that, but she is beautiful enough to make the witch jealous, which only serves to make the witch hate her more. Also of course. Things come to a head one day when the witch hands her a basket and tells her to go to the well and bring the basket back filled with water, and that if she doesn’t, the witch will kill her. I have questions, number one being, why do witches make life so complicated for themselves? Just grab a knife and stab her or something! Although honestly, this isn’t just witches, it’s also every fairy tale dad you’ll ever come across too. Like, there are other ways of getting rid of your daughter’s unwanted suitor than making him level a forest with a glass axe? But I digress.

Prunella goes to the well and tries to fill the basket with water, but each time she draws up the basket, the water streams out. She finally gives it up and breaks down crying, which is understandable, but isn’t doing much to help the situation.

“Prunella,” a voice at her side asks. “Prunella, why are you crying?” She turns to see a handsome (of course) man about her age, looking kindly at her, which is probably more than people have done in a while. She asks warily how he knows her name, and who exactly he is.

He tells her that his name is Bensiabel, and he is the son of the witch. (Another question, how has the witch managed to keep them so separated that they never met until this moment even though they’ve been living in the same house?) He offers to fill her basket, on the condition that she give him a kiss. Ahem. YOU CANNOT JUST BLACKMAIL A GIRL INTO KISSING YOU. LEARN ABOUT CONSENT.

Prunella gives him a flat no. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she replies. YES BOUNDARIES. YOU GO GIRL. Also, I totally imagine her flipping her hair as she says that and I don’t know why.

Okay, wild theorizing time, but could the reason the witch suddenly decides to kill Prunella is because she notices Bensiabel falling in love with her? A lot of abusive parents view their child falling in love as them losing control, and that’s a major theme in Rapunzel already, and…Shoot. SHOOT. I am making myself want to get back to that (awful) retelling I did of this when I was fourteen. No. I will not abandon my current story to go chasing after a theme I like.

Who knows, maybe Ben will get the reworking he desperately needs. My plans for what I’ll do after I finish my current story are definitely up in the air.

Anyway, Ben agrees and still fills up the basket, which is the only reason why I am okay with him. Mostly. I will admit he was way cuter to me before I met actual real life guys who didn’t understand consent at all.

Prunella takes the basket back to the witch, who turns white with rage. “Bensiabel must have helped you,” she says. Prunella says nothing and lets her form her own conclusions. “Well,” she finishes, “we shall see who wins in the end.”

The next day, she gives Prunella a sack of wheat and tells her that she is going out, and that if Prunella hasn’t made the wheat into bread by the time she is back, she’ll kill her. It isn’t possible for Prunella to grind the wheat, prepare the dough, and bake the bread in the time the witch will be away. She tries, at first, but not being a magician, she doesn’t get very far, and she gives up and, again, breaks down crying. Bensiabel appears again, tells her that he’ll save her if she agrees to kiss him, and gets rejected again with equal force. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she says. Just like yesterday, he saves her anyway, and when the witch comes home, all the bread is done. Honestly, magical cooking skills sound great. You’d never have to wait for dinner again.

The next day, she calls Prunella and asks her to go and bring back a casket from the witch’s sister in the mountains. Apparently her sister is a crueler person than herself, and she is counting on her sister to imprison her and starve her to death. I find it kind of hilarious that her sister is so predictable she doesn’t even have to send a message or anything. It’s just what her sister does. Also, what is with this lady’s Wile E. Coyote schemes to kill Prunella? Do you want to kill her or do you not?

Prunella sets off, not knowing anything about the sister’s reputation and probably just happy to get out of the house. Bensiabel meets her on the way and asks her where she’s going, though I assume he already knows if he’s meeting her totally prepared. Which he is. She tells him that she is going to get a casket from the witch’s sister. “You are being sent straight to your death,” he says. “But give me a kiss and I will save you.” He’s about as persistent as his mother, and about as ineffective, too.

“I will not kiss the son of a witch,” Prunella says. He proceeds to give her the things she needs anyway: a flagon of oil, a loaf of bread, a piece of rope, and a broom. I do love how seemingly random that is, and I like imagining Prunella’s face as he hands it to her. But Ben knows what he’s on about (in everything except the proper way to relate to your crush), and she uses the oil to polish the hinges of the door, she throws the bread to the mastiff who runs to meet her, she gives the rope to a woman trying to lower a bucket into the well with her plaited hair, and the broom to a woman trying to clean the hearth with her tongue. Um. No comment on the last one. She takes the casket from a shelf and leaves, but the witch hears her as the door shuts. “Kill the that thief, I tell you!” the witch says to the woman at the hearth.

“I will not kill her,” she says, “for she has given me a broom, whereas you forced me to clean the hearth with my tongue.”

This goes on with the other people, animals, and objects Prunella has helped, and Prunella gets away. I do like this element in fairy tales. Abusing your animals and servants comes back to bite you. Don’t do it. Unless you’re, you know, the hero or something.

Prunella comes back to her house, and the witch’s mood is not improved by seeing her alive. “Did you meet Bensiabel?” she asks. Prunella doesn’t say anything. “There are three cocks in the henhouse,” she continues. “One is yellow, one black, and the third is white. If they crow during the night, you must tell me which one it is. Woe to you if you make a mistake. I will gobble you up in a mouthful.”

She makes kind of a big tactical error here, because apparently Ben’s room is right next to Prunella’s, even though this was never mentioned before and she didn’t even know who he was at the start of this fairy tale, and…Whatever, forget logic. Ben is able to give her the answers–after asking for a kiss and getting rejected, of course–but finally Ben falls silent. “Bensiabel, save me!” Prunella says. “The witch is coming, she is close to me, I hear the gnashing of her teeth!”

Bensiabel, for once, does not try to bargain for a kiss. He throws the door open–because there was a door from his room into hers, did you miss that, I did too–and shoves his mother back, and she falls down the stairs. It could have been an accident. It could not have been. Either way, his mother is dead.

And then Prunella finally decides that, you know, maybe he isn’t that bad. They fall in love, presumably because of traumatic bonding, and live happily ever after.

And yes, I did a retelling of this when I was fourteen that I didn’t finish. I don’t finish most of my stories, but this wasn’t one where I just lost interest. I think I grew up. There are characters I could relate to when I was little, and now when I try to write them again, they’re just…I find it harder to relate to them. I have a lot of trouble seeing Ben through a not-problematic light, and it’s weird, because I write sort of problematic characters all the time? I love writing stories where the magical fairy forces the heroine into marriage and maybe she escapes and finds her way back home or maybe she falls in love with him. Beauty and the Beast is my very favorite story to retell. But…maybe a forced kiss is a little too mundane and just throws it into the real world too much? I know it sounds weird. It’s possible if I went back to this story I’d find my qualms gone, and I do love this fairy tale and its themes and its down-home earthy feel to it. And Prunella. Goodness I love Prunella. You go and enforce those boundaries, girl.

But there’s also the problem that, um…I’ve kind of accidentally stolen Ben’s face. Twice. Apparently I have trouble imagining more than three different types of male faces, and…Well, let’s just say I have given the same face to Ben, Ignatius the cute shadow-demon, and Mordred. Heh. Of course, that’s just a matter of character redesign, but it would still feel kind of weird. Maybe.

But I might get back to this story one day. Who knows?

Le Morte D’Arthur, book 1, part 4

For some reason, whenever I size the image down, it comes out slightly blurry. IDK what’s wrong with WordPress. Also, I feel like I need to make a new character design for Arthur, but idk, what do you think?

In which Arthur pulls the sword from the stone…again…and again…and again. Because bureaucracy was just as infuriating back then as it is today.

In other news, I went into the city and I brought back loot! I got two fairy tale books at a used bookstore, one on Scottish folklore and the other on African folklore. I wavered for about three seconds between buying a new fairy tale book and wading through the chaff that is the YA section. (And yes, you can find lots of gold in the YA section. But you have to wade through so. Much. Chaff.) I quickly went to the folklore section, deceptively titled ‘Metaphysics’ for some reason. I associate metaphysics with guys like Descartes and Aristotle, okay? Not Scottish fairies. And I like both books so far, although I haven’t had as much time to look through the African one yet. Will any of the fairy tales be coming to this site? Who knows!

Anyway. We pick up where the previous chapter left off, where Arthur has just explained to his (foster) father how he pulled the sword out of the stone.

~~~

‘Now try,’ said Sir Ector to Sir Kay. And Sir Kay pulled at the sword with all his might, but it would not move. ‘Now you shall try,’ said Sir Ector to Arthur.

‘I will,’ said Arthur, and pulled it out easily. And Sir Ector and Sir Kay knelt down to the earth. ‘Alas,’ said Arthur, ‘my own father and brother, why do you kneel before me?’

‘No, no, my lord Arthur, it is not so. I was never your father nor of your blood, but I know well you are of a higher blood than I thought you were.’ [Wait, Ector, do you not even know who Arthur’s dad is? Did you never ask? I am confused?] And then Sir Ector told him how he took Arthur to raise him, and by whose commandment, and by Merlin’s deliverance. Then Arthur was greatly sorrowful when he understood that Sir Ector was not his father. ‘Then, sir,’ said Ector, ‘will you be my good and gracious lord when you are king?’

‘I would be to blame if I were not,’ said Arthur. ‘You are the man in the world that I am most beholden to, besides my good lady and mother your wife, who has fostered and kept me as well as her own child. And if ever it be God’s will that I be king as you say, you shall ask me what I shall do, and I will not fail you. God forbid that I should fail you.’

‘Sir,’ said Sir Ector, ‘I will ask no more of you but that you will make my son and your foster brother Sir Kay seneschal of all your lands.’ [So, I’m kind of imagining Arthur going, ‘…wait, I’m going to have to work with my annoying older brother forever?] [Also, looking at this from a completely modern perspective, this is such blatant nepotism.]

‘That shall be done,’ said Arthur. ‘And by the faith of my body, no man shall have that office but him while he and I live.’

Then they went to the Archbishop and told him how the sword was enchanted [he knows, guys], and by whom, and on the twelfth day all the barons came hither to try and take the sword. But none might take it out but Arthur.   […wait. I just caught that. Wait a second, someone enchanted the sword? I thought this was supposed to be a miracle. You’re telling me MERLIN SET THIS WHOLE THING UP? I lowkey love the idea of this whole thing being Merlin’s PR stunt, though.] [Although honestly this English is so confusing, maybe it is supposed to be a miracle. Who even knows. *throws hands up in the air*]

Because of this, many of the lords were wroth, and they said it was a great shame unto them and the realm to be governed by a boy who was not highborn. And so they agreed that it be put off till Candlemas, and then all the barons should meet there again. [Seriously? He already pulled it out!] But always ten knights were ordered to watch the sword and the stone day and night, and they set a pavilion over the sword and stone, and five men always watched. And as Arthur did at Christmas, he did at Candlemas and pulled out the sword easily, wherefore the barons were sore aggrieved and put it off in delay until the high feast of Easter. […You’ve got to be kidding me!] And as Arthur did before, he did at Easter. But some of the great lords were indignant that Arthur should be king, and put it off in delay until the feast of Pentecost. [Insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, guys.]

And the Archbishop of Canterbury, by Merlin’s providence, searched for the best knights they might get, knights such as Uther Pendragon loved best and were most trusted in his days. […Hopefully not knights like Sir Ulfius, though…] And such knights were put about Arthur as Sir Baldwin of Breton, Sir Kay, Sir Ulfius, [WELL, LOOK WHO IT IS] and Sir Brastias. [Also, I have no idea if that’s supposed to be Breton or Britain *shrugs*] All these knights, and many others, were always about Arthur day and night until the feast of Pentecost. [That’s so interesting that the Archbishop supported Arthur from the beginning, because later on (minor spoilers I guess), Mordred kills the Archbishop. This kind of throws that into a different light, where it’s not just about, ‘DoN’t QuEsTiOn My ViEwS oN bIgAmY.’ (It was still very much about not questioning his views on bigamy, but there might have been a political motivation, too? Sometimes things in this book do connect to earlier events.)]

~~~

Fun fact: I actually forgot that Arthur was adopted and that that was kind of low-key important, and I made his backstory for my retelling, and…Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to scrap those five hours of work. That’s kind of what writing’s about, anyway. Back to the drawing board!

Have you ever forgotten a sort of important part of a story you were retelling? Do you kind of like the positive relationship Arthur has with his parents? (It’s bad for me, though, I can only write characters with tragic pasts.) Is the sword and the stone Merlin’s PR stunt or a miracle, because I cannot tell with the way this is written!

Tam Lin

Yes, I drew this, and I hope you admire those Celtic knots because THEY TOOK ME HOURS TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THEM.

A bunch of different versions of this ballad can be found here. My favorite is this one.

I first came across this story when I was eleven, when I read a retelling called The Perilous Gard. It was a great book, although I probably appreciate it more now that I’m older. I realized it was based off of an actual ballad when I was about fourteen, so of course I had to look it up. And wow is it a strange story. Tam Lin is…Well. I’ll admit I mostly love this poem for Janet, who is very lovable. But anyway. The story.

Tam Lin is some loser fairy who is just living in Carterhaugh woods and creepily hitting on all the maidens who pass through there, because it’s not like fairies have anything better to do with their time. Whenever a woman passes through there, he demands they either leave him a gold ring, a green mantle, or their maidenhead.

…OKAY, YOU CREEP.

Janet, our heroine, just happens to own Carterhaugh, and decides to give this loser fairy a talk. Or perhaps she’s looking for an easy way to get a one-night stand. The story isn’t really clear, and knowing Janet, it really could be either one. But either way, she goes there and come to a well, where she sees his horse standing there, but Tam Lin is nowhere to be seen. She plucks a rose for…some reason, whereupon Tam Lin shows up and asks her why she has come to Carterhaugh without asking leave of him. She points out that she owns the place, which is reasonable enough.

There are kind of Beauty and the Beast parallels in that moment.

And then they start making out and end up sleeping together (there is also a version where he rapes her but WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT ONE). I am still not exactly sure how they got from having a property dispute to hardcore making out. That is worse than some YA.

The poem shifts scenes to Janet at home, wan and pale, who has just realized she is pregnant. One of her father’s knights accuses her of this, telling her she has shamed them, and Janet replies,

Now hand your tongue, ye auld grey knight,
And an ill deid may ye die !
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I’ll father nane on thee.’

Can we all take a moment to admire Janet’s awesomeness.

Her father also asks her about it, much more politely, and she tells him that she didn’t sleep with any of his knights, but a fairy, and she calls Tam Lin her true love, which aww. I’m not sure how exactly she knew him long enough to make that statement, but whatever.

I do love this scene. Janet isn’t demonized for premarital sex, and the knight who tries to call her out is in fact criticized. Her father is understandably upset, considering the social repercussions of the time period, but he doesn’t blame Janet for it. Janet and her father obviously both love each other a lot. And good parental relationships can be hard to find in fairy tales, especially when they’re about topics like this.

Janet is considering aborting the baby, and she goes back to Carterhaugh to talk to Tam Lin about it. She picks another rose–Is that her way of summoning him or something?–and Tam Lin asks her not to kill the baby. He then regales her with his life story, telling her about how he was some random nobleman’s son, and he went out riding, and the fairy queen kidnapped him when he fell off his horse. So…I guess he’s human? But he literally says in the next stanza, ‘I am a fairy, lyth and limb.’ I am confused.

He tells her that he has been living there for seven years, and that he basically loves it. He wouldn’t mind staying there his whole life, except for the human sacrifice bit.

Yes, there’s a human sacrifice bit. Every seven years, the fairies have to pay a teind to hell on All Hallow’s Eve, and Tam Lin tells Janet he thinks he will be the sacrifice this year. Honestly, I kind of wonder if Tam Lin would want to leave if it had been some other poor bloke getting sacrificed. He doesn’t really seem to have as much a problem with the human sacrifice except insofar as it affects him. My impression of Tam Lin is that, whether he’s a fairy or not, he’s definitely operating on their same sense of ethics?

He tells her to be there at Miles Cross, and Janet asks how she will recognize him. He says that two companies will pass by, and he will be in the third one; and that she is to let the black horse and the brown horse pass by, and he will be on the milk-white steed. Because he is a christened knight, they will give him the honor of riding on the side nearest to town, which…Does this make sense in context of the time period, or…

Anyway, he tells her that she has to pull him down from the horse and warns her that the fairies will change him into various different dangerous animals and objects, but that she has to hold onto him if she wants to save him.

The scene shifts again, to Miles Cross. It is a gloomy and eerie night, basically a Gothic romance’s paradise. Janet is there, late at night, and she hears the horses’ bridles ringing. She waits until she sees Tam Lin, and she pulls him off his horse. He turns into a snake, a lump of coal (OW), and an eel, until finally he turns back into a man, and the fairies’ power over him is broken. The fairy queen threatens him, telling him that she would have turned his eyes into wood and his heart into stone if she’d known what he’d do. There is also a version where the fairy queen tells Janet, ‘ O wae worth ye ill woman & an ill dead may ye die, For ye had plenty of lovers at hame & I had nane but he.’ Interesting.

I am sorry the lighting on this photo is kind of bad. I swear some pictures are just cursed where you cannot take good photos of them. But I love the antlered fairy queen, though, so I couldn’t not post this.

And that’s the end of the poem, and presumably they both got married and lived happily ever after. I think their life after the story would be kind of interesting to explore. Does Janet regret jumping into a relationship that quickly? Is Tam Lin happy in the human world, or can he not get used to the change? As a side note, I would love that plot line for a retelling in general, where the changeling is ‘rescued’ and they want nothing more than to go back to Fairyland. Fairyland is often portrayed in YA as being a horrible, dark place, but HELLO HAVE YOU SEEN THE HUMAN WORLD LATELY. In folktales, I’ve never interpreted Fairyland as being inherently awful, just different. Probably inherently an unfriendly place for humans to live in, yes, but see my above point about the human world. And frankly, Fairyland sounds kind of fun? Just my opinion?

I love Janet. She’s an active heroine who stands up for herself and saves her own boyfriend. A lot of times people think fairy tale heroines are all weak, and I’m just…Well, we clearly haven’t been reading the same fairy tales. Janet is amazing. Tam Lin is…Well, Tam Lin is a little strange, but I can see how he could be written so I like him.

This is such a bizarre story. I love it.

Do you love Scottish Ballads as much as I do? Does Tam Lin strike you as weird or do you like him? Is Janet the most amazing heroine of ever? (hint: the answer is yes.)

Le Morte D’Arthur, book 1, part 3

We finally get to meet Arthur! And he is cute! This is the cutest part ever!

And also Uther dies. I am liking this chapter.

~~~

Then Queen Igraine waxed daily greater and greater, so it befell after half a year that as King Uther lay by his queen, he asked her by the faith she owed to him whose was the child within her body. [*mutters* What the hell does she owe you, you raped her and killed her husband] Then she was sore abashed to answer. ‘Do not be dismayed,’ said the king, ‘but tell me the truth, and I shall love you the better, by the faith of my body.’

‘Sire,’ said she. ‘I shall tell you the truth. The same night that my lord died, the hour of his death as his knights record, there came into my castle of Tintagel a man like my lord in speech and in countenance, and two knights with him in likeness of his two knights Brastias and Iordanus. And so I went into bed with him as I ought to do with my lord, and the same night, as I shall answer unto God, this child was begotten upon me.’

‘And that is the truth,’ said the king. ‘I myself came in the likeness of your husband, and therefore do not be dismayed, for I am father to the child.’ And there he told her all the cause, how it was by Merlin’s council. Then the queen made great joy when she knew who was the father of her child. […Malory? Is that a realistic reaction?]

Soon came Merlin unto the king and said, ‘Sir, you must purvey you for the nourishing of your child.’ [I don’t know exactly what this means…but it’s something about giving Merlin the baby. He really wants that baby.]

‘As thou wilt,’ said the king. ‘So be it.’

‘Well,’ said Merlin, ‘I know a lord of yours in this land that is a passing true man and faithful, and he shall have the nourishing of your child. His name is Sir Ector, and he is a man of fair livelihood in many parts in England and Wales. And this Sir Ector, let him be sent for to come and speak with you, and desire him as he loveth you that he will give his own child to another woman and have his wife nourish yours. And when the child is born, let it be delivered to me at yonder privy postern unchristened.’  [Wait, Uther and Igraine never even gave Arthur a name?] [Like, Merlin, you can see the future. Literally SO MUCH of the mess in Le Morte D’Arthur could have been averted if you had just mentioned to Igraine, ‘So, I was thinking about naming him Arthur! Maybe tell his sisters that?’]

So it was done as Merlin devised. And when Sir Ector came, he promised the king to nourish the child as the king desired.

Then when Igraine delivered the child, the king commanded two knights and two ladies to take the child bound in a cloth of gold, and deliver him to the poor man they met at the postern gate of the castle. [I’ve finally memorized what ‘postern’ means! I don’t have to look it up every time I see it anymore!] So the child was delivered unto Merlin, and he bore it forth unto Sir Ector and made a holy man to christen him, and named him Arthur. And so Sir Ector’s wife nourished him with her own breast. […Did you think we would get confused as to what she nourished him with, Malory?]

Then within two years King Uther fell sick of a great malady. [It was really sad.] And in the meanwhile his enemies usurped upon him and did a great battle with his men, and slew many people. ‘Sir,’ said Merlin, ‘You may not lie so as you do, for you must go to the field though you ride on a horse-litter. For you shall never have the better of your enemies unless you be there.’ So it was done as Merlin devised, [Starting to see a pattern here] and they carried the king forth in a horse-litter with a great host toward his enemies. [Does anyone know what a medieval English litter looks like, when they were introduced, etc.? I didn’t know they had those.] And that day Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias did great deeds of arms, and King Uther’s men overcame the northern army and slew many people and put the remnant to flight. And then the king returned unto London and made great joy of his victory.

The king fell passing sore sick, so that he was speechless three days and three nights, wherefore all the barons made great sorrow and asked Merlin what council were best. ‘There is no other remedy,’ said Merlin, ‘but God will have his will. But let all of you be before King Uther tomorrow morn, and God and I shall make him speak.’ [Okay, but I do have one question. If, later in the story, Morgan can heal Arthur after he got stabbed in the skull, why can’t Merlin heal Uther? Does he not want to? Is this just yet another inconsistency? (I mean probably)(But to be fair, nothing’s consistent in my story either)] So in the morning all the barons with Merlin came before the king. Then Merlin said aloud unto King Uther, ‘Sire, shall your son Arthur be king of this realm after your days?’

Then Uther Pendragon turned to him and said in the hearing of them all, ‘I give him God’s blessing and mine, and bid him pray for my soul, [‘CAUSE YOU NEED IT] and righteously and worshipfully that he claim the crown, upon forfeiture of my blessing. [I…I don’t know what ‘righteously and worshipfully’ means in this context. Is he saying that Arthur can claim the crown righteously and worshipfully?] And therewith he yielded up the ghost and was interred as belonged to a king, wherefore the fair Queen Igraine and all the barons made great sorrow. [Igraine, baby, don’t feel bad for this douchebag, he doesn’t deserve it]

Then stood the realm in great jeopardy for a long while, for every lord that was mighty of men made himself strong, and many wished to be king. Then Merlin went to the Archbishop of Canterbury and counselled him to send for all the lords of the realm and all the gentlemen of arms that they should come to London by Christmas upon pain of cursing; and for this cause, that Jesus who was born on that night 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. [That was a complicated sentence, but basically God is sick of everyone’s BS and is going to perform a miracle to tell everyone who is going to be king.] [Does ‘pain of cursing’ have another meaning in this context, or did Merlin just threaten to curse a whole bunch of people if they didn’t do what he said? XD I have no idea if that’s what it means, but I really, really hope it means that.]

So the Archbishop, by the advice of Merlin, sent for all the lords and gentlemen of arms that they should come by Christmas eve unto London. And many of them made them clean of their life that their prayer might be the more acceptable unto God. [Lol, so cleaning up your act for the holidays isn’t a modern thing.] So in the great church of London (whether it was St. Paul’s or not the French book makes no mention) all the estates were long or day in the church to pray. […That last part means everyone prayed for a really long time? I think?] [Also, Malory, which French book, you use so many French books as a source for this.] And when matins and the first mass were done, there was seen in the churchyard against the high altar a great stone foursquare, like unto a marble stone. And in the middle of the stone was an anvil of steel a foot high, and therein was a sword, and letters there were written about the sword that said thus: ‘Whoso pulleth out the sword from this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England.’

Then the people marveled and told it to the Archbishop. ‘I command,’ said the Archbishop, ‘that you keep within the church and pray unto God, and no man touch the sword till the high mass be done.’ So when the mass was done, all the lords went to behold the sword and the stone. And when they saw the writing, some who would have been king attempted to take the sword. But none might stir the sword nor move it.

‘He is not here,’ said the Archbishop, ‘that shall achieve the sword, but doubt not that God will make him known. But this is my council, that we find ten knights, men of good fame, and they will guard this sword.’ So it was ordained, and then there was made a cry, that every man that would should attempt to win the sword.

And on New Year’s Day the barons had a joust and a tournament, so all knights that would joust or tourney there might play. All this was ordained to keep the lords together and the commons, for the Archbishop trusted that God would make known him who should win the sword.

So upon New Year’s Day when the service was done, the barons rode unto the field, some to joust and some to tourney. And so it happened that Sir Ector who had great livelihood about London rode unto the jousts, and with him rode Sir Kay and young Arthur who was Sir Kay’s nourished brother. [Yay! Our boy!] Sir Kay had been made knight last Hallowmas. [Hallowmas means Halloween and is like one of my favorite words.]

And as they rode to the jousts-ward, [I can’t find a definition for this, I’m sorry] Sir Kay lost his sword, for he had left it at his father’s house. [#relatable] And so he asked Arthur to ride back for his sword. ‘I will,’ said Arthur, and rode fast to get the sword, but when he came home, the lady and the household were out to see the jousting. [I swear I’m getting flashbacks to all the times my family has lost something RIGHT BEFORE WE GO SOMEWHERE. If I ever become queen, this will be how.] Then Arthur was wroth and said to himself, ‘I will ride to the churchyard and take the sword that is in the stone, for my brother shall not be without a sword this day.’ [I love how determined this cute kid is? ‘Well, no one’s home? Screw it! I’m just taking that magic sword, then! To hell with the consequences!’ *accidentally becomes king*]

So when he came to the churchyard, Sir Arthur alighted and tied his horse to the stile, and he went to the tent and found no knights there, for they were jousting. And so he grabbed the sword by the handle and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the stone and took his horse and rode his way until he came to his brother Sir Kay. And as soon as Sir Kay saw the sword, he knew well it was the sword of the stone, and rode to his father Sir Ector, and said, ‘Sir, look, here is the sword of the stone, wherefore I must be king of this land.’ [Oh, God, Kay was almost the king of England]

When Sir Ector beheld the sword, he returned again and came to the church. And he made Sir Kay swear upon a book [the bible, I guess?] how he came by the sword. ‘Sir,’ said Sir Kay, ‘by my brother Arthur, for he brought it to me.’

‘How did you get this sword?’ said Sir Ector to Arthur.

‘Sir, I will tell you. When I came home for my brother’s sword, I found nobody at home to give me his sword. And I thought my brother Kay should not be swordless, so I came here eagerly and pulled it out of the stone without any pain.’

‘Found you any knights about this sword?’ asked Sir Ector.

‘No,’ said Arthur.

‘Now,’ said Sir Ector, ‘I understand you must be king of this land.’

‘Wherefore I,’ said Arthur, ‘and for what cause?’ […Arthur, you didn’t bother to read the writing on the stone? Or, like, bother to listen to any of the gossip since Christmas?]

‘God will have it that whoever draws out this sword shall be king of this land,’ said Sir Ector. ‘Now let me see whether you can put the sword there as it was and pull it out again.’

‘That is no mastery,’ said Arthur, and he put it in the stone, and Sir Ector tried to pull out the sword and failed.

~~~

I knew the story of how Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, but somehow it always missed me how relatable and just plain cute that was. I feel like becoming king because your older brother lost his sword and you had to find one for him is…probably the most realistic way of accidentally becoming king. I’ve never seen a more accurate portrayal of this type of story in all the books and fairy tales I’ve read. We will never trump Arthurian legend in this.

Also, if I were a knight, I would definitely always be losing my sword. I wouldn’t actually be able to fight anyone because I’d always accidentally be leaving my weapons at home. Hell, I’d probably be the Dinadan of the bunch and always think of ways to get out of fighting anyway, let’s be honest with ourselves.

Have you also been waiting for Uther to die? Is this an accurate portrayal of how you would become king? Does your family also lose lots of things right before they go somewhere?

Mordred and Guinevere

Lancelot and Guinevere reminiscing about her psycho ex. I did this cartoon! I love Guinevere’s cute little face.

Because apparently Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship in the older legends was way more bizarre than I was ever aware of before getting into these stories.

I thought this would be an easy article to write, to be honest, because I’ve been researching these two characters (as much as I can without paying money) for a retelling I’m writing. Five minutes into writing this article and I realize I’ve never bookmarked anything and I’ve forgotten which exact websites I used to find all my old sources (facepalm) Thank God for Wikipedia. I also realized that this was kind of a complicated topic and I probably should have given myself more than a day to write this article. I was actually planning on doing an overview of Mordred himself, but I need to give myself waaay more time before doing a project like that, so it morphed into this. Live and learn.

Guinevere is probably most known for her tragic love affair with Lancelot, but that plotline actually wasn’t a thing in her earliest appearances in the legends. In Geoffrey Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, the twelfth century pseudo-history that kicked off the medieval King Arthur craze, Lancelot doesn’t even show up (he might not have even existed at that time). He only really comes on the scene when Chretien de Troyes wrote him later in the twelfth century, and it’s possible he was Chretien’s original character. Who was really overpowered. And French, just like Chretien. Make of that what you will. Perhaps an early example of a self-insert OC?

Instead of Lancelot, Guinevere was in love with Mordred, because these stories weren’t a soap opera enough already. He’s mentioned a few times before Geoffrey of Monmouth, but the first full story about Mordred (and really, most of the characters) comes from him, by which point Mordred shows up as a full-fledged villain, dressed in black and ready to steal your girl! Which he does. Because apparently…Guinevere and Mordred were the first villainous Arthurian couple? Before Chretien introduced Lancelot and Guinevere’s relationship, she was into Mordred, because I guess she’ll always be associated with adultery and kingdom-ending relationship drama. I had no idea about any of this before I started writing a retelling, although I admit my knowledge of anything Arthuriana-related was very limited. Geoffrey of Monmouth only said,

What is more, this treacherous tyrant was living adulterously and out of wedlock with Queen Guinevere, who had broken the vows of her earlier marriage. About this matter, most noble Duke, Geoffrey of Monmouth prefers to say nothing.

Yes, Guinevere made her debut onto the scene of Arthurian legend as a villain. God, I need to do an article on her one of these days.

And then there’s the Alliterative Morte Arthur (a fourteenth century poem, not the Le Morte D’Arthur), where Guinevere and Mordred have kids, which is just…WHO WROTE THAT.

Mordred is almost always Arthur’s nephew in these types of stories, rather than his son (I don’t know why that is). In the versions where he is Arthur’s son, it always tends to happen where Mordred falls in love with Guinevere, fakes his dad’s death (YES HE DID THAT), and Guinevere has absolutely none of it. But both versions end with her running away to a convent. In the one where she’s good, she feels really, really guilty about everything that happened with Lancelot. In the one where she’s bad, it’s…a little more unclear, but definitely possible that she thinks Mordred is losing in the war against Arthur?

Enter Chretien de Troyes, a twelfth century writer who wrote lots of stories about Arthurian legend that you should check out because his stories are amazing. He takes one look at Guinevere, goes, “What? King Arthur’s wife trapped in an unhappy marriage? Guys, this is perfect tragic heroine material! Why is she the villain?” And proceeds to write Knight of the Cart, a story where Guinevere gets kidnapped by a knight named Meliagrance, and Lancelot has to save her. And Lancelot and Guinevere have been pretty much an Arthurian staple ever since.

On a total side note, I’m not sure I’d call getting together with your nephew-in-law a thing in Arthuriana, but let’s just say it happened more than once and I have no idea why. Take Cliges and Fenice from Chretien de Troyes’ romance, for instance. Cliges was Fenice’s nephew-in-law. Granted, that was a weird one, and I still have no idea if that was supposed to be a deconstruction of courtly love or just played straight and absolutely bizarre. But Tristram and Iseult were pretty much the romantic Arthurian couple, besides Guinevere and Lancelot, of course, and…yes, Tristram was Iseult’s nephew-in-law. Which is something neither medieval writers nor modern day people tend to lay a lot of emphasis on, I’ve noticed. (Although I’ll admit I haven’t researched Tristram and Iseult as much.) People do tend to lay a lot of emphasis on the strangeness of Mordred and Guinevere’s story. I figure it’s probably because (a) Tristram did not try to take over the kingdom, and (b) when you add incest into Mordred’s backstory, it’s just Mordred repeating a family pattern, which adds an extra layer of weirdness to an already weird story.

Anyway, that was possibly one of the weirdest (and definitely the trashiest) relationships in Arthurian legend! I’ll admit to lowkey liking this. I think it’s because the idea of Guinevere the tragic villainess taking over Camelot will always sort of appeal to me. I love tragic villainesses, and I don’t get enough of them, especially not in modern fiction, and the ones I do get hardly ever exactly satisfy me. So yes, screw it, I do like this. Guinevere staring broodily out windows and killing people and taking over Camelot. Give me more of this, please.

Did you know about these two having a relationship? Do you like either of these two characters? What’s your trashiest ship, mythological or modern?

Le Morte D’Arthur, book 1, part 2

My ten-year-old sister drew this. It’s of Uther, Ulfius, and Merlin all trying on different masks to try and disguise themselves so they can sneak into Igraine’s castle.

I swear I got depressed just reading this part, but you can’t exactly skip over it, so here we go. Igraine, we love you and you deserved better than this. I hope you got a happy ending. (I mean, we’ll never know, because Malory doesn’t tell us, but whatever I’m not upset /s)

Last week I made the mistake of looking up exactly how many chapters there were in this book, and…let’s just say I had a mini existential crisis. I forgot how long this book was, oh my God. Let’s just say we’re going to be doing this for a while. o_o (Also, on that note, I need to find some way of getting all of this organized, maybe make a separate page for it or something, but we’ll see about that.) Anyway, onto the story!

~~~

Then Ulfius was glad and rode on more than a pace until he came to King Uther Pendragon and told him he had met with Merlin. ‘Where is he?’ said the king.

‘Sire,’ said Ulfius, ‘he will not dwell long.’ Then Ulfius was aware that Merlin stood at the porch of the pavilion’s door. And then Merlin was bound to come to the king.

When King Uther saw him, he said he was welcome. ‘Sire,’ said Merlin, ‘I know all your heart, every part. So you will be sworn unto me as you be a true king anointed, and to fulfill my desire, you shall have your desire.’ Then the king swore upon the four evangelists. ‘Sire,’ said Merlin, ‘this is my desire. The first night that you shall lie with Igraine, you shall have a child with her, and when it is born it shall be delivered to me to nourish as I shall have it. For it shall be to your worship and the child’s profit, as great as the child is worth.’ [GAH RUMPELSTILTKIN RUMPELSTILTSKIN

EXCEPT SOMEHOW CREEPIER][He’s doing everything for the baaaby][This is a soap opera]

‘I will,’ said the king, ‘as thou wilt have it.’ [And Igraine is given no choice in whether she wants to keep her son or not. Characters like Uther make me done with life]

‘Now make you ready,’ said Merlin. [And I’ll be honest with you, characters like Merlin, too? I didn’t grow up with the T.H. White stories, which I think are in part responsible for a lot of the affection people feel for the character today.] ‘This night you shall lie with Igraine in the castle of Tintagel, and you shall be like the duke her husband, Ulfius shall be like Sir Brastias, a knight of the duke’s, and I will be like a knight that is called [*squints*] Sir Iordanus, a knight of the duke’s. But be careful that you do not make many questions with her or her men, but say you are diseased and so hasten to bed, and rise not in the morn until I come for you.’ [I assume ‘diseased’ does not mean the modern sense of the word? Maybe something like ‘slightly sick’ or ‘tired’? But then you never know, Lancelot slept with Guinevere when he had blood pouring out of his hand and he didn’t even notice.] [Also, I AM QUESTIONING ULFIUS’ NOBILITY.] So this was done as they devised.

But the duke of Tintagel saw how the king rode from the siege of Tarabyl, and therefore that night he issued out of the castle at a postern for to have distressed the king’s host. And so through his own issue the duke was slain before the king ever came to the castle of Tintagel. [*mutters to self* A postern is a small side door in the castle…I forgot that after looking it up yesterday. Maybe I should just start putting it down as ‘side door’ so I stop being perpetually confused? But then, if not a perpetually confused moth, what am I?]

So after the death of the duke King Uther lay with Igraine over three hours after his death, and begat Arthur on her that night. And Merlin came to the king at day and bade him make ready, and so he kissed the lady Igraine and departed in all haste. [I feel awful reading what happened to Igraine, I’m serious] But when the lady heard tell of the duke her husband, and that by all records he was dead before King Uther came to her, then she marveled who that might be that lay with her in the likeness of her lord.

Then all the barons by one assent prayed the king to make peace between the lady Igraine and him, and the king gave them leave, for he would be pleased to make peace with her. So the king put all his trust in Ulfius [Oh, look, my favorite character. >:-( ] to entreat between them, so at last the king and she met together because of the entreaty.

‘Now will we do well,’ said Ulfius. ‘Our king is a lusty knight and wifeless, and my lady Igraine is a passing fair lady. [‘lusty’ means passionate, I think?] It would bring great joy unto us all and it might please the king to make her his queen.’ [He’s talking to the barons.] Unto that they all agreed and moved it to the king. [Mate!! Why!! Does Ulfius!! Even care!! What’s at stake in it for him?]

And immediately, like a lusty knight, he assented thereto with good will, and so in all haste they were married in a morning with great mirth and joy. [WAS IGRAINE SHARING IN THAT JOY WITH YOU *chokes on swear words*] And King Lot of Lothian and of Orkney wedded Morgause that was Gawain’s mother, and King Nentres of the land of Garlot wedded Elaine. [Why all the Elaines though?] All this was done at the request of King Uther.

And the third sister Morgan le Fay was put to school in a nunnery, and there she learned so much that she was a great clerk of necromancy. [I LOVE THIS. I’M JUST ENVISIONING ASSASSIN NUNS RIGHT NOW AND IT IS AMAZING.] And afterwards she was wedded to King Uriens of the land of Gore, that was Sir Yvain’s le Blanchemain’s father. [That is the Sir Yvain, the knight with all the cute animals and the magic ravens. Morgan was his mother in this story, and sadly, I don’t remember him making much more than a cameo? I don’t remember the lion (or the magic ravens) showing up in here. Which makes me very sad. But we’ll see!]

~~~

Even though Malory never specified what happened to Igraine, I have to say I love Chretien’s version where Gawain just found her and Morgause chilling in a magic castle twenty years after they faked their death. (Yeah, Chretien’s version of the grail story was delightfully weird and I wish he had finished it.) Both she and Morgause had to go through so much, and I love an ending for them where they’re able to get away from the people who hurt them and leave all of that behind. And live in a magic castle. The best happy endings involve magic castles.

Do you like Morgan and Yvain (plus his cute pet lion)? Do you hate Uther as much as I do? Do you think Igraine got her magic castle in the end? Do you like the story so far?

Thomas the Rhymer

Thomas the Rhymer is one of my favorite Scottish ballads. It has a lot of things going for it: Thomas is a fairly nice man who is not squatting on other people’s property; no one has sacrificed seven princesses; and there are no crows who discuss pecking out a dead person’s eyes. (I fully admit I love those ballads. But sometimes it’s nice for a break?) Instead, we have an excellent fairy queen and a fully consensual relationship. And do you know how rare it is in a fairy tale for a relationship between a fey and a human to work out? It’s kind of rare.

Anyway, the story opens with Thomas the Rhymer lounging on ‘Huntlie bank’, wherever that is, presumably enjoying his day and not expecting to get accosted by random fairy queens. Of course he does, because this is a ballad. The fairy queen comes riding up to him on a white horse, with fifty-nine silver bells hanging from each lock of its mane. That is a blinged-out horse.

Thomas mistakes her for the Virgin Mary, because he knows she’s at least not earthly, and greets her as such. She explains that she is the queen of the fairies, not the Virgin Mary, and that she has come to visit him. Thomas is remarkably chill about this.

She asks him to kiss her, and I love this part of the poem so much I’m quoting it:

‘Harp and carp, Thomas,’ she said, ‘Harp and carp along wi me, And if ye dare to kiss my lips, Sure of your bodie I will be.’

Thomas, who at this point I’m pretty sure is crushing hard, does so, and she tells him that he must go with her to fairyland for seven years. Um…maybe going from ‘we just met’ to ‘let’s elope together’ is moving kind of fast? But it’s a fairy tale, what do I expect. She pulls him up onto her horse and gallops off with him, until they come to a desert. She stops there to rest and gets down from her horse, and points out three roads to Thomas. One of these roads is narrow and thorny, and is the path of righteousness, though not many choose it; one of the roads is broad and is the path of wickedness, though some call it the road to heaven; and one of them is a bonny road that winds across a woody hillside, and that is the road to fairyland, where they are going.

After she explains this to him, she tells him that he must not speak a word while in fairyland, or else he’ll never be able to get back to his own country. So, it’s like reverse-gender Ariel, except without the chronic pain! (And yes, Ariel had chronic pain after she was turned into a human, in the Hans Christian Anderson story. I’m a little annoyed at Disney for not including that.) Also, I don’t remember seeing this rule about not speaking in any other fairy tale? As far as I remember, it’s an anomaly to this one. But I could be wrong, of course.

And then they ride on, riding through blood-filled rivers, and no that is not a typo. And I’m quoting this, too:

“O they rade on, and farther on,

And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,

And they saw neither sun nor moon,

But they heard the roaring of the sea.

It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light,

And they waded thro red blude to the knee;

For a’ the blude that’s shed on earth

Rins thro the springs o that countrie.”

And finally they come to a garden, where an apple tree grows. She picks an apple and gives it to Thomas, explaining that it will give him a tongue that cannot lie, which sounds like a curse as well as a gift, honestly. Interestingly, in other versions she explicitly tells him not to pick the apple, because apparently the tree is the tree of knowledge? I have no idea which version is older. Anyway, Thomas demurs for a little bit, I think because it’s too great of a gift, but I’m not sure because Scottish English is hard. But she insists, and of course she has her way. And the poem ends with,

He has gotten a coat of the even cloth, And a pair of shoes of velvet green, And till seven years were gane and past True Thomas on earth was never seen.

Green is a color traditionally associated with fairies, and the ‘being kidnapped for seven years’ thing is also fairly common in these folktales, according to Lady Wilde. (I love Lady Wilde’s book. It’s a great resource on Irish folklore. Seriously, go check it out if you haven’t already.) According to Wikipedia, there is also a version where the fairy queen tells Thomas that she can’t keep him for longer than seven years or else she’ll be forced to sacrifice him in the teind to hell, but I can’t find that one. I feel kind of cheated.

Interestingly enough, Thomas was based on a real person, named Sir Thomas de Ercildoun (no telling if he ever eloped with the fairy queen, though). He was a Scottish laird and prophet from Earlston, living in the thirteenth century. There was a romance written about him in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, which this ballad comes from. There isn’t really any telling as to how old this poem is, as the earliest one they’ve found has been from the eighteenth century, but ballads and folktales are often much older than when they were first written down, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it dated back at least to the renaissance.

There are plenty of folktales about kidnapped brides, but it’s far rarer to find a folktale about a kidnapped bridegroom (the only one I can think of right off the bat is Tam Lin), and rarer still where it is actually totally consensual? I am loving this. I mean, I don’t mind Beauty and the Beast type stories, or stories where the fairy king decides to kidnap yet another pretty human girl and is certain that this time nothing will go wrong (spoiler: something always goes wrong). But an actually healthy relationship between a fairy and a human that is 100% consensual and doesn’t end tragically? Sign me up.

Sources: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch037.htm (This has four different versions of the poem, and my favorite is the last one)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Rhymer

https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/ali/index.htm

Did you like this story? What’s your favorite folktale involving a romance (one-sided or no) between a fairy and a human? Heck, what’s your favorite folktale involving fairies?