Good afternoon and welcome back to Six Degrees of Kool Books once again. This is the book-hopping, character-relating, genre-defying game that DJ and I play every week – and you are welcome to join in any time you like! It’s also a fun way to recommend (or not recommend, as the case may be) books that you have read in a somewhat original way. If you are curious about how it works and how you can join in the fun, please see the Six Degrees Home Page.
Nope, that’s not a typo up there. In his post last week, DJ took us from The Ranger’s Apprentice to Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte de Arthur. And… well… you see… I’m kind of a King Arthur buff. He’s such a fantastic character, and Six Degrees is set up in such a way that this was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Thus, I’m going to take you from Malory’s King Arthur to Stephen R. Lawhead’s King Arthur from the Pendragon Cycle. This may have been the very first Fantasy series I ever read on my own. Some friends of my parents let me borrow the first three books: Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur when I was in junior high and I devoured the first one. I re-read it over and over. I didn’t really enjoy Merlin or Arthur back then, but came to appreciate them in high school, especially after reading Grail and Pendragon. In college I finally read Avallon… which I thought was a stand-alone, but realized after a few chapters that it was a sort of end-cap to the Pendragon Cycle, which was neat. It also is the series that sparked my life-long love of all things King Arthur related, and for that I am eternally grateful. (It is also my personal opinion that it is the best representation of Arthur and the people around him, but that’s just me).
Anyway, on to the characters. There are a lot of characters in this series, so I’m just going to touch on the main ones. I apologize in advance if this is a bit shaky, it’s been many, many, many years since I read this series – especially the first three books.
The series begins in a rather unexpected place: Atlantis with Princess Charis. A stubborn, willful child, Charis rebels against her father’s wishes and becomes a “bull dancer” (I can’t remember if that’s the correct term or not. It is a dangerous, but holy position. I always pictured it sort of like a bull-fighter/figure-skater (except without skates). She is intelligent and even described as cunning, though she cares deeply for others. She is troubled by the prophecies foretelling doom for her land, though she appears to be the only one who believes them. Because of her belief and quick wits, she is able to save a handful of her people and get them to safety in Great Britain when Atlantis sinks. She finally reconciles with her father King Avallach, who started out the story as a strong king who fights for his people. However, when Atlantis sinks, so does its king, into a deep sort of despair – even wrongfully accusing Charis at one point of being responsible for the destruction of his kingdom and basically disowning her. By the end of the book, however, he realizes his error and they reconcile.
Meanwhile, across the pond in Great Britain, a baby boy named Taliesin is discovered abandoned. He is raised by a young Welsh chieftain and trained by a druid. I can’t remember exactly why, but there is a prophecy about Taliesin foretelling that he will become the wisest and greatest bard/druid in the land.
Taliesin and Charis eventually meet when they are older and they fall in love, get married, and have a baby…. who they name Merlin. Merlin becomes a main character throughout the rest of the series, of course. This is where Lawhead twists things around a bit: Merlin follows the teachings of Christ, using that as the basis for the wonders he performs. He is also shunned by the other druids who then see him as a heretic. He raises the young boy Arthur in secret, training him to become the High King and take his place on the throne and usher in the Golden Age. Just, brave, kind, heroic, regal, and chivalrous, Arthur is everything you’d want in a leader.
Many of the expected characters appear throughout the series.
Gwenhwyvar - who sort of tricks Arthur into marrying her (which annoys Merlyn greatly), she is an Irish Princess and ends up being a loyal, loving, and extremely faithful wife to Arthur. She eventually earns Merlyn’s approval. The main reason I love this version is because of Gwenhwyvar and her faithfulness. Lancelot does make an appearance in the form of Llenlleawg, an extremely talented Irish warrior and Gwenhwyvar’s champion. He earns the respect of Arthur and his men, is brave and true. He is later seduced by Morgaws (Morgain’s daughter) into betraying Arthur and he steals the Grail and kidnaps Gwenhwyvar. Eventually he realizes he was duped and returns to Arthur, who exiles him to Ireland with the understanding that he must earn back the trust he has lost.
That leads us to one of the main villains throughout the story, Morgain, who is Charis’ half-sister. She also fell in love with Taliesin, and her jealousy knows no bounds when Taliesin chooses Charis. She turns to her mother’s pagan beliefs and hones her own dark magic, pledging her undying enmity with Taliesin’s line (Merlin) and works at cross-purposes to him throughout the series.
Other than that, there are, of course, Arthur’s knights – I’m not going to talk about them all here, but a few of them are worth mentioning:
Bedwyr is Arthur’s best friend and the one most likely to know what Arthur’s plans are. Super loyal and stalwart, Bedwyr is the sort of right-hand man every good king needs.
Gwalchavad is the purest of heart of all Arthur’s men. He is one of the few who gets to see the Grail in its most holy form and becomes one of three guardians for the relic.
And that is all I can remember (I had to look up a bunch of stuff to even give you that much… it’s really been too long, I should re-read this series). I hope you enjoyed this little overview of one of my favorite fantasy series of all time!