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Author Topic: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'  (Read 3081 times)

Amphibian

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Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« on: January 17, 2014, 12:47:25 pm »
On recommendation from some folks, I've picked up Mists of Avalon for a read, and am finding it...interesting.  What's puzzling me a bit, though, is that in the foreword MZB makes a comment to the effect of 'I've taken the bits that I thought would make the best story'.  Now, it's definitely an enjoyable yarn (as far as I've got, which is to the start of the third major section), but I'm trying not to fall into thinking of it as literal truth, and, well.  I don't actually know how the legends and myths traditionally go?  So I guess I'm looking for, mmm, discussion and/or enlightenment on which parts of the book match up with other interpretations, and which ones are...unique to this rendition. (At the moment, notably. Is Gwenhyfar usually this much of a...contrarian mess?)

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Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2014, 12:58:31 pm »
Quote from: Amphibian;136712
On recommendation from some folks, I've picked up Mists of Avalon for a read, and am finding it...interesting.  What's puzzling me a bit, though, is that in the foreword MZB makes a comment to the effect of 'I've taken the bits that I thought would make the best story'.  Now, it's definitely an enjoyable yarn (as far as I've got, which is to the start of the third major section), but I'm trying not to fall into thinking of it as literal truth, and, well.  I don't actually know how the legends and myths traditionally go?  So I guess I'm looking for, mmm, discussion and/or enlightenment on which parts of the book match up with other interpretations, and which ones are...unique to this rendition. (At the moment, notably. Is Gwenhyfar usually this much of a...contrarian mess?)

I got maybe a hundred pages in and just can't deal with the secret magical boobie goddess and gender essentialism (which is a kissing cousin of cissexism and transphobia). I can't even comment on the liberties taken with myth, to be honest. The story makes me really uncomfortable and I don't think I can finish it.
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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2014, 01:14:02 pm »
Quote from: Amphibian;136712
](At the moment, notably. Is Gwenhyfar usually this much of a...contrarian mess?)

 
Often, yes.

Weirdly, one of the more accurate retellings of the Arthurian mythos is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (except for the bits that really obviously aren't, and actually, the ferocious bunny is not as far off as you'd think.)

For an overview of the core lit, there's a reader which I would have to be home to look at my copy for, but that includes bits from all the major and most of the minor sources.

I tend to think that Mists is very much a product of its time, and a classic work in the field now, but I don't think it's the be-all-and-end-all of that story. (And in fact, it is not one of my favourite variants of it).

I am glad to expound on the topic at any point, however - hey, the undergrad degree in Medieval/Renaissance studies and especially the course in Arthurian Legends has to be good for something. (The latter means I have, in fact, read most of the major sources and a bunch of the modern ones, though in some cases, 15 years ago now.)
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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2014, 01:16:11 pm »
Quote from: Amphibian;136712
On recommendation from some folks, I've picked up Mists of Avalon for a read, and am finding it...interesting.  What's puzzling me a bit, though, is that in the foreword MZB makes a comment to the effect of 'I've taken the bits that I thought would make the best story'.  Now, it's definitely an enjoyable yarn (as far as I've got, which is to the start of the third major section), but I'm trying not to fall into thinking of it as literal truth, and, well.  I don't actually know how the legends and myths traditionally go?  So I guess I'm looking for, mmm, discussion and/or enlightenment on which parts of the book match up with other interpretations, and which ones are...unique to this rendition. (At the moment, notably. Is Gwenhyfar usually this much of a...contrarian mess?)


I loved the book--one of my favorites--but I don't feel like enough of a scholar of Arthurian legend to be able to give a point-by-point critique of where it departs from the more conventional telling.

I recall devouring the Arthurian legends as a kid, but I can't tell you what version I read back then. In those old tales, Morgain was a fairly one-dimensional villain, and Guinevere your standard virtuous maiden (until she made her big mistake with Lancelot)
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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2014, 01:17:11 pm »
Quote from: Sage;136717
I got maybe a hundred pages in and just can't deal with the secret magical boobie goddess and gender essentialism (which is a kissing cousin of cissexism and transphobia). I can't even comment on the liberties taken with myth, to be honest. The story makes me really uncomfortable and I don't think I can finish it.


I get the sense that 'secret magical boobie goddess' is shorthand for a trope that shows up (frequently?) but am not exactly sure what the signifiers are, as such.  The main driving force I'm seeing from Avalon at this point is Viviane, who...well. HPS, certainly, but there's enough discussion on her flaws that I can't see her on a pedestal, and certainly not as a Perfect Avatar.

The gender essentialism I had...not picked up on explicitly;  am starting to see the outlines now that it's been pointed out. I'm having a hard time imaging the alternative, though, which may only serve to illustrate a lack of imagination on my part.

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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2014, 01:24:45 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;136721
Often, yes.

Weirdly, one of the more accurate retellings of the Arthurian mythos is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (except for the bits that really obviously aren't, and actually, the ferocious bunny is not as far off as you'd think.)


I have only seen it once. It may be time for a rewatch. And a 'start here' reader would be much appreciated.

Quote
I tend to think that Mists is very much a product of its time, and a classic work in the field now, but I don't think it's the be-all-and-end-all of that story. (And in fact, it is not one of my favourite variants of it).

 
Indeed, not the be-all end-all. Part of what fascinates me about it is the very fact of the differences, and what is emphasized and what is left out.  My other major exposure to Arthurian stuff is T.A. Barron's Lost Years of Merlin quintet, which, while interesting in its own way is also covering very different ground from Mists.

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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2014, 06:57:00 pm »
Quote from: Amphibian;136724
I get the sense that 'secret magical boobie goddess' is shorthand for a trope that shows up (frequently?) but am not exactly sure what the signifiers are, as such.

 
Well if I remember correctly the religion in the book looked a lot like neo-Wicca, where said trope often walks hand in hand with wonky history.  Product of its time I guess.

As to Arthurian stuff, I'd recommend Le Morte d'Arthur and The Once and Future King for starters.
My personal contemporary telling is the Warlord King trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, especially the middle book: Enemy of God.  Very dirty and gritty and "real" feeling.
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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2014, 02:08:19 am »
Quote from: Sage;136717
I got maybe a hundred pages in and just can't deal with the secret magical boobie goddess and gender essentialism (which is a kissing cousin of cissexism and transphobia). I can't even comment on the liberties taken with myth, to be honest. The story makes me really uncomfortable and I don't think I can finish it.

Quote from: Amphibian;136724
The gender essentialism I had...not picked up on explicitly;  am starting to see the outlines now that it's been pointed out. I'm having a hard time imaging the alternative, though, which may only serve to illustrate a lack of imagination on my part.


I'm going to go with Jenett and MadZealot on this.

Quote from: Jenett;136721
Mists is very much a product of its time, and a classic work in the field now, but I don't think it's the be-all-and-end-all of that story.

Quote from: MadZealot;136777
Well if I remember correctly the religion in the book looked a lot like neo-Wicca, where said trope often walks hand in hand with wonky history. Product of its time I guess.

 
Even a woman with cis-privilege would be underprivileged for the societal value put to being a woman, and Mists focuses on that issue, and presents the issue in a way that was subversive at the time. MZB interviewed neopagan women who had perhaps found consolation in a faith that centered femininity rather than marginalized femininity. She didn't have Tumblr to tell her that it was problematic to care about their point of view and give a voice to ciswomen and use Secret Magical Boobie Goddess as the lynchpin.

None of us sprung from the womb knowing the vocabulary for the balance of systemic power in the world. It's definitely fair to dislike it for reasons that we can hone in on and articulate better than MZB and her sources, but when I consider that 1. the original myths were a sausage fest for the most part uncriticized for gender essentialism even though that's present and just not highlighted like Mists does by way of counterpoint to those original legends, and 2. we are very very lucky to be able to think this way and talk about this ...then I really appreciate how Mists got out there in the publishing world at all.

Quote from: Amphibian;136712
I'm trying not to fall into thinking of it as literal truth, and, well.  I don't actually know how the legends and myths traditionally go?  So I guess I'm looking for, mmm, discussion and/or enlightenment on which parts of the book match up with other interpretations, and which ones are...unique to this rendition. (At the moment, notably. Is Gwenhyfar usually this much of a...contrarian mess?)


From what I gathered:

- Arthuriana is pretty much a sausage fest, mostly about the knights' adventures, and literary conventions of the time was less about deep psychology epic generational plots and tangling several threads of political intrigue and motives, as it was "kick-in-the-door-and-roll-a-d20"
- I don't think warring with the Saxons was mentioned as often as warring with dragons, weird magic stuff, and hunting magical stags with the other dudebros of the round table
- No political intrigue on the surface, and no emotional angst
- Igraine was a literal trophy wife with no magic powers, the story handwaved consent issues about Uther going to Igraine disguised as her husband
- Guinevere had pretty much no characterization outside of "Arthur's arm candy" then "tragically starcrossed love interest of Lancelot" so shrewish contrarian mess was MBZ's invention
- Morgan Le Fay was a one-dimensional villain, not interchangeable with the lady of the lake, not present for many of the stories she's present for in tMoA, and definitely didn't copulate with Arthur as some holy ritual to preserve noble bloodlines
- Actually, I don't remember reading anywhere how that happened, it was just like, "Werp! Arch nemesis is your incest-baby, saprize!"
- No goddesses and priestesses of the goddess featured, the Lady of the Lake was like a random guest star in a TV series
- The Lady of the Lake did get an axe in her head because one of the knights held a grudge, but that this grudge was impetuously willful misunderstanding was MBZ's backstory
- Merlin was a character, not a title; and magic was more showoffy so Merlin would be like shapeshifting all the time because he thought it was funny
- Nimue wasn't a priestess, and I'm pretty sure she wasn't explicitly said to have been Elaine and Lancelot's daughter so I guess she was just thrown in there
- Lancelot wasn't explicitly stated to have been gay for Arthur and just transferring his affections to Guinevere
- Lancelot wasn't explicitly stated to have been the son of the Lady of the Lake, although his name being Lancelot du Lac was just begging for this spin
- Raven was an invented character
- I don't remember reading much about Morgause outside of her...name, sometimes

The plot is basically, "King Arthur born, wins the sword-from-stone reality contest, is crowned king, dudebros of the round table do cool stuff and maybe some uncool stuff sometimes but they do everything, his queen gets a romantic subplot but it's not with him uh-oh, his incest-baby defeats him in battle and the end".

Everyone, especially Arthuriana scholars, feel free to correct me at every point. I only skimmed Le Mort D'Arthur. Was there a chess game that ended with someone being defenestrated in Malory's? I forget.
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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2014, 04:44:06 am »
Quote from: triple_entendre;136809
I only skimmed Le Mort D'Arthur. Was there a chess game that ended with someone being defenestrated in Malory's? I forget.


Ya know it's been about 20 years since I read it.  It did seem to have either a beheading, an impalement, or a severing-in-twain on every other page, roughly; a little foul play via window isn't totally out of the realm.
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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2014, 07:38:55 am »
Quote from: triple_entendre;136809
Even a woman with cis-privilege would be underprivileged for the societal value put to being a woman, and Mists focuses on that issue, and presents the issue in a way that was subversive at the time.


No, it really wasn't. By the time Mists was published (1983), neither SFF with a feminist perspective, nor feminist/woman-centred reframings of history and prehistory, were at all unusual. (Though MZB, through her earlier works, was one of - several - pioneers of the former.)

Quote
MZB interviewed neopagan women who had perhaps found consolation in a faith that centered femininity rather than marginalized femininity.


Interviewed? Sources please.

Quote
She didn't have Tumblr to tell her that it was problematic to care about their point of view and give a voice to ciswomen and use Secret Magical Boobie Goddess as the lynchpin.


What on earth does Tumblr have to do with it?

Quote
None of us sprung from the womb knowing the vocabulary for the balance of systemic power in the world. It's definitely fair to dislike it for reasons that we can hone in on and articulate better than MZB and her sources, but when I consider that 1. the original myths were a sausage fest for the most part uncriticized for gender essentialism even though that's present and just not highlighted like Mists does by way of counterpoint to those original legends, and 2. we are very very lucky to be able to think this way and talk about this ...then I really appreciate how Mists got out there in the publishing world at all.


You do realize that 'gender essentialism' is not just a longwinded synonym for 'sexism'?

There are a great many feminists (including myself) who would argue that gender essentialism that valorizes the 'feminine essence' and disparages the 'masculine essence' is not in any way an improvement over gender essentialism that does the reverse. In both cases, the problem lies with the assumption that there is an 'essence' - a set of fixed traits, inherent regardless of social conditioning - of which all women, or all men, partake. Simply taking the idea that one of these 'essences' is more virtuous, and turning it on its head so that the other is more virtuous, is scarcely revolutionary thinking. (And positing that such essences are a reality but both are equally virtuous is only slightly more so.)

Being essentialist about gender is not at all necessary to the positive effects you ascribe to Mists. And dismissing the impact of this essentialism on those people who don't conform to the essentialist model by talking about how oppressed gender-conforming cis women is simply Oppression Olympics. The fact of experiencing oppression on one axis does not ever justify or excuse perpetrating oppression on another axis. And doing so supports, rather than challenging, kyriarchy.

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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2014, 02:47:11 pm »
Quote from: triple_entendre;136809
Everyone, especially Arthuriana scholars, feel free to correct me at every point. I only skimmed Le Mort D'Arthur. Was there a chess game that ended with someone being defenestrated in Malory's? I forget.


So, yeah. I can argue with pretty much every point you laid out. (Warning: this post is rather epic. I've tried to format to make it more readable, really.) Yes, the chess match is Malory.

First, there is an awful lot of Arthuriana before Malory. Volumes and volumes of it.

Second, there are a lot of ways in which it is much easier to describe Arthuriana using fanfic terminology, so I'm going to do that.

Malory, put in this context, was writing fanfic having only seen a few episodes of the original show, and mostly making it up from what he gained from other people's fan fic, bits of fan art, and a bunch of metafandom discussion he was mostly drunk for. And frankly, I consider him very much less interesting than a bunch of other sources. Unfortunately, he's the one who sticks in most people's heads.

(This idea is not original to me: I first came across it in a discussion on the blog Making Light that points out that the Grail legends make a lot more sense as Eucharist fanfic.)

Third, it's also important to put the literature in the context of its time. One of the books we used in class is one that I'd highly recommend to anyone wanting to get a solid grounding in the pre-modern Arthurian (it includes Malory, but nothing later.)

The title is The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation, edited by James J. Wilhelm. It looks like there's an updated edition (with Norris J. Lacey taking over as primary editor) in 2013 which has done a lot to include more diverse voices (particularly more works from women) though it's still rather pricy and the 1994 version you can get for $7 used. Anyway, highly recommended if you have any interest in the field, since they include both translated texts and brief and suprisingly readable academic essays putting them in context.

Any one of these piece could produce a dozen dissertations, so I'm going to try and do the very summary version of it. (Which will, of necessity, leave things out. I also note that while this *is* solidly where I did my undergrad degree, including a full semester classes in Arthurian Legends that included reading at least some of all the pre-modern sources available in English at the time, and several other classes that included other bits, that was 15 years ago, and I'm not highly up on the current scholarship.)

The earliest sources and smaller references
We get a few mentions in historical sources of something that might or might not be Arthur, or related to the Arthur of legend, or - well. Anything. Historical sources, often ambiguous and fragmentary.

These include:

- A monk named Gildas in 547 who talks about an Ambrosius Aurelianus who united the fragmentary Britons against the Saxons. (Ambrosius is also mentioned by two other authors around that time). This is probably the earliest seed of "great military leader connected with both Rome and Christianity unites downtrodden people."

(The parallels to some of the historical language about Jesus and the prophecy of a returning Messiah are left as an exercise to the reader. I am not tackling Arthuriana *and* early Christian church theology in the same post, even in summary.)

- The Venerable Bede, writing in 731, mentions Ambrosius again, and more usefully gives us some dates, putting the battle of Badon at 493 (though he's clearly relying fairly heavily on Gildas.

- Nennius, a Welsh chronicler writing in about 800 is the first Latin chronicle to mention the name 'Arthur' in his Historia Brittonum - he mentions the Twelve Battles of Arthur, and a lot of scholars think he was basing that bit on some older Welsh sources. (You see a lot of Welsh stuff showing up with Arthur, in part because Wales is where the Britons got pushed to by the Saxons.) Later in Nennius, it becomes fairly clear that the legend of Arthur is already a fairly common and widely spread myth.

- There are a bunch more sources that mention bits and pieces here - names for specific battles, and in William of Malmesbury's Deeds of the English Kings (written around 1125) he talks about the legends of the heroic Arthur (and makes that Messiah context a bit more explicit.) Also we get the king and the land being tied together here, the precursor to the name Gawain.

- There's also a writer, Giraldus, who when writing in about 1190, gives a description of Arthur's grave at Glastonbury, mentions Queen Guinivere (who is noted as being his *second* wife), and also mentions Morgan le Fay as "the noble matron and lady-ruler of those parts" and as being closely related to Arthur.

Early Welsh sources
Basically, there are tons of references prior to the 12th century. John K. Ballard notes (all my references are in The Romance of Arthur unless I say otherwise), the focus of the surviving texts and stories we have is very much on war, loss, and grief. He also notes that Welsh verse is not narrative, but rather more about allusion than information.

There are lots of references to stories we think we know, but because they're not explicit in the verse (instead, they're references, like "Oh, remember that Apple Superbowl ad?" or "That book about the vampires?" when everyone knows you mean Twilight) it can be hard to work out, nearly 1000 years later, the exact form of the stories being referenced.

Anyway, what we do seem to have a clue about is there are a couple of suriviving references where people are compared to Arthur, as a sort of general standard for heroism and skill in fighting. We also start to see references to names that are clearly later the various knights, once you adjust for Welsh->English naming - Gawain, Bedivere, Kay. Also a reference to Arthur as emperor, and in a poem called The Triads of the Isle of Britain, a bunch of references to sort of common lore of the time about Arthur.

A pause for summary
At this point, we can see there's a lot of war/battle/death references (but that is, well, pretty much what the suriviving sources talk about at all.) We also have references to well-known and powerful women (note how Morgan's referred to as lady-ruler).

And we can see that a lot of the core bits of story go back a fair bit.

Culhwch and Olwen
Our surviving manuscripts here are 14th century, but the actual form of the work is 11th century or so. Basically, young noble Culhwch wants to marry Olwen, her father opposes it (largely because he will die when she marries) and sets impossible tasks, Culhwch goes to his cousin Arthur and gets some Really Excellent Help, and you have a story. (Also a very long list of genealogical naming relationships, but some people find that sort of thing soothing in a narrative.)

At this point, I sort of have to recommend the entire chapter on this in TRoA, because it's just sort of epically descriptive and awesome. (What else can you say about an essay that includes the line "Ethical subtlety cannot be ascribed to a tale in which King Arthur whacks a witch into two tubs of blood."?) But this story in the Mabinogi also refers to Mabon, son of Modron, a lot of cultural baggage hung about with skulls and other bones, a bunch of Welsh Otherworld description and analysis, and a bunch of small references to other parts of the Arthurian mythos.

Geoffrey of Monmouth
His History of the Kings of Britain (written about 1138) has a lot of stuff in it. The trick is, that a lot of what he talks about doesn't appear in other sources. Which is sort of a problem.

He's also writing Trojan fanfic: he ascribes the foundation of the Britons as a nation to Brutus, grandson of Aeneas, yes, that one from Troy, that then culminates in the might and majesty of Arthur, and claims that he's translating a book that no one ever mentions anywhere else into Latin. If you stop thinking of Geoffrey as a historian, and start thinking of him as a fanfic writer writing an alternate universe with the missing gaps of the canon filled in, but actually, he's not all that bad at research when there's research to be used, you'll be in about the right place.

What's in Geoffrey? The birth of Merlin. Red and white dragons fighting each other. Arthur as a destined figure, the child of Uther and Igerna (Igraine) with the latter being fooled into thinking Uther is her husband. The introduction of the idea of noble love or courtly love that shapes a lot of the later medieval pieces.

Some other sources
This is the point at which I suspect many people are about to be going "Wait, there's all this stuff, and we never hear about these names?" Some people are Big Name Fans, and some people aren't, and often the ones who aren't, their stories drop out of the general cultural gestalt. Which is unfortunate.

- Wace, in Roman De Brut has a much more dramatic narrative and humourous and less warlike take - he also includes a bunch of stuff about Merlin. He's also the first person to mention the Round Table. He is vastly more interested in the people than in the fighting. (I'd also argue that while Culwch and Olwen has a lot of brutal violence in it, it also has a bunch of very interesting characterisation, mind you.)

- Layamon's Brut, is the first full account of the Arthur tale in English - it's a 32K line poem that uses Wace and Bede as its primary sources (but since Wace used a lot of Geoffrey, there's a bunch of Geoffrey by inference.)

The French insert a Mary Sue
At about this point, we get a flowering of French Arthurian stuff, notably including Chrétian de Troyes, a bit of Marie de France, and various other sources. As Darkhawk has noted before, and want to give her credit for, this is where Lancelot shows up, pretty much as a heroic Mary Sue self-insert.

(Mary Sue, for people not familiar with the fanfic term, is basically the character who can do everything, whom everyone loves (and often falls madly and passionately for), whose mere presence in the story forces all the gravity to reform around her, rather than the main characters. More at Wikipedia.)

However, where everyone up to this point claimed (and was more or less believed) to be writing history (yes, even with the dragons), Chrétian de Troyes is very clearly writing Story not History.

It's important to remember, though, that the literary conventions of the time are still more about allusion and symbolism and so on rather than pure narrative, so you get a lot of scenes that are alluding to other scenes, or specific cultural references, or making a particular moral point, not just advancing the plot or the development of the characters. (Basically, do not apply 20th century literary analysis to medieval story: it will not end well.)

I also note that Marie de France is pretty much tidy proof that stories centering on women (and complicated women) not only existed but flourished in this time and place.

Tristan and Iseult
We now enter a rather odd spin-off work of the Arthurian myth, which involves the same sort of love-denied thing that turns up with Lancelot and Gwenevere, only with somewhat more reason (a love potion) driving it, and a lot more complexity of implication in some ways. (I admit bias here: I prefer Tristan and Iseult to most Arthur stuff, partly because I particularly adore Béroul's telling and partly because you get more 'what's going on between them' than you do in a lot of Arthur and Gwenevere stuff.)

What's interesting in this spin-off and its related fanfic, is that you get glimpses of Arthur's court, and of the general courtly structure of the fictional world that we're now talking about (because really, nothing quite like what's in the stories probably ever existed). There's several takes on the story - Béroul (who is less courtly) and Thomas of Britain (who is more so) being two of the main ones.

Some more other sources
I'm skimming through here, because space. But basically, you then get some more stuff about Merlin, which gets much more explicitly Christian Allegorical (the Prose Merlin, by Robert de Boron, and the Suite du Merlin whose authorship is a bit more complicated), some more stuff about Gawain, and so on

Gawain and the Green Knight
This is one of the classics - it's still often taught in translation in high school English classes, because it's reasonably accessible. It's written in a dialect of Middle English around the time of Chaucer, but it's a dialect that didn't survive, and that basically, people can't read without extensive training. (Unlike Chaucer, where speakers of modern English can sort of muddle through with a good glossary).

It was written by someone known as the Pearl Poet, for the author's other major work. (I note that Tolkien translated both of these, and they're very readable translations.)

Anyway, it features magic (the Green Knight's head gets chopped off, he is not dead), the green girdle, the magical lady of his castle, and a bunch of complicated allergory. It's a really complicated sort of story: you can read it as allegory, as fantasy, or as realistic narrative of relationships, and all three work (once you allow for the fantasy elements, anyway.) And the lady in question is every bit as full a character as her husband (or, for that matter, Gawain).

Gawain, entirely puzzled for most of it, which really isn't that surprising. There are other stories of this kind out there: Gawain seems a particularly popular figure for additional fanfic.

This is also the point at which you get a lot of the German Grail-quest stories starting to show up, and they're their own weird little eddy of the fanfic universe, picking up on this crossover story between this Arthurian stuff and that Jesus of Nazareth story from a long while back.

Malory's Morte D'Arthur
The first thing to understand about Malory is that he's relying heavily on the French sources, with all their self-insertion. The second is that - as best we can tell - the Thomas Malory who wrote the thing was by no means upholding  the standards of chivalary in pretty much any dimension.

What it is interesting for is that you get an entire cycle of stories in one place, and that - because this is the telling most accessible to people who read modern English, a lot of other stuff got based on it. (Notably, T.H. White's The Once And Future King, but also many many many others.)

The eight parts are:

1. "From the Marriage of King Uther unto King Arthur that Reigned After Him and Did Many Battles"
2. "The Noble Tale Between King Arthur and Lucius the Emperor of Rome" (Arthur against the Romans)
3. "The Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lac"
4. "The Tale of Sir Gareth" (who has been Sir Not Appearing In This Summary. There are lots of those.)
5. "The Book of Sir Tristrams de Lyons" (Tristran and Isolde)
6. “The Noble Tale of the Sangreal” (the Grail quest - and I think this is the first time you see much in English about this, though don't hold me to that)
7. "Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwynevere" (what it says on the tin)
8. "Le Morte D'Arthur" (Arthur's death, and the breaking of the table.

I quote these to point something out - that when we're talking about Arthuriana, there are this *vast* number of only barely-related narratives that interlock and contradict and go different places at different times that have all turned into this conglomeration. Most later authors (as well as the earlier ones) just focus on their favourite season or trilogy, as it were, and often entirely ignore other parts of the plot continuity entirely, or do things that would make later parts of the narrative Just Not Work.

A few concluding notes:
I am not going to get into the post-Malory bits, because this is already entirely long enough, but a few other general points of interest.

- Monty Python and the Holy Grail is, as I mentioned, actually is remarkably accurate to the pre-Malory Arthurian stories. (And Pythonite Terry Jones is actually also an author of a number of books on medieval history and related topics.)

- Any Arthurian movie with Sean Connery in it has problematic stuff on the Arthurian side. I have *no* idea how that works. (I generally like Connery as an actor, just - *every Arthurian movie he did* just sort of sucks.)

- Post-Malory stuff is, well, heavily influenced by Malory. How quickly people forget their roots.
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Emma Eldritch

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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2014, 03:01:46 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;136859
- Any Arthurian movie with Sean Connery in it has problematic stuff on the Arthurian side. I have *no* idea how that works. (I generally like Connery as an actor, just - *every Arthurian movie he did* just sort of sucks.)

 
Although seeing him covered in bronzer and green glitter with antlers as the Green Knight was nothing short of amazing.

More seriously, Jenett, thank you for this amazing post. While I was familiar with some of the non-Malory stuff, I had no idea how much more there is out there. So, yes, thank you!

Darkhawk

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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2014, 03:10:37 pm »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;136860
More seriously, Jenett, thank you for this amazing post. While I was familiar with some of the non-Malory stuff, I had no idea how much more there is out there. So, yes, thank you!

 
Arthuriana: probably the most popular English-language fandom!  A thousand years of fanfic and counting! ;)
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stephyjh

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Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2014, 03:50:32 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;136859

The French insert a Mary Sue
At about this point, we get a flowering of French Arthurian stuff, notably including Chrétian de Troyes, a bit of Marie de France, and various other sources. As Darkhawk has noted before, and want to give her credit for, this is where Lancelot shows up, pretty much as a heroic Mary Sue self-insert.

(Snip)

I also note that Marie de France is pretty much tidy proof that stories centering on women (and complicated women) not only existed but flourished in this time

Warning: biased plug ahead!

This is a pricy one, but Marie de France: A Critical Companion does quite a bit to put her writing in the context of its time. (Full disclosure: I didn't pay for it. One of the authors, Peggy McCracken, is my aunt.)
A heretic blast has been blown in the west,
That what is no sense must be nonsense.

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Amphibian

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Re: Artistic License in 'Mists of Avalon'
« Reply #14 on: January 18, 2014, 10:47:52 pm »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;136860
Although seeing him covered in bronzer and green glitter with antlers as the Green Knight was nothing short of amazing.

More seriously, Jenett, thank you for this amazing post. While I was familiar with some of the non-Malory stuff, I had no idea how much more there is out there. So, yes, thank you!

 
Seconding this.  I will definitely be looking more into...well, all of the bits you mentioned, really. :)

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