A treasure chest of relics

By Christophe.Finot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Round Table in the Grand Hall, Winchester, by Christophe Finot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Robert Rouse, Cory Rushton
The Medieval Quest for Arthur
The History Press 2005

Nowadays, a book possibly entitled The Invention of King Arthur might imply subterfuge and forgery. Several centuries ago, when “to invent” would simply mean “to chance upon”, it would instead imply a re-discovery of what already existed. Nowadays we are rightly wary of Arthurian relics such as Arthur’s Tomb at Glastonbury, Arthur’s Seal, Gawain’s skull, Lancelot’s sword and the Winchester Round Table, as objects more likely to be “invented” in the modern sense of “made up” rather than pre-existing. In Caxton’s 15th century, with fewer critical tools at their disposal, people were more inclined to accept such chanced-upon unprovenanced evidence at face value (though then as now there were always doubters and detractors, as the wholesale destruction of saintly relics in the English Reformation was to demonstrate); however, I am of course aware that weeping stuatues and their ilk still excite the credulous in our own time.

Continue reading “A treasure chest of relics”

Mocking conventions from an armchair

frisland
The legendary island of Friesland, located east of Greenland

Diana Wynne Jones
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
Vista 1996

Discover the laws
governing fantasy worlds.
Beware tongues in cheeks.

Helpful tips for travellers to Fantasyland by the late great Diana Wynne Jones, from which I draw a number of conclusions:

(1) Get immunised by reading a wide range of fantasy, both good and bad: you never know what bugs you will be exposed to in Fantasyland.
(2) Remember to have an up-to-date passport: you’ll need either your own unread fantasy novel (preferably with your own bookplate stuck in the front) or a library book with plenty of entry/exit stamps from previous travellers’ visits.
(3) Obtain a visa (a credit card receipt for a fantasy book from your local bookseller will do).
(4) Have the correct currency ready (any bronze, silver or gold coins will do, so long as it makes a nice clinking sound in your purse).
(5) Finally, don’t forget to pack the Tough Guide: you’ll be lost without it. The author has travelled widely in Fantasyland, knows the terrain intimately and generously shares her insights into its attractions, peculiarities, geography and distinct cultures.

Oh, and don’t speak to any strangers down dark alleyways… Continue reading “Mocking conventions from an armchair”

Crisis at the University


Diana Wynne Jones
Year of the Griffin
Gollancz 2003 (2000)

university’s
challenging, no matter what
universe you’re in

Year of the Griffin is set in the same universe as The Dark Lord of Derkholm and their common source The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but, bar a few cross references, works equally well as a standalone. Set eight years after Dark Lord, the story is centred on the young griffin Elda who is in her first year of University. Yes, a student griffin. At a university for wizards. You just know that things aren’t going to be straightforward. Continue reading “Crisis at the University”

A little light on the Dark Ages

K R Dark Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity 300-800 Leicester University Press 1999

Continuity used to be a dirty word for certain old-style archaeologists, wedded as they were to the concept of “waves” of invaders to the British Isles and keen to stave off latter-day druid mystics and leyline enthusiasts. Now the balance has righted a bit, it is good to see attempts to address the likely dynamics of social, cultural, political and religious change in the post-Roman period. Continue reading “A little light on the Dark Ages”

Passionate but not persuasive

Alistair Moffat Arthur And The Lost Kingdoms Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1999

Thank goodness these “lost” kingdoms are not “holy” kingdoms, as is claimed by conspiracy theorists from southeast Wales! At least we don’t have to suffer a rant about secret histories suppressed by the ignorant English and the arrogant establishment familiar from similar “histories”, “true” stories and “final” discoveries.

Instead, the major part of this book is given over to a study of the area between the Walls, both Antonine and Hadrianic, before, during and after the Roman occupation of Britain. Moffat, a native of the Scottish Border country, sympathetically evokes the Celtic tribes (the Damnonii, Novantae, Selgovae and Votadini) who, squeezed between Gaelic, Pictish and Anglian peoples, forged successor kingdoms in the Dark Ages. He is clearly trying to restore a sense of forgotten history to the Lowland Scots and, several quibbles aside (such as projecting back late and post-medieval lore onto the Iron Age and early medieval period, and a lack of caution over placename evidence), I think he is largely successful.

It is, however, when we come to the association of Arthur with this area that the real problems start. Continue reading “Passionate but not persuasive”

Thinly fictionalised unconventionality

E Nesbit The Wouldbegoods Puffin Books 1985 (1900)

Victorian kids
achieve ill when they meant good;
comes right in the end.

Edith Nesbit’s life was certainly unconventional by late Victorian and Edwardian standards, and it’s not surprising that her own childhood experiences and adult observations find themselves thinly fictionalised in her novels, particularly those written for children. Typical is her re-use of names of friends and acquaintances for the names of her characters in The Wouldbegoods. Continue reading “Thinly fictionalised unconventionality”