One of the features of contemporary Arthurian fiction is that it almost always has some twist to the “standard” story. At this point, the canon is so broad that it’s almost impossible to say what the standard story is. But the mainstream saga that runs through Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Chretien de Troyes’ romances, and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King we’ll call the main branch. In very brief summary:
Arthur is the son of Uther, taken away by Merlin at birth, raised by Sir Ector. Arthur claims his birthright by pulling the sword from the stone, becomes the “high king of England,” establishes the company of the round table and a kingdom based on “right makes might” rather than the other way around. His wife Guinevere has an affair with his greatest knight and best friend Lancelot. Arthur has an illegitimate son, Mordred, with his half sister Morgause, through magic and/or deception (before he is married). The young knights, led by Mordred, eventually expose the affair, split Lancelot off from the company of the round table, and fight the battle of Camlan. Everyone dies or is grievously wounded. Arthur is taken away by the Lady of the Lake to the isle of Avalon, to “rest and heal until the world once more has need of heroes.”
So how does Rusty’s World of Arthur compare? That answer would comprise a dozen very long posts. But here we’ll at least identify the characters that are SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT than the standard version.
Guinevere: always a complex character. Why does she have an affair with Lancelot? A lot of ink has been spent on the mind and motivations of Guinevere. She is complex in Rusty’s world too, but a lot more petty than usual. She is irrationally jealous of Morgan and intentionally does her harm twice: getting her married off to the cruel Uriens, and insisting that Arthur appoint a regent to rule Gore in her stead while her son comes of age. You’ve seen a lot of this story in Strange Bedfellows; more will come in Kay’s Saga.
Morgan le Fay: Morgan was a healer in the original Welsh versions of the story, but by Malory she’d become thoroughly evil. In our world, however, she is far more balanced. She was one of the main characters, and I would without qualification use the word “hero,” of Strange Bedfellows. A sympathetic character, although some have said that the possession of others, including Amy, is an inherently evil act.
Nimue: In the standard version, Nimue seduces Merlin and/or causes him to fall in love with her, learns or steals his magic, and imprisons him for all eternity. In Avalon, S.C., we learn much more of the true story. Nimue is heroic, not evil.
Kay: the butt of many jokes, misadventures, and failed quests in the standard version–with the “soul of an accountant,” as the Steinbeck tales puts it. My Kay is heroic if geeky.
Gawain: a great knight if headstrong, fiery-tempered, hopelessly addicted to women–he remains true to that in my world. Every story needs a Gawain.
Lancelot: Lancelot hasn’t really appeared in any of my stories so far. In Kay’s Saga he is indeed having an extended affair with the queen, but nothing has been revealed about motivation, angst, etc. Not sure it will be before the end–not really important to the story, I don’t think.
George: Well, he’s in the world now. Not mentioned in any of the medieval romances; not sure how they missed him. Perhaps because he didn’t play a significant part in any adventure. But then, there’s always something that needs fixing.
JD: Might he still save Arthur’s kingdom? Unlikely–surely some chronicler would have mentioned him before now if he had. But again, who knows?
More to come on characters. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I’ll also talk in some depth about the time period when Arthur lives in the various accounts.