Every story must have its heroes and its villains. A story with only good guys would be quite a yawner (and a world with only good girls would be a sorry place indeed).
I’ve not treated Guinevere kindly, I’m afraid. That didn’t exactly happen by design. When I was researching Morgan le Fay for Strange Bedfellows, I came across the following fact from an article on the literary tradition of Morgan.
Her enmity towards Guinevere has its origin in the Vulgate Lancelot, where Morgan is having an affair with Guiomar, Guinevere’s cousin, and Guinevere puts an end to it.
As Morgan’s story unfolded in Strange Bedfellows, she arrived at Arthur’s court innocent at the age of 37. How is that possible? She was sent to a nunnery (where there were no men, needless to say) at age 12 to protect her from the lustful designs of her stepfather Uther. Four years later she managed to escape, only to stumble into the land of Faerie. She stayed there 17 years, learning much about magic (and more) . . . but no men. And of course on Faerie you don’t age, so when she escapes at age 33, she still looks 16. She is rescued by the Lady of the Lake and spends 4 years on Avalon, polishing her skills as a witch . . . but still no men.
So, eager for love, she falls for Guinevere’s cousin Guiomar. But Guinevere is jealous, first because Morgan is as beautiful as she is, and second because she looks younger and fresher (although she is in fact 14 years older). Guinevere stops the romance, and arranges her marriage to the 50 year old widow, King Uriens. Of course you all know, in the Rusty legend of Arthur, Uriens is a pig of a husband and a brutal wife abuser.
Guinevere continues her role as the heavy when Morgan survives her marriage to Uriens and becomes Queen of Gore. Guinevere, now even more jealous because she is showing her age while Morgan is not, persuades Arthur to appoint a regent to rule Gore on behalf of Morgan’s son, Yvaine. These incidents appear in both Strange Bedfellows and Kaffka, the Holy Grail, and a Woman that Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay.
In my Arthuriana reading experience, Guinevere first appears as a serious heavy in The Mists of Avalon. In that work, she is a staunch and often mindless advocate of the new religion, Christianity. Morgan is a high priestess of the old religion which worships the goddess.
And now to the point of this blog (I’m sure you were wondering):
I just finished a novel about Guinevere, Beloved Exileby Parke Godwin. Years ago I read Firelord, the first novel in a series of three. Morgan is a queen of the little people, the dark small ancient race that lives in barrows under the earth, is close to nature, fears iron, and is akin to fairies and pixies. She is killed by Guinevere when she comes to court with her son by Arthur, Mordred. Firelord was a very imaginative telling of the legend. But I never saw another book by him, and sort of forgot about it.
Then my book group read another book by Godwin, Waiting for the Galactic Bus. This is a pseudo-Sci Fi romp that I enjoyed very much. But it had been out of print for years, and I had to search to come up with a copy.
Duh! This is 2014. You can find any book you want, idiot (I’d read Firelord back before Amazon was a going concern. So I ordered up Beloved Exile, the last book in the series The Last Rainbow, as well as Sherwood, a book on Robin Hood.
And then, after all that, I couldn’t get into Beloved Exile. I couldn’t stand Guinevere. The book begins just after the death of Arthur, with Guinevere trying to keep the throne of high king of England. She is a self-absorbed bitch, obsessed not only with preserving Arthur’s legacy but also her own privilege. And on top of that, she whines.
But I stuck with the book, since I had gone to so much effort to acquire it. Guinevere is captured by Saxons and works as a slave for the English for a decade. Learning humility in the process–fortunately; can’t think of anyone who needed it more. Redeemed by the end of the book, although no longer queen.
Having spent as much effort as I have redeeming Morgan, I’m afraid Guinevere might be out of reach in Rusty’s legend of Arthur. But perhaps not. Maybe she can be redeemed somewhat there too. I think the last chapter of Kaffka, the Holy Grail, and a Woman that Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay at least begins the process.