Celebrating the Spirit of Arthur and His Knights

Back on Memorial Day weekend, two anthologies containing my stories debuted. I’ve already told you about After Punk: Steam Powered Tales of the Afterlife published by eSpec Books and introduced at Balticon in Baltimore, Maryland. The other anthology is Camelot 13: Celebrating the Spirit of Arthur and His Knights published by Padwolf Publishing and also released at Balticon.

Camelot may be gone but the dream lives on. From King Arthur’s England to the modern world and beyond come 13 tales of the spirit of the Round Table. From noir cases to outer space, from a bionic mermaid to a vampire survivor of the Nazi holocaust, from spies to high school to romance, and even the Holy Grail and Excalibur, these tales put Camelot in places it has never been yet is sorely needed. Join us for these stories celebrating the spirit of Camelot!

In addition to my story, you’ll find tales by Michael A. Black & Dave Case, John G. Hartness, Hildy Silverman, Diane Raetz, Russ Colchamiro, Austin Camacho, Quintin Peterson, Patrick Thomas, D. C. Brod, Susanne Wolf & John L. French, Edward J. McFadden III, and Robert E. Waters. That beautiful cover is by Daniel R. Horne.

My story in the anthology is called “The Power in Unity” and it’s the first new story I’ve written set on the planet Sufiro since the publication of Heirs of the New Earth in 2007. The events of this story take place between the end of part 2 and the beginning of part 3 of The Pirates of Sufiro. In Pirates I mention an incident where the people of the Tejan continent attempt to capture people from the New Granadan continent to work in their mines. When the Tejans attempted to take the New Granadans by force, a lawman named Manuel Raton stopped them at a place named for the final battle of Arthurian legend, Camlan Pass. This is the story of how Camlan Pass got its name. The story of Manuel Raton and Mary Hill bears a striking resemblance to the story of Mordred and Arthur.

My tale was inspired by the tale of Mordred and Arthur as told in The History of the Kings of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth. In that story, Mordred married Guinevere while Arthur journeyed across Europe. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the anthology to see how I twisted this tale from the dark ages into one of interplanetary intrigue, mining rites, and strange aliens with tentacles.

If you weren’t lucky enough to pick up a copy of the book at Balticon, you can order copies from me at: http://www.hadrosaur.com/collections.html#Camelot13. If you’d like me to sign your copy, just drop me an email and let me know to whom I should sign it. You can find my contact information at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/bio.html

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The Coming of the King

Last week, I finished reading Nikolai Tolstoy’s novel The Coming of the King. Tolstoy draws from such diverse sources as The Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, Beowulf, and the Norse Eddas to tell a story of post-Arthurian Britain through the eye of Merlin. This Merlin isn’t the advisor of Arthur we’ve come to expect from works like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, but rather a shaman living nearly a century after Arthur’s defeat at Camlan.

The book runs the gamut from action, to ribald humor, to surreal visions. I especially loved the fact that one of Merlin’s teachers is the Salmon of Lyn Liw. At times this is a dense and challenging read and I’m not sure I would have gotten as much out of it if I hadn’t read several of the stories of The Mabinogion plus some of the Norse Eddas. Still, I found this a compelling look through the eyes of a Celtic shaman and may have to give this another read in the future.

Tolstoy himself is something of an interesting figure. I gather he’s a distant cousin of Leo Tolstoy. He’s also the stepson of Patrick O’Brien, who wrote the outstanding Aubrey & Maturin series of naval epics set during the Napoleonic wars. Having grown up in Britain, Tolstoy developed an interest in Arthurian literature, and I especially enjoyed his non-fiction book, The Quest for Merlin. That book introduced me to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, which in turn inspired my poem “The Passage of Merlin” which was reprinted at Eye to the Telescope earlier this year.

When I first discovered Arthurian literature and started processing it, I had a vision of creating a work similar in scope to Tolstoy’s The Coming of the King. I envisioned telling the ultimate Arthurian tale. Of course, many far-more-noted authors have also done so, ranging from Mark Twain to John Steinbeck to the aforementioned T.H. White. Tolstoy sidestepped the trap of writing “yet another Arthurian fantasy” by writing about people who lived a generation or two after Arthur and were influenced by his legacy.

I’m often asked how an author can create fantasy that isn’t derivative of the epic fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien or the sword and sorcery of Robert E. Howard. One answer is simply to read the classics. The ones Tolstoy drew from are good choices. Grimm’s fairy tales are also good choices. In that way, a writer can get to the roots of fantasy. From that basis, you can start adapting the themes and types of characters to situations and locations that mean something to you.

My first professional fantasy (and steampunk) sale was a story I was moved to write after reading Moby Dick and then Ray Bradbury’s accounts of writing the novel’s screenplay. I replaced sailing ships with airships and whales with dragons and wrote “The Slayers” which was published in Realms of Fantasy. You can learn about the reprinted edition at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/slayers.html.

As for Arthurian legends, I had a lot of notes and ideas and wrote some stories. I added vampires and my love of the movie Nosferatu and melded it into Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. You can learn more about the novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Of course, a lot of these old stories can be dense and a challenge to follow. One of the ways I dealt with that was by retelling the stories in my own words and finding the parts that were important to me and emphasizing them. I felt brave enough to record one of those retellings and put it up for sale several years ago. It’s my retelling of Culhwch and Olwen from The Maginogion.

I was really fortunate that the story also captured the imagination of a co-worker from Kitt Peak named Kevin Schramm, who also played accordion for an outstanding band called The Mollys. Kevin and Mollys lead singer Nancy McCallion were kind enough to record some music for my reading. You can find out more about the recording at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/cando.html. Just one word of caution if you go to buy the audiobook at Amazon, make sure to go to the Marketplace sellers and buy it from Hadrosaur Productions, and not the person who thinks they can get more than $600 for my recording. It would be nice if they shared some of their profits with me if they actually managed to sell the CD for that price!

Arthurian Poetry

On Saturday, I discussed some of the history and prose that helped to give rise to the King Arthur legend we know today. As it turns out, Arthur has a long poetic history as well.

It appears that one of the earliest, Welsh literary references to Arthur is in the poem “Y Gododdin,” attributed to the poet Aneirin. It’s unclear when exactly when this was written, though I’ve seen it suggested it dates back to the seventh century. The manuscript we have is from the thirteenth century. In the poem, Aneirin praises the warrior Gwawrddur of the Gododdin tribe, but appears to hold Arthur in even high esteem.

Another early poem is “Brut” by Layamon written circa the year 1200. It appears to be a poetic adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Another poetic adaptation of Geoffrey’s Arthur story is the poem “Morte Arthure” written circa 1265 by an unknown poet.

The poet Chrétien de Troyes wrote several poems about Arthur’s knights in the twelfth century including “Yvain, the Knight of the Lion”, “Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart”, and “Perceval, the Story of the Grail.” The poetry of de Troyes and the poem “Morte Arthure” likely had a strong influence on Sir Thomas Mallory when he penned “Le Morte d’Arthur” in the fifteenth century.

As with two of the early poets I’ve mentioned, I’ve been strongly inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth. As it turns out, Geoffrey wrote two books related to Arthur and Merlin. The first and most famous is History of the Kings of Britain. His other work is called The Life of Merlin. In History, Geoffrey associates Merlin with Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. However, in The Life of Merlin, Geoffrey associates Merlin with the Welsh king Gwenddoleu and the poet Taliesin who likely would have lived over a century after Uther Pendragon. Geoffrey himself hand-waves this by suggesting Merlin has lived a long time and I wonder if this is the origin of the idea of Merlin living backward in time.

Two of my poems inspired by Geoffrey’s works appear in the current issue of the webzine Eye to the Telescope published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. As it turns out, Geoffrey’s History is not just the story of King Arthur—though Arthur’s story takes up the lion’s share of the book. It’s also the story of Arthur’s ancestors. One of those is about a fellow named King Coel. I’ve seen some suggestions that Geoffrey’s King Coel is the inspiration for the King Cole of the nursery rhyme. “Old King Cole was a merry old soul and a merry old soul was he.” I admit many dispute this, but it still inspired me to play with Geoffrey’s telling of the King Coel story in the form of nursery rhyme.

My other poem in the collection is a revised version of a poem I wrote several years ago. It’s called “The Passage of Merlin” and combines stories found in “The Life of Merlin” with stories from “History of the Kings of Britain to create a picture of a more dynamic Merlin than the trope of an old man in wizard’s robes that we’ve grown accustomed to.

You can read my poems plus other great Arthurian poems by such folks as Mary Soon Lee, Marge Simon, F.J. Bergmann, and Vince Gotera at: EyeToTheTelescope.com

Revisiting Excalibur

As the year began, Lachesis Publishing decided to put the ebook of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order on sale for 99 cents through January 21. Because of that, I’ve been thinking back to some of the inspiration for the novel.

I’ve long been a fan of Arthurian lore. In many ways, that fandom began back during my university days soon after watching John Boorman’s film Excalibur. After the film, I remember hot debate about how closely the film followed the “true” legend of King Arthur. I found myself wondering what exactly people meant by “the ‘true’ legend of King Arthur.” Soon after that, I was at a used bookstore in Albuquerque where I found a book with the historical and early literary texts that were the root of the Arthur legend. This opened up a whole new world to me and told me that the Arthur story is far more nuanced than I originally thought.

What most people think of as the “true” story of Arthur is based on the novel Le Morte d’Arthur written by Sir Thomas Mallory in 1485. It includes many of the familiar elements of the story including Arthur pulling the sword from the stone to become king, the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the quest for the Holy Grail. It’s also written approximately a thousand years after the historical Arthur would have lived. It’s built up from numerous folk tales Mallory would have known and put together into a single narrative. In fact, the sword in the stone, Lancelot, and the Holy Grail don’t appear in the earliest Arthur narratives.

As it turns out, the earliest Arthurian history from a Welsh monk named Nennius can be summed up as: “Arthur was a warlord who won many battles against the Saxons, until he finally defeated them at Badon Hill.” Even this version of the story wasn’t written until almost three or four hundred years after Arthur would have lived. Since that time, numerous folk tales developed. Many are reminiscent in tone to the tall tales of Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan from the American frontier. I’ve read speculation that Lancelot started as the star of his own set of French Celtic folk tales and was then grafted onto the Arthur stories. Others say he has antecedents in minor characters from the earlier Celtic stories of Arthur.

This past week, I watched Excalibur for the first time in about twenty years. Admittedly, it’s been about fifteen years or so since I last read Le Morte d’Arthur, but it struck me that the movie did a tolerably good job following the plot of Mallory’s novel. Many have criticized the movie for its depiction of Arthur and his knights in bright, shiny armor. However, it struck me that this is a valid interpretation of Mallory, in much the same way as it would be valid to present a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with characters in Elizabethan garb. One can make a case it’s the way it would have been visualized by audiences at the time of the novel’s release.

Back when I wrote Vampires of the Scarlet Order, one of the characters mentioned that the vampire Drake was, “a British peer, a Dragon serving King Ambrosius.” The character goes on to explain “Ambrosius was King of the Britons before King Arthur. This was all around the year 480 A.D.” When I decided to write Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order which tells Drake’s origin story, I thought it would be fun to explore what I’d learned about Arthurian history and lore.

As an author, I put together some of my favorite ideas and pet theories of what the “true” King Arthur story was like. I knew people would expect to see Lancelot so I created a reason for him to be there, yet “erased” from history. It was a fun exercise and we also travel to other points in history as well. We go to ancient Greece and to England just after the Norman invasion. The novel ends in Mallory’s time in Eastern Europe where a certain famous nobleman often associated with vampires is coming to power. You can pick up Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order as an ebook at the following retailers. But hurry, the 99 cent special ends this weekend!

Dragon’s Fall – On Sale

The ebook edition of my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order is on sale for just 99 cents from today through January 21. This is my novel that tells the origin story of the Scarlet Order vampires.

The novel opens in Hellenistic Athens, when the slave Alexandra is sold to Theron, a mysterious banker who is never seen during the day. As time goes on, she notices that slaves called upon to serve Theron in his chamber at night do not return the next morning. When Alexandra’s turn comes, she learns Theron is a vampire who takes his pleasure with the slaves, then drinks their blood. She refuses to be a victim, but as she fights his embrace, Alexandra ingests some of Theron’s blood and becomes a vampire herself.

Next we meet Desmond, a dragon lord in the service of King Ambrosius in Britain of the year 480. He longs for the king’s daughter, the beautiful Guinevere. However, her heart belongs to the king’s young ally, L’ancelot. When Desmond and his friend Arthur are sent to battle Saxon invaders, Desmond is mortally wounded. He is saved by Wolf, a vampire who is seeks the Holy Grail in hopes that it might bring salvation to their kind. Desmond knows he and Wolf cannot find the Grail alone. He returns to court where he finds that Guinevere is pledged to Arthur but still longs for L’ancelot. Now king, Arthur is anxious to remove L’ancelot from court for a time, so he agrees to Desmond’s request for aid in the search for the Grail cup.

A century later, Desmond’s quest carries him to Constantinople and there he meets Alexandra. He persuades her to join him on his quest and the two fall in love. However, Desmond is unaware that another vampire lurks in the shadows. The mysterious Roquelaure, whose identity is cloaked even from himself, serves the human underworld as an assassin and also loves Alexandra.

Three vampires forge a bond of love and blood. Together, they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampires. Their ultimate test, though, comes when they’re hired by none other than Vlad the Impaler.

Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order is available for just 99 cents until January 21 at the following retailers:

2016 Election Season

First off, a reminder. I’m at Phoenix Fan Fest this weekend. Drop by the Dark Arts Commics booths A625 and A627 to say hi to me and fellow Las Crucen Daniel Thomas.

Politics and government fascinate me. Because of that, I’m watching this year’s election in the United States closely and I definitely plan to participate by voting. Although politics and social issues do tend to appear in my fiction, I don’t write about them much in this blog. The reason has to do with the power of science fiction and fantasy. These genres allow us to step away from our daily experience and look at things afresh through a new lens. I think that new lens is most effective if the reader doesn’t have a preconceived notion of my stance on issues, so don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sell you on one candidate or another here.

history-of-the-kings-of-britain

A few weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to write a science fictional take on an Arthurian story for a forthcoming anthology called Camelot 13. I love Arthurian legend and delving into some of the oldest versions of the story, such as the version in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Part of my fascination extends to the politics embedded in the legend. In many ways, King Arthur and President Ulysses S. Grant strike me as similar, in that both were arguably great military commanders who had less success as heads of state, in part because they were distracted by the shenanigans of those who surrounded them. This isn’t really the element of the lore I explore in my story, but the science fictional lens lets me look at characters such as Arthur, Mordred, and Guinevere without a lot of the preconceived baggage a lot of readers will bring to those characters. I’m pleased to say the story was accepted and I hope to have more details about the book soon.

Of course, during the political season it’s hard to escape people’s opinions on the candidates or even the process of democracy. One of the most compelling pieces I read was an article the related Discovery Channel host Mike Rowe’s opinions on voting. According to Rowe the only misinformation in the article is that he wrote his words in August and not as a response to the debate. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Rowe says about the right and responsibility of voting. If you’re an American citizen, I do encourage you to go out and vote, but I ask you to perform your due diligence and research the candidates at all levels and evaluate not just their politics but their competence and whether or not they can do duties they’re being elected to perform.

One interesting thing about living in Southern New Mexico is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet some interesting politicians. As an example, I was once called in to jury duty and found myself questioned by the Doña Ana District Attorney of the day, Susanna Martinez. As it turns out, Martinez is now governor of New Mexico and, at least briefly, was bandied about as potential Vice Presidential material. Whether or not you consider Ms. Martinez a serious choice for that role, this experience reminds me that often times our local politicians are the very people who ultimately become our national politicians. Finding competent people for local offices helps to assure that we find competent people for national offices. This is part of why the research element I mentioned is so important.

One of the hallmarks of the United States is that it is a republic and not a monarchy like that of King Arthur. Presidents, congressmen, supreme court justices have power, but ultimately they answer to us. They’re not our bosses. We’re theirs. I encourage you to act like it and hold them accountable by doing your homework and then voting.