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My previous posts cover my research, so far. Now I’m going to delve into some general thoughts about the legend itself–and how it got to be the legend we know.

A legend is defined as “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” But, we know that at least some legends, like the Trojan War, have been shown to have at least some historical basis.

So, some legends may have a kernel of historical truth at their core. Sometimes, it’s a very small kernel. And, sometimes, that kernel is not what most people think of when they think of the legend. If the legend of King Arthur has such a core, I think it is the fight by the Romano-Celtic Britons against the encroaching “Saxons”. In particular, the Battle of Badon Hill, which, in Arthurian tradition, is the decisive battle in which the Saxons were defeated badly enough not to try to take more territory from the Britons for several decades. (“Saxons” seems to be the term used for all Germanic tribes in the legend—even if they were in fact Angles or Jutes, rather than actual Saxons.)

Yes, I know the fight against the Saxons is not what most people think of when they think of the story of Arthur. Many modern versions of the legend either completely ignore the Saxons or dispense with them quite early and get on with the shinier parts of the story—parts that mostly were added later. Because what turns history into legend is that the story grows in the telling.

If that is the origin or core of the Arthur story, then we can place it during the Dark Ages, either in the fifth century or very early in the sixth century. It can’t be earlier than that because the Romans controlled Britannia from the middle of the first century until the beginning of the fifth century. The Romans were really, really good at a number of things—roads, aqueducts, military tactics, and bureaucracy. They kept records and wrote histories, most of which have survived. If the Romans had still been in charge when the Battle of Badon Hill took place, there wouldn’t be any doubt about the site of the battle. At the very least, we’d know what civitas it took place in. And, if there ever was a real Arthur, he’d be mentioned. It also can’t be later, for a couple of reasons. The establishment of the early Saxon kingdoms (other than Kent) spans from the late fifth to the early sixth century. And, besides, we have a mention of the Battle of Badon Hill, placing that battle probably between 470 and 500. That mention is found in Gildas’s On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain.

More about that and what history can be pieced together in my next post.

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Year Ahead

So, now it’s time to set some goals for the year ahead. There’s still a lot of uncertainty out there, but that’s no reason not to try to do better. The reverse, actually.

My main goal will be to try to re-establish some sort of regular writing habit. It doesn’t have to be the way it was before. Maybe it shouldn’t be. But I do need to insert some consistency, some dedicated time that I work on writing . . . something. Even if the current story continues to be sporadic for a while, I need to write something. For now, I’m going to start small. I’m going to shoot for half an hour to start–everyday. No diversions allowed. Half an hour where I have to either write or stare at a blinking cursor. No skipping over to play a game of solitaire. No checking the internet–unless it’s for legit research. Of course, when the story is flowing, I’ll write for much longer than that. But even on the days when it’s not, half an hour. Then, next month, my goal will be a whole hour. And so on until I’m actually making consistent forward progress. That’s the only way I can see to break out of this inertia. So that’s what I’ll do.

Beyond that, continue improving my diet and general fitness.

Read more widely. Try new authors and subjects.

Continue learning new things. I just started an online course about military blunders. Who knows what will come of that.

And have faith that the world will settle into a new normal, probably not exactly the same as before. But less fraught. More comfortable. And next year’s holiday season will be different.

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I’m taking a brief pause from my Arthur-related posts for this week and next to do my usual look back at my goals–and how well I did (or didn’t do) and then ahead to goals for the coming year. See this post.

So, this time last year . . . the world was different, for starters. Anyway . . .

My first goal was to refill my creative well by breaking out of my rut:

  • Stop re-reading my comfort reads and try something new, some new authors.
  • Make more of an effort to break out of my introvert comfort zone, go new places, maybe even meet new people.
  • Start a new fitness routine.

Okay. Well, I did pick up a few new-to-me authors, but, if there was ever a better time for comfort reads, I’m not sure when that would have been. As far as going new places and meeting new people, well, the pandemic and lock down pretty much put paid to that idea. The one item that has been a real success is the new fitness routine. That’s working out really pretty well.

My second goal was new learning to fuel new ideas.

That one, too, has worked out pretty well. (As my last several posts on all things Arthur might indicate.) But I’ve done online courses about a number of other interesting topics, too. Who knows where that will lead in the future.

My third goal was to break through my writer’s block.

I wouldn’t call this one an unqualified success. I am writing again–in fits and starts–but not consistently. Still it’s unfair to beat myself up with everything this year has thrown at us.

Third: Breaking through writer’s block. I’ve bought and started reading one e-book on the subject. Not everything in it will work for me, of course. You can’t expect that. Every writer’s process is different. But picking up some ideas is a good start. There’s another book by a different author I may try after this one.

My fourth goal was to possibly try a new writer’s group.

Yeah, no progress on this one.

My fifth goal was to clean my desk.

Well, yes. More than once. This is the sort of thing that has to be done periodically. Somehow, it just keeps getting messy until I finally do something about it. Pretty clean right now, though.

My sixth goal was to get back into a regular writing routine.

Not . . . yet. Maybe when things get back to some new semblance of order.

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Research

I’ve done it again, haven’t I. Almost a month since my last post. All I can say is that I’ve been head down in research.

And it’s paid off. I now have a shape, a plan for at least the first part of my story that feels . . . if not actually historical, then historically possible. Well, except for the dragons, of course. But they’re kind of the inspiration for my version of the Arthur legend, so the dragons stay.

But I now have a more-or-less historical basis in which to set my story, which won’t resemble the usual tradition in several ways. It simply isn’t plausible for Arthur to be King of all Britain. There wasn’t any such thing until after England and Scotland were joined under one crown–well over a thousand years after Arthur could have existed. There wasn’t even a King of England until Alfred the Great (one of those Saxons whose ancestors Arthur would have been fighting against) at least 300 years after Arthur.

And it’s not really plausible that Arthur was somehow defending all of what would become England, either. So this story is going to have a much smaller geographical reach. But the research has given me a good idea of the general area in which a Vortigern and an Ambrosius might have been operating. And why they might have been enemies. And an idea of where to slot my Arthur into that context. So, we’ll see how this works out. I think I’m even going to figure out how to have Arthur born in Tintagel, though not, of course, in the way Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote it.

This doesn’t mean my research is finished. Far from it. Mostly it’s going to change direction. I need to get more background for the world building. What would these people wear? What kind of houses would they live in? What would they do when they weren’t fighting?

And, I’m probably going to have to do a similar research on the Saxons, but that can come later. For now, I’m ready to carry on with the story.

 

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Another Step

celtic dragon_46947764

Progress so far has been slow on MERLIN’S GAMBIT. But this week for the first time I have made notes in the document of what happens in this chapter and the next. This might not seem like much.

I’m a discovery writer. I don’t outline. Except that I usually have these notes for three to five chapters ahead in my work in process. So, this one is beginning to come to life as more than just a concept and a starting point.

After a long drought, it feels good.

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Sideways Progress

While I continue to stew over various stymied home projects, I have made some progress on MERLIN’S GAMBIT–in a way.

In expanding my research, I came across something that was just too perfect to pass up. But using it meant starting the story a little later. It’s okay, the opening scene actually can be pretty flexible that way. So, I just rewrote a portion of dialog to make it fit the new time period.

Merlin’s Gambit is an alternate history (well, sort of) with dragons. And, well, I’ll just post the historical note that precedes the first chapter:

In the year 383, Britannia had been part of the Roman Empire for nearly four hundred years. Among other things, this meant the Britons enjoyed the protection of the Roman legions against raids by groups the Romans considered barbarians—the Irish from the west, the Picts from the north, and the Saxons from the east. In that year, the commander of the legions in Britannia, a man named Magnus Maximus, was proclaimed emperor by his troops. He took most of the legions with him to the continent to conquer Rome—or at least a significant portion of it. And he succeeded, for a while, ruling Britannia, Gaul, Hispania, and North Africa. Until he tried to add Italy to his domain and in 388 Emperor Theodosius I captured and executed Maximus and his son, though his daughters, Maxima and Sevira, were spared.

Britannia continued as part of the Roman Empire, though with reduced legions, until the year 410. An exceptionally cold winter a few years earlier had caused the Rhine River to freeze over and the barbarians who had been pushing at the northeastern borders of the Roman Empire poured across into Gaul. In 410, under the leadership of Alaric, the Visigoths sacked Rome itself. And the last remaining legions in Britannia were withdrawn, leaving the Britons on their own to defend against renewed raids. Britannia fractured into small kingdoms, echoing the Celtic tribal domains that had existed before the Romans came. But, with the experience of being part of the Roman Empire, they recognized that they needed someone to lead a common defense against the barbarians.

Little real history comes down to us from fifth-century Britannia, but there are legends. So many, many legends. Among them is one that claims that Magnus Maximus had married Elen, a Welsh princess. And that, when he left to make himself emperor, he left the sovereignty of Britannia to her father. Legend also says that Sevira, married a man named or called Vortigern, which, interestingly, means “high king”. Vortigern, though, made a serious mistake and it fell to an even greater legendary figure, Arthur, to preserve Romano-Celtic Britannia for his time.

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Okay, so it took three days, but my computer is up and running–and recognizing me–again. Most of that time was making a backup of all my files before trying anything else. Carbonite backs up up everything, but I’ve not yet tried to download any of those files and a redundant backup on One Drive won’t hurt anything.

After that, the first recommended fix scared me to death, but it worked. Scared me because I know just enough to know that editing the registry is generally a very, very bad idea. But, like I said, it worked.

Now, I’m engaged in trying to find a user manual online for a (apparently) sixteen year old string trimmer. Yeah, no luck so far. I think I need to replace the string but without the user manual . . . .

Next I need to find out what I need to do to fix the really big string trimmer–the one that looks like a lawn mower but isn’t. It was smoking the last time I used it. And, even if it wasn’t really hard to find repair shops, etc., open right now, I don’t stand a snowball’s chance you know where of getting that monster into my trunk or, really, anywhere even a couple of inches off the ground.

Meanwhile, the only grass cutting tool I have is a pair of grass shears.

So far, I have not gotten any more real writing done, but at least I have been thinking about the story.

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Special Event

Escape into a Book event, hosted (online) by the Fellowship of Fantasy.  Free ebooks. If you’re stuck at home during this crisis, at least you can let your imagination get out.

Enjoy. And stay safe.

 

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I think I’m almost ready to start–at least with the dragons’ part of the story. But inspiration has at least been flowing on how that will work–I hope.

Meanwhile, continuing some research on the oldest part of the Arthur legend–which, hopefully, is also the closest to whatever historical persons or events may underlie it.

If there was an Arthur–or someone who did the major thing that Arthur was supposed to have done–it was probably around the year 500.

From the middle of the 1st Century until early in the 5th Century, Britain (south of Scotland) was part of the Roman Empire. In 410, the Roman legions were withdrawn to protect the parts of the Empire closer to Rome from Barbarian incursions. Britain had been suffering from these incursions, too–up until this point, mostly smash-and-grab raids by the Irish, Picts, and Saxons–and now they had no protection. Sometime after the withdrawal of the legions, the nature of these incursions changed from raids to occupation–Irish and especially Saxon settlements being founded in Britain. The Saxon settlements particularly expanded westward, pushing at least some of the Romanized Britons further and further west. Until, right around 500, the advance stopped and held for about 50 years.

That’s history. Legend, of course, has it that Arthur and his knights fought twelve battles against the Saxons and finally defeated them at Mount Badon. (Only, nobody now knows where Mount Badon was.)

The earliest written (allowing, of course, for older oral traditions) mention of this battle in by Gildas. He wasn’t writing a history, though. Or a legend. More a rant about how the weaker leaders of his time had let the Saxons begin to advance across Britain once again.

But:

  • Gildas names the war leader who won the battle of Mount Badon as Ambrosius Aurelianus–not Arthur.
  • He further claims that Ambrosius was descended of “royal” Roman blood.
  • However, he expressly does not call Ambrosius a king, let alone high king–and he does name other kings.

Interestingly, Gildas was writing possibly fifty or so years after the battle, so maybe he knew or had heard first-hand stories about what happened.

And, while Gildas didn’t use the name Arthur, another 6th Century source–a poem from Scotland–does, in praising the accomplishments of a warrior “though he was no Arthur”. That’s all it says about Arthur. Which implies that Arthur’s story–as it existed at that time–was well enough known that it didn’t need explanation.

Other parts of the Arthur legend got added later, though a few are possibly old.

  • Merlin isn’t added to the story until the 12th Century. (Too bad, I’m still using Merlin.)
  • Lancelot is also a 12th Century addition.
  • Guenivere, however, is mentioned in what may be later (11th Century) transcriptions of older oral traditions. In fact, the Welsh Triads mention three separate women–all named Guenevere and all married to Arthur.
  • Mordred is also mentioned–although generally only as Arthur’s nephew. And he’s often portrayed in as one of the good guys.

All of this is giving me some ideas.

 

 

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Book Fair

I know I’ve been MIA for the last couple of months.

Continuing to report on my failure to make progress with MAGE STORM . . . wasn’t helping.

Mage Storm

I can’t imagine it was very interesting to read, either. Unfortunately, I don’t have any real progress to report–yet.

However, I can’t fail to let you know about an opportunity to find some new authors to read. Fantasy Sci-fi Readers Lounge Elf’s Shelf Book Fair.

Enjoy!

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