Monday, March 14, 2011

In Love with Legends

Posted by: Tia Nevitt
I love legends. When I grew up, I tried to set all the legends aside. Fairy tales were for children (or so I told myself), so I moved onto reading first about mythology, and eventually about heroic knights such as those of King Arthur and Charlemagne. I have a very well-thumbed copy of Bullfinch's Mythology, which includes all of those legends and more.

The turning point was T. H. White's The Once and Future King, a novel that retells the story of King Arthur. White made me want to be a writer. After reading it, I bought a copy of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. It is written like this:

How King Arthur pulled out the sword divers times.

Now assay, said Sir Ector unto Sir Kay. And anon he pulled at
the sword with all his might; but it would not be. Now shall ye
assay, said Sir Ector to Arthur. I will well, said Arthur, and
pulled it out easily. And therewithal Sir Ector knelt down to
the earth, and Sir Kay. Alas, said Arthur, my own dear father
and brother, why kneel ye to me? Nay, nay, my lord Arthur, it is
not so; I was never your father nor of your blood, but I wot well
ye are of an higher blood than I weened ye were. And then Sir
Ector told him all, how he was betaken him for to nourish him,
and by whose commandment, and by Merlin's deliverance.

(If you read it, be sure to get a version with modernized spellings, as above. Otherwise, you'll really have a hard time reading it.)

Of course, I had to try my own hand at writing a King Arthur story. I came up with this young knight who was incredibly clumsy--except when he was in battle. No one could best him, so he journeyed to King Arthur's court to be bested by Lancelot, himself. And so he was. I still laugh every time I think of that story. But I was onto something, I think. I wanted to write about a legendary person who had a foible--or a flaw. And not necessary a flaw that is admirable, or that anyone would want to have. (We all go to job interviews and say that our flaw is that we are perfectionists, or that we are too driven. Not those kind of flaws.)

Willard, the hero in my fairy tale retelling, The Sevenfold Spell, is nothing like a legendary hero. He is homely and does his duty to his family rather than to go along with Talia's romantic notions. When she offers herself to him, he doesn't nobly turn away--he eagerly partakes. He's a boy, not a man.

He's not alone, because Talia is not much like the legendary heroine. She is ugly and poor. She becomes something of a tramp. She argues with her mother. And she's desperately lonely. But she can build one heck of a fine spinning wheel ... with a little help. And she never forgets Willard.

I wanted to write about the other people in the story--the ones barely mentioned (like the spinster with the spinning wheel) or not mentioned at all, but affected nevertheless. Ones without fairy godmothers, or wishes, or even much hope in their futures. People kind of like us, except either ugly, or lame, or glaringly different.

And best of all, I wanted to give them a chance to be legendary. Maybe its silly. Maybe I should have just grown up, instead.

But this is more fun!

Tia Nevitt


  1. Oh, my favourite book when I was a kid was a Tales of King Arthur. It had colour plates and gold trim on the edge of the pages, and I loved it so hard. I still have it. That started me off on my love of Romance (as in heroes etc, rather than romance as such).

    I love a noble hero. *swoons*

  2. Of course a slightly less than noble one will do :D Noble with flaws is best, because I love to see the struggle as they try to stay noble.

  3. *raises hand*

    Another everything-Authurian reader grown up to be a teller of hero and heroine tales here. :)

  4. Julia, that's cool that you still have it! I have my grandmother's Romeo and Juliet from when SHE was a kid. It's almost a hundred years old! And a properly done noble hero is awesome.

    I'll have to check out your work, David!

  5. Please, never grow up, Tia. Keep writing those fairy tales.

  6. I went through a big King Arthur phase when I was a teenager. Lately I've been thinking about re-reading some of the books I loved back then but I'm worried they won't be as magical as I remember.

  7. Oh, I love it! I read Chaucer in olde English. Quite a challenge, but if you want to write historicals with an authentic "flavor" in the way the characters speak, reading those kinds of books helps. Sevenfold Spell is in my to be read file on my Kindle. Can't wait.

  8. Aww, thanks Janni! Eleri--which ones? Barbara, I reread some Chaucer in old English while researching THE SEVENFOLD SPELL. I wanted to know the old English words for ... well, for the names of girl and boy parts. I knew that Chaucer's The Miller's Tale was the place to turn. And much to my surprise, things really haven't changed a whole lot, except for the spelling.

    Eventually I decided that my tale was saucy enough!

  9. Which ones? Your post makes me want to reread The Once and Future King. I loved the Count of Monte Cristo too. The Belgariad series. Anne McAffrey's Pern books. Lois Duncan too. I'd also like to revisit some of Stephen King's older work.

  10. See, I've always claimed that romance is faery tales for grown up girls. I love ha happy ending, and I don't think that's going away any time soon, no matter how old I get! My only gripe with the Arthurian legend was the ending. I love how Angela Knight has taken it and spun it so Gwen and Arthur are together as immortals.

  11. Eleri, we've read a lot of the same books! I'll have to check out Lois Duncan.

    Yeah, the ending of the Arthur legends was definitely a downer. I guess that's why we're to look forward to Arthur as a future king as well.

  12. Here's to the once and future king. It's intriguing, isn't it?

  13. I LOVE unconventional heroes and heroines.

    And I'm kind of of the opinion that writers get to live in Neverland and skip the whole "growing up" thing. It's nice here. Plus...there's pirates ;-)


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