Some Historical Background

Eventually, when I have time, I will be adding some of my research notes to this site, but for now, here are the author’s notes from the two books which I’ve completed.

Author’s Note from Yseult:

I’ve always loved Arthurian fiction and had a penchant for tragedy, so it probably isn’t too surprising that I decided to try my hand at a retelling of the Tristan and Isolde legend. Many of the twists in my version of the tale, as well as my portrayal of “the court of King Arthur,” come from less well known Arthurian traditions and historical research. I have amassed shelves and shelves of books on ancient Ireland, the Celts, Arthurian and Celtic legends, Roman and Sub-Roman Britain, and the question of Arthur’s historicism — too many for me to mention them all here. For those interested, I will concentrate on the most dog-eared references in my collection and the ones I checked out most regularly from the library.

In creating Yseult’s background story in ancient Ireland, I relied heavily on F. J. Byrne’s excellent reference, Irish Kings and High Kings. For the plot thread dealing with St. Patrick, I am indebted to James Carney’s The Problem of Saint Patrick and Thomas F. O’Rahilly’s The Two Patricks: A Lecture on the History of Christianity in Fifth-Century Ireland. Regarding mythology and daily life, I repeatedly consulted Simon James, Exploring the World of the Celts, Peter Berresford Ellis, A Dictionary of Irish Mythology, Anne Ross, Everyday Life of the Pagan Celts, T.M. Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, and Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, to name just a few.

While finding resources was the challenge in researching fifth century Ireland, for fifth century Britain it was choosing resources. The ongoing fascination with the figure of King Arthur and the question whether or not he was a historical person has produced a wealth of material. Most influential in my portrayal of Arthur and the era in which he might have lived were probably the following works: Christopher A. Snyder, An Age of Tyrants: Britain and Britons A.D. 400-600, K. R. Dark, Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity 300-800, John Morris, The Age of Arthur, Leslie Alcock, Arthur’s Britain, and Geoffrey Ashe, The Quest for Arthur’s Britain. As references on Arthurian figures and legends, I regularly consulted Rachel Bromwich, The Arthur of the Welsh, Ronan Coghlan, The Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends, and Norris J. Lacy and Geoffrey Ashe, The Arthurian Handbook. For information on Roman and Sub-Roman Britain, I consulted Ken Dark, Britain and the End of the Roman Empire, Barri Jones and David Mattingly, An Atlas of Roman Britain, and John Wacher, The Towns of Roman Britain.

Author’s Note from Shadow of Stone:

Much of the inspiration for Shadow of Stone comes from less well known Arthurian tales and traditions, in particular the earliest pseudo-historical references to Arthur such as those in Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth. A number of figures in my narrative were taken from the only contemporary document surviving from sixth century Britain, St. Gildas’s On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain. Further characters have been drawn from saints’ lives, royal genealogies, and Welsh narrative tradition.

In these versions of Arthur, Medraut (the Welsh name for Mordred) was Arthur’s nephew, not his son, there is no mention of incest between Arthur and his sister (whose name was Anna), and it is Medraut with whom Arthur’s wife elopes and not Lancelot (who does not exist in the body of Welsh Arthurian literature). It is this tradition I have mostly chosen to follow rather than the later one, which has been the basis for so many retellings already.

The canonical body of Arthurian tales in our era goes back to the reworking of earlier legends and accounts often considered history by the authors of the High Middle Ages, in particular Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien is the first known source we have for both Lancelot and Camelot; his French renderings of the original Celtic names are often still used as well. The chivalric version of Arthurian society created by the authors of the Middle Ages was reflected in the most influential work of Arthurian literature in English, Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.

In this novel, I have tried to create a coherent whole out of scraps I discovered on the far side of the chivalric tradition. Not all of my plot threads are to be found there, however; for example, the Welsh Triads claim that Arthur had three wives, all named Gwenhwyfar. That would have been a bit much for my narrative, which is why I decided on two, one Gwenhwyfar and one Ginevra. I have also made use of less well-known tales from the continental tradition. The story of Cai and Arthur’s son Loholt is derived from an anonymous French Arthurian romance of the thirteenth century, Perlesvaus. Here too, however, I have not followed the source religiously; instead, it served me as inspiration for an important twist in my own version of the events leading up to Camlann. One of my Clarion instructors, Paul Park, told us that when basing fiction on myths or legends or older works, make it your own. Over time, those words have become something of a mantra for me.

There will probably be any number of readers for whom I have made it too much my own. But I like to imagine that if there ever was a Britain in which a Dux Bellorum by the name of Arthur led men named Cador and Bedwyr and Cai to battle, it might even have been a little like the world I have created in Shadow of Stone.

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